This story was originally published in Life Story Magazine, June 2013, but in honor of Father's Day, I'm putting it here on my blog. Miss you, Dad.
Through the raindrops on the window of the green Fiat Punto we looked at the little stone church. “Do you think you could make it up there?” I asked my 85-year old father.
“Yeah, I think I could do that,” he replied, perhaps a bit tentatively.
We entered the small visitor center. Its lone occupant, the clerk, sat on a stool behind the counter, immersed in a magazine. I’m sure he arrived at work that sodden morning, certain he would not see a solitary soul. Until the two dumb American tourists showed up, that is. And even more surprisingly, these two visitors weren’t here just to buy an Irish tea towel or a picture post card of some wooly sheep, they actually forked over five bob for the admission fee to see the 1000-year-old Gallarus Oratory, some quarter mile up the pathway. And in this weather, no less!
Leaving the gob-smacked official behind us we headed up the path, the wind from the west driving a drenching downpour along our right sides. Somehow the slope of the path had increased 20 degrees from what we looked at from the car park, but after a “short” ten minute walk we arrived and let ourselves into the little structure. The monks or masons who built this chapel must have known what they were doing. Even with no mortar between the stones, the building is snug and dry inside, ten centuries of Atlantic gales notwithstanding.
And empty! No pew or bench for the lonely pilgrim to take a load off. Dad pulled out his handkerchief to wipe his glasses dry, and tugging at his ear, muttered something about the damn hearing aid beeping.
After some.., oh, I don’t know, 45 seconds of marveling at the architecture, I said, “You ready to go?”
“Yep,” was the immediate and terse reply.
The wind was still galing from the west, so now our left sides caught the rain, but at least we were headed downhill. Finally we arrived at the car and tucked ourselves inside. The windows fogged up quickly and after again dealing with the raindrops on his glasses, Dad fumbled in his pocket for the replacement hearing aid battery. I started to say something but Dad cut me off. “Just stop. I’ve gotta fix this thing.” I ran the defroster while he got the device put back together and into his ear.
It was a quiet car ride back to Dingle but as we headed over Conor Pass and on to Limerick to see my old friends, Janet and Jerry, the sun brightened the sky and our moods, and the short bit of pique was soon forgotten. The remainder of the trip was clear skies and smooth sailing.
Several months later, Dad and I were visiting my sister, Diane. As we sat on the couch waiting for the baseball game on TV, Dad said, “They’ve got a book there on the shelf you might enjoy.” I pulled down “Ireland in Pictures.” Oooh, now there’s one of my favorite games. After a semester abroad with my children and my husband who taught at University of Limerick on a sabbatical from Seattle University,, and a couple of return trips (including the one with Dad) to visit friends, I get a pretty good hit rate on the “I’ve-been-there” scale on tourist calendars and other pictorial souvenirs of the Emerald Isle.
I began to page through, Dad at my side. “Been there. Been there. Not there. Been there. We went there. Been there.” And then I turned the page. Under a cloudless sky, the bright sun sparkled on the distinctive little upturned boat that is the Gallarus Oratory. “We went there,” I reminisced. “Bah! It didn’t look like that!” Dad laughed. And I had the distinct feeling that Dad had been waiting for some time for us to share that page, and that treasured memory.
To play along with Randy Seaver's Father's Day Geneamusings, let me also tell three things I vividly remember about my dad...
1. He KNEW everything Every car ride as a kid, "Hey, Dad, what's growing in that field?" He always had the answer - almonds, broccoli, sugar beets. Dad knew.
2. He REMEMBERED everything everything he ever learned. When I received my Master's degree from University of Texas, Dad came down to Austin for the graduation. Trivial Pursuit was THE game in 1984, and my friends and I thought we were pretty hot stuff. One night we took Dad to a picnic and concert at Zilker Park and of course brought the game along to entertain ourselves while we waited for the music to start. I don't think Dad missed one question. My friends were in awe. He blew us out of the water.
3. Dad was very precise in his language. I noticed one time when I was visiting him that I hadn't seen him smoke in the entire visit. "Hey, Dad. You quit smoking!" His reply, "No. I didn't quit. I'm just not doing it now." He didn't quit. He could have gone back to it any time he wanted. He just wasn't doing it right then. Or any other time for the rest of his life, as I recall. But he never quit. Never.
Mary Kircher Roddy is a genealogist, writer and lecturer, always looking for the story. Her blog is a combination of the stories she has found and the tools she used to find them.