Make New Friends and Keep the Old Ones in Your Heart

Earlier this summer while traveling in Ireland I met Mickey, an Irish gentleman who came into the pub two floors below my rented room, for his pint. The pub’s owner, Maura, had just pulled my pint of Murphy’s stout, a gift to me as part of my stay.

Mickey & I, Clonakilty, Ireland

Mickey & I, Clonakilty, Ireland

Maura’s pub is Mickey’s local. He has lived just up the street in Clonakilty for 20-plus years, so he stops in pretty much every day for a beer or two, a bit of conversation, and music on those nights a session is on. “Not that rock and roll though,” he tells me. “I like the real, Irish music. It’s the tunes, you see.” He is especially fond of the “sing-a-longs” that happen on Friday nights here at Con and Maura’s Bar; but I met Mick on a Sunday afternoon which is a quiet and companionable time in the pub and so we talk over our pints.

Mickey knows exactly who his community is. It’s the folks on his street; it’s Maura and the people who owned the pub before her; it’s Danny who stops by while we’re all talking together and offers a gentle opinion; it’s the young couple who duck in to watch Mexico play the Netherlands in the World Cup; and today it’s me, too.

Mickey is entirely at home here in his local pub in the west of county Cork and he is interested in anyone who pulls up a stool to spend a bit of their time there. If you meet Mick at Maura’s place, you feel like you have made a friend. If you stick around town and run into him again at the pub or walking along McCurtain Hill street, I suspect you will consider yourself part of Mick’s community. Perhaps even family.

Part of his ability to bring those feelings out in strangers like me is his natural skill as a storyteller. I grew up with a master storyteller in my grandfather, Bud, so I can spot them from a few bar stools away. They bring you right into their world and hold you there, nice and cozy. But Mickey has other reasons for finding the people who are his community among the denizens of Maura’s, and along his street: Mick’s family has found community elsewhere.

His son lives on Long Island, New York with a new American wife. Seven years he has been gone and “not come back. No, he never will,” Mickey says, then assures me “Oh, I like the Americans. They are friendly people.” A daughter lives with her American husband in Houston. Will she ever return to Ireland to live? “Oh no,” Mickey says, then tells me again that it’s alright, because they live in America and “everyone in Ireland has family in America.” Mickey stares down at his glass for a bit while I watch him deep in reverie.

I had thought that Irish emigration was a thing from the past. From a time when there were famines, and civil war and Troubles. But young people are still seekers of opportunity and adventure, and also love, and sometimes they find what they are looking for far from home. Sometimes they make new homes in those far-off places.

My conversation with my Irish friend got me thinking about my own choices. As a rule, I prefer change over permanence. I live to travel and I love to change where I live. If that’s not possible, I move the furniture. I have never given voice to any thoughts about how my own family would be affected by those choices.

It never occurred to me to stay in the town I grew up in. Trying to conjure that picture up makes my head hurt. Not because it’s a bad idea. It would just have been a bad idea for me. My family never tried to talk me out of moving or leaving, or maybe someone did but I didn’t hear it.

My storytelling grandfather used to keep a paper taped to a wall in his kitchen, by the telephone. On the paper, in his spidery handwriting, was a list of addresses for places I had lived over the years. When I moved Gramps would cross the address off and add a new one below. Gramps had the foresight to make the piece of paper a long one. I wish I would have peeled that paper off his kitchen wall when he died. It might be the only record of my peregrinations.

For a couple of decades, Brian and I worked aboard boats. What was great about that for me was that we moved pretty much all the time, but still kept our home beneath our feet. The boats changed many times over those years but every one of them felt like home. That’s a skill: to feel at home no matter how foreign the place where you have landed. It may be one of the few skills I possess, but it’s one I can rely on.

Now we are moving again. After two years in Portland, Oregon we are heading south for a bit of sunshine. More than a bit of sunshine actually, since we are moving to Texas. The idea of living in Texas sounds crazy even to me, except that we will be living in Austin, which is like Portland with more sun and tacos for breakfast. At least that is the impression we got while visiting last month.

In between sorting through our stuff, we are beginning to say goodbye to the friends we have made in Portland. Our community grew here to include folks I met through hiking, while at my volunteer job as an HIV tester and counselor, and some old friends from our early days on boats who had moved ashore years before we did to raise their kids in Portland.

I have done this before: the saying of farewells and y’all-come-see-us; the sorting and packing; the driving of a moving truck to another place down the road, leaving one life behind and starting a new one somewhere else. This time though, it is different. I am more aware now of the part of me that will stay behind and the parts of our Portland friends that we will tuck into our hearts and bring along with us. Different because I met Mickey in a pub in Ireland. Because he made me part of his community. Sláinte, Mick. Say hello to Maura and the rest of the family for me.

Barbara Gabriel

Writer. Day Stealer. Chronic Traveler. Raised along Highway 61 in Minnesota, I ran away to sea & messed about in boats. I curse like a sailor and love travel, food, most people, and a well-fitting pair of boots. I try to combine those any chance I can.

22 Comments:

  1. That’s the secret – learning to feel at home wherever you are. And what great writing material this move will provide. I look forward to reading every word.

  2. Wonderful story, Barb. I envy you both the pints and the conversation you had with Mickey. It was over ten years ago since I last raised a glass in an Irish pub, but this was almost as good as being there.
    Strange that I have been all over Texas and yet have not visited Austin. I hear it is beautiful, and you and Brian will make it that much more so. Safe travels..

    • Thank you, Tom for reading and taking the time to find your way here and commenting. Austin looks to be an exciting place to “set awhile” as my Texan grandmother would have said. Come on down!

  3. I have pretty much stayed in the same area most of my life, except when we moved when we were young. Since I was so young I just moved because that was where my parents took us. But, to this day I still remember little friends I had in New Jersey and Wausau, WI. (Still haven’t been able to locate a single one through FB.) I have experienced moves at work from one department to another. I know most of the people I will lose touch with over time. But, I always manage to keep a few close friends from every department I have worked in over the years.

    Now traveling has been enlightening. I love meeting people all over the world. But, more importantly I make friends from my tour groups who live all over the US and we all keep in touch.

    Another interesting experience I had was when I toured Italy in 2005, I befriended a family — two older parents and their daughter and her husband. The four of them were so sweet. They are from England. One evening after we had dinner in Verona, I felt really sick and the mother walked with me and made sure I was okay. She was about the same age as my mom. After our trip we all exchanged addresses and emails. They sent a very nice Christmas card to me, as well as I to them. The following year I went to Eastern Europe — Croatia, Slovenia and Montenegro. When we were toward the end of our trip we were staying in Dobrovnik. One morning I was getting ready to leave for Montenego and I walked out of the hotel and couldn’t believe my eyes. That same family I met in Italy the year before was standing out on the sidewalk. They were traveling on their own that year and stopped in Donrovnik. After many hugs and a joyful little reunion we parted ways.

    My uncle David said when you travel all over the world you make your “backyard” bigger. My uncle David is a very wise man and how right he is! My backyard isn’t necessarily the one I see outside the windows of my house.

    I will keep building my community through my travels. I have tons of friends in my community, which includes the Twin City area. But, I have more friends “out there” than in my own neighborhood.

    Someday I will leave this state and I think about it often. I am embracing the unknowns of actually living somewhere new without my family and friends.

    • Wonderful, Angela! You’ve got it exactly right, embracing the unknowns and enlarging your community through travel. I love your uncle’s quote that “when you travel all over the world you make your “backyard” bigger.” Perfect.

  4. Lovely. Just lovely.

    It’s a neat trick balancing the pull of the road with the ability to create a community wherever you are. I would love to share a pint with Mickey someday at Con and Maura’s place.

  5. I sit here in North Carolina with watery eyes thinking about you guys leaving here. It seems like just the other day. You left your mark here on so many people and I’m glad you are part of my life. Friends stay with you no matter how far away. Thanks for being part of my community and know that the mark you made on my heart will always be there. I loved your story about Mick. He represents friends everywhere.

  6. Kevin(mickeys son)

    Beautiful piece

    • Hello Kevin, and thank you so much for reading and commenting. Your father made a lasting impression on me, talking about his family and how proud he is of you. He is a real gem and made my visit to Ireland that much better. Please say hello to him on your next call home, and he is welcome to visit my husband and I any time he finds himself back in the USA.

  7. Barbara, you and Brian are so fortunate that you both love the same lifestyle and that you are healthy. Those things make it much easier to move from town to town. I look forward to hearing about Austin. I feel that I learned much about Portland from reading your words. Now I am in love with Ireland. Wish I could go there someday. Best wishes for your move.

    • Glenda,
      Almost daily I think about my good fortune in being healthy enough to travel frequently and in having a fantastic traveling partner in Brian. I also feel that the friends I meet along the way, like you, are a major part of who I am. I appreciate you.

  8. Great post. I loved Ireland when we made our first visit there this November. We went off the beaten path most of our stay and met so many fantastic people! So many of them either lived in America before themselves, had family that moved there or visited friends on the regular in the states. I have not done much world traveling…yet but it amazed me how little of the world most Americans get around to visiting. In stark contrast to all the foreigners I have met here and otherwise and how much they have traveled and explored outside their homelands.

    Sláinte!
    Roni

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