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.
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.