Coming of Age, 1972: Episode #9

Saturday, October 29, 2022

Once I left Limerick and turned myself in the direction of London, I felt the tug of possible mail waiting for me in Earl’s Court. All of Ireland is only one fifth the size of California, and the trip from Limerick to Dublin is about the same as a trip from Los Angeles to San Diego, though the highway in 1972 was just one lane each direction.

From the portion that I walked, my strongest memory is the carefully designed and manicured garden on front of one house. I stood for a short time to admire it, and I’m sure my neighbors ever since have wished I had learned more from the study.

The ride I remember was with an older gentleman in a truck. We rode together long enough to pass several cemeteries, and each time, he crossed himself without interrupting our conversation. This gesture had not been part of my Methodist upbringing, and I wondered now—without saying anything—whether this was an Irish show of respect for the dead, or a more general Catholic practice.

My Irish ancestors had been Catholics, although only nominally-so within living memory. In Seattle, on the very day that the lockdown lifted at the end of the Spanish Flu, my grandmother’s sister and her beau beckoned a justice of the peace to the house for a wedding, while my grandparents waited a few days to have a wedding mass. Neither marriage lasted, though, and while I was growing up, I never knew my grandmother to practice anything I could identify as Catholic. My dad, upon enlisting in the navy, faced paperwork that asked whether he was Catholic, Protestant, or Jewish. The question stumped him. He checked the middle box, while not identifying with any of them. He attended Protestant services at sea.

Vicki’s family had also been nominally Catholic, until in her early teens she asked her father to begin taking her to mass. Then, just a few months before she met me, she became fascinated by the faith she saw in a couple of Evangelical friends at UCLA. They helped her to a ‘born again’ step of faith. When we first met, she was on fire for Jesus, and many of our early conversations were Christo-centric. Indeed, at Easter, after we had known each other about six months, I took her to the beach for a day—her favorite spot—and we sat under the jets taking off from LAX. I came away from that day with a dim view of the relationship potential between an agnostic like me, and a ‘religious fanatic,’ as I then perceived her. My parting words, as I took her home, were “Vicki, I think you will make someone a wonderful wife, but it won’t be me.” To my surprise, I had said just the right thing. At the time, she was trying to slow down two other fellows who wanted to marry her, and she wouldn’t have to worry about me. Over the next fifteen months, we each had other romantic interests, and Vicki and I could just be good friends, under no pressure.

I arrived in Dublin, but didn’t see much of the city. I bought my ferry ticket for a sleeper to Holyhead and stayed close to the terminal. I do have a favorite picture of Dublin, though. It is of my mother, from a much later trip. I trace some of my love of travel to Mom, who never got much of a chance to do so. My dad saw a lot of Asian ports while in the navy. My mother had wanted to join the WACS, but had been talked out of it. Then she had looked into going to Europe after the war to help clean up and rebuild. But again, it didn’t fit the limited vision of people whose opinion she trusted. To them, it wasn’t appropriate for a single woman. Occasionally during my growing years, however, she would reminisce over those dreams, and so there was an element of her yearnings in my travel. Some twenty years after my trip, she and my dad did get to Ireland for two weeks, and they visited us once during our years in Colombia. Most of my mother’s travel, however, was vicariously through other people's travels, or through a retirement spent teaching English to immigrants. If she couldn’t go to them, she would make the most of them coming to her.

The crossing to Holyhead was uneventful, and the boat put me back in Wales just at daybreak. It would be the longest day of my trip.


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