Saturday, May 9, 2009

Being Real...Almost, Anyway

Just got back, folks. I've been away to the great town of Newcastle on business. For those of you who are a bit geographically challenged, Newcastle is a small city a few hundred miles north of London, located on the east coast of England, and just south of Scotland. The people are friendly, the beer is great, and the wind blows constantly. I've never been there before - and because this was a flying visit - I can't exactly say that I really visited the place. But I'll be back, I know it in my bones.

That's one of the pleasures of living over here. From Dublin, a whole lot of Europe is right at our doorstep. Climb on a boat and go to Scotland, England, or France. Climb on a plane, and the riches of Europe are within a couple of hour's grasp. Many Irish (those who still have money, anyway) have properties in Portugal, Spain, Greece, or Turkey. Not bad considering that only a few hundred years ago most were picking potatoes.

So back to the blog: while I was away I actually received a few visitors to the site. What'cha know: word is getting out about a mad American intent on spilling his guts about living in Ireland. Anyway, one of the messages was from 'Michael' (see the entire message on a separate post, if you'd care to), and Michael stated (explicitly): 'Tom, speak your mind! What is it that would have made you change your mind?' Michael was commenting on a comment that I had made to a previous post, to whit: 'I sure wish I'd visited for longer. I probably would have made a very different decision with my life.'

So what would that decision have been? If I could do it all again, would I change 27 years of my personal history, re-load my panniers, climb back on my bike, and pedal madly for my homeland?

Home is Where My Soul Is
Just over a year ago, I visited Bunratty Castle (way out near Limerick, just south of Shannon Airport) with my family. While I was there, I met this wonderful lady: an Irish woman, she had emigrated to the United States with her husband back in the early '60s. She's lived in Seattle ever since. That in itself was a coincidence, because I spent some time in Seattle when I was a boy, and as she talked about the place I felt my heart break a little bit.

'Do you like living in Seattle?' I asked. 'I always enjoyed the place. I went to St Philomena's School,' I continued, now getting a little choked up. 'That's just south of the airport, down near Des Moines.'

'Oh, I know that place!' she said. 'Right on the Sound. Sure, we go to Salt Water Park for picnics all the time.'

The fact that she knew the place made me feel even more upset. She must have sensed my distress. 'Are you all right?' she asked kindly. 'You miss it, don't you?'

I nodded. 'Sure you do,' she said gently. 'I still miss Ireland, even after all these years. I've lived in America for well over forty years now, and even after all that time I'd come home in a flash.'

'Why don't you?' I asked. 'Because,' she replied, her eyes tinged with a forlorn but understandable sadness, 'my heart would break in two. You see, all my family live in America now. My sons, my grandchildren...if I came home, I'd miss them terribly.'

And she touched my heart because I knew that I felt the same way.

Emigrating is hard work. Nobody says much about that, but it's true. Oh, you can complain about this and that: about the differences in culture and misery of the weather or high taxes. You can bask eloquently about the wonderful things of life that keep you on in a 'foreign' country: the good schools, the great people, the feeling of being somewhat 'different' and the knowledge that you have marched to a different drummer.

But...then there's this one fact that is irrefutable: you are not a true citizen of that country. Oh, you might eventually get your passport, of course, so you are - de jur, as the law says - a citizen. But your heart might not be quite as binding as the law.

See, there's this problem. When you're away from home as long as I've been, you realise a truth: you are what you are. You are what you lived. You are what you've been taught.

I'm an American at the end of the day, and immensely proud of it. I'm proud of my heritage and my people. I'm immensely proud of the fact that my people fought in the civil war and revolutionary war and helped to settle the Ohio Valley. I'm proud of the fact that my great-great-great....father was the first governor of Plymouth. I'm proud of all that, yet I'm not there....

...and I will never go home. Not now. And not for six very good reasons: two daughters, a son, two grandsons, and a good Irish wife. Oh, make that seven reasons. A dog, Rocky, who wouldn't be content living anywhere else.

I don't always feel like I do right now, typing as I am, thinking of Michael's admonishment to speak my mind. Right now, I'm homesick, to be frank about it. I miss things: I miss a good hot dog. I miss seeing the Cubbies play, even if they never win the World Series. I miss people that don't think I talk in a funny accent because I talk they way they do.

I miss 4th of July fireworks (I combat that by being the only guy on my block to fly Old Glory on Independence Day). I miss Thanksgiving (even though my wife combats that by making me an absolutely stupendous dinner every 4th Thursday of every November). I miss watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade, and Jello that comes out of a box and has to be made up, and root beer, which a fellow can't get at all over here.

I miss America. I miss Americans. And I feel like this sometimes simply because no matter how long I'm away, or how hard I try to fit in, I'll always be an American. It's as simple as that.

Nobody told me that I'd feel this way when I came over here so many years ago. Like the Irish lady that I met in Bunratty, and who is invariably still living in Seattle, all I can tell you is this: if you decide on coming to Ireland, or live anywhere else in the world, you will take your country with you in your heart, wherever you might roam.

And that can be the hardest work of all because sometimes it will break your heart.

So thank you, Michael, for your comment. You've made me consider. And in writing this, I feel better, because I know that however long I might be away from home, my home is also with me. It's with me in the form of my kith and kin, both here and in the United States. And it's with me because I will always be proud of being an American.

That's also in my heart. And it is something that can never be torn from me.


  1. Tom, how long has it been since you have been back to the ol'Stomping grounds of the Pacific Northwest?

    A visit to "re-trace" the footsteps is always a fun one.


  2. Hey Michael and good hearing from you. Actually, it's been - Gulp! - over 30 years since I've been back to Seattle. Suspect that I wouldn't recognise the place. Betcha that the old drive-in on Highway 99 has been knocked to the ground, that Angel Lake is surrounded by development, and that Starbucks has a shop on every street corner (even in Des Moines). But that trip is on my personal 'Bucket List' of things to do. I'd love it! Tom

  3. Well, Ive been here 12 years myself.

    As for Starbucks, you are correct.

    The drive-in? What drive in? You get the picture on that one.

    Im not familiar with Angel Lake. I looked it up and is this the same lake?

    Nile, WA was the closest Google Map pinpoint.


  4. As to Angel Lake - that was a 'false memory'. It's Angle Lake, just SE of SeaTac. Did some fishing there. Nice place.

    And as to Drive-in's: you've given me a great idea for a next instalment. There used to be a drive in just south of the Highway 99/Des Moines road interchange, right next to the quary (or was it a dump? Or both?) Saw Ben Hur on that, way back when... Off to Florida on Thursday. Dad lives near Tampa now. It'll be good to be home - where ever that is! Tom

  5. I have just found your blog as I have always wanted to visit Ireland and perhaps move there. I think I read too much Irish fiction and have spent too much time in Irish pubs here in NYC meeting the loveliest souls. At any rate, what you say about always missing home is true. My grandfather emigrated from Italy to the US when he was 24. when he was 103, shortly before he passed, he said to me "I have been in America for almost 80 years now. I have an American passport. I had a successful business, a good marriage, raised two fine daughters and have beautiful grandchildren but as good as America has been to me, Italy will always be home."

    Even after 80 years he still yearned for home. (Mind you, he enjoyed a 38 year retirement and made approximately 25 trips back home during that span so it wasn't like he left never to return but it always called him.) I guess Tom, feeling the way you do after ONLY 27 years is not unexpected.

  6. What a thought-provoking note, and I thank you for it, Hazeleyes. As it turns out (and see Michael's comments above) I'm going back to my personal stomping grounds this Friday: flying to LA to visit my sister (who lives way up in the Mojave), then driving to SFO and the Ol' Homestead. If nothing else, I've finally learned what your wise Grandpa has (God bless the man): "America will alway be home." And after 27 years, and you are so right, what I feel isn't only 'expected' but as natural to me as peanut butter and the Chicago Cubs and that proud giddy-ness that I feel in the pit of my stomach when seeing Old Glory waving in the breeze, and thinking of William Bradford - a long lost relative - as he set up shop in Plymouth. This response of yours I will keep. And when I grow sad or reflective, will pull it out and think of an Italian who felt the same way - even after 80 years. Blessings... T

  7. Oh - and to Hazeleyes and all. If you'd like to, sign up at the top of this Blog as a 'Follower'. The site will automatically notify you when I publish a new article. If, of course, you'd like to. As mentioned above, I'm off to CA Oct 9 - 21st. But back here, and am going to get the quill pen going again with a vengeance. My very bestest to all - Tom