The following posts were written in Ireland. I left thirty years ago and found a new home in the western United states. I went back to visit my mother who is living in a Hospice in Dublin. I stayed with my dad in his home for ten weeks. The following posts are commentaries on my time there. The average stay in the hospice is two weeks. She has lived here for the last twelve. She is in the final stage of her terminal disease. She has a brain tumor. Cancer. She has nothing to hide anymore...
When she sleeps, there is a reverence in the room. And when she looks at you she sees without judgement or question. There is a purity in her eyes.
And when she laughs it is a laugh of a life well lived. A laugh of truth with no strings attached.
My mornings are spent at the Hospice sitting quietly with my mother. She naps a lot. When she wakes, we might exchange a little conversation and then she'll doze off again. I have taken to filing my nails while she sleeps. I have become privy to her beauty bag. It contains a few simple tools; a tiny tweezers, a little scissors, a file and a couple of sticks of lipstick. She can no longer apply her own lipstick. So I take the stick and carefully follow the contour of her lips. The upper one is especially thin. Still, I do an OK job for a beginner. The hospice has twelve beds. Most weeks sees two to four new arrivals, so a little lipstick helps to maintain a daily semblance of order. The file is longer than I've seen and has a pretty handle. I could imagine an inmate coveting a file like this. I've only ever used a clipper as it saves time. But now I look and admire my new nails and notice my soft hands. Cutting cheese all day wrecks havoc with the plain hand.
My morning walk to the hospice takes me through tree lined streets and beautiful gardens bursting with wisteria, clematis and magnolia. It would be an idyllic stroll if it weren't for the morning rush of hurried commuters in BMW's, Mercedes and Audis. I watch them sometimes while stalled in traffic— stern looking middle aged guys graying at the edges, always fumbling with something, usually cigarettes or mobile phones.
Many of the gates guarding the houses are remote controlled and painted black. Often they'll slyly open as I walk and a car will emerge and a mother might throw an impatient wave urging me to cross. But I wave her back and wait while she slides her family anonymously onto the street. The kids in the back stare nonchalantly through the window as if I were perhaps a tree in their way. Just a little inconvenience to start their day.
I awake to magpies eating. Like disinterested diners they pick and peck at the fox's leftovers, pushing the food around on the porch and banging the bowl on the ground. I draw the curtain and watch them scatter. The fox's are suffering according to my dad. Starving and riddled with disease, they can't get at the closed door dumpsters to scavenge their wares. As an ex fox hunter he feels sorry for his former adversary, so now he leaves out a bowl of dog food every night. I know the fox comes because he leaves a narrow trail of flattened grass in his wake. He arrives from the little wood behind the house and his trail becomes a little more defined each day. Other neighbors partake in the feast. One evening we were surprised to see a hedgehog quietly sitting in the bowl. There always seems to be a snail or two lingering in the morning after the magpies leave .
My bed at my dad's house has three functioning legs: it's a cross between a French Foreign Legion special, a cot from a New Orleans refugee camp, and a Benedictine monk's crash pad from Ealing abbey. It's kind of like the holy trinity that I learned about in mythology class which my teachers, the Holy Ghost fathers insisted on calling Catechism class. Whatever. Needless to say I can count on a reasonably sleepless night.
I keep a carafe of water by my side and a few books for late night reading. I just finished Barbara Kingsolvers' "The Poisonwood Bible," which I would recommend to anyone living in a cot.
Well, most monks especially in this country have their moments of pleasure...
But this one is legit— In my other life I actually have a wife.
Ionah came over from Denver to visit and we bought some wonderful cheeses at Sheridans Cheese Shop on South Anne Street and we bought wine in O' Brians in Sandymount village where I grew up and we walked from Landsdown road into the city and back through Ballsbridge to Sandymount and walked the strand at low tide down to the Martello tower and along St Johns road to the old fencing school beside the vicarage, my Aunt's old house, now demolished, and down Park Avenue where we lived and back to Sandymount village and over to the hotel beside the rebuilt stadium where we feasted on the cheese and wine and fell asleep without saying our prayers at all and woke up on our knees and I dreamt that I saw trout in the river Dodder but it was just a shopping cart that I had seen in the bird sanctuary in Blackrock.
The populace is concerned: The recession swings forth with reckless exuberance. Ireland has the gold in its grasp for the highest food prices in Europe and nobody seems to know why. I think perhaps the problem starts with the corpulent leader of the nation, Mr Cowan, who takes home a snug salary larger than the president of the United States. Political theorists have never held to the naive belief of leadership by example. There's also the embarrassing countenance of Madam Harney, his health minister— talk about an oxymoron. I don't know what they eat, but even a fleeting glance taken as they rattle and prattle on the television tells you that all's not well on the Emerald Isle. Obviously they don't have to concern themselves with something as rudimentary as a personal food budget. But for those of us that do, and are tired of handing over our euro to the supermarket barons, I would like to offer a recipe—my sisters' version of nettle soup. Nettles, which are still free for the taking, can be found almost anywhere on the island at any time of year. But it is the young ones plucked in the spring that are especially good. Imagine, if suddenly, our concerned populace flatly refused to purchase the overpriced lettuce and spinach in the supermarket halls and instead scoured the fields and parks and river and canal banks, the back gardens and government gardens for tender spring nettles? Prices, along with Cowan and Harney, surely would plummet to more reasonable if not handsome levels. And, because of its many health and economic benefits, I would like to extend the offer of my sisters' nettle soup recipe not only to the prime minister but also to his health minister. I would suggest they eat it twice a day every day for forty days to regain their sense of health, humility, good looks, vigor and leadership.
Catherine's Nettle Soup.
Toss some peeled diced potato and spring onion together with some melted butter in a pan to soften. Add a little parsley and/or some other fresh herbs. Using rubber gloves take the top tender leaves from freshly foraged nettles. Wash them with cold water. Add to the pan and steam them for a few minutes. Add water or stock, bring to the boil, season with salt and pepper and puree the lot.