We were supposed to take a humble ferry across the channel. At the last minute, due to a technical glitch, the ferry company bumped all its passengers onto a fancy cruise ship for the few hour ride to Ireland to visit my cousin. My daughter first noticed the boat’s name: Ulysses. Perfect. It was that particular James Joyce novel that made my daughter want to see Dublin.
She’d spent an entire semester poring over Ulysses with one professor and 10 students. She wrote a paper about the way the author used sound as character. That’s right; sound. I’d be lying if I said there weren’t times when I shuddered at the cost of the course or gasped at the myopic impracticality of her studies. But there were many more times when I picked up the phone to hear her crazy college passion for James Joyce and literature and life when I felt extraordinarily happy to know this young woman and share in her personal Bloomsday discoveries. She wanted to walk the streets that Joyce walked, and I was happy to go with her.
My cousin picked us up at the port. We grew up in Minnesota. I’m the fourth of six children. She’s the second to the last of eight. When our families got together it was utter chaos, the good kind, where the moms talk for hours over cups of coffee in the kitchen, the dads watched any game with a ball on television , and the kids ran around like packs of recently domesticated wolves. It was a blast. But we hadn’t seen each other much as adults. I left home at 18 and never looked back. She’d followed her husband’s government job around the world. We kept track of one another through the family grapevine.
She had two daughters and a son. The girls speak several languages fluently. Both are talented artists, musicians, singers, gracious, super smart and exceptionally beautiful girls in every way. But it was the son I’d heard most about. The son was the reason my cousin chose to live in Dublin. Her boy was a big, gawky teenager. A genetic roll of the dice meant he struggled to walk, talk and comprehend even the most basic commands. He wasn’t dependably toilet trained. Dublin had the rare medial experts familiar with his particular needs.
It surprised me how easily my cousin and I fell into familiar roles. We spent hours talking, as our mothers had, around the kitchen table. We loved how quickly our daughters became fast friends, and got a kick out of hearing their Irish friends refer to “the American cousins” as though they were an exotic imported breed.
I’d come to Dublin to share in my daughter’s intellectual pursuits. During the days, we wandered the streets that Joyce walked, went to the university Joyce attended, drank in the pubs where he drank. We visited the tower near the sea just outside Dublin where Joyce briefly lived and used as the setting for the start of Ulysses. When we got back to my cousin’s house that evening, we found her already cutting vegetables for dinner, her son sitting on a skateboard-like platform at her feet, rolling back and forth, serenading his mother with a tuneless melody.
I want to recapture that warmth of Irish domesticity. That can mean anything from an Irish knit throw blanket, to Irish crystal and Irish linen. And as St. Paddy’s Day nears, it’s all the more meaningful.
Vivian McInerny: [email protected]