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Introspective

Day 9, 17th June 2011 (Visiting Dad in Northern Ireland

On Friday morning I drove the hired Citroen to pick up my brother Steve and his wife, Moya, from the George Best Airport, outside Belfast.

Rain sleeted down like a November day, and the parking lot was so full, I had to take a spot as far away from the entrance to the airport as one could get. Unlike Portland airport, you’re not allowed to drive anywhere near the front entrance. Not even to drop off or pick up.

Their flight had just arrived from Inverness in the highlands of Scotland, and in no time they emerged from the baggage area, huge smiles lighting up their faces. I haven’t seen either of them for over a year, but as always when we get together, it’s as though no time has passed at all. They are both tall, slender, and as they strolled toward me, looked like models from a Prada advertisement in coordinating grey and black. They denied they’d planned it, but I’m not convinced. I fished my camera out of my bag for the requisite Kodak… er, Sony moment.

Being Steve’s younger sister, I immediately reverted to one of my favorite things to do to him: embarrass him. I affected a high-pitched version of John McEnroe and screeched, “You can nat be serious! It’s so cuool to see you!” Realizing with delight that I’d attracted an incredulous audience in Arrivals, I continued with, “Welcome to Dublin!”

I’m sure I don’t need to point this out, but I was being a smart ass: Dublin’s the capital of Eire, and Belfast is the capital of Northern Ireland. (Please don’t make me explain this to you - look it up on Wikipedia) :-) Braving the slanting rain, we hurried to the car and scrambled in.

“No, really,” I said, putting the car into gear and pressing my foot on the accelerator, “welcome to Belfast.”

The car shot forward. The three of us shrieked and I slammed my foot on the brake. My turn to be embarrassed, as Steve and Moya erupted into peals of laughter. “Let’s try that again,” I said, and this time put the car in the right gear and reversed out.

In no time we were on the dual carriageway that led past our old house in Belfast, and pulling into Forest Center shopping mall so Steve and Moya could pick up some groceries for the cottage they’d hired for the weekend.

Father’s Day was coming up, so I selected a card with a message I liked for us all to sign, intending to give it to Dad at the family reunion dinner on Saturday at the Indian restaurant.

Sainsbury’s was like an insane asylum. Shoppers wandered the aisles with zombie-like rapt expressions on their faces. Twice I attempted to select some bread, and each time someone trod on my foot as they meandered by between me and the bread display. “S’okay,” I muttered, “didn’t need that foot anyway.” No one heard me.

Steve and Moya were at the seafood counter, looking for sushi. “Sushi?” I said when they told me, with a similarly incredulous tone to the one my father used when I ordered coffee before my meal. “You can get sushi in Northern Ireland?” I had only just told Steve and Moya that any food would do me for lunch and that I couldn’t be arsed what. But sushi? Lovely, crunchy, fresh, healthy sushi? Now I couldn’t think about anything else.

“No sushi,” said the man behind the counter. My face fell, but he told us we might find some in Marks and Spencers at the other end of the mall.

On a mission, we strode through the lunchtime shoppers and indeed we did find sushi, and stocked up on some wine, too.

We’d intended to have a picnic lunch in the car, but the pelting rain made us decide to wait until we’d reached their cottage in Dundrum. It isn’t that far at all, but my brain must be programmed from when I used to get the Ulsterbus home from Belfast. It took upwards of 2 hours, and there was always some elderly man wearing a peaked cap and coughing up phlegm onto the bus floor. Every time I think of driving to Belfast from Dundrum, it takes on the daunting prospect of something like a trek from Portland to Vancouver in Canada, and I also recall vividly and horribly the schwap sound of phlegm hitting the floor, and of steamed up windows through which you can only make out driving rain as it thunders against the side of the bus. Then I have to remind myself that it’s just over a 20 mile journey and I’m no longer at the mercy of a smelly, slow bus. And no men with peaked caps and compulsive spitting disorder will ever be permitted to get into any car I’m driving!

We pull into the parking lot behind a row of cottages looking out over Dundrum Bay. Moya, who is ever so much more organized than I ever will be, rapidly boiled some water for tea and laid the table for our lunch.

The sushi was really good, although I’ve never eaten a roll with scallions in it before. And the smoked mackerel in place of tuna was quite an interesting change. I think perhaps next time I’ll save that one for Dad’s neighbor’s cat. :-) But the rest was great.

I drove Steve and Moya up to Dad’s after that, and they spent a couple of hours visiting with him and catching up. Dad declined the offer to join us for dinner, and we headed out to the Mourne Fishbar on Dundrum’s main street. I parked the car at their cottage and we walked. Mussels were on the menu, so of course I had to have those. They’re gathered from just outside the door when Dundrum Bay’s at low tide. As I’m writing this, I can’t for the life of me remember the conversation! We talked incessantly though, had an amazing dinner, and got rowdy with laughter after 2 bottles of wine and a glass of Cointreau. Our waitress was a sweetheart and I think we hugged her before we left the restaurant. :-)

Moya was all for she and Steve walking me back up to Dad’s, but one of my favorite things to do is to walk alone at night. There aren’t many places I can do it safely, but Dundrum is at the top of the list. I left them at the cottage and took a detour to the sea front at Murlough before heading home. The lure of the cobalt blue sky and darkening, seething waves below was too bewitching to resist. I listened to the water moving against the shore, and watched streaks and patterns evolve in the sky above, so vivid and beautiful they were worthy of a Jeff Sturgeon painting.

I lingered much longer than I should. It grew cold and by the time I made my way up to Robin Hill, Dad and the dogs had gone to bed. At night the house is still and quiet, except for the ticking of the clock in the hall. It’s at times like these the memory of my mother is very clear and I feel like I‘ll look up to find her coming down the corridor to wish me goodnight. Only the day before I’d prepared a blackberry and raspberry pie, the fruit picked from the garden she started, and using the dish to bake it in that she had used, and her mother before her. These are the times (and there are not many) that I regret not having children of my own. I must resolve to pass on a couple of Mum’s recipes and stories to my niece and nephew, and to my close friends’ children, so in some way I’ll feel part of the ongoing circle of life. I went to bed, introspective and happy to have the family all together in Northern Ireland again.