I am seated in front of a coal fire in a cottage on Lough Arrow, deep in the Western Ireland countryside. Yeats country.
My dear friend Tess Gallagher has been coming to this area since the 1960s, originally to visit a woman she met named Dymphna Gray. About 20 years ago Tess was introduced to Dymphna’s older brother, Josie. Both widowed, they took quite a fancy to each other and eventually fell in love. The cottage on the lake belongs to Dymphna. Josie lives up the road in Ballindoon, and Tess now owns a little place nearby where she spends a few months every year.
It’s quiet here – profoundly so. It’s easy to sleep the morning away. If Aaron hadn’t been arriving on the train from Dublin today, we might have slept till noon.
I had a vivid dream last night in which both my parents died in a car crash. I then found out that my mother was not dead after all; instead, she had been languishing in a nursing home. I was devastated to realize I had been neglecting her all this time and searched for what felt like an eternity before I found her.
The dream stayed with me all day and I thought about it as I drove the narrow roads to the train station in Boyle to pick up Aaron. I was also thinking that it was a good day to give away €50.
We got to the tiny train station and I immediately noticed a woman with a big green knapsack standing on the platform to Dublin. I went over to say hello. “Looks heavy,” I said, nodding my head toward her pack. “Oh, I’m used to it,” she answered. “What part of the States are you from?” Turns out she has a cousin in Oregon.
The woman said she was heading back to Dublin: “Unfortunately.” I asked what she meant. “I grew up in Dublin, and I can’t stand the noise of the city. I just despise it.” She comes out to the country to get away from the bustle. “Even an hour out here, you know, it just refreshes you,” she said. I agreed.
She told me her name was Erin and that she works in a nursing home for people with dementia. “I love it, I really do. But you have to take a break, step back a bit every so often. It can be very tiring.” Her gaze was steady and kind; her Irish eyes a clear gray-blue.
Last night’s dream still shimmering, I found comfort in the thought of this woman at her work. I told her I had something I wanted to give her, and then a little about my mother. I was acutely aware of the surroundings, my accent, my polar fleece and my tennis shoes.
When I handed Erin the €50 bill she paused for a beat and then leaned toward me with a serious expression. “Oh, I can’t accept this. It’s too much!” I told her it was hers to do with as she pleased.
“I know what I’ll do,” she said with a nod. “I’ll use it to buy some beautiful flowers for the residents. They love pretty things, especially plants and flowers. Lots of them used to garden when they were younger. “
“You can do something nice for yourself, too,” I suggested. But she already had a plan. “I’ll pick the flowers up during the week; they’ll be so pleased! People sometimes think the elderly don’t have an appreciation for beauty and it’s just not true. Oh, they’ll just love this. Thank you!”
Aaron arrived and we walked down the platform toward the car. As we passed Erin, she smiled shyly and I gave a little wave.
Was my 50 Euros too much? Hardly.
Erin and her plan? Now, that’s too much.
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