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 Dymphnaâ€™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.
Itâ€™s quiet here â€“ profoundly so. Itâ€™s easy to sleep the morning away. If Aaron hadnâ€™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 â‚¬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. â€œLooks heavy,â€ I said, nodding my head toward her pack. â€œOh, Iâ€™m used to it,â€ she answered. â€œWhat part of the States are you from?â€ Turns out she has a cousin in Oregon.
The woman said she was heading back to Dublin: â€œUnfortunately.â€ I asked what she meant. â€œI grew up in Dublin, and I canâ€™t stand the noise of the city. I just despise it.â€ She comes out to the country to get away from the bustle. â€œEven an hour out here, you know, it just refreshes you,â€ she said. I agreed.
She told me her name was Erin and that she works in a nursing home for people with dementia. â€œI love it, I really do. But you have to take a break, step back a bit every so often. It can be very tiring.â€ Her gaze was steady and kind; her Irish eyes a clear gray-blue.
Last nightâ€™s dream still shimmering, I found comfort in the thought of this woman at her work. Â 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 â‚¬50 bill she paused for a beat and then leaned toward me with a serious expression. â€œOh, I canâ€™t accept this. Itâ€™s too much!â€ I told her it was hers to do with as she pleased.
â€œI know what Iâ€™ll do,â€ she said with a nod. â€œIâ€™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. â€œ
â€œYou can do something nice for yourself, too,â€ I suggested. But she already had a plan. â€œIâ€™ll pick the flowers up during the week; theyâ€™ll be so pleased! People sometimes think the elderly donâ€™t have an appreciation for beauty and itâ€™s just not true. Oh, theyâ€™ll just love this. Thank you!â€
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, thatâ€™s too much.
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