Tonight, a cozy fire crackles away as I snuggle under a blanket and watch parts of the third season. Episode 16 is entitled Dead Irish Writers and encompasses the First Lady's birthday party, the dream of a dying, eminent physicist, Donna becoming Canadian (briefly), and the request by the British government, via their Ambassador to the United States, that the White House not allow the leader of Sinn Féin to visit the President for a talk. Joyce is quoted as having written, "history is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake" and Eugene O'Neill as having penned, "there is no present or future, only the past, happening over and over again, now."
I feed another log to the fire and dwell upon my dwelling, this farmhouse, again. My home. My heart sighs.
When I was 24, I spent six weeks in Ireland prior to attending a course on 'Yeats and Irish Poets After Him' at St. Catherine's College, Cambridge University toward my degree back in Canada. I had applied for Summer Studies in English Literature and felt truly excited to study Yeats, whom I worshipped. He was my mother's favourite poet and she introduced him to me long before I would study him or any other Irish poet/writer. Growing up, our home had hung on its walls a painting of the Sacred Heart and, alongside it, a framed poem entitled, The Lake Isle of Innisfree. Naturally, there was confusion on my part as to which held the higher footing.
In 2000, my former spouse and I decide to leave Toronto for greener pastures, literally and figuratively. The day I walk into this farmhouse I know I will live here. It isn't that the house is older than Canada itself. Nor that its picturesque views from the back deck over rolling fields remind me somewhat of Ireland. The reason I know I will live in this house is because, upon entering the kitchen, I discover pages of Yeats' poetry have been glued to the wall. The owner had torn the pages from a book in her father-in-law's collection and pasted them for wallpaper. I remember standing open-mouthed, unable to speak, my heart rising into my throat, tears forming near my lashes. Apparently, what helps our bid is that the owner, a poet herself, is pleased as punch to learn we have zero intention of removing the pages of poetry once she sells the place. Ten years later, the pages have yellowed but still hang above the island where guests chop vegetables, sip wine and become enamoured of Yeats' exquisite verse.
One morning, a few Thanksgivings ago, I awake early to start the turkey. It is 6 a.m. when I sit myself at the table with a pot on my lap and a bag of potatoes and begin to peel. This simple act: the dipping of potato in water, the knife smoothly scraping back the skin, poking out the eyes, cutting them in halves, then quarters. A spud in the hand, the dirt of earth still clinging to it, is so decent and firm a thing. I recall taking a deep breath of satisfaction over this humble domestic duty. It occurs to me it is something my mother has done herself many a morning in the wee hours; something my grandmother has done and her mother before her. And hers. Talk about a 'root' vegetable. I feel their wizened hands guiding mine as the skins fall in strips into the compost bucket. Did you know that the ASL sign for Ireland is a potato? And this home was built a mere 15 years after the Great Famine began back 'home', in Eire. Just to think on that...
On my kitchen island hang three pieces of slate salvaged from the roofs of derelict cottages in Ireland, once the homes to past generations of Irish people, now dead and gone. Slate roofs replace the thatched cottages of an even older generation; the kind of cottage my mother's Uncle Jim would bicycle the countryside to photograph in the early 1900s, one of which hangs in my dining room. Shellacked to the slate are images of three dead Irish writers: James Joyce, Sean O'Casey and William Butler Yeats. My aunt sent them across the pond to me as a housewarming gift since she knows my love of Irish history and Celtic mythology, something each of these writers were well versed in themselves, no pun intended. And warm my house, they do, indeed.
I am thinking ahead to the spring when I must leave this farmhouse I love. I wonder what connection I will have to my next home. What will draw me to it? What will speak to me when I wander through its rooms, gaze out its windows? What might grab my heart? Evoke tears? I've no idea yet what will be the deciding factor for me.
But one thing I do know: as soon as I am settled, I intend to rise early one morning in that house and peel some potatoes. To feel grounded. To give a nod to my own roots. I know then I'll feel at home, again.
(Plus, I have a book or two of Yeats' poetry under my arm for wallpapering.)
This one goes out to my wee Irish mother and all the mothers before her; for my father's mother whom I never knew, who died when he was only 9 years of age. And for my wee Irish son who, somewhat miraculously, made an Irish mother out of me. For the homes we've each evolved from over generations. For the homes we and our children and our children's children will make. All the potatoes yet to be peeled. The Innisfrees yet to manifest in our deep heart's core:
I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean rows will I have there, a hive for the honey bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.
And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight's all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet's wings.
I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements gray,
I hear it in the deep heart's core.
~William Butler Yeats~
Music: Troy, Sinéad O'Connor