On Turning 60 Part II (Looking for Ancestors, Finding Self) …


Charles and I just returned from Ireland. It was my 60th birthday gift. My sister Piglet and her husband went with us. It was a dream come true. I had traced my maternal grandfather’s family back to the 1400s and some pretty significant people and occurrences in Ireland. I went searching for answers, but came home with more questions. What happened before THAT? Are we related by blood to Anne Boleyn (she had six fingers), or just by marriage? What would they think about having a many times over great granddaughter looking into their lives five centuries later, in a country on the other side of the horizon they didn’t know was there? Were any of my people in a workhouse? How big was the Irish slave trade?

Is this what 60 is? Learning about people you don’t know but with whom you have a DNA match for no other reason but curiosity? Is it just curiosity, or is it a search for validation?

Travel as a 60 year old is much different than travel when my kids were young. There was not the constant concern about the travel budget. Visiting a place to soak up the culture and learn new things is nothing like taking children to Disney. There was no rushing around, packing supplies like we need to survive in the desert for a week instead of two hours to ride a rollercoaster. I can’t even imagine standing in line to view castle ruins with small children. I never once dragged Charles through a museum gift shop with him screaming “Please!” We didn’t have to ask if the restaurant had chicken nuggets before deciding to eat there. We never once ate out of a box. The most stressful part of our trip was driving on the other side of the road.

We stayed in a two bedroom cottage in Tipperary (yes, it is a long long way there) called The Snug. The television was never turned on. We rose early, had a pot of coffee or two, ate a leisurely breakfast, then drove to whatever destination Piglet had mapped out for us the night before. Using her Ireland travel guide thick with flags and margin notes, she was the perfect trip planner. I doubt we would have seen as much as we did without her organizing the routes. She certainly got us our money’s worth. By the time we returned to The Snug, well after dark, we were exhausted and in bed within the hour. This was not a vacation for kids.

Is this what 60 is? A 10 hour plane trip to look at old buildings?

A “snug” is what the Irish called a small private room in some of the pubs where women could go and enjoy a pint, as drinking alongside men in the pub was just simply not done back in the day. They have no problem with it now.

Piglet asked me if I thought Mom would have enjoyed it. We talked for years about taking Mom and Daddy to Ireland, but they didn’t live long enough to see it happen. Getting Daddy to go would have been a challenge. He wasn’t much for travel unless it work. I believe he would have offered to pay for all our trip if he didn’t have to go. I think Mom would have enjoyed it when she was healthy. The workhouses and Kilmainham jail would have broken her heart. The view of the Cliffs of Moher would have amazed her. I know the gardens around Blarney Castle would have been her favorite.

Would she have been giddy on the trip like I was? Probably not, giddy wasn’t really Mom’s thing, and I could barely keep from dancing an Irish jig every minute I was there. Would she have been excited to see the names of ancestors from her father’s side of the family engraved on the side of church wall? I don’t know. I doubt she would have expressed it. She was the classic stoic, my mother. She never really got excited or showed passion. She may have had passions, but she never talked about them. When I tried to discuss something I was excited about, she’d smile slightly and “hmmm.” If that didn’t shut me down, she might pat my arm and say “that’s nice.” I always took it as just disinterest in me, but it probably wasn’t. I’m trying to pull up a memory of Mom ever getting truly excited about something. I have memories of her getting good and mad, for sure. Mad she could do. But excited? Nope, not in my presence anyway. God, can that be true? Did she never get excited about anything? I can’t recall.

I never get tired of being around Piglet, even after eight days of travel. I doubt it is the same for her, though. I am keenly aware of the fact that a little of me goes “a long long way.” I can’t help my enthusiasm. Even if my feet aren’t getting jigging with it, my insides are and it shows. I like to share everything. Can things even be real if they aren’t shared with someone? I try to be quiet when I sense the overwhelm vibe coming from people, but then I forget and start sharing again. Everything I made a connection with in Ireland, I had to verbalize. I’m so much that I even exhaust myself and sometimes have to ask if I will please hush for a minute. If I were a spy captured by the enemy, they wouldn’t need to waterboard me for information, they would simply have to show interest (and not even very much of it). If I were the victim of a crime and the perpetrator said “Tell anyone about this and I will kill you,” I’d be doomed.

We were leaving Blarney Castle when someone brought up family traits. I commented that Piglet had the straight nose of Mom and that of our maternal grandfather’s side, while my little brother and I shared the more curvy nose of our paternal side. Daddy’s work ethic is strong in all three of us, his genes were overly generous there. No one in my family would be considered tall, but Piglet and Mom never reached five feet and have the tiny feet of our ancestors. Piglet tends toward stoic like Mom, but can be generous with an “Oh, yay!” with those she loves – which fall on a person like pennies from Heaven. Like Daddy, I am a bull in a China shop; Piglet browses. Piglet absorbs her surroundings; I reach out and grab. She sees the dandelion has gone to seed, acknowledges it and moves on. I hastily reach down and pick that dandelion while the seeds all fly away in the wind. Do I learn? Nope, I pick another one, with the same damned result. Both of us enjoy sharing a good inside joke – be it at our own expense or someone else’s – and can laugh at the most mundane of observations. I think that is Mom in both of us.

I didn’t kiss the Blarney Stone, mostly because everyone and their second cousin had kissed it before me. Partly because I would have had to lie down at the top of the castle and lean backwards into a hole to do it (trusting a complete stranger to keep me from falling). But also because the blessing of the Blarney Stone was the “gift of gab” and I already have more of that gift than I need. Might as well leave it for someone who needs it.

I’ve always wanted to be more like my Mom. Everyone had such wonderful things to say about her when she died. She was hospitable and sweet and loving and a joy to be around. I did inherit her love of digging in the dirt and weeding by hand to work out my frustrations. But I’ve been heavily blessed with the traits of my paternal side. Daddy once told me I was so much like his sister when she was young, he could pinch my head off. Daddy was generous, funny, and never met a stranger. I could do worse. But, he could be his own worst enemy and full of self doubt. He took up lots of space and never missed an opportunity to fill a moment of silence with his opinion. Well, in the words of that 80s sitcom theme song… “You take the good, you take the bad, you take them both and there you have the facts of life.”

Is this what being 60 is? Realizing what an exhaustive pain in the arse I can be, and being OK with it.

While I have so many traits gifted me from those who came before me, I also know that I am not bound by them. I can change my behavior easier than I can my nature, of course. I can wake up early in the morning and be glad I did, though by nature I am not a morning person. Waking early allows me a head start to enjoy more of the day, so that’s what I do. It is not my nature to be quiet and listen while other people speak, but I have learned to be quiet and listen to the trees talk to me, which is a good start. Of course, sometimes I cannot resist the urge to ask the trees questions, but that’s another thing altogether.

Is this what 60 is? Or is this senility?

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