“Folks, looks like we’re going to have a long night ahead of us,” is one of the most anxiety-inducing statements that can be transmitted from an airplane cockpit.
Sure, “Oops” and “Hand me that parachute” may rate higher on the freakout scale once the flight is airborne, but still on the tarmac two hours past scheduled takeoff, the only words I would find more discomforting than “Folks, looks like we’re going to have a long night ahead of us” would be, “Mr. Jihad, would you please take your seat.”
Our trip to Ireland began five years earlier while celebrating our friends’ 20th wedding anniversary. Peggy and I had just come back from somewhere, and Lorraine mentioned she’d never traveled much. The one place she’d always dreamed of visiting was Ireland. Greg talked a lot that night about his intense fear of flying. We told Lorraine and Greg that if they wanted to go to Ireland on their 25th anniversary, we’d go with them.
Or with her, as the case might be.
(Greg insisted his aerophobic dread might kill him in the meantime.)
Ireland loomed large in my imagination as a land of mythical scenery and deep national character, a place of legends, heroes like the ancient superman Cu’ Chulainn, Finn Mac Cool the prophet warrior, and brewer Arthur Guinness. Obviously there are other notable Irish icons: literary giants, famous actors and musicians, and historical folk like Brian Boru, James Connolly, Bobby Sands, Mary McAleese, St. Patrick (an Englishman!) and John Jameson (a Scot!) but to me, those first three luminaries stand preeminent in stature. Especially dear old Mr. Guinness.
That is, of course, after my esteemed great-great-great-great-great-great- great- great- great-great-grandfather, Henry DeCoursey.
On my mom’s side. Henry came over from Ireland in the mid-1600’s to help settle the Maryland colony. He was a man of stature, of quality, yet a man’s man, an adventurer, a go-getter from way back. Served high office and was a renowned Native American negotiator. He received land grants from royalty and made trade with pirates.
In the mid-to-late 17th century, Henry probably owned half the shoreline and farmland in what became Queen Anne’s County. Ten generations later, one of his descendents drops dead; we’re looking to buy back enough ground to bury them in.
I know almost diddle about my dad’s side of the family. They were farmers and watermen and ne’er-do-wells, not captains and judges and politicians.
Mom’s side’s always been a bit full of themselves.
Our daughter, Nicole, was sixteen when we started making plans to go to Ireland. If I was going to visit where our most illustrious ancestor, the family apex if you will, got his start, I wanted Nicole to be with me.
Peg and I committed. “Count us in,” we said.
Five years goes fast.
Sometimes faster than five hours.
Now we were being told that due to a string of powerful electrical storms rolling across America’s east coast, it may be yet another two or three hours before departure. There were sixty planes ahead of us. Five hours total. Five hours added to a six hour transatlantic flight. Inside the cramped and stinky and tension filled belly of a scrap metal beast that God never meant to fly through the heavens in the first place.
The battery on my IPod was already three quarters dead.
Peggy’s contacts began to irritate her, as did I.
Nicole looked like she wanted to cry, as did Greg.
We waited so long I began to imagine movement. When the wheels actually did start to roll, I thought I might be hallucinating. The passengers applauded when the plane lifted. It felt like the applause at intermission of a mandatory eleven hour Vanilla Ice concert.
Landing in Shannon was anti-climatic. There were free airport luggage carts. Nicole had a reunion with the ice cream bars she’d tasted on a school trip to France. The first guy Lorraine met, a customs officer, was grumpy and mean to her. He looked like if Ricky Gervais and Ed Asner had a baby.
We were delivered to our rental van, but Greg set his sights on the bigger, redder, van that was being utilized as the airport shuttle. The rental company resisted his efforts of procurement. They really, really, wanted us to take what they gave us.
We drove off bigger and redder than you’d ever believe possible.
And since Greg was destined to do all the driving, what he wanted was what I wanted.
We fell into a natural rhythm that worked well for us. Greg drove while Peggy sat up front and navigated. Splitting those two crucial tasks between the couples cut way back on the typical husband-slash-wife sniping, and arguing, and yes, the slashing that prolonged road time can occasionally ignite within even the most loving of well-traveled marriages. I sat amidships with a map and my handwritten research/guide book. Nicole was our eyes of last resort, and Lorraine provided the calm center that soaked in both the dream vista outside the big red van’s windows and the tumultuous inner landscape of wrong turns and bumped heads.
We’d asked the Clare Inn Golf & Leisure Centre about early check-in. Our long takeoff delay made a joke of the concept. Any vague plans we had for Day One dissolved into dinner at the hotel pub and a “see ya’ in the morning.”
I drank my first in-Ireland Guinness. Nicole ate her first order of fish and chips.
Greg and Lorraine were assigned a bad room and had to be moved, but my girls and I lucked out. We got an apartment style two bedroom suite in a detached four unit building near the woods. A couple of fawns were grazing outside our window. There was calm.
Then there was no hot water.