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A lovely Little Family

I met an odd, yet good man today.

I just got out of school and I’d decided to traveled to Ireland for a summer to learn about my heritage and, honestly, just to take a break. I’m a go-getter with a darned busy life; people say Ireland is pretty chill and I had always wanted to visit, so I said to myself, “Eh, why not?” and started packing.

I arrived at Cork Airport very early in the morning, I think, three days ago and spent the remainder of that day trying to find and get settled into the apartment I’d be staying at this summer.

I really liked the place, and not just the apartment: the whole city had a clean feel. It was much more modern than I had pictured, and yet, a lot of it still had a more humble feel than America. I was sure that this would be the change of pace I’d been looking for.

The next few days I did the tourist thing, but I kept to the city. I wasn’t ready to go “exploring” quite yet.

Today I woke up and decided I’d visit this little farmer’s market near where I was staying. I’d noticed it before and it stood out to me. So I got dressed, ate breakfast, threw on a hoodie, and walked the few block to the market square.

I’ve got to say, that was more what I’d been expecting of Ireland. It was very “old school,” you might say. Wrinkled old men in dirty overalls and plump elderly women, plainly dressed, stood behind wooden carts full of all kinds of produce and advertised their specialties. I’m pretty sure there were three booths that all claimed to sell “the best apples you’d ever taste!”

I picked a cart at random and approached it. The man was wrinkled and sun-burnt and had a bit of extra fat and a gruff moustache, but he appeared to be only in his forties, maybe. He was definitely, by all appearances, jovial.

He seemed to be selling eggs and cabbage, an odd combination, I personally thought. Thank God the old man kept the eggs in a cooler of ice.

I didn’t really want cabbage, so I decided to try to strike up a conversation with him.

It actually turned out that I didn’t have to; he began before I had a chance.

“Mornin’sir! D’ya see somthin’ ya want or are ye gonna stand there taking up space?” He must have seen that I looked embarrassed and readied myself to leave because he immediately bellowed a loud guffaw, “I’m messin’ with ya, lad! You can stand around as long as ye likes! I’d rather meet a new friend than sell excess produce anyway!”

Wow, I was right… this guy was jollier than Santa.

We started talking; he told me that he actually lives in a small cottage on a large lot of land out in the country and only comes to Cork on occasion to sell what his family and neighbors don’t eat. It seems that he and his neighbors are a close-knit bunch. Then, I told him my story of coming to visit his country.

I liked his story better. That man really knew how to talk.

I asked him about his family and he said, “Ye know what, lad? I like you. I trust you. Ye’re different than a lot of them American college kids who come and treat us locals like yokels. Hey! That rhymed! Anyway, if it’s all right with you I’d rather show ya me lasses back home ‘stead o’ jist gabbin’ ‘bout them!”

He’d invited me to meet his family; of course I’d go with him! He is one of those few people on earth who’s immediately trusted. I never once questioned any motives he might have.

He decided to close his booth early and we walked over to his really old pickup. I’m not going to lie; I trusted that man, but not his truck particularly. That thing looked ready to explode, or at least literally fall apart. Despite my initial concerns, he assured me that, “This ol’ thing’s carried more weight than a flatbed should over the decades and she’s held up so far.” and with that we hopped in and drove out of the city.

I was fascinated by the gradual change of scenery. While we were first driving, the buildings were tall, modern and close together; then they started growing further apart and more ancient looking, yet also more personal and seemingly friendly.

Now that I think about it, the people we saw were largely the same as the buildings: shallow beauty versus closeness and ugliness.

I sort of prefer the latter, actually.

We were out of the city and all I could think was, “Wow! I’ve been missing too much by staying in Cork.” The wildest parts of America don’t compare with this beauty! There were fewer trees, but the greens of the rolling hills covered in lush, natural grasses whose colors were more vivid than a painting could ever capture contrasted perfectly with the unnatural dullness of that narrow, winding road! All I could think was, “Wow!”

The roads kept getting narrower and more unkempt. Finally we were on a dirt road. Every little dip and rock made the old truck feel as if it was being knocked into orbit or hitting a land mine.

Then we finally saw trees! It was a relief to tired eyes. The scenery was beautiful, but I was starting to miss the woods. Eventually, we had entered a small forest. We were completely surrounded by trees.

The terrain began to descend and before I knew it, we were in a little valley that could almost be thought of as more of an anti-hill than anything significant. In this little drop there was also a clearing maybe an acre across.

I probably wouldn’t have even noticed the change in landscape except that the old man, who had told me his name was Eoin (O-uhn), pointed out the clearing, which, upon examination, really was a pretty spot. It was full of a bright rainbow of wild flowers and yellow uncut grass that would easily come to my waist.

Eoin said, “My lasses play in that meadow all the time. We used to have a little table that we’d drag out during the summer season and we and a few friends would picnic and play music and just have a grand ol’ time! Now that I mentioned it, I wonder whatever did happen to that ol’ thing. We sorta stopped goin’ out there a few years ago… we still visit with friends, mind you; we just go to each other’s houses instead of sittin’ out in the sun. Though I must admit, it does help with insects! ”

I realized it was a joke when he started chuckling and I did my best to join in. I think he noticed, because he quieted down immediately after I started “laughing,” and then there was a lull in the conversation. Then, about five minutes later, he said,

“Well, we’re here! Ain’t it the loveliest little thing ye ever saw!”

Wow, he was right! What a lovely place it was! It seemed straight out of a story book. His house was a little wooden cottage with a thatched roof nestled among a small group of trees. It gave it a crowded but cozy feel. It was classic country, small but closely knit yet welcome to all visitors.

A stream gurgled slowly by, adding rhythm to the natural music produced by the twittering of birds and hum of insects. The light that filtered through the leaves was like little daggers of white, interspersed with soft shadows, bathing the soft, moist earth in sleepy, mottled color. You could see its fresh brightness hanging in the air, reflecting off every miniscule particle floating about. Flowering shrubs grew up right next to their house. The whole setting screamed to be painted and looked born more of the earth than of humanity. It was the most beautiful sight ever to have graced my eyes.

It gave me a feeling I still can’t describe adequately; and trust me, I’ve thought long and hard about it. The best I could think of was that it was like it needed to be treated solemnly and almost reverently, as if it was a holy place. I could almost feel the angels lounging around, relaxing and worshipping God around this house. I wonder how Eden would’ve compared. Maybe this one spot was a little part of Eden that somehow survived and, completely by chance, avoided the doom of fame.

I don’t really know. I don’t think God works that way. Then again, His ways are higher than our ways, and His thoughts are higher than our thoughts. Who can know the mind of the Lord?

I thought of the Bible in the passage when the Lord tells Moses to remove his shoes, “for the place where you stand is holy ground.” I think it was pretty fitting that at that moment when I thought of that verse, Eoin kicked off his boots and invited me to do the same. The ground was soft and damp and there was an ample covering of moss. It felt really nice, a relief from the suffocating tightness of my shoes.

I’m not going to lie. I felt a strong need to pray and thank the Lord for His greatness. In a place like that and a time like that all any sensible man would do would be worship. I closed my eyes and thanked Him for everything.

I opened my eyes and kept looking around. They had a large area to the right of their house cleared out and plowed; young crops were springing up, but they weren’t mature enough for me to identify what kinds they might have been growing.

I never claimed to be a plant expert.

Again Eoin broke the almost reverent silence in a way that didn’t seem disrespectful. It seemed to me that that was his specialty.

“It aint bad is it? It’s me only claim on God’s great earth, so I’d intended to make it the best it could be. I dunno, I could say we succeeded! Wadda you think lad?” I nodded. At this he turned to me with return nod that I didn’t quite understand and then he quite unexpectedly yelled out in a booming voice, “Ay girls and mum! Git out to the front yard. We’ve gotta guest ta feed!”

Not five seconds after he shouted, two adorable little girls bounded toward us, giggling and singing and jumping about. They were the smallest little things I had ever seen, with hopelessly stained clothes and mud in their braids. They had smiles that still warm my heart when I remember their faces. It makes me want to start laughing and go back there and join them every time I think about it.

Then his wife, who at first glance I knew was warm and sensible (I don’t think these people knew the meaning of the phrase, “hidden agenda”), appeared from within the house and sayed in a tome that managed to somehow be both shrill and pleasent, “Oh my, Eoin, ya could’a at least giv’n me a little warnin’. I would’ve put out our extra table setting and cleaned this place up a bit. What’ll he think of our sloppiness?”

Eoin turns to me and with a grin bigger than I could’ve thought possible he muttered, “That there’s me wife Siobhan (shuh-VAHN). She’s a feisty one, but God do I love her! Well, what’re ye waitin’ for? C’mon in! I kin smell the stew from here!”

Actually, my sense of smell isn’t the greatest, so honestly, I couldn’t at first. By the time we got in the doorway though, I could definitely smell it. I can still remember that savory scent of seasoned potatoes and beef as if I am there. Each breath in that house was like eating the stew. When breathing is that pleasant, it makes you very happy and thankful for your life.

We all filed in and sat at their little rough, wooden table which had been hastily covered by Siobhan with a checkered tablecloth. They had electricity and running water, but it was still a slightly dim interior; they seemed to prefer candles to light bulbs.

Siobhan placed before my eyes a potato and cabbage and beef stew that was as scrumptious as it looked.

While we ate, we also talked. At this time he mentioned that his daughters’ names were Máire (moy-ruh) and Áine (ahn-yuh).

Finally we finish the main course and a desert was brought out. It was a simple dish: fruit baked into sweet and fluffy dough topped with sweetened cream. Eventually we slowly stop eating and just sat silently for several minutes. It was a sort of punctuation to a brilliant meal. I thought it fit the mood perfectly and was very appropriate.

Finally, and again, without warning, Eoin grabbed a beat up old acoustic guitar and Siobhan grabbed a little flute-like instrument that she told me was a penny whistle, and they began to sing some old folk song about going to the place where the blooming heather grows and picking wild mountain thyme. I didn’t know it but I think I began to catch on by the around the second chorus.

It was around then that I noticed that the sky was getting dark through the window and I looked at the clock and saw that I really should go back to my apartment. They looked slightly disappointed but told me that, “We understand, jist remember that ye can drop by any time ya like! It was so very nice to meet you! Goodbye and have a safe trip!”

I learned something that day. I think God often speaks most clearly when we are in a secluded and quiet time. I met these people, and it showed me a different way of life. Slower and more tightly-knit is often better. I felt an immediate closeness to them, and I felt an immediate closeness to my Lord when I was with them. Too many people rush through life and don’t stop just to enjoy it.

I am really glad that I went with this jolly old man back to his house to meet his family. I learned so much and I had an absolutely wonderful time. I’ve actually still got most of the summer left in Ireland, but I won’t forget this lovely little family. Thank you, Lord, for these little moments of life that most people never get to experience!



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