The Journal

Erica Van Horn – Living Locally

Month: September, 2014

Wool buying

25 September Thursday

Nonnie went to visit another woman who had recently lost her husband.  The death had happened some months ago and far away.  Nonnie went to pay her respects now that the woman had returned here.  She asked if the husband had been buried close to their family home.  The woman said that he had not been buried but cremated instead.  She said she still had the ashes and had not yet decided where to put them. Nonnie gasped and dropped her head down hard on the table.  She banged her head a few times and she moaned.  She lifted up her head and said Oh How could you cremate That Beautiful Body? Then she banged her head down again.

24 September Wednesday

We drove to Thurles to take the train to Dublin.  Once we were on the platform, we saw that there was an earlier train and that the earlier one was an Express. There would be no stops until Dublin. We decided to get on that one instead of the one we had planned for.  After a few minutes, an announcement came on and we were told that the Express was running 12 minutes late.  We did not mind.  it meant that we would still be in Dublin sooner than we had planned.  We were looking forward to tea and toast in the dining car.

As we boarded the Express there was another announcement saying that there would be an unschedualed stop at Port Laoise.  The train was packed.  Every seat was full and there was not much standing room.  Just about everyone on the train was going to The National Ploughing Competition.  The Ploughing is in Port Laoise this year.  Almost all of the people who had boarded at Cork where the train originated were going to The Ploughing.  There was no tea and toast in the Dining Car for us.  There was no Dining Car.  No doubt all those farmers and their families who were going to The Ploughing had eaten their breakfast hours ago, well before leaving home and probably before they had even done their farm chores.

At Port Laoise, the cars emptied out. We looked out the windows as the platform filled up. There were many buses outside the station waiting to take everyone on to The Ploughing.  The few of us who were left on the train looked around and smiled at one another.  Suddenly there was so much space. None of us needed more than one seat for the rest of our journey to Dublin, but there was so much space after everyone got off that we felt fortunate.

21 September Sunday

Today I was told that each of us dies twice.  The man who told me this said that You die once when the breath goes out of you.  You die again the very last time that someone says your name out loud.

20 September Saturday

Last night we had our first rainfall in weeks. It was a good soaking rain.  It was probably not enough rain to make the farmers happy, but nonetheless, it was welcome rain.  I took the walk through the woods and along the river in Cahir.  It was no longer raining but there was a bit of drizzle in the breeze or just blowing off the trees. I met John, the Ancient Man, and we stood together in the dampness and spoke for a while.  He had his umbrella but he did not put it up.  I had a hood on my jacket but I did not put that up either.  It was not really wet.  He asked me about Emily and I told him that she had died.  He was very sorry to hear it.  He spoke about how he still looks behind him for his Ancient Dog who died two years ago.  He still looks for her and he still feels surprised not to see her struggling long behind him. I know exactly how he feels.

I told him that he was looking well and he told me that he had Gone to 90 since we last spoke. He said his sister had Gone to 92 and that she has started riding herself out in a wheelchair.  He is disgusted with her.  He is still walking his 5 miles every day but he said that he is walking more and more slowly, so it takes him a lot longer than it did even a few months ago.  Most of his day is now taken up with his morning walk. He does not want to shorten his route but he might have to consider it come winter. He asked me if I had heard the news about the Irish woman who had won 87 million euro on the lottery last night.  No one knows who she is or what part of the country she is in. He is hoping that he might come across her on his walk today.  He asked me if by chance she was me.

19 September Friday

It is not a wise thing to offer someone A Ride.  Offering A Ride is a salacious invitation. Offering or asking for A Ride in a public situation is bound to cause some sniggers, especially if the one doing the offering is a woman.  It is best to offer or to request A Lift.  That way there is no danger of a sexual implication.

18 September Thursday

I just learned that Oliver Hackett is dead.  His death was not recent. He died back in March.  He had been unwell for a while.  I was surprised that I missed the news of his death.  The imperative of death makes such things big news when they happen, and immediately after that they are simply Already Known Facts.  I had not even noticed that his grocery shop was closed and that the doors to his big shed where locked up tight.  He sold firewood and coal and canisters of propane gas out of the big shed.   I just did not pay attention as I passed by in the car.  I did not pay attention for many months.  There were several years when Oliver was trying to sell his entire business with his house attached.  He had it listed on the internet.  I am not sure how long he was trying to sell it, but after he died I guess neither his daughter nor his son wanted to take over the whole operation.  Oliver often had a tetchy manner.  Once he was delivering several loads of firewood to us and he said something about me being English.  I said that I was not English.  I told him that Simon is English but that I am not. He took offense and acted as though I had been lying to him for years. For a long while, he refused to speak to me at all when we met.  If I entered his shop he made a snorting sound and ignored me.  I do not think that he was angry because I was an American.  He was angry because he had been so certain about who I was and he did not like to find himself wrong.

17 September Wednesday

There is a new sign announcing Wool Buying Every Thursday at the Co-op. The Wool Buying on Thursday is not a new thing, but the sign is new.

It Looks Well

16 September Tuesday

I walked out over Joe’s fields this morning.  I wanted to walk up the mass path, but there is no way to get through.  Branches and trees have fallen and there are masses of  brambles blocking the way. It will take some big work before we can walk that route again. The grass in the fields was heavy with dew and my trousers were wet up to the knee before I had gone any distance at all. I could see Joe on his tractor far ahead.  He was rounding up the cows for the slow walk to the milking.  Rather than straggle along behind them, I stayed on the fields and walked through one fenced off area after another.  I think there were eight fields to pass through.  I had to crawl underneath the wire.  It was a wet thing to do.  Walking is a dilemma in these early autumn days.  The ground is heavy with wet in the morning but once the sun burns off the wetness,  it becomes too hot for walking.  So I walked and crawled through the wet grass.  Going under the two kinds of fencing is always a bit of a challenge.  I hate to hit the wire and get an electric shock. There is a string which is used a lot on most of the fenced areas.  I think of it as a new kind of fencing but I think it has been around for a while.  It is not new. The string is white with either blue or yellow interspersed with the white.  I can never be sure if the string is electrified.  To a certain degree the cows get conditioned to understand that the string is on, but I think it is often not on.  They see it and avoid making contact because they have been shocked by it before.  Like the cows I choose not to make contact with it.  In a few of the fields there was evidence of recent grass eating. Since the cows had been eating away,  there was a lot of manure. in the remaining grass.  Each time I crawled or rolled under a fence I had to check where I was going in order to make sure I did not land in manure.  The fresh stuff is slippery and messy but the day old stuff has a crust over the top of it.  It means crunching through the older stuff and then landing in the wet and slimy stuff which has been kept wet by being protected.  None of it smells but it is messy. By the time I reached the gate and climbed over it onto the road, I was soaking wet.  I had avoided all of the manure, except for a bit on my boots.  I felt a real sense of accomplishment and it was still early morning.

15 September Monday

The postman was in a bit of a tizzy this morning.  He is one of several substitute postmen who have been driving down to us since John is still at home recovering from surgery. Today’s man said it was a terrible day for him as the new Tesco Club Cards were being sent out and that meant that nearly every house was getting a delivery.  He said that there are many houses which he only goes to once a week or not even that often but when the Tesco Club Cards get sent out the whole entire Post Office and all of the delivery men are just rushed off their feet.

14 September Sunday

The house is all painted.  It is looking good. We step outside often to look at it and to admire it. It took a bit of getting used to the colour.  I don’t know whether to call it dusty pink or raspberry ripple or what.  It looks different at different times of day.  It does look fine and the off-white surrounds on the windows look sharp.  Maybe it actually looks ridiculous and we are only thinking that we like it because we are getting used to it. What I am worrying about is what we are going to do with Em’s house.  We had to move it away from the wall before the work got started.  The roof, which has been falling in for quite a long time completely collapsed.  The floor fell apart as the house was moved.  We found a large cache old bones, remnants of rubber toys and clumped up filthy blankets.  The bones made me weep.  The walls have served as a gallery for a long time. Every photo of another dog and announcements about puppies to be viewed and dog shows were put up on the walls.  There were a few cat pictures on the left side but it was mostly dog things that got stapled up.  Now everything is peeled, faded or torn.  Em had not actually been using her house for a long time.  I think she could not go inside perhaps for fear that she would not even know how to get herself back out.  She was avoiding  places like that. She no longer wanted to sleep in her wicker bed and preferred her sheep’s wool mat to anything that held her in position. Since she never slept outside and only used it during the day, I thought of her house as an office.  Now the fact that we have moved it at all makes it seem crazy to move it back into its old position.  To take it down and throw it onto the burning pile seems so final.  It is all happening a bit faster than I would have liked.

13 September Saturday

People often say that something Looks Well.   They don’t say that it Looks Good or even that it Looks Nice. It Looks Well is a real compliment.

Finishing the walk alone

12 September Friday

Father Sean Nugent died.  He was local to the area.  He was always spoken of as Father Sean Nugent, never as Father Sean or Father Nugent.  I guess using his family name kept him connected to his people in the area. For some of his years as a priest, he was the priest in the village.  Or I think he was the priest in the village for a time.  Actually, I have no idea how long he was there, but I seem to have gone to a great many funerals where he was  officiating.  I remember him mostly because he often spoke of a man he was burying as AN INOFFENSIVE MAN.  Hearing someone described as Inoffensive always sets me thinking.  I cannot decide if it is a fine and complimentary thing to be described as Inoffensive or if it is tantamount to saying that the person in question was actually quite boring. It might be a way of saying that the person in question did not have a great many good qualities so it is best not to say too much. I will not be attending the funeral of Father Sean Nugent. I did not even know the man. But I cannot help but wonder if he himself will be described as An Inoffensive Man at his own funeral.

11 September Thursday

There is still a lot of haying activity. I get mixed up about what is hay and what is straw and how each crop gets collected and stored.  Silage is baled up into black plastic. Today I saw a big tractor pulling a device behind it.  The device picked up a bale of whatever goes into the silage and the whole thing got wrapped up into black plastic while the bale twirled around on a spindle sort of thing in the middle of the trailer.  When the plastic wrapping was completed, two arms from the machine let the bale roll gently off, sort of catching the bale before dropping it on the ground alongside with the others.  It caught the bale in bent places of its arms just like elbows.  The dropping onto the ground was a gentle rolling off. The stubble which is left in many fields is from straw.  I just learned that the cutting of hay does not leave stubble. Some things are collected into big round bales and some are in big rectangular shapes.  There are also small flat bales from smaller older machines.  I learn these things but I never seem to have complete knowledge of what is keeping everyone so busy in the fields and on the tractors.

10 September Wednesday

The nights are drawing in fast.  They are already feeling chilly.  I have decided to walk down into the meadow each night the way I used to walk with Em.  It has been a long time since she gave up on that walk and just preferred her stroll in the upper grass near to the house before bed.  I loved my walk through the meadow with her and now I have decided that I should re-start it sort of as a way to think of her and to have a breath of air at night. Some nights I feel a little bit lonely walking down the path in the dark.  Some nights I feel a little bit nervous.  It is not really fear. I think it is just the feeling of being alone in the dark with no light except that from a torch whose batteries are weak.  Having Em rushing off into the night and barking was never really more than a nominal idea of companionship.  It just meant that we neither started nor finished the walk alone.

9 September Tuesday

The house is about to be painted.  The old wooden gutters have been taken down. Simon made the gutters himself.  The ones on the house were square in shape and the ones on the book barn were vee-shaped.  They were made of treated wood and they have lasted well, but this is a wet country.  They lasted sixteen years. For the last two years they have been leaking badly in several places. So maybe I should say they lasted fourteen years. The wooden gutters have had their day.  They will be replaced with aluminium gutters as used on farm buildings.  But first the house must be washed with the power washer and then the painting will begin.  After the painting is finished, the new gutters will be put in place.  The week promises to be dry so we will not miss them for a few days.

8 September Monday

The man was here to do the yearly clean and re-conditioning of the Rayburn stove.  The days are very hot so it is perfect time to have it done.  If we wait too long and the days get cold, then the stove has to be turned off for several hours before the man can do the job.  On a cold day, we kick ourselves for not having the job done in the warm weather.  I came in from town while the man was halfway through the job.  I was running back and forth putting things away and he was running in and out putting things in his truck.  In a matter of minutes we had bumped into one another several times while both trying to go through the narrow doorway between the kitchen and the big room at the same time.  Every time we laughed.   It got funnier as it happened again and again. He said “You know what this is?  This is called The Dancing Point.”

7 September Sunday

The raspberries continue to be ripe and ready every day.  Some evenings I collect them before dark so that they will be there for breakfast in the morning. More often I have to step out in the morning in my bathrobe and my wellie boots to get just enough to eat with cereal. I go back out later in the morning to fill up a larger bowl, but I am enjoying the portion control of picking just as many berries as I want to eat.  The leaves and the grass and everything are all drenched on these cool mornings. The days have been hot.  There is so much picking to do.  The blackberries have never been so plentiful although I think that I think this every year.  I keep picking and picking.  Some for the freezer and some for the eating. The blotcheens  are delicious.  We made jam with the wild damsons but somehow we never make anything with the blotcheens.  We just eat them.

5 September Friday

The excitement about the new Rose of Tralee seems to be over.  Or it has just been pushed aside while other things take priority in the news. The competition happens every year and even though it seems quite old-fashioned to hold a beauty contest, it gets a lot of young women entering and a lot of people watching it on national television.  The women who enter are all of Irish descent although they can be from anywhere in the world.  There is a Hong Kong Rose, a Dubai Rose, a Melbourne Rose and sometimes even a Japanese Rose.  They come from everywhere.  I do not know how they are chosen from the place where they live.  There must be a preliminary Rose of Tralee competition to see who will represent a particular city or country.  Once the competition arrives in Kerry, there are handsome young men assigned to each Rose.  They accompany herself on whatever activities are done over the week or ten days of the competition.  The escorts are chosen from all over Ireland.  They often appear in tuxedos. The women have to perform different tasks such as discussing their jobs, their education, and answering questions about their dreams and aspirations.  They have to perform some sort of Party Piece like a song, or a dance or playing a musical instrument.  Some recite a poem. I do not think there is anything as sexist as a bathing suit contest but it is understood that the Rose of Tralee must be attractive. I have probably written about the Rose of Tralee competition before but I have not watched it for a long time.  For me, once was enough. This years Rose is from Philadelphia.  After she won the crown she declined a toast as she announced that she is a teetotaller.  Later it was noted that she is gay.  Some people seemed disturbed by this and there was a lot of discussion on the radio and in the papers.  The new Rose was asked why she did not tell anyone beforehand that she was Gay..  She said that no one had asked.   After a little flurry, the whole issue has died down and now the 2014 Rose can just get on doing whatever the Rose of Tralee does for the year of her reign.

Vocabulary of loss

4 September Thursday

There was a murder last night.  It happened right underneath the bedroom window.  I woke up to the squealing and screeching of a captured creature.  I could not tell if it was a bird or a rabbit.  It might have been anything at all.  The sounds were terrible.  They were the sounds of fear and desperation.  There was struggle.  The noises were all the voice of whoever was being killed.  It varied as things went from bad to worse.  I could do nothing and I could see nothing.  For less than a minute, I thought of rushing outside with a light but I knew that it was already too late.  The fox had someone already in his mouth and the screams were the last moments of a life.  I lay in the dark and I listened.  I had no choice but to listen.  It was gruesome and noisy, and then it was all completely quiet.

3 September Wednesday

I went down into the meadow with the idea of demonstrating how lovely the mown paths were. The bright green short grass paths winding down through the long grasses always suggest promise to me, even though I know exactly where they lead.   Instead of the lush short grass of the winding paths contrasting with the surrounding mixture of late summer burnt and  golden grasses, I was showing off a meadow half devastated by the strimmer, with a scatter of cut grasses over everything.  In some places the paths were barely visible.  I could see the paths because I knew they were there.  I am not sure anyone else could find them visible enough to follow, much less find them interesting.  The apple trees are fuller than they have ever been.  There are masses of apples reaching ripeness on every branch.  Most of the branches are hanging heavily with the weight of all the fruit.  The blotcheens are ripe and ready for eating.  Every single fruit tree is heavily entangled with convolvulus vines.  The vines are just reaching up from the ground and encircling the trunks and the branches and it is all a mess.  I have been leaving the vines because if I start to tug at them I might lose a lot of fruit in the struggle.  Between the messed up paths and the not raked up grass and the trees that look like they are being choked to death, the walk to view the meadow was not my best idea.

2 September Tuesday

The woman in front of me was filling out cards for the weekly GAA lottery.  She had three of the yellow cards lined up on which to write her details.  She was old and her hands were stiff.  She held the pen awkwardly. Her handwriting was slow. She only needed to write her name and phone number. Because the writing was laboured and probably painful, she interrupted herself often to speak. She did not attempt to write and to speak at the same time. She remarked to the woman behind the counter that “It’s Heading Up Nicely.”  Then she announced, in a louder voice, to anyone in hearing distance, that the jackpot had climbed to well over seven thousand euro now.  She said,  “There’s a lot of people waiting on that money.”

1 September Monday

I have a new vocabulary.  It is the vocabulary of loss.  There are a lot of words I rarely use in relation to myself.  These are a lot of words which are now in my conversation every day:  Bereft.  Mourn.  Heartbroken.  Devastation.  Vacuum.  Absence. Grief.  Death.  Sorrow.  Pity.  Sorrow.  Consolation.  Sympathy. Remembering.  Forgetting. Commiseration.  Oh dear.  The list goes on and on.  Sometimes these words are only said in my head.  Sometimes they are written. Sometimes they are part of conversations.  Sometimes they are said out loud.  Everywhere I go the news has spread.  One person tells another.  Each time I speak with someone we need to go over Em’s death and we need to find the right words to say everything that needs to be said.  I have spoken with people who still miss their deceased dog after 34 years, or 12 years or 7 years.  One person listed the things that she has saved from her dead dog. She has his hair clippings, his nail clippings, his baby teeth, his collar and his toys.  She has made a sort of shrine so that she will never forget him. He has been dead for 6 years. She swears that she misses him every single day.  Another woman told me that losing her own dog was like having the back wall of the house fall off.  I know exactly how that feels.   For now, I still expect to see Em appear from someplace indoors or someplace outdoors.  I just assume that where she is is just somewhere nearby and that I will see her soon.  There are grubby marks low down on various corners and on the edges of door frames where her body has rubbed as she passed by again and again. These marks suggest her presence not her absence.

31 August Sunday

In Waterford there is a bread roll called a Blaa. Sandwiches are always offered on a Blaa.  I often intend to find out how and why the Blaa got its name and also to find out why it is only a Waterford word.  As far as I know, no where else in the country serves up a Blaa.  The Blaa is not an item for export.  Not knowing and not getting around to asking keeps the mystery going for me.  It also means that I am both surprised and delighted each time I hear the word again.

30 August Saturday

There was a man painting the door of O’Dwyer’s shop.  It was a wooden door which is really just a piece of plywood with hinges.  All day long the door is held open and attached to the wall of the building with a padlock.  It has various notices for events and things for sale pinned on the inside of the door which is actually outside all day long. The man was holding the door open by leaning it against a can while he drew out two vertical panels with a long sign-painters brush.  In the top half of the painted door he had already drawn a large square.  I complimented him on his steady hand.  Drawing out long lines with liquid is not easy. He was proud of his work.  He explained that the two panels at the bottom would be painted as proper wooden door panels while the top section was to be painted to look like glass. I am wondering when I will ever see this door as the shop is open from early in the morning until quite late in the evening.  This outside door is only closed when the shop is closed.  Then the padlock is on the other side, and the notices are hidden inside and protected from the weather.  I will have to go down at night specially to see the finished paint job.  All this makes me realize that I simply do not know when they close the shop.  It is a place that seems to be always open.