Who knew that a person could feel like they were home, when they’d only just arrived in a place they’d never been?
That’s how I felt in Galway.
Galway is where my father’s parents were born and raised. The Joyces are one of the 14 Tribes whose flags hang in the square. Hannah and I were touring Joyce Country. So I guess we actually had come home, in a sense.
When I was three years old, Grandpa and Grandma Joyce came to live down the street from us in Missouri. They still had their Irish brogues, even after living more than thirty years in the Bronx. When I was five, Grandpa passed away. I still remember the sadness I felt. Grandma Joyce remained in her little yellow house with the lilac bushes out front, and I would see her nearly every day. She wasn’t a stereotypical grandma. She didn’t really bake anything but Irish Soda Cake, and her food specialties included eggs, fish, meat, and potatoes. You could always count on her to have a “hot cup of something,” though. When I was younger, it was Ovaltine; when I got older, it was tea. Almond windmill cookies, jelly top cookies and shortbread were always on hand to accompany hot drinks. Grandma lived out her days in the house down the street. I was with her there the evening she died. Nothing has ever been the same.
In Galway, Hannah and I came to the place where our grandmother had been born. We saw the streets where she’d roamed and played, the house she grew up in, the church in her neighborhood, and the shops she would have frequented. We saw the views she would have seen across the bay; we crossed bridges she had stood on. Grandma had survived scarlet fever there, head shaved except for a lock in the front to “pull you in the door by.” She had met my grandfather in the church, where he had sung as a choirboy. She courted and married him there. That’s where their first three children were born.
Six years after my grandma died, as I stood on her street looking at the insignia above her door, I was speechless. Eyes swimming with tears, I felt tangibly close to her. Being that close made me miss her that much more.
What makes a home, but the people in it, and their laughter, stories and songs? All of these were there in Ireland, embodied in people who looked like my family; people who exaggerated stories the way my family does; people who welcomed me as if I belonged there. It was familiar, in the way the voice of a loved one sounds over the phone. In the brogues of the Irish, I heard my grandparents. My laughter echoed their own. Our voices blended with theirs in song. And our stories converged once more.