Bringing in the hay is no easy task, but from the smiles on the faces of Paddy Lynch and his brother Tom, there was some pleasure in it on the fine summer’s day in the west of Ireland in 1965 when I took this picture. I love this picture for it reminds me of an Ireland when boys grew up to raise their sons working the same fields their father and grandfather had worked. Cousins grew up together, cousins whose Granny would be settled in the comfy chair closest to the fire, whose mothers brought cheese sandwiches and flasks of hot tea at noon to the men working in the bog. Families – generations of people- who were and are as much part of a place as the fields, the bog, the gate leading into the house, and the house itself.
This picture depicts a life poles apart from mine for my life, like many others who read Shestories, has made numerous places home. Twelve to be exact; twelve different doors to which I had the key, and upon entering, I thought – It’s so good to be home! Because of this, my memories do not reside in one setting. Rather, each time I call up an event from my past, the story is framed by where I was when my wallet was stolen (Amsterdam) , when I was working the worst job I ever had ( grooming a feisty black stallion in England), or where my husband was (in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean) when our second child was born.
Each of us make choices each day. Sometimes it’s a small decision, such as choosing fish or chicken for dinner, while sometimes it is a big decision – do I stay or do I go? Either of these paths has its own exclusive set of challenges. Tom and Paddy chose to stay, with the result of having the same people - dear family and friends- around them from cradle to grave. Others choose to move on, with the heartrending result of never seeing again far too many people with whom we have laughed and cried and loved along the way.
Perhaps this is why, at sixty years of age, I study this picture trying to imagine what a life like that would have been like. The reality is that so many had to leave Ireland and move on, just as my ESL classrooms are overflowing with men and women in their twenties and thirties who have had to leave their own homes and families to move on for a multitude of reasons. Recently my students were writing about the differences between their lives and their grandparent’s lives. The essays were compelling as students addressed the positive and negatives of each situation. But what struck me were the number of students who attached a snapshot of their grandparent to their essay, for they wanted me to see who and where they were writing about.
Most of us keep pictures of those people and places which we once called home but left, just as we all must wonder, from time to time, what if?