Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Happy St. Patrick's Day!!!!

I love St. Patrick's Day. I love all the green decorations. I love all the shamrocks. I love all the bad Irish accent imitations. And I love that it's the one day a year that people can pinch each other without legal ramifications. I mean, how can you beat THAT??

So in honor of St. Paddy's Day, I thought I'd share one of my favorite Irish moments with you . . .

I got my first trip to Ireland as a high school graduation present. I was really excited to go but was a little nervous at the prospect of traveling in Europe alone. The next day at school, I had this conversation with my best friend:

Me: Guess what my parents gave me for graduation?
Jill: What???
Me: A trip to England and Ireland!
Jill: Oh my gosh, Catherine! I'm sooooooo coming with you!
Me: I wish you would - that would be SO fun! I think it would be way better if I had someone with me!
Jill: No, you don't understand. My mom works for Continental so I can get a free ticket . . . I AM coming with you.

So we saved up our spending money and went to Europe for 6 weeks during the summer after our freshman year in college. After 2 weeks in England with two families I knew there, we went to Ireland to spend 4 weeks with my extended Irish family in a little village called Summerhill in the County of Meath. Since my grandpa was the only one of his seven brothers and sisters to move to America from Ireland, we have LOTS of family still there. And even though none of them had ever laid eyes on me until that visit, they treated me and Jill as if we had lived there all along. We just fell in love with everyone. And with Ireland.

My uncle Paddy and his wife Mairead still live at Oldtown, which is the name of the old family homeplace in Summerhill. It's a beautiful dairy farm that was started by my great-grandfather back in the early 1900s and is currently run by my cousin Terry. To me, it is quintessential Ireland because it's off of a small country road, has a beautiful view of green fields, and is within 2 minutes of a classic Irish pub. I love that Jill and I got to stay there and experience life on an Irish farm because, to me, it makes for the perfect Irish experience.

We loved our visit so much that we went back two years later, after our junior year in college. During that visit, we city girls jumped into the farm life and "helped" my cousin Terry load some bales of hay onto a trailer bed so that he could deliver them to another field. When I say "helped" I mean that we stood on the trailer and just climbed up on the hay each time he added another layer to the stack that he was hauling. This is how it worked: we stood on the empty trailer while he used a pitchfork to load a few bales on. When he had almost filled the trailer with one layer of hay, we climbed up onto the bales that he had loaded and then he finished filling the trailer with that first layer of bales. Then he started the second layer and we climbed up onto those bales so that we would be out of his way while he finished loading that layer. We repeated this several times - layer after layer - until we were finally sitting high on top of a trailer full of hay. Then Terry fired up the tractor and began the slow drive to the neighboring field where the bales had to be unloaded. It was so much fun to be on top of all the hay - we were so high up in the air! It was like the mother of all hay rides. The whole thing rocked back and forth with every bump in the road but we were having too much fun to worry about falling to our bloody deaths or anything. We just sat there talking and enjoying the beautiful weather and the gorgeous Irish scenery around us. It was the perfect Irish moment. At one point, we were so lost in our conversation that we failed to realize that we were headed right for some low-hanging tree branches. One minute we were chatting about something and then then next minute we're being mauled by a tree. We screamed and swatted at the branches like they were a bunch of bees attacking us. But it was over as soon as it had started and we emerged from the attacking branches. We looked around bewildered, our sunglasses hanging off of our faces and leaves sticking out of our hair. Then we spent about 10 minutes laughing . . . and paying more attention to approaching trees.

When we got to the neighboring field, Terry unloaded the bales one layer at a time and we climbed down as each layer was unloaded. After Terry had finished all the hard work and Jill and I had picked all the leaves out of our hair, it was time to head back to Oldtown. Instead of all cramming into the tractor, Jill and I decided that we would just ride on the now-empty trailer. Now you should know that riding on the empty trailer was a bit of a challenge because there was no floor to it - it was just a bunch of slats. And the sides were open so there was really nothing to hold onto except for the front end of the trailer that was right by the hitch, in between the two big rear wheels of the tractor. So we had to balance on the slats and hold onto the hitch on the ride back to the farm. No biggie, right?

We hopped on, grabbed on to the bar, and Terry started the drive back to the family farm. Jill and I just chatted and enjoyed the weather and the view. Again, the perfect Irish moment. Then Terry started to go a little faster and I felt something hit my leg. I casually looked down to see what it was and, to my horror, I saw that it was cow poop. COW. POOP. That's when we realized that the tires were covered in cow manure and they were flinging it all back at us. And that's when all hell broke loose. Suddenly, we were under heavy fire and kept having to duck and block poop shots left and right. We couldn't get away from it because we had to hold onto the bar that was above the hitch so that we didn't fall off the side or between the slats. So we were trapped in the poop zone and screaming our heads off - you know, the way you expect girls to scream when they're being pelted by cow manure. Terry looked back at us but, because we were also laughing hysterically as we screamed, he thought we were just being silly and so he kept on going. He got faster and faster and the poop just kept on coming - sometimes in little flecks, sometimes in big, horrifying, airborne clumps. At one point, I put my hand in my hair to pull my bangs out of my face so that I could see oncoming poop shrapnel and a big piece of poop landed on my hand. When I saw the greenish brownish splatter on the back of my hand, my eyes bugged out and I screamed something like "THAT ALMOST LANDED IN MY HAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIRRRRRRRRRRRR!!!" Jill and I both screamed as the very real possibility of poop clumps in our hair began to sink in. And that's when it occurred to us that, if we kept screaming, poop might fly into our mouths so we started just scream-grunting with tight lips and bugged out eyes while we dodged clump after clump. It was horrible.

And hilarious.

It's one of my favorite memories from that trip. And it was educational, too - I learned five important things that day:

1) Never ride backwards on a really tall hay ride.
2) The treads of tractor tires are REALLY deep and can hold a LOT of manure.
3) Even if they moo with a cool accent, Irish cow poop is as disgusting as American cow poop.
4) My favorite Irish curse word is "shite."
5) Until you've shouted "Shite!" while dodging . . . well . . . shite, you haven't lived.

Happy St. Paddy's Day, everyone!!


Anonymous said...

Catherine, you are crazy girl, and lucky; I've always wanted to go to Europe! I have English+Irish+Italian+Scotish roots in my family. I would love to have been able to travel when I was young+had no responsibilities. Unfortunately, being born to middle-class parents didn't afford one many of these type of luxuries. Keep being crazy+funny! Love ya', Keitha.

Phyllis Eddings said...

Thank you so much for sharing. I am soooooo envious of your Irish experiences, and your big Irish extended family. I've been to Ireland, and I love it, but my ancestors (Northern Ireland at that) came over in the 1780's. So, do you have any unmarried Irish cousins that are a "wee" bit older than you, and if so, could you introduce me? LOL

Unknown said...

I hate to break it to Anonymous, but Catherine DID grow up in a middle class family! But the ace in her pocket was that her Dad travelled and accrued air miles. That and our sweet Irish relatives took them into their homes and and showed them the real land of my father's birth!