RE-ENTERING THE PAST

An ex-pat steps into nostalgia—dipping into the past can evoke forgotten times, places and people by Mary McEvoy

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As an expatriate of nearly 30 years, and not having returned to Yankee sod for over twenty years, [I find that] friends of my adult youth are freeze-framed in my memory, which has no collective access. Being out-of-touch with former college roommates prevented me from chats such as ‘Do you remember the time we stole the baby pig from the Milwaukee stockyards?’ or ‘Whatever happened to that six-foot American Indian we took from a lamp post on Wisconsin Avenue the night the Milwaukee Braves won the pennant?’ (Incidentally, the figure in question was two-dimensional, made of plasterboard.)

So, when I rang my old ‘roomie’ Margie McGee in the Napa Valley (wine country) near San Francisco, and we reminisced about ‘old’ sweethearts, I couldn’t remember a senior engineering student who had sung outside our window after a night of what Milwaukee is famous for—beer. No prizes for guessing the song—it was Margie, I’m always thinking of you, Margie. She eventually married an Irishman from San Francisco, whose parents emigrated in what we strangely refer to now as ‘the last century’.

Margie’s mother-of-seven painted somehow between house chores and her love and talent for canvas passed on to her daughter and grand-daughter, Molly Crotty, whose work I have just come to know. I received a water colour card of a blue and sand-coloured café and green ice cream chairs. Below was written ‘Appreciate the great moments and satisfy yourself with the good ones in between’

Now Molly belongs to my children’s generation and was born in the Sixties—how did she become so wise so young? It took me to my forties to arrive at such a life view, and I am still actively pursuing its perfect practice in my —ties.

Another college friend with whom I studied education at Marquette University—Kate Dermody—married an engineer named Dan Kresse, and they created a dynasty. Her five children have already provided her with five grandchildren. Two of her children share names with my own—Tim and Mary Kate—which adds a sweet layer of kinship. When I spoke to her recently, after a lapse of thirty years, she said ‘I still think of you, Mary, as I make your chocolate cake.’ That particular confection is a measure of momism in America—just as the apple tart is in Ireland. Masking my memory lapse, I happily took credit (obviously due!) for a recipe long-forgotten from my not-at-all recent past.

I rarely miss America, and one of the few times is when we get an unusually warm and humid summer’s day in Dublin. When weather which is warm, sunny and wet wraps itself around me, I think of long-ago childhood summers spent on the shores of Lake Michigan, which offered its cool breezes to inhabitants within a quarter-mile or so. Life was safe, calm, between-wars (no! not WWI and II, but Korea and Vietnam), pre-Elvis (I never liked him), and an old bald general, affectionately known as Ike, lived and slept (a lot) in the White House.

Boys traded baseball cards and girls traded playing cards. Our collections were kept in empty cigar boxes and alphabetised under categories such as babies, cats, dogs, flowers, horses … I can’t remember where we got all those cards, but the mothers must have been playing bridge a lot!

Emerson wrote eloquently about the wonder and integrity of friendship. I would love to chat with him about the mystery of re-connecting with friends after decades of time, and an ocean of space. For me, the magic of rediscovery is that whatever attracts people to become friends in youth doesn’t disappear, even after children come and go and grandparenting becomes a new dimension of loving.

What I didn’t know was that these former college friends had been looking for me. Two of them attended their children’s wedding in Ireland. Too many M. McEvoys in the telephone book proved impossible. Incidentally, their offspring didn’t marry Irish spouses, but Irish-American ones. Apparently for Irish-Americans, going to Ireland to get married is like Irish couples going to be married in Rome!

Several years ago I had a feeling that people would be looking me up—especially because of their own Irish ancestry—McGee, Nolan, Crotty, Murray, Dermody, Walsh, Cody—would, I thought, eventually bring them to this green island.

I have also had visits from old classmates during the spring and summer. Much to my surprise after all these years, they looked just like they did at university. It must be their healthy living styles, although I suspect genetics has a lot to do with it.

To slip so comfortably back to reminiscence of youth is a unique and wonderful experience, and only possible from the distance of many years.

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