That last Christmas in Cork

The farmhouse we rented, somewhere between Drimagh and Drimoleague

The farmhouse we rented, somewhere between Drinagh and Drimoleague

We debated what to do with the uneaten ham. It was impractical to stuff it in the car with all our things, tacky to leave it behind for the owners, wasteful to throw it out, and so I climbed the stone wall from our farmhouse through a soggy meadow to a nearby stream, tossed it over a row of bushes for some creature to find it, a band of crows, a starving wolf-mother, any benign repurposing of our waste, then dried my hands of the grease, climbed the broken asphalt road, and forgot about it.

St. Stephen’s Day in West Cork — Boxing Day in Canada, England — that day after Christmas in the States life resumes to a normal, retail life. Saint Stephen, a saint I’d only heard about from a Grateful Dead song they stopped playing in the late 70s for some reason deeply profound and meaningful, likely another dead keyboardist — and then just started playing again like 10 years later for reasons you’d have to be there to really understand — but in West Cork, in the middle of nowhere, they just have horse races in the town and close the road off, you can hear the commentator in broken English echoing off the valley and the rocks below.

Funny that we have to leave the States, move to Germany, exit there for 90 days to a 200-year-old stone farmhouse on a tract of land in the West of Cork that doesn’t even have a name so we can get away from the Internet, a place that unapologetically doesn’t have Wi-Fi but you can still dial it up on your mobile if you’re inclined to which I’m not — and for a few days we pretend to unhinge, to let go, to just be together without our distractions (but stock up on booze because the stores are closed) — and we’re so remote that when we get lost, mom and I, driving into town and never quite making it, we stop to ask a guy in camouflage with his dog and a rifle for directions but realize we can’t tell him exactly where we’re staying so it’s hard for him to tell us how to get there, and between the two of us we haven’t got half a brain of memory, mom and I: we keep seeing fragments of signs and fences that seem familiar but lead us astray down twisting roads that are hard to turn around with bad drop-offs and mud and it’s getting dark, and the navigator is no use when you can’t type in a destination, so I resign to navigate by the angle of a windmill and how I think I remembered it, to trust my senses and try to ignore the irony of getting lost chasing windmills.

I walk the road above our house, the part that’s broken off from all the rain, so bad the county says no one’s allowed to drive on it — and it’s not the pure, idyllic scene I’d pictured here in the Irish countryside on a foggy, breezy December afternoon but instead, there’s an element of white trash on the lots outside the farms where they just let everything go, the dog shit in the road, the empty plastic bags of cattle feed clung to a hillside someone logged and just left, no amount of love or garden gnomes or gazing globes in the lawns, just the scent of cow dung and damp peat, even the ponies look forlorn like they’ve got cancer, they need to be pet — and it’s the same Scotch Broom in bloom we have along the highways in Seattle off the 405, the same blackberry vines gone fallow.

On the morning it’s time to go, we need to actually set our alarms and get up while it’s still dark to take mom to the airport, a good hour’s drive or more back along the small roads, and mom and I sit in the low light with our coffees and think we hear something sniffing at the door, a lupine sound, possibly attracted by the ham or just the ardor of our being, and I tell her it’s just the iPod, some ambient, droning piece — it’s not unusual for them to overlay sounds like that — but the truth is I don’t really know.

We decide it’s our favorite Christmas yet, even the kids do, and maybe it’s because we were off the map and didn’t feel like we needed to be anywhere for once — and it will likely never be that way again.

Categories: travel, writing

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26 replies

  1. Lovely read and fantastic dies sentence, totally drew me in.


    • Thanks so much Kirsty, delighted you enjoyed it. And we greatly enjoyed our time in Scotland too. November was a good month there, surprisingly. Best, Bill


  2. it sounds like a lovely and peaceful christmas.


    • All that indeed Beth! And now, ready to stop thinking about the holiday again for many months. Onto MLK! Valentine’s Day! What else? Groundhog Day! Not the same. But not the same expectations, either.


  3. Love the Quixotic getting lost with windmills – lovely image.
    And yes, much of the countryside really isn’t idyllic, is it? I lived in Derbyshire for years – hills. moorland, cold, lots of sheep – and some of the farms you pass resemble city dumps. old vehicle parts, tyres, plastic sheeting – all awash with liquid run off from manure heaps. Ugly, depressing places. There’s a village near where my mum lives called ‘Flash’ which gets cut off by snow every year, that’s only inhabited by a few farming families … You expect to hear duelling banjos striking up as you pass through, put it that way.


    • Those sheep, they’re like game pieces or figures on a felt advent calendar, pinned to the hillsides. Yes, that dueling banjo thing and, I don’t know, WEST VIRGINIA RED NECK attitude was ripe there in places, but there wasn’t much of anything or anybody anywhere, no Norman Rockwell, no tourists, just a would-be poet scratching up grubs. I still love it, though. Lets me get out of my mind a bit, which is healthy. Happy New Year to you my friend! Let’s let it be good, this one.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Love the image of the felt advent calendar – lovely. I used to go to school with kids from farming families and found some of them pretty intimidating. I was a skittish towny, they were bluff, bolshy – physically very confident. A hint of Red Neck to be sure.
        I do hope 2016 is grand for you and yours. All the best

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Sounds like a great off-the-grid Xmas.

    Interesting how rural reality doesn’t usually match the romanticized vision. Seems like if there are people living there, you’re going to find a lot of flotsam and jetsam hither and yon. They sure don’t romanticize the place.


    • No, “they” don’t. It’s a — well, urban? view of the country, romanticizing it like that maybe. I’m guilty as charged. Romance is found just as easily in the city. Sure is green out there though, I’ll say that. And a country road is ruminatin’ country for me.


  5. Magical imagery. Great photo. Glad your mom got to join you. The airport seems oddly close to all that “rurality.”


    • Yes, oddly close is apt. It was like, 1 hour 15 minutes back to Cork. Takes a while to get 60 miles when you’re going on those twisty roads in the early morning on a Sunday. All the sheep out and so forth. Thanks for the nice note matey. My mom coming made the time for us, the greatest gift as it were. Bill


  6. So nice to be reading your writing again, thank you. For some reason I feel tossing that ham is the most American-moment of all this exploration…just so goddamn practical and crazy, made me laugh.


    • Well thanks for spending a few minutes of your Sunday morning with me! And that was a very American-moment: you got what I was going for. I can’t help be myself I guess, a blessing and a curse all in one burrito, and you can’t trust the meat.
      I’m happy you enjoy the posts and thank you, my dear friend! – Bill

      Liked by 1 person

  7. A nice, poetic sense of time and place. Welcome back Bill.


  8. Ah, yes. The traditional Christmas ham toss. It takes me back. I was on a ship for a week without Internet access. I thought it was going to drive me insane but, quite honestly, I found it surprisingly refreshing. Who knew? Just look at that photo. Fantastic.


    • It is really refreshing, and funny, like other addictions I’ve encountered, how you sort of twitch and develop this phantom limb phenomenon when you first go off it, you reach out for the “thing” and it’s not there, and you twitch a little and get irritable, uncomfortable in your own skin. The traditional Christmas ham toss: that’s really funny, thank you for that. Oh, and since you’d be interested — we’re leaving for London the day after tomorrow! Going to like, three plays. Museums, buses, curries, cameras — security cameras — will take some snaps for you.


  9. Still, glad you’re back.
    Screens are starting to hurt my eyes. I’m noticing it more and more.


    • Hi, thank you Ross — I think I know what you mean by the screens, if I’m reading you right. The break did me really well, as I’ve been able to concentrate on my other project, though I love the instant gratification and interactive nature here, and people like you, specifically you, but…well, I’ll leave it at that. There’s always a BUT. Though I hope you don’t mean literally the screens are hurting your eyes, that would be a condition.


  10. We do that with our mostly stripped turkey carcasses, though it made more sense when we lived in the mountains. Here I guess it goes to foxes or monsters or half-men-monsters living in the forsythia. I like how you covered with the ipod bit…you’re a good son. You know, this post kind of reminded me of the Low song:

    By the time we got to Oslo snow was gone
    And we got lost
    The beds were small but we felt so young
    It was just like Christmas.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I love that you shared those lyrics from Low. I hadn’t paid attention to the words the first year I got it, last year (at your obvious recommendation) but then I did this year, I think when we were in Edinburgh. Who knows, might as well have been Oslo. It’s funny, the carcass ritual…I might have made a soup, but, well, not enough time to linger and I’m just getting tired of details like that. We are really tired. But I had a great Cajun friend many years ago who used to say something like, when I die, I want to be really tired: wrung out, ready to go. Amen. Think I’ll put on some Low: they pass the Universal Lie Detector for me, not an ounce of BS. Cheers to you and yours, and here’s to a (still) dry January.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Just discovered your blog and, as a novice storyteller, find it extremely inspiring! Thanks for sharing

    Liked by 1 person


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