Madam Secretary Reflects on International Relations and Happy Happenstance

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The Ring of Kerry. My photo.

WELL, MY FRIENDS, IT’S MARCH, and I’m sure we all agree that Old Man Winter has way, way overstayed his welcome.

I thought I would be serving tea at a place in the city. Instead, I’m working in our office so my dad can make up for lost time in the fields, and my current occupation doesn’t involve traveling to anywhere except the post office. (It’s like doing laundry: you sort through the junk mail, code the invoices, file the vouchers, try to decipher heavy Asian accents on the phone, empty the waste baskets and get everything tidied away for a little while, and then you start over again.)

I’ve always said that administration is not my thing.

The joke is on me, as usual.

Anyway, I’m bored, and thinking of tea and travel makes me nostalgic, so I’m going to ramble about foreign countries and things that are none of my business.

I’m not a politician–just a farmer’s daughter. But Ireland and Israel are like strangers who keep crossing my path and bumping into each other, and I feel like they should be friends.

I had the joy of spending Christmas 2014 in Ireland with my sister’s husband’s family. Dublin looked like a bloom of glowing plankton from the sky, the night we flew in. I woke up at three o’clock the first morning and didn’t know where I was until I tuned into an Irish radio station. Billy Joel was singing “Just The Way You Are,” and that song has had a special place in my heart ever since. Continue reading “Madam Secretary Reflects on International Relations and Happy Happenstance”

Nasal Ecstasy

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Us, 25 years ago… We were almost struck by a rogue bolt of lightning one day on the hill in the background.

IF MY SOUL HAD A SMELL it would smell like mint. We drank it and played in it, waist-deep, when we were little. Its vibrant, heady fragrance has infused my whole life. 

The ancient Romans personified it as “Menthe,” the water nymph loved by Pluto, god of the underworld. Pluto’s queen became jealous and trampled fair Menthe, turning her into a humble plant. But Pluto decreed that the more mint was bruised the sweeter it would smell. (I can vouch for that last part.)

Mint is a popular herb in the Middle East, where it’s used in salads, roasts, and many other dishes. I was delighted to find bulging sacks of fresh spearmint at a market in Jerusalem. I crushed some of the leaves between my hands and the aroma immediately took me back to the verdant fields of home. Continue reading “Nasal Ecstasy”

The Genealogist

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From Grandmère’s album.

GRANDMÈRE IS REPEATING her favorite stories for my enrichment in a tidy room carpeted with green shag.

Grandmère has no filter.

On TV, Pope John Paul II is pretending to be God. A statue of The Virgin is enshrined among candles in a window. I should kneel in front of it, says Grandmère, and ask it for a good husband. (She was a naïve girl when she married Grandpère and definitely didn’t love him, but he was a fine husband anyway, and she was very content).

It’s wrong to worship idols, says my thirteen-year-old self, conscientiously. But ninety-one-year-old Grandmère isn’t listening…

Grandmère is so petite–when she plays the organ her feet barely reach the pedals. She has a memory like an elephant, though, and has traced her roots all the way back to 1695. She opens her album and flowing names like Jean-Baptiste reenforce the knowledge that my people came from France, ate snails, and died praying to the dead. (Ahhh, you say, that explains so much!)

They are strangers to me, these people of antiquity.

But I came out of them. Continue reading “The Genealogist”

To The Unborn

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DARLING,

When I was little, a man on a commercial airplane asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. Naturally, I hugged my doll close to my heart and said, “I just want to be a mommy.” (I took that doll everywhere, and then I lost her somehow and cried about it for years.)

I was raised to be a housewife, like my mother and my grandmothers and my great-grandmothers. I grew up amid the sub-cultures of two extremely large and traditional families. One of my cousins from my mother’s family married one of my cousins from my father’s family. I was related to nearly everyone at the wedding. One of my cousins called me that morning to ask if she could borrow something to wear. She’s the mother of eleven, soon to be a grandmother. So, obviously, our cradle has been crazy blessed, and the fact that I have not yet done my duty to society is so unorthodox, by our standards, it’s almost immoral. But it isn’t because of an absence of desire on my part.

God calls those things which are not as though they are–and I do the same.

Nothing is as painful as love that has nowhere to go, no way to spend itself, and so it makes me happy to think that there is something I can actually do for you today. I just have a few things in my heart that need to get out, and I won’t try to be eloquent or profound. I’ll do this now, and someday when I have you in my arms, fresh and sweet with promise, I’ll gladly put my pen away and probably never reach for it again.

The grandmother who I never met became a mother when she was only a child herself and died young. “No wonder,” people gasp, “after giving birth nineteen times!” But if they asked her she would have told them that delivering all those babies was the easy part. It was actually the child-rearing more than the child-bearing that put her in an early grave.

The pretty teacups that she left behind were all broken and glued back together. Her homemade dresses were folded tenderly away in my grandfather’s drawers.

She deserved her own Taj Mahal for all the cloth diapers she washed by hand. Continue reading “To The Unborn”