Packing for Ireland while sorting through memories of a childhood adventure

Sorting through memories of childhood adventures
Sorting through memories of childhood adventures

Packing for the big trip to Ireland from New Jersey was easy for me in the late 1970s. My mother did it.

In my defense, I was only 7 years old then.

The young Mayo woman may have been fretting and excited about the journey back to her home place but she was also in charge of all the family luggage before the airline got a hold of it.

Not only did the mother have to worry about sorting out bags for three children between the ages of 7 and 2 years, she had to mind my father’s gear. Then there was what she was bringing herself.

It was all suit cases then, big and square with all sorts of compartments in an odd version of the color blue if they were not black. The weight of a backside would be required to zip them up closed.

We had to be dressed up pretty and handsome for the flight and the grand arrival in Shannon. My sister wore a frilly, probably flowery, short summer dress. The two-year-old brother was in some wee suit, looking cute. My outfit, I recall, involved an itchy dress shirt, a vest, funny shoes and corduroy.

Once dressed, packed and loaded into a 1969 Chevy we began the trek from the Jersey Shore up the Garden State Parkway, across the Outerbridge Crossing to Staten Island and past its quite ripe garbage dumps still very active at the time to the dreaded Belt Parkway. JFK Airport was there somewhere at the end of it all.

The easy part would be getting on a 747 and flying 3,000 miles.

The eventual flight east went fairly well save the crying children with their pressured ears not popping.

“Just chew the gum, you’ll be fine,” they told us.

Looking back, it was a miracle my mother pulled the lot of us together and we got to Ireland at all and then enjoyed almost every minute of it.

We still try to forget the odd meltdown and the carsick kids in the back seat of the tiny car puking on each other’s hair tossing about on old winding roads. Everything else went perfectly well.

Before the carsickness, the fresh and unique smell of the inside of the small Irish hired auto with the driver’s wheel on the wrong side still sticks in my mind. So does the aroma of the eggs and rashers frying on Granny’s propane cooker with her spooning hot oil over the yolks.

Then there were the fields and the cows and the massive fireplace at the house of the uncles John and Luke Duffy. Truly, it was all magical for a 7-year-old from New Jersey. They are sound memories set in the stone of the mind.

I don’t recall much about the flight back to America but the free, endless sodas on the plane and plastic airline wings, and the ear pain and the gum chewing.

The mother is now shopping for her late May trip to back to Mayo to meet up with the sisters again. There are three of them total. Back in their day, one went to England, one went to America and one stayed home. Those were the times then but they reunite every year now.

Today, my new Doc Martens arrive in the post. I am all set for trekking the streets, paths and fields of the West. My travel gear is simple enough now. Two pairs of jeans and a shirt for each day, and it all fits in a back pack.

In my battered Domke bag is the digital workhorse camera, a long lens on the side, a flash I won’t use and a beautiful old Nikon FM2 with a broken light meter I don’t need loaded with black and white film sporting a fast 28mm lens.

Honey Badger is still worrying about the right shoes to greet her cows in the fields while trying to manage only one travel bag. We do know the bagpipes are staying home with the dog.

She’ll figure her gear out soon enough since she has no choice.

In the words up above, I lied a bit about how easy to was to get on the plane at JFK then.

We were scheduled to fly out the night of July 13, 1977 but it didn’t happen.

Some of a certain age may recall that there was a great blackout in New York City that night bringing near-riots and looting.

As a kid, I only remember a sweating airport, people sleeping on the floor in darkness like lifeless bodies on a battlefield and the adventure of it all running bare foot through JFK as my reporter father called it in from a pay phone to the Asbury Park Press.

Here’s to hoping our flight over now is at least only half the trouble.

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