Recently, I wrote a column expressing my trepidation about embarking upon my family’s first transatlantic flight to the city of my birth, Boston, with our 17 month old son. Many of you responded to the piece with helpful advice and tales of air travel with your own little ones. My wife, older stepson and I really appreciated it.
So, how did it work out in the end? And far more importantly, what was it like to return to my beloved home city with my family? Following is a diary of sorts, featuring some of my favorite aspects of the two weeks we’ve just spent in a city that I will always consider the “Hub of the Universe,” as it was so aptly described many years ago by famous jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes.
First was the flight over. There is no sugar-coating it. It was a largely an unmitigated disaster. Ok, that’s overstating it a bit. But it wasn’t the carefree experience we had hoped and prayed for. We are looking back on it as a character builder.
It began when we arrived with plenty of time to spare at Dublin Airport’s spacious Terminal 2, only to be told that our flight was delayed for three hours. This meant that we would have to spend the next six hours trying to entertain a baby in the less than child friendly surrounds of an airport terminal. Fortunately, after a frustrating period of indecision, we found a large open space where Larry could move around to his heart’s content.
Although we thought this would leave him exhausted for the flight, it proved not to be the case and my wife and I alternated following him as he boisterously crawled or walked up and down the aisles of the plane for the first five hours of the seven hour journey. He certainly made his presence felt for all on board!
At last, he collapsed into a deep sleep for the remainder of a flight we thought would never end. Our usual delight at reaching Logan Airport was heightened immeasurably by the knowledge that we were not going to be confined in a small, crowded space with him and a couple hundred innocent passengers and crew any longer.
Second was the christening of my nephew, Tommy, on the Sunday after our arrival. It was fantastic to be present for this joyous family occasion, to be chosen as the godfather and to have the two cousins together in the same place for the first time. It was also very special for me to have my son meet numerous friends and relations who had not yet seen him in person.
More than one commented on the close resemblance between Larry IV and Larry Jr., my father. The similarity was confirmed by a picture we discovered of my father at the same age in 1936 in which the two are virtually indistinguishable and which now hangs in our home in Ireland.
Third, April 15, 2014, the one year anniversary of the marathon bombings, was an extraordinary day to be in Boston. A remarkable sense of solidarity was palpable in the city on the 15th and for the duration of our stay. The remembrances of the dead and the stories of recovery and hope told by the severely injured, which the Boston media reported justifiably incessantly, were universally touching and, in most instances, hugely uplifting. Watching how my city and its people united from my uniquely removed vantage point was immensely moving. It made me extremely proud of where and whom I am lucky enough to be from.
Fourth, I attended an event for Katie O’Halloran, a former student of mine at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels in the School of Law at the National University of Ireland, Galway. Katie was an excellent student, who has never let being born without arms stand in the way of her pursuit of her dreams.
Prior to our trip, I read that a benefit for her was to be held in a function hall in the city’s Dorchester neighborhood on the April 19. I was able to be there for a short time and to say hello to Katie. I understand that the evening was a tremendous success and will greatly assist her family and friends’ drive to gather the money necessary for Katie to be fitted with bionic arms.
Fifth, it was a real thrill to be able to watch Eileen Whelan – aka my wife – sing on live national TV from 3,000 miles away with my family and friends. Eileen is an RTÉ (Ireland’s national broadcaster) newscaster, who regularly sings at weddings and family parties.
She was one of four well-known Irish personalities asked to sing for charities on "The Late Late Show," Ireland’s most popular television program. Eileen was so passionate about singing and raising funds for her chosen charity, Laura Lynn Children’s Hospice, that she cut her trip short and returned to Ireland early to do so. Laura Lynn provides palliative care and support to children with life-limiting conditions and their families.
On Good Friday, a large group of us congregated in the living room of friends and, thanks to the wonders of modern technology, watched Eileen belt out the classic Dusty Springfield hit, “You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me,” with gusto. We were especially excited when she mentioned that her family and friends back in Boston were watching online and saluted our home neighborhood of East Milton in an interview after the song. Eileen did not win the competition. However, she raised a lot of money for a worthy cause, and I will forever be indebted to my friends who supported her and Laura Lynn (for more information, please see www.lauralynn.ie).
Finally, the trip’s overarching highlight was having my little son see where his father comes from. I can’t even describe the powerful surge of emotions I felt as I pushed Larry down the streets of our home neighborhood and of downtown Boston in his stroller; as I watched him crawl around the house I grew up in and tear up the yard I once played in; and as we, holding hands, approached his late grandmother’s gravestone. I look forward to the day he asks me about it.