Posts Tagged ‘Irish’

I’ve had the uncomfortable feeling all week that I’m fighting the painter for possession of my house. Perhaps I’m reaping the other end of my current karma – although I haven’t squashed anything lately including ants. But since fixing the leaking sink and drying out the downstairs ceiling went so smoothly a couple of weeks ago , perhaps hitting a snag in the fixing process was inevitable.

The first hurdle was finding a painter at all. I called five or six on the first round and got zero callbacks. Hmm, I thought, perhaps I should give up law and fiction and learn painting. Although standing on high ladders is not my forte.

By and by a slick corporate outfit gave me an estimate, and a wiry little self-employed Irishman from Dublin bid on the job. Same price, both of them. Now I should explain I actually have two ceilings to paint. A month before the sink hit an iceberg, a strange, dark H shape appeared on my bedroom ceiling which is upstairs, just above the ceiling the sink would souse a few weeks later. I convinced myself it was a shadow for about two days, and then gave in and called the insurance company. The adjuster (and her rather cute boyfriend) diagnosed a leak in the circa 1978 skylight which sits high atop my roof. My buddy with the cute boyfriend sent me a check for painting the ceiling minus my deductible and left me to fend for myself with the dreaded Homeowners Association, who had jurisdiction over the skylight. Normally the HOA would rather die than move quickly but since it was about to rain, for once they acted promptly and fixed the leak. Whew! I thought I was home free, until the sink did its thing, and I wound up with two damaged ceilings. (Louise Hay has all kinds of wisdom about avoiding the thoughts that attract illness, but she says nothing about what kinds of thoughts attract wet ceilings. If I knew, I’d never have those thoughts again!)

Anyway, now flush with insurance company cash to paint both ceilings (within two dollars of the bids, can you believe it), I set out to hire a painter to do the downstairs ceiling which had two brown spots about the shape and size of Australia and New Zealand and the upstairs ceiling thoughtfully monogrammed with my last initial. (Or the beginnings of Helter Skelter, take your pick.)

You guessed it I picked the Irish painter. Three reasons. First, I am self-employed, and I try to hire other self-employed people. Second, the slick corporate guy also owned a day spa called “Coconuts,” and he kept talking about the “girls” who worked there. Did that make me a “girl lawyer” I wondered but didn’t dare ask. Third, I spent some time in Dublin when I was working on the Ph.D. that became a J.D., and I hadn’t heard anyone say “tink” and “mudder” for years. And, then, the Irish are born storytellers, and I love a good story.

But now it is Thursday night, I’m tired of stories, and my house has been a mess since Monday. Worse than that, the job was supposed to be finished today, and while the H has disappeared (thankfully) upstairs, Australia and New Zealand are still plainly visible downstairs. He’s turned them white, but he hasn’t made them go away. I have a bad feeling he doesn’t know how to. Just in case, I have developed a backup plan. If I’m still looking at albino continents this time tomorrow night, I’ll hire an artist to paint a full color world map on the ceiling. Might as well go with the flow.

Australia and New Zealand ceiling art to be

Australia and New Zealand ceiling art to be

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Autumn has come to Southern California. Trouble is, the change is so subtle you have to know what to look for to realize the seasons are turning. Suddenly the air seems very focused and sharp, even though the temperature is still 81º. Crows caw, sounding ominous and lonely in the late afternoon heat. Fewer mallards, and now no ducklings, swim circles among the dry reeds in the  pond close to our house. Trees grow brown, and their leaves shrivel, but hang on. Here and there, a few liquid amber trees – a relative of the Eastern maple – change color, some turn dry gold, others dusty red. But autumn here looks more like summer drying up than a season of breathtaking color and bountiful harvest.

I know because I am an ex-pat Southern girl. People hear my accent and ask how I got from Tennessee to Southern California. The answer is simple: in 1985, I agreed to a too hasty marriage to the wrong person, who had taken a job here. Without even one prior visit, I arrived in San Diego in November 1985 and realized at once I was living in a foreign country. I hadn’t bargained for that. But I hadn’t bargained for much of what was to come.

Autumn in the South, is a deep, lush season. It begins in September with crisp, cool mornings warming to sharp, golden noons, and cooling to vermillion sunsets. The trees go from green to brilliant gold and flaming orange and red almost overnight. Then the leaves fall, covering the grass in deep pools of vibrant color. When I was a child, my parents paid me a minuscule wage to rake them into piles to be carted away to compost. I couldn’t resist the temptation to build leaf forts first and jump into them, scattering red and gold in all directions.

Autumn in the South means FOOTBALL. (Not football.) When I couldn’t be bribed into raking, my father would take over the chore, wearing a soft plaid flannel shirt, transistor radio in his breast pocket. The long golden afternoons marched to the steady cadence of the announcer’s voice, punctuated by my father’s sharp cries of joy or dismay at Tennessee’s progress.

Autumn was bittersweet for me because it meant back to school. On one hand, school was my forte: I was an excellent student. On the other, school was the place I began to perfect the art of covering my true identity from the world. Good little Debbie Hawkins with her pigtails who sat up straight in her desk, did her homework, and never gave the teacher any trouble was not the real me. The real me was hiding underground.

Autumn always brought new clothes. In those days, mothers sewed. Late August meant sitting on high stools in department stores, looking at pattern books, and picking out new school dresses. I wasn’t a fan of figuring out which patterns to buy. You could never tell until they were sewn up if the dress was going to flatter or make you want to hide forever. But I loved walking between the tables that held the bolts of fabric, fingering the soft wools, the supple jerseys, and the crisp cottons. I wanted one of each. School was rarely a creative exercise. It involved regurgitating long lists of facts the teachers thought our lives depended upon. But holding and draping fabric in autumn grays and tans and browns – ah, that was pure magic!

My first child was born during the beginning of the second autumn that I lived here in exile. She was a September baby, coming at just the moment when the lazy summer air focused sharply on turning the corner into fall. The man whom I had married had vanished back to his twelve-hour days at the office. I had thought we would at least share parenthood. But I was wrong. Alone in a tiny rented cottage, I struggled to learn the ways of new motherhood with a child who cried twenty hours of every day. One morning, I saw a group of children from the local preschool pause in front of the liquid amber tree in the cottage’s front yard. They were picking up the dusty gold leaves that had fallen. That poor lonely liquid amber was the only tree of its kind in our tiny community. The rest were palm trees and evergreens. No wonder the children had journeyed from their school to see a phenomenon that in the South was as common as breathing autumn air. Alone and exhausted, I began to cry for all the autumns my California children would never have.

Since that day, I have traveled a long journey, coming to love this strange, raw land that is home to my three amazing children. I have decide this blog is going to become the story of that journey; and how I, perpetually an ex-pat, came to terms with largely foreign ways. Once upon a long time ago, I was a graduate English student, studying Irish literature. Somewhere during those days, I read that if you are born Irish, you are always Irish, no matter where life takes you. And now, after more than twenty years in exile, I can say, if you are born Southern, you are always Southern, even if you marry the wrong person and raise children in a foreign land. But I can also say, that leaving and looking back teaches you so very, very much about who you are and how to appreciate the place that created you. If I had never left, I would never have learned who was hiding inside of me.

Stay tuned for more of the journey. And happy autumn wherever you are.

Fall in San Diego

Southern California autumn

In Tennessee

Tennessee autumn

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