By Ken Bruen
Greg came into my life late. I’ve known his girlfriend Julie since she was a child and regarded her as family, she baby sat my daughter and I was there when she graduated from college. Her father, like so many of our generation back then, had to take the boat to England, there was no work here. And, more’s the Irish-ed pity, like so many, he disappeared, maybe he met someone, or died from drink, which was common, or who knows. She never heard from him again and it’s unlikely he’ll show now. I’m not suggesting I was a father figure, but I was there during the important events in her life.
Four years ago, she met Greg.
She was working in a small coastal village near Dingle. Like me, she had a fascination with the sea and was never happier than when she was within hearing distance of the waves. Joyce was buried near the zoo because Nora Barnacle said
“He liked to hear the lions roar.”
Same gig, sorta.
Greg was a national school teacher which meant he taught Irish and that certainly endeared him to me, for openers. Anyone who helps with the revival
of our language gets my vote
and that part of the country, even the road signs are in Irish, confusing to tourists but joy to me
Claiming our heritage back in all the ways that matter, inch by slow inch.
Greg also worked as a diver for the Coast Guard Sea and Rescue.
When Julie introduced me to him, I could tell she was smitten.
She was so damn proud of him.
Is there anything better than to see a person take pride in their partner?
She gazed at him with such tenderness.
I once saw Bruce Springsteen in concert, the Barcelona one, he did all the brilliant songs from The Rising, but what struck me most and still does, was the way Patti gazed at him, pure love and delight and I said to my friend
“God, to have a woman look at you like that, Jesus Wept, that is true grace.”
He was singing along to “You’re Missing.” And didn’t answer me.
Not that there is one, an answer that is.
Julie had that look for Greg.
She headed off for some, as she said, retail therapy.
That was to wind me up, she knows I’m an American devotee but that I hate Irish kids aping the language.
“I was a bit nervous meeting you.”
“Cos Julie thinks so highly of you and if you don’t like me, I’m fooked.”
“I don’t know you yet but that’s a real good start.”
I used to sail, I know, doesn’t fit me image, and once we got talking about boats, we were signed sealed and delivered.
He read a few of me books
Well, two ……….. which is 2 more than any of my family and he said
“If you don’t mind me saying ……………..”
In Ireland, this is the intro to a very subtle put down and god knows, I’m accustomed but still, I gritted me teeth, smiled, asked
He considered, then
“Lot of rage in there.”
And before I could respond, he added
“And you seem very mellow, not angry at all.”
“You fook with Julie, you’ll see.”
He laughed, said
“Are you codding, if I did, she’d kill me.”
He knew I’d been a teacher and said
“I hear you were pretty good, what do you think made you good?’
“Patience and encouragement.”
He mulled that over, then
“I’ll remember that.”
We didn’t become bosom mates or hang out a lot but we had a few brews together whenever he came to Galway and I liked his company.
He found a rare bootleg of The Clash and I gave him a copy of Yeats’ letters.
Just before B’con in Alaska, he was part of a team searching for a lost fisherman, the weather was fierce and Greg never surfaced.
They found his body a few miles down the coast.
Julie was devastated.
Last week, she came to me home, weeping most of the time and that evening, I made some hot Toddies, heavy on the Jay and let her come to it in her own time.
“Will you play some David Gray?’
First track, This Years Love
She had the heavy tumbler in her hand, I’d added cloves, brown sugar, and she was stirring the mix then began
“Greg was cremated, there’s a wondrous crematorium built into the cliff and then we went out on his boat with the urn, we had a 25 year old bottle of Black Bush, his favourite, and up on the cliff were his extended family and they sang Amazing Grace
Her eyes were huge as she added
“The song carried right across the bay and Greg’s sister opened The Bush, poured one for us all and we drank to him, then we poured the rest on the water, just before we scattered his ashes.”
I knew there was more and waited
Said not one bloody word
She gave a deep sigh then looked right at me
Those brown eyes, full of pain and wonder, she said
“When we scattered the ashes, there was a blue tinge, like a mist just above the surface and then it floated upwards, like a beautiful feather, the sun came out and bounced off the water, giving that mist a sheen and ………. Oh Mother of god, a radiance."
She wiped at her eyes, then asked
“What do you think that was?’
I had no idea, tried
“Maybe a hint of a miracle.”
She smiled for the first time in ages and asked
“Do you really think so?’
“Yes. Yes I do.”
There is a haunting song by Tommy Fleming titled Sand and Water
There’s a line in there that goes
“I will see you, when my time is done, Sand and Water, and a million miles from home.”
Julie has gone back to the small village and me, I’m listening to The Clash, but I’m thinking
Sand and water ………………….