As often happens, what is originally planned, changes. Usually, because of an unplanned intervention. So, guess what? It happened in this trip story series. The journey Steve and I planned included a refreshing and relaxing conclusion in Ireland. A conclusion based on sightseeing, going to pubs, singing and raising a little hell, but, all as relaxation and enjoyment after a more intense set of revisiting episodes that comprised our European trip.
Well, it didn’t happen quite that way. Things happened in Ireland, that while not a part of our previous wartime experiences, actually turned on a huge light for both of us. A metaphoric light, if you will, but of sufficient brilliance that we began to understand the meanings of our re-visitations in that kind of light. I chose the title of this concluding chapter to be the name of the small Irish town of Skibbereen. As this story unfolds you will better understand the reason why.
Skibbereen is near the Rings of Kerry. I had, in another set of stories, placed my alter ego Skibootch, as a reformed farmer in an area nearby. Those stories are part of an ongoing series I had written as a part of a writing class program offered at the RIT (Rochester Institute of Technology) Osher Institute. His mistakes and learning adventures were the threads of the story tapestry I was weaving.
I placed Skibootch there, because of an imagined ancestral home of my Irish ancestors. All of that, and much more are contained in his adventures of opening new doors, and rebuilding broken bridges. Actually, a whole scheme of metaphoric existence that pretty much defined me, as I, in my life, obtained a wisdom based on failed experience. Experience and failure can create ultimate good, if expressed, shared, and heeded. Living for 92 years has granted me a lot of both.
Skibootch’s stories focus on his primary life objective of turning bullshit into electricity. He realizes that in its original form smells bad and does not have the power to move things in the right direction. He discovers that if it is put back into the ground it may help grow what is good, like fertilizer does for grass, or wheat and other forms of food ingredients. He also learns that for that process to happen time is a requirement. Patience becomes part as well.
Steve’s story is just as unusual as mine, and so fits right in to this Irish-based conclusion. He decided to stay on in Ireland for a few more days after I left for home. In the course of that stay, he wound up near Skibbereen in a place called Ballydehob. He met a girl there who led him right down the metaphor road. A road that had a bridge. A bridge over troubled waters, that when viewed from another angle, revealed a smooth and calmed course of flow.
Her name was Maureen, with the emphasis on “more.” The more in this case, a description of the calmness obtained by crossing over that bridge. A metaphorical bridge to be sure, but a bridge over troubled waters that life provides when we are in need. A bridge when crossed, helps to lead to that same power that Skibootch found in bullshit that can be transformed into good. The ultimate messages in all these trip stories deal mainly with bridges and doors. The bridges are easy metaphors to use as illustrations.
Steve on the Bridge near Skibbereen
In the Europe of 1945, there were lots of closed doors and blown bridges. Many of those doors were found in fortresses or observation posts. At first glance, these revisiting stories sound vague, foggy, and perhaps off the wall. Closer examination is needed to find the underlying enlightenments. There is a connection.
It lies in a need for reopening and rebuilding. Steve and I went back to Europe to see if indeed, there was rebuilding and reopening. Our stories document our findings. Our retracing’s from Braunau to Anglesqueville all contain positive evidence. New bridges, open borders, rebuilt homes, familiar roads, on and on. Parts of Europe have made such a start. Hearts that once were set against each other, are now reconnecting, as evidenced by new bridges and open borders and rebuilt houses.
Those are messages from where the heart lies. How one defines the substance of those messages is found in one’s actions. Actions that reveal better ways to live. And, how one lives has an enjoyment factor. Enjoyment is a life goal – a special place. Bridges can get one there. The road over that bridge is paved with effort, patience, sacrifice, and laughter. That enjoyment can only be found in one place – inside oneself. A place where wisdom and choice abide. Where bridges have been rebuilt, and doors reopened. Skibbereen has such a metaphoric bridge.
Skibbereen as a concept, resides in my childhood memory. A place to me where my imaginary Irish ancestors dwelled and farmed. I have no evidence to support those many imaginary characters, except the voices of their children who spoke often and lovingly of them and their country. Specifically, my grandfather and his close relatives.
Most of those relatives grew up and lived in Oswego, NY. At that childhood time I was privileged to have many opportunities to hear their voices and many stories. The impressions they made on my sponge-like mind were colorful, romantic, and to a great extent, positive. It was from those impressions that I created my cast of characters for my Skibootch stories. That is all explained in another story and offers some clues as to why I somewhat romanticized their personae to fit into my perception of my Irish inheritance. Heroes of sorts, but cut from ordinary cloth, and loaded with faults, balanced with good will: brilliant – no; poetic – yes.
For the Irish, poetry defines the soul. My relatives spoke with many voices and long stories, and their intentions were mostly good and, well salted with irreverence. They were small town saloonkeepers, farmers, politicians, and priests. For males, beer and talk was their main interest. Females, more into church and gossip. Male or female, talk of some kind was how they impressed me.
I took away from my early life experiences among my Irish relatives a deep-seated admiration for all their antics, good or bad. I knew deep down that I was one of them, and as I came into my late stage of life when survival struggle was a minimal issue, I longed for a refreshing draught of some of that Irish beer and talk. And, now that I have a better view of myself, I have this insatiable desire to find the reasons why.
OK, so, that’s where Skibbereen comes in. In my sentimental intuition, I saw my ancestral origins near, or not far from, a central point in southwestern Ireland. So, when, in Ireland in 2016, I saw a road sign with Skibbereen on it, I immediately connected its sound to my character Skibootch, and there you have it. It became where I placed his refuge from storied debt collectors on a farm near that colorfully named town. Little did I know how serendipitous that naming would become.
It is metaphorically the essence of my trip stories. You already have been appraised of Steve’s bridge. In order to retravel the routes taken in 1945, someone had to drive a vehicle. In 1945 I drove for about 1/3 of the time I spent in Europe a 6×6 – 2½ ton truck. I had not driven an Army Vehicle since. Not until Steve and I went to Ireland in late July 2017.
As we were visiting an Irish Marble mine and products factory in Connemara, I was introduced to Mr. Joyce, the owner as a WWII Veteran. He immediately excused himself, disappeared, and came back ½ hour later driving a 1944 WWII Jeep. I was flabbergasted. A WWII US Army Jeep in Ireland? How so?
It turned out that he had bought as Army surplus in Singapore after the war ended, and brought it back to Ireland as his own souvenir. He was very proud of it, and made a big fuss over my presence as a WWII Veteran and insisted I get behind the wheel and have my picture taken.
Driving and bridges were such a huge part of our trip that I just had to conclude our stories about driving in the free land of Ireland.
In 2017 Steve and I drove across many rebuilt bridges, stayed in many restored houses, crossed many open borders, and saw signs of hope in our journey.
Going back and rechecking it all in Ireland next year – the Good Lord willing…