Photo

Here, have a nightmare, on me!

Text

            County Cork has been hyped up by a lot of people that I’ve talked to while planning this trip. It didn’t disappoint in the slightest. I failed to notice its beauty right away. I left Mountmellick this morning and I was enjoying the road as I always do. Like a great number of people back home, and I suppose it’s a cultural thing in D.C., I often focus on a destination without enjoying the ride. That goes for most things in life. Too often we set ourselves by this life clock and don’t just look up and enjoy what’s going on around us. Annette and I have been discussing that on and off that whole time I was back in Mountmellick. Today, when I finally looked up, I was surrounded by landscapes that looked almost too perfect to be the work of nature. After that, my surroundings blended with my undying love for the road and I was content.

            When I did arrive in the town of Glengarriff, I checked in and asked the receptionist where the nearest cash machine would be. Oh, about twenty-five minutes back where you just came from. Typically, I’d be upset about it. This time I was perfectly happy to look at the views again. I may have forgotten to mention that it had been raining all morning and then out of nowhere, when I went back into Bantry for cash, it was, in the words of Shirlie’s cousin Dave Turner (or Steve Earle), a fine, soft day.

            So when it was all settled, and I had a few Euros in my pocket, I went over to see The Ewe Gardens. These gardens are kept by an artist(s?) that work sculptures into a plot of breathtaking landscape. I moved around and there was a pig in a bathtub stationed next to a babbling brook, a fish on a bicycle, a baby’s face peering through the forest; it was very inspiring. However, it was a little weird at times, too. First of all, crazy Joe Davola took my money at the gate. I thought I’d catch him peering at me through the trees in a Pagliacci outfit. Every now and then you’d see some strange sculptures like a baby doll wearing a crown on top of a rock (there was one sculpture named, ‘Milk of Human Tears’. I was convinced I was going to be hacked up and made into a private collection). But for the most part, joking aside, it was exceptional work set in natural splendor. I’m convinced that there were choices made to make use of natural light to enhance some of the work, too.

            After the garden, I’ll be honest; I was starting to feel homesick again. I began driving back to the hotel and I saw a sign for a lake. I kept driving and wanting to go back but feeling a little too despondent to turn around. I felt angry about it and whipped the car back around, determined to see that goddamned lake. I was angry at myself for wanting to let something so available pass me by. I drove and drove and it was beginning to take long. I started thinking about just turning around, but then I’d start getting mad again and press on. The roads became narrow and eventually one lane. Then the road became rock. Then it started winding up a mountain covered in goats.

            Before I knew it, I was the only person standing on top of a rock overlooking Barley Lake. There were mountains surrounding me and wind gusting against my face. I felt like the world was mad back at me. I’d almost neglected what it was offering to me. It was willing to show me something and I was too preoccupied, trying to keep my own world small. I let the wind scream into my face and I took it all in. I’ll be honest, I didn’t enjoy this national geographic-worthy view at the time. It took a call home to Anneka and my Mom for me to let the moment take its place where it belonged. It’s now sitting next to the view from the top of Shadow Mountain across from the Gran Tetons and the overlook on top of Beehive Trail at Acadia National Park. Barley Lake, the newest addition.

            On my way home, I stopped at a little pub for lunch. I was still in a foul mood and trying to just eat my sandwich and leave. A big family of German tourists came and plopped down at the table next to me and began speaking to each other. I was thinking about my dog and they were being a bit loud, obviously just enjoying their vacation. I mean nothing was bad or wrong with what they were doing. Nobody reading this would have thought twice about them. But, part of me wanted to just go smash their plates and tell them to speak English. I wanted to hear something familiar, not their throaty German clucking. And I might have asked why they needed to be so damn loud anyway. But, like someone that’s not a sociopath, I just headed back to the hotel.

            I hopped in the shower and started writing soon after. From that point on, I’ve started feeling better and better. I was able to replay all the wonderful stuff I’d experienced this past weekend. Then I made calls back home and just got some talking in and it made me feel better. I thought I was being normal on the phone but my Mom could tell and asked if I was doing alright. Just asking made me alright and so I answered honestly, “Yes.”

            Having that weight off my shoulders has let me soak in the amazing day I had. I could appreciate the sculptures, the weird ones and the stuff that was genuinely moving. Barley Lake was given its proper admiration as well.

            “Do you want to hit me, Jerry?”

            Big Cat

Photo

Always surrounded by beautiful Irish women

Text

            It was a bank holiday in Ireland on Monday, so Sunday wasn’t exactly a day of rest. I headed over to Annette’s (Shirlie’s sister) for her daughter’s second birthday party. Little kids were running around, there was good food and plenty of folks to meet. The highlight of the day, though, came after everyone had eaten when we gathered in the living room. Annette’s husband David, his brother Brian and Annette’s Uncle Joe are very talented musicians and we got to hear them play as all the guests sang along. They covered everything from ‘Hotel California’ to ‘Folsom Prison Blues’. There was Joe on the harmonica and the Keane brothers playing banjo and guitar along with a chorus of fine Irish voices.

            Although, the one song I won’t forget was ‘Dirty Old Town’ by the Pogues. It was the first time I had ever heard that song and when I listened to the Pogues version on the computer later, it didn’t come close to what we made. It was one of those moments when your ears hear something fresh and connect it with the image around you. It’s hard to describe such a beautiful experience; everyone happy, kids running in and out and the sound of Irish voices all around me soaking into every piece of my visual memory. There wasn’t a person in the room that was too proud to open up and let the music out.

            After the party wrapped up, David had a gig in Abbeyliex with his band Abbeyfolk. A group of us went over to the gig and had a great night. The American at the bar got a shout-out before they played ‘Galway Girl’ (the validation was nice because Shirlie’s husband, Greg always insists that the song was made in Ireland). I was dancing and singing along and the pints were flowing. Something strange happened at the end of the night, though. Someone must have slipped something into my drink. That or it’s the Irish milk; these people leave their dairy out for far too long. But either way, on the ride home, we had to pull over and let the Big Cat cough up a hairball. Oh, and if you don’t believe it was a drugging or bad milk then I was just plain over-served. Some people, you know?

            That was a great, great day in Ireland.

            Then on Monday, we stayed around Annette’s place for a Sunday supper. It was beautiful weather and we sat around outside, a big picnic spread in front of us.

            After lunch, Shirlie’s father introduced me to his guard dog, Rocky. Rocky is a Belgian Shepherd that he’s got trained for protection, rescue and loads of other tasks. However, the thing that strikes you about ol’ Rocky upon meeting him is that he looks like a horse that’s been taking steroids and using steel beams as chewing gum. For those of you that don’t know the breed, these are the dogs they use to protect the White House. They have a bite force that can crush human bone like a toothpick.

            When I met the dog, he hopped up on me and it felt like the weight of the guys I used to wrestle in high school. I guess he was a little excited and sniffing at my face. He pushed up on his back legs to get closer, just a twitch, and hit my chin with his snout. That small movement felt like a good shot in the jaw. No teeth came out but he scraped me a little, drew some blood. Mr. Morris showed me his search and rescue capabilities. He took a tissue, let the dog sniff him and had him stay on the other side of the house while he hid it under my rental cars wheel well. Rocky found it and was shaking my car as he tried to get after it. Do you understand the power this dog has yet? I need you to know it because Mr. Morris looked at me after that, put a muzzle on the dog and said, “Now you’ll see his other side.”

            He had me raise my hand and try to touch him. The second I did this, the dog started at me full speed and Mr. Morris stopped him well before he got to me, I guess so as not to scare me. Luckily, at that point, my balls were well into my chest, probably well-protected. It was an exhilarating experience. You’re kind of scared in a way that’s more real than a rollercoaster. I trust Mr. Morris has that dog trained but deep down you’re doing all the permutations in a split second and thinking about ways that muzzle could come off. You can imagine what it would be like if you were an intruder rather than a guest at his home. It’s a good incentive not to overstay my welcome.

            After I was introduced, we took the dog down for a swim. He loves it, apparently. Rocky ran out of the van and hopped off a ledge into the water. I didn’t see him go in but it sounded like a Ford F150 had rolled off a bridge and dropped in behind him. The whole time, as I walked with Mr. Morris, my hands stayed in my pockets. He kept getting closer to me to have a conversation and I was moving away. I’m not stupid, people.

            Now, I know I made big promises to put on the dog suit and let the dog at me. I am in no way backing out of that because contrary to what I just said, I’m very stupid. However, God’s honest truth, Mr. Morris says he doesn’t own the suit himself. If the opportunity comes up, I promise that I will strap that thing on and take a video for your viewing pleasure. It’ll be the largest, mangiest cat that Rocky will ever have a crack at.

             That evening, after some time with Annette and David, I went over to Shirlie’s other sister, Siobhan’s (She-vaughn) house and hung out with her husband Jay. It turns out Jay likes the video games so we played some FIFA Soccer on his Playstation. He beat me the first two games but then I switched over and played as America and won. I just needed the right team. Oh, and we had Fish and Chips delivered for dinner. It’s like pizza here.

            Rocky, if you’re reading this, please don’t eat me,

            Big Cat

           

Photo

The footings at the bog

Text

            Sorry for the lag on the blog update today. It’s difficult when you don’t get in and get to bed until 5:30am.

            Yesterday was a spectacular day. Once again, I feel like I slipped through the filter and entrenched myself in the midland culture. David, Shirlie’s brother-in-law, took me out with him to the bog. The bog here, for those unfamiliar, is a large section of land covered with earth made up of dead and rotted tree waste. With the wet weather in Ireland, it creates a swampy, soft earth. Now, what the Irish do is excavate the top layer of it and run a machine over the black earth. The machine cuts and lays the tree-rot, extruding it into long rows that resemble a black, gold-bar shape. Then they begin letting the wind and sun (it’s sunny here sometimes, at least that’s what they say) dry the turf and then they use it for fuel to heat their homes. On a side note, the smell the burning turf emits is fantastic; very earthy.

            So yesterday, I went out like a true Irishman and built footings to allow the still-moist underside of the bricks to dry. I was futtin’ the tearf (footing the turf) as they say. Again, I felt transposed into a place where I could get a sense of life before my time. The rain was holding off, it was slightly cool and there was a soft breeze. You could hear birds chirping every so often but besides that, peaceful silence.

            For the Irish, I suppose that they are just used to the process; grabbing and stacking the bricks. For me, though, it was serene and intoxicating. You stack and stack and let your mind wander, then stack some more. Every now and then, David and I would talk a little. He’d offer tidbits of history, how they used to cut turf before the big machines. He told me how the old Celtic tribes would bury their dead or store butter in the bogs and it would preserve so well that you’d hear stories of people finding the deceased completely intact; hair, skin, everything. I prodded a little, too, and asked if the IRA ever lost a body in there as well. He supposed they did.

            The rest of the day and into the evening, after a few beers, I let everyone know I’d footed turf. They enjoyed it.

            Speaking of the beers, I went to a girl’s twenty-first birthday last night at the local golf club with Shirlie’s brother, Ciaran. Here they can drink at eighteen but supposedly the twenty-first signifies your entrance into adulthood. It was a wild night. The drinks were flowing and I was tripping the light fantastic. I had groups of Irish teenagers doing dance moves, I was twirling around the women and just all-around having a blast. By the end, all the older folks were doing the Macarena and the electric slide with us, too. Sure enough, the last song that got played, after a few boys took the microphone and sang some folks songs, was the national anthem. This tradition needs to travel back overseas, with the addition of one or two more plays throughout the night.

            After the party ended, we gathered into a bus back to the birthday girl’s house. The whole ride, they sang the national anthem and other Gaelic songs. Fecking brilliant. The drinks kept flowing, at what was now three in the morning. We sat around chatting and enjoying each others company. We all talked about Ireland and America, the similarities and differences. I told people about forty times that I footed turf. All in all, one of those memorable nights that you half-remember; the booze leaves a golden halo around it.

            I’m loving it here. I might run for mayor here and just park it in E. Lalor’s bar for the next couple years.

           Call me Eire Jordan (solid pun, I’m getting better and better),

           Big Cat

Text

            I can’t even figure out where to begin. Mountmellick, a town in County Laois in Ireland absorbed me last night. I pulled in to Shirlie’s sister Annette’s house and it was like I was just plopped into the middle of Irish life. Little kids running around, a moon bounce for a birthday party, a hike at a local path, some great conversations with Annette, a walk through the pasture of Shirlie’s father’s cattle farm—though it all seems a bit blurry now.

            What I remember most from last night was the dog track. Shirlie’s father, Cyril is a greyhound trainer (and he never kills the dogs after they’re done racing). So he and a farm hand of his, Tommy took me up to watch the races. It was something to see, and I’m not talking about the dogs. These Irish men get serious when the dogs get to running. Now, that’s not to say they aren’t throwing back pints and making good conversation. However, as soon as the race bell sounds, and the dogs are lining up, all these guys start whispering. They’re like the Italian mafia, holding up the race cards to cover their mouths to say which dog they think will take it. There are pockets of men stand together like the five families or something and they all are debating the card.

            Now, it must have been beginners luck. I bet four races and won three. Parkfield Harvey in the fifth, Eabhas Fantasy in the seventh, Quail Hollow in the eight; I was on fire. Quail Hollow is the most significant win though as it marks the moment when I started really hearing the whispers. It just so happens that it coincides with my fifth Guinness that the who d’ya like banter started clicking. But either way, I felt sucked into it all. It was not a bad way to spend a night.

            But—that wasn’t the end of the night. We got back to the house around ten in the evening and I was carted off to a local pub, E. Lalor’s. Now this is where my memory starts to get unreliable. I remember I cautiously switched over to Budweisers, testing to see if I could get away with it (some guys in Rosslare were calling my Coors Lights ‘city water’). Then, I think I remember my heart breaking because three of the Irish girls I met said they didn’t like Jack Nicholson. Then I remember waking up in jail for punching three Irish girls—no wait. Okay, that last part didn’t happen, then. Yeah, then all I could tell you is that I woke up just a minute ago, feeling good.

            Nobody I met made me feel like an outsider. It was like there was some sort of nod or something that said, ‘ok, you’re here’ and then I was talking to people and enjoying the night, no stress at all. I think I might just like Ireland a lot.

            Go watch a Nicholson movie (I recommend “The Missouri Breaks”),

            Big Cat

Photo

The S.S. Loosey Goosey

Text

Just a quick update as I’m brain-drained from travel:

                     I think I just executed to perfection the most porous plan ever created. I took off from the farm in Wales yesterday at ten in the morning. I drove two hours to Pembroke, Wales and hopped on the ferry to Rosslare, Ireland. I stayed by the harbor for the night then at 4:50am I got up and took the train into Dublin. From there, I got into a taxi to the car rental and then I drove to the hotel. Altogether, it was about twenty-four hours of travel.

                     Let me explain the reasons I’m liking Ireland so far. First of all, the only security that took place was when I left Pembroke on the ferry. One non-German shepherd dog named Tess sniffed me. After that, I boarded the boat, which was equipped with Miller Lites and free internet, and eased on over to Erin. When the boat pulled in, I went down to the bus that takes you on and off the ferry. It pulled in and just stopped in a parking lot. I looked over at an Irishman that rode the ferry with me and asked where I needed to go to check-in with customs. He said I didn’t. I must have had a look of shock because he smiled and said, “Welcome to Ireland.”

                     Once I settled in at the hotel, I went down to the bar and had two Coors Lights. By beer number three, I felt like I was committing a sin and switched to Guinness. For dinner, in Ireland, God-honest truth I had the best Chinese chow mein dish I’ve ever had in my life. I think I will dream of that chow mein. It was that god damned good. I sat enjoying my meal as all the locals cussed their asses off and just like that, I felt welcome in the Emerald Isle.

                     Tomorrow I leave for Mountmellick, in County Laois. Shirlie, who worked with my father, has arranged for me to stay with her family on and off, using it as a base of travel. I’ve been in contact with them for a bit now and they seem like a great group. By this time tomorrow, I’ll be immersed in Irish culture with children running around and Shirlie’s father teaching me the histories. Oh, and if all goes well, I’ll have a little surprise in store for those who are following me (*sinister laugh*).

                     Also, a side note. Be on the look-out for new stories on my fiction site. They are always new on the first of the month at http://bigcatthomas.com.

                     Ireland: Board up your windows,

                     Big Cat

                   (Cat Mór)

Photo

Be easy.

Text

                Did a little research: Donald Patrick Caldwell grew up in Berwyn Heights, like my Dad. He served his country in Vietnam and was killed in action by hostile enemies on August 24th, 1968. My Dad used to play stickball, basketball, anything really with his brother, Ronnie. I think I remember him talking about how much it affected everyone when the news of Donald’s death reached home. It was the only human thing I ever heard about my Dad’s mother, how hurt she was when they got the news.

            The years went on, as they can, and it was October of 2003. I was a sophomore going to the homecoming dance with a freshman cheerleader. The whole night we were getting driven around by this mopey milquetoast I used to play baseball with. Anyways, the dance came and went and we went over to this fellow’s house who had graduated high school already. He lived in the apartments next to the school. Everyone was drinking and for some reason, I just chose not to call home to check-in. A little while later, my Dad called and he was of course, quite pissed.

            That night he came flying up the McDonald’s in the old van. Oh, that was the lie I told him, that we were just hanging out at McDonald’s. It was actually closed and my date and I were alone outside but he never called me on it. When he had me alone in the car he started letting me have it because the next day my Mom was running in the Marine Corps Marathon. He was trying to make me feel guilty by saying that she probably couldn’t run in it because she’d be too tired from worrying about me.

            Really, the whole thing wasn’t a big deal. But anyways, he was a prick about it the whole next day. We got up, went to the metro and saw my Mom start the race. As she was running, we went around to different memorials. He kept telling me that my days of being a kid were over. Yeah, he said that for a span of four years. I’m still a kid. But, we ended up at the Vietnam memorial and my Dad was looking for two names. We searched for a good half hour before I finally found the locator book at the end of the memorial. I found the names he was looking for and we walked over to them. When my Dad touched Donald’s name on the wall, he began crying. It was one of three times I ever saw him cry and the only time in public.

            I’m sitting on the Ferry to Ireland right now thinking about my last post, about being away from home. I mentioned how I never really took the time to consider why we celebrate Memorial Day. It got me thinking about my latest piece about Iraq, our nation’s war history, some buddies of mine—they went over to Iraq and Afghanistan to fight. When we think about Memorial Day, I think a lot of people consider the loss of American life. But I think there’s more to it. Around some age, they finally stop being soldiers’ lives, like we learn in school and start being peoples’ lives that have been lost.

            And there’s more to war then the people that gave their lives. Take a buddy of mine, Chase. When I was nineteen, a freshman in college, my friend Kyle told me that Chase shot an insurgent on top of a building in the head, tore the top of his skull off. Apparently, Chase puked right on the spot. My young mind quickly put itself in Chase’s shoes, probably a defense mechanism. I told myself how I would have been happy to shoot that insurgent. I reassured myself that I probably would’ve high fived nearby soldiers, too. It embarrasses me, now, that thought. Today, if I put myself in his shoes, or rather, a pair next to him, I don’t know what I’d do. I’d hope that I’d be there for him when he felt that grief. I’d hope that I’d have the guts when it came time to kill or be killed. I’d hope I was as strong as he was—and that I’d puke, too. He had to take a life, another human’s life. You’d be crazy not to throw up.

            Beyond the people like Chase, there are plenty of others that suffer and sacrifice. I’m going around different countries now. Last week I was in England. We fought them. We killed many of them and they killed many of us. That’s how we became our own country. I had beers with some guys the other night from that country. Two hundred thirty-six years ago, one of us could have been at the sharp end of the other’s bayonet. It makes me think long and hard about a holiday like Memorial Day. I don’t know why it took stepping out to do it, but it did.

            My heart goes out to Donald, Chase and all the other humans that had put it on the line. It takes immeasurable courage to give your life and the same amount to keep living it after you’ve been touched by war.

            I don’t know why I had to say all this but I’m glad I did.

            Sincerely,

            Big Cat

Photo

Keep the road moving.

Text

           All right. This will be a mish mosh of a post but I had some things I found interesting that I wanted to share. So, here it is:

·         Portion sizes for meals are about the same over here.

·         Chips and Fries are used interchangeably; sometimes both terms are on the same menu.

·         The beer is cold, at least in England and Wales.

·         They use plenty of ice most of the time. It’s rare that you’ll get just a few cubes.

·         Most young people here have the stupidest tattoos you could imagine. Like tribal tattoos randomly placed on their body or something equally ridiculous. 90’s America would accept them with open arms. Oh, and I even saw a guy on the beach at Bournemouth with a tramp stamp that said, “RIP MUM”.

·         A huge number of young men wear their hair in dreadlocks, pulled back and tied off. That number increases to nearly 100% if you happen to be black. It’s very popular.

·         The term ‘oriental’ still flies out here. It’s printed on restaurant signs.

·         People use the term ‘colored’ for minorities here, too. Though, I think they know it’s bad?

·         The teeth stereotype, we nailed it.

·         On the beach, everybody is burnt to a crisp. I was like a tan Adonis out here and I never put on any sunscreen. A huge moral victory for me after years of harassment to reapply the stuff.

·         Oh, also, they call it suncream. Very irritating for some reason. Whenever they’d come into the pub at the end of the day, they’d always say, “I dun’t know what ‘appened. I put on ma’ suncream.”

·         Roundabouts are actually very good and easy-to-use. Traffic moves quickly and efficiently. Of course, it requires full awareness and no cell phones. So maybe it wouldn’t work in the US.

·         There are fields and fields of blue flowers and yellow flowers along the road way. I’ve seen that only one place in America that I can remember. There’s a section in Virginia on I-81 going north between I-66 and Rt. 7.  But either way, it’s beautiful. At dusk one evening, I thought a field of blue flowers was a manmade pond. It was something special to look at it as I drove by.

            I think that’s everything. I’m gearing up to leave the farm in Wales. I’m going to try to improve the quality of my posts on here when I get to Ireland. I feel like I’m starting to just report events without any of the substantial feelings and emotional growth that accompany them.

            Like two days ago, for example, I was in another country on Memorial Day. I’ve been in America for twenty-three other Memorial Days and I never even paid the holiday any mind. Obviously, I should have but that’s a whole other tangent. However, being away for it made me long to be back home. I wanted to celebrate it. I wanted to barbecue and get a turkey leg at the Viva Vienna festival in my hometown. I wanted to walk my dog, Logan and drink an American flag can Budweiser (They only come out once a year. It stings to not be there for them). I wanted to go to the Vietnam Memorial, after reading that book on it, and look at Donald Caldwell’s name on the wall. He grew up just up the road from my Dad.

             But see, I didn’t post any of that. I think I got a little gun-shy after my meltdown in Heathrow. I was too worried about making everyone think I was doing alright over here. And yes, I really have been for the past week or so. It doesn’t mean that I’m not going to miss being home, seeing my friends and family. I’m really embracing this trip, too, but it doesn’t mean I don’t miss the shit out of America. I love lazy Sundays with Anneka. I love drinking beers in D.C. with the Halpins and Brett and Scharf and Brad (Shout out to Dr. Jones in Indiana. Tim Tim Tim). I love smoking pork butt out at the lake with Bill and that whole gang. I love talking about the craft of writing with the folks from Mason. I love hanging out on a Sunday afternoon at Greg and Shirlie’s, watching Fiona say, “Onomatopoeia” and giggle. And I especially love moments like my graduation dinner, the whole family together eating and laughing.

            So yeah, I guess what that all means is that I plan to be more true to myself here. I can love this trip but that’s what it is, a trip. As with any amount of time away from home, you’ll have your moments where you just want to close your eyes and open them to a plate of fried chicken and mashed potatoes at mom’s table (well, or to a Chipotle). But my heart still yearns for an adventure and goddammit, I’m going to go have one right now. Casting off the ropes. Ireland, here I come. Jackson Browne, take me there, my friend. Road.

            Hear my roar,

            Big Cat

Photo

After this picture, I ate the car.

Text

            Last night I got drunk off Pear Cider with two English kids my age from Southampton. According to my previous declaration, I would say that these two were the twenty percent exception. Nice guys. Sam Carver and Nath Morgan are apprentice electricians and their job carries them all over the UK. Today they are working in Pontypool and tomorrow somewhere in Western Wales. The sun was shining on the back deck and they were throwing the stone to Morgan, the black sheepdog here when they invited me up for a drink.

            With them, I finally got what I wanted out of the English portion of my trip. We sat at a table, pounding ciders and comparing life, the similarities and differences, in England and in America. We ran through the stereotypes, did each other’s accents and ended the night talking women. At the close of the evening, Graham, the Welsh innkeeper, kindly brought us out a bottle of white wine. We asked him to join but he declined so we passed it between the three of us until we were drunk enough for bed (and of course, I demanded that we not use glasses, too highfalutin).

            This morning, we got up early and had some breakfast together before we said our goodbyes and they went off to do their job at a local gas station. I did my morning hike and then I went over to the heritage center in Blaenavon. It wasn’t as meaningful as I had hoped (but a lot nicer than you’d imagine). A lady that worked there and I got to talking about Wales, genealogy and writing. She said she had the perfect place for me to go and she sent me up the street to the local museum run by a volunteer. It was just me and the old curator. He and I talked for a good two hours about life in Wales, Welsh writers and we even traded anecdotes about our personal dealings with the British. I like how welcoming these people are; their courtesy gives a warm embrace. It makes me proud to be a descendant of this country.

            Fueled by good conversation, I decided I’d mix it up a little in town. I strolled into the barber shop and got a haircut. The women working the place were loving me. They informed every customer that came in that I was here and that I had ancestors that lived here long ago. I don’t think I’ll forget the kind smile that Nicole (the girl cutting my hair) gave me as she said, “I’ve never cut an American’s hair before. You’re my first one ever!”

            She was around my age and I don’t think she’s ever left the valley in Pontypool. She kept asking the funniest questions like Are there any girls named Nicole in America? Do you think this town’s too old fashioned? And many more like that. By the time the haircut was over, they were telling me about their own families and what their life has been like over here. Some very happy women.

            I have mixed emotions about leaving for Ireland tomorrow. I can see why Alexander Cordell, a famous Welsh writer and poet, always returned after several attempts to leave. It’s not a bad place to spend a lifetime. It leaves an impression on you.

            I’ll leave you with a phrase I’ve found that’s been precious to me during my stay here. I hope it guides you as well as it has me:

            Pryd mae’r bar yn agor,

            Big Cat

            (Cath Fawr)