Flights from Boston, Philadelphia and Baltimore brought my grown children and grandchildren to Jacksonville for family holidays Florida style. Cars were rented and driven to nearby Ponte Vedra Beach for the start of week-long Camp Lander: my ambitious plan to unite the group.
But, what happens when you move fourteen people into one house—including two one-year-olds and a three, five and seven year-old?
More squabbles and tears than I had anticipated. Oh yes, lots of fun, too.
Thankfully,the Sunshine State blessed us with clear skies most of the week. We applied countless layers of sunscreen as kids frolicked in the ocean, built and rebuilt sandcastles and chased after beach balls. Hunting for sharks’ teeth became a favorite activity with Poppa Jay setting the record of 47 in one day. Giggles, hugs and irresistible smiles of delight beamed from the youthful faces.
The kitchen acted as the hub of activity where an amazing quantity of cooking and eating took place. Not surprisingly, we drank more than a few beers and bottles of wine. Thankfully only two trips to the Urgent Care clinic were needed for ear infections.
Camp Lander came to a close with the celebration of Independence Day, the Fourth of July. The family created their own brilliant flashes of light like the dancing fireworks in the sky. They burst on the scene, boomed and sparkled, faded and then dispersed leaving behind stillness and memories.
Even though I’m not Catholic or Irish, my family and I celebrate St. Patrick’s Day -it’s my son, Steve’s birthday. Why, we’ve even gone to Ireland for the special day-twice.
Back in 2000 Steve took a job in England. So, my husband Jay and I, and Laura, our then 9-year-old daughter flew to Dublin arriving on a misty morning. Lush, velvety green hills surrounded us, making it obvious why this country is called the Emerald Isle.
Our taxi was forced to drop us blocks from our hotel; the holiday parade swarmed over the streets. I felt self-conscious and out of place rolling my luggage down the jammed sidewalk to St. Stephen’s Green . There, at last, was our hotel.
Like so many other grand dames, The Shelbourne, boasts a salon for high tea and a reading room with leather chairs, which, to be honest, reeked of cigarette and cigar smoke. The hallway leading to our room included a few stairs and some odd turns, making me realize the building had been renovated numerous times.
But the place had an ambiance most welcoming and, on this day, most festive. Families reunited and embraced distant relatives and dear friends. Children scooted under foot and furniture and no one minded.
By the time we freshened up, the parade had disbursed and the crowds were off in the pubs for lunch. We joined them, but the lines now snaked out onto the sidewalk. While we waited, we discovered buffet presentations were the only choice of the day. That became a problem because Laura was, first of all, overly tired and second, not an adventurous eater. She turned her nose up at Irish stew, corned beef and cabbage, leeks and mutton. Surely the Irish cooked something she liked, but we didn’t find it that day.
By evening Steve, naturally, was ready to party but our young one was ready for bed. Jay and I took turns in the hotel bar meeting Steve and mingling with Irish girls and gents, their complexions as pale and smooth as creamy butter. The accents were distinctive to our ears, and charming. And oh, their glorious auburn hair was pretty enough to evoke poetry.
We raised a glass to Jay’s ancestors (his Mother–the former Patty McCormick), Dublin, Steve, you name it; but before long I also gave into sleep. Not what you’d call a St. Patrick’s blow-out.
In retrospect, I was astonished that the holiday centered so much on family, not drinking. I appreciated the honesty of celebration: the men wearing real shamrocks on their lapels, no tacky fake flowers; no green hair, face paint, leprechaun hats or other exaggerated decor. And certainly no green beer. A trusted friend and a pint of Guinness were enough.
Next day we visited St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin Castle, walked down to the trendy Temple Bar area filled with colorfully painted pubs, and crossed over a bridge on the River Liffey. (Sounds much more quaint that the Liffey River, doesn’t it?) Thankfully Laura found an acceptable item on the menu–salmon.
We met chatty locals and whomever we asked for directions or assistance, always answered us with kindness. We departed Ireland with endearing memories.
…To be continued with a trip to Belfast, Northern Ireland on St. Patrick’s Day, 2005.
Between text messages, cell phone voice mail, two flights and final arrival in New Orleans, Mimi learned of the birth of her newest grand-daughter. The methodology of instant messaging may be new, but the same old words proclaim the news. "It's a girl," announces the proud pappa and love is born.
Sweet baby Claire arrived on February 20th at 3:24 PM, weighing 8 pounds.Mother and child are now home from the hospital and doing well.
Big sister Caroline is adjusting and I am thrilled to welcome Claire as grand-baby number four.
The family’s first photo arrived by e-mail on my Blackberry .