‘Sure won’t I be back before ye know it’
As winter winds howl here in Tasmania I realise I have no immediate plans to revisit ‘home’
It was easy to go but harder to leave. Every time I had to steel myself to leave again. And as the day of departure drew nigh, I always seemed to sidle into half-truths. I wasn’t being outright deceptive; rather it was my way, I think, of trying to mitigate the wretchedness of going.
And so the pain of heading off again was always peppered with euphemisms, vague promises and little white lies. I left active bank accounts – items of clothing including work boots, a cap and a jacket “for the next time I’m back”. And on it went. I think leaving those loose ends was my not so subtle way of wanting to be remembered.
When I was leaving, assurances slid off my tongue like a smooth sales rep or a campaigning politician. Sure won’t I be back before ye know it. Now, don’t be coming out the car. Don’t be ridiculous, there’s no need for ye to be getting up at that hour of the morning. Now don’t be fussing about sandwiches, I’ll grab something on the way to the airport. And of course that perennial – I won’t leave it as long next time. And, of course, that tangible – I’ll ring you when I get there. The latter was the very least I could do.
I remember steering clear of neighbours in those final few days; as if to downplay going, or perhaps even to prepare myself for going. For me, emigrating was always an intensely private affair. There was one exception though – one of our elderly neighbours had a standing invitation that I’d drop in the day before I was going and we’d have a neat nip of Jameson together. The time of the day never mattered. I’d sit at her kitchen table and she’d tell me about her sons in New York and when she was expecting them home again. She’d enquire about Australia. She was always so sanguine about emigration; maybe because it’s been part of our culture for so long. I’d sip the whiskey, stare out her window at the mountain that loomed over the landscape and she’d assure me she’d surely see me next time.
Summer visits were always easier. Warmer weather made matters lighter, easier, more of a holiday experience. The longer days seemed to stretch out the time and there was always something to get stuck into on the farm. It was as if I could drift back there for a while, pitch in with the silage or the hay or help rear the turf on the bog. I could always go to the odd game or two or festival. And then I’d be off again before the onset of those long nights and the first frosts.
Apart from email and Twitter I haven’t really embraced social media. I know it’s unfashionable but I can take or leave Facebook. I haven’t Skyped yet. There’s something about those jerky images and distorted sounds that doesn’t sit comfortably with me. Call me old-fashioned, I guess. I think I’d prefer to write words. But that’s not really something we do much of anymore.
It’s ironic, in a way, that I can instant access Irish media sources by typing on a keyboard from the comfort of my lounge room – half-way around the world. Yet this immediacy is double-edged in that it doesn’t really broach the distance in any tangible form. It’s as if my link to Ireland is forever destined to remain at a virtual level. And I have to say I honestly don’t feel any particular part of this amorphous thing that’s dubbed the Irish diaspora.
I wonder if we migrants, by deciding to go, involuntarily jettison a chunk of our Irishness in the process. And the longer we’re away, the less Irish we become. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, I’d argue. Living a full life in one’s adopted country often leaves little room for living in the past. The campaign to have voting rights extended to us migrants isn’t something that keeps me awake at night. It’s not that I’m apolitical or have no interest in Irish politics; far from it. It’s simply that I’m no longer sufficiently knowledgeable or informed enough to be in a position to have a say come election time. After all, there is more than enough happening here in Australia’s political landscape to grab my attention.
As winter winds howl here in Tasmania and snow is dusting the mountain peaks I realise I have no immediate plans to revisit “home” and so my neighbour’s whiskey will have to wait just a little longer.