The sudden appearance of Old Felix at the corner of the house, his cloth cap pulled down over his eyes, startled me out of my reverie. He cut a sorry figure, the pockets of his ancient coat sagging from years of carrying stone sinkers, floats and fish hooks.
I suddenly realised that I had never seen my grandfather before at my father’s house. Then I realized too, short though the distance might be, that I had never before seen Old Eliza or Old Felix separate or apart from their beloved lough or their little cabin. Nor could I conceive of them as ever having been young. Before I was, they were. They and the lough and the cottage were essential parts of a single, unified tapestry – as essential a part as were the Abbey ruins and the Old Cross itself.
He was unmindful of the strangers all around him. I saw now too the significance of last night’s meeting between my father and his mother. All but me knew that Old Eliza would not be at this morning’s fateful departure.
‘The bus is coming!’
The cry went up. A loud wail made me turn towards the house. There was a flurry of activity around the door. My mother and her sisters were hastily embracing each other, passionately, crying in each other’s arms. Sally and Mary Ann and Maggie, swept up in the emotional moment, were clinging to my mother.
I felt a hand on my shoulder. My uncle Stewart, one of my mother’s brothers, was standing beside me. He placed a small silver coin in my hand, then closed my fingers around it and tousled my hair. With a smile he spoke to me,
‘Goodbye! And good luck, laddie!’
My father and grandfather were walking side by side among the drills of new potatoes. I ran over and joined them. They talked quietly as they walked to the end of the garden, heads bowed. Then they turned and retraced their steps, still walking in the same rows. Sometimes I walked on my father’s side; sometimes on my grandfather’s.
The bus driver was helping my mother into the bus, her sisters reluctant to let her go. Suddenly it became very quiet. Curious neighbours stood about in little knots on the roadside, smoking, chatting, their hands in their pockets, moving from one group to another. Their emotions too were torn, between sadness at the coming loneliness of the place and regret that it was they who were being left behind.
The carnival-like atmosphere of a couple of hours ago had gone.
My father and Old Felix shook hands. Then my father turned abruptly and walked swiftly towards the bus. Old Felix placed his hand on my head and said something in Irish. It sounded like a blessing. It might have meant goodbye.
I looked up at my grandfather.
”Goodbye, Grandpa!’ I said, as manfully as I could muster.
… Who’ll dig the new potatoes? …