Wednesday, January 22, 2014

To be Sure of It

The bus rolled slowly to a stop as I opened the door for the umpteenth time that day. The girls stood, unassuming, on the other side of the narrow, gravel road. I got up from my seat behind the worn and faded wheel and went down the three grey, metal steps and onto the roadside. The gravel crunched beneath my brown, faded work boots as I crossed the road, “you ladies trying to get the bus to Dingle Town?” “Yes sir.” Well Lassies to be sure, you be on the wrong side of the road then.” I squinted into the rare sunshine as I motioned for them to follow me. I stashed their gear in the nearly empty hold and we all climbed back into the warmth of the bus. As the young girls got themselves situated I slide back into my worn leather seat, my perch above the long and winding roads of Ireland. I closed the folding door and as I let out the brakes I heard the comforting and familiar sound of the air rushing through the lines. I checked the rear view mirror to make sure my new charges had safely settled in behind me and took my foot from the brake. The bus eased into motion.            
28 years I had been driving this bus, these meandering lanes, almost to the day and not a dawning had come and gone that I haven’t thanked the good Lord up above for my life behind this wheel. So many people have come and gone through these old, squeaky doors. So much life, and love, and laughter: faces of the earth, brown and golden. Pale. Eyes of green with black rimmed glasses, long fuzzy scarves, toques, and baseball caps, surfboards and rucksacks, young folks and old. Travelers all. I turned onto the asphalt roadway, gave her some gas and picked up some speed. The bus rolled along, humming down the lanky road that came alive before me. Ahhh…a grand day to be sure of it. I took a deep breath. I had lived all my life in these hills. I had, for 50 blissful years, breathed the cool, delicate air which always seemed to be filled with the taste of green grass and the salt of the sea. To be sure of it I had grown, loved, and lost here in these highlands.
The locals were my neighbors, my friends, my family, my charges, my passengers. I loved to watch them, wrapped in their grey woolen coats of winter or the short cotton sleeves of an Irish summer. I loved to watch them as they hopped on and hopped off my bus with their brown, cloth grocery bags packed with the evening’s meal or backpacks filled with novels, binders, and school books. I loved to watch as the children, whom I have known for most all of their lives, grow up and leave the comfort of this gentle place for parts unknown. I am the guardian of these times. Of the Irish folk as they intermingle with the tourists that have come to eat, sleep, and breathe Ireland. As one, they all come together sharing moments in time like vines growing and twisting up a trellis in full bloom. Life.
My mind returned ever so gently and briefly to the task at hand. I was making good time as the bus rambled down the road heading west into the misty rain that had suddenly taken over the day as was often the case here in Ireland. I checked the mirror once again to see the young ladies in a deep and blustery conversation. I steered the bus towards today’s final destination. My thoughts returned to the far reaching asphalt that stretched out before me, the smell of the rich loam of the hillsides, and of the salt air that drifted in through the open window as I got closer to the ragged cliffs that sat stonily along the Irish Sea.  
I love the darkness as it quietly falls across the lush hummocks of home. This is my life behind the wheel. I am content as I spend my time on this earth peering out the windshield as the wipers wash away the rain showers. The blades moving back and forth with a rhythmic tick, tick, tick. Luck of the Irish they may say or, as I think of it, just a life filled with gifts, smiles, and long winding roads. Ahhhh….I am blessed to be sure of it.The young ladies behind me were still busy chatting with excitement as we drew closer to my concluding stop of the day and, as happenstance would have it, my home town.  I slowly took the long remaining curve down into Dingle Town and in due course we pulled up along the quay and I gently guided the bus to a stop. I slide the door open and I, once again, eased out of my seat and hopped down to help the young maidens retrieve their gear out of the belly of the bus. “Have ya been ta Dingle before ladies? “No sir. This is our first time.” “Well to be sure of it then this is as beautiful a place as you will ever see. Now ya must take a ride out along Slea Head Drive as it is the jewel of Dingle to be sure. I was raised here ya know.” That single statement seemed too peek there interest and they stopped gathering their things and turned their full attention to me.
   Since I was in no particular hurry I sat down along the gated entrance to the harbor, lit a fag, and answered as many of their curious questions as I could. The part of my job I loved the most: imparting to the wandering souls the simple yet intricate details of the place I call home. I took a long drag off my cigarette and exhaled deeply. “Now if ya take this road up a block or two
and turn towards the water you can take a stroll along Dingle Bay all the way past Hussey’s Folly there and down to the light house that has stood along these rocky shores since the year eighteen and fifty five.” I took another drag on my cigarette and continued. “As you walk now young ones, keep an eye across the bay and you will see the grand and majestic Esk Tower which stands guard over the harbor and directs the fishermen to the entrance to the port and towards the safety and warmth of home. I pointed towards the bay across the colorful boats that were moored along the dock and filled with men returning from a day upon the sea.
“And see here. If you make your way past ole Murphy’s Pub there,” I pointed “just down around the corner there is place along the lane that pipes ancient Gaelic music out into the alleyway.” The girls were drinking in the information like this was the place they had longed for all their lives. I smiled at them. I had two daughters myself about their age, both off making their way in the world both feeling to confined and stagnant in this little sea side town.
 I worked many a year driving these hills and roadways to give my girls the opportunity to see the world beyond, as these two girls were doing today. Dingle was a world beyond to them but was an old comfortable hat to me. “Excuse me sir I know you have to be on your way but could you tell us where we might find a good hostel?” “Oh to be sure, now ya make your way straight up this street and you’ll find the ‘Hideaway.’ Ole Chuck he’s a fine man and will take good care of ya to be sure. And if you want to go drink up some of our national brew and listen to the best music in town you must go to the Courthouse up yonder there. That is where the locals go to be sure. Be still now, as we take our traditions very seriously and if you can be wordless, and close your eyes and pay close attention, the music will carry you back to the times of my ancestors and it will fill your heads with visions of old to be sure of it.” The girls nodded their heads in quiet delight as I helped them shrug back into their rucksacks. I gave them a wink and smile which they returned wholeheartedly and as they turned to leave they smiled waved back at me.
I watched with a slow, rising joy as they disappeared up the quite cobblestone street past the rainbow colored houses that were awash in the early evening mist. I turned and closed the luggage hatch, climbed back aboard my old red bus, took one last look at the fading twilight over Dingle Harbor, let out the brakes, and ushered my bus towards Tra Li.  I’d be there and back in two hours, driving my old sea blue pickup truck up and over Connor’s Pass and back to the green pastures of home. Tomorrow I would do it all over again. I was a lucky man…to be sure of it.

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