This past weekend, I was lucky enough to be able to attend a surprise birthday party for a man who has been a loyal and affectionate friend to my parents for many years. This man, and his lovely wife, met my parents when they were all on honeymoon – the two couples happened to choose the same hotel, and bonded over their shared ‘Irish abroad’ status – and they have been inseparable friends ever since. Growing up, they seemed to my brother and I more like an extra aunt and uncle than ‘mere’ family friends, and they are a deeply loved branch of the family at this stage.
On our way to the hotel in which we were spending the night of the party, my husband and I drove through landscapes tightly woven with my memories of childhood. My brother and I spent so many summers staying with our parents’ friends and their two children, who were – more or less – the same age as we were, and all those sunny, happy days came back to me as we drove down streets that I would once have known like the back of my hand. In my first year at university, I stayed in our friends’ house, walking about two miles every morning to catch the bus to college (and, crucially, two miles back in the evening, when it was dark, or rainy, or I’d perhaps been at the student bar…); as we drove along the same road I used to walk, I could almost see myself striding along, ready to welcome my new, adult life. I wondered what the ‘me’ of my early adulthood would think of the ‘me’ of today. I hope she’d be proud.
The day after the party, we called down to our friends’ house and took a wander through their estate (or ‘neighbourhood’, I suppose, for my North American friends!) It was almost overwhelming to feel the onrush of memories, the swell of happy childhood days well spent, and the more stressful and (at times) upsetting days of my early college life. I realised how so much of what I remembered from that time has changed, while at the same time the shadows of streets and houses I remember are still there, like ghosts.
We walked through a huge field that I spent so many hours exploring with my brother and our two friends, both of whom are grown men with children of their own now; it was wonderful to be able to set foot in it again with my husband, linking the two halves of my life so neatly and securely. There used to be wonderfully exciting rock formations in that field when we were young – which, of course, became battlements and castles and forts and impregnable cliffs in our imaginations – and sadly, these have long been removed now, but the trees we used to play around are still there. I walked past a row of these huge trees, looking at the mounds of earth around their roots, up and down which I would trundle, carefully, on a borrowed and unfamiliar bike as a little girl. They seemed so huge to me then; I could step over them, now. I was so happy to see that not only are the trees, and the field, still there, but that someone has planted new trees, too – future generations of children will be able to play as we did in that very same field.
My only regret, really, from the weekend was that my brother wasn’t able to be there with me. He had to work, and I wish he’d been able to share these memories with me. But, hopefully, there’ll be another chance to do that.
I looked around at my family and friends as we celebrated together this past weekend, marking the life and birthday of a man who is so dearly loved by all of us, and realised again that ‘this is what life is all about.’ Life’s not about money, or status, or objects, or possessions, or who has the biggest car or the biggest house. Life is – or, perhaps, should be – about weekends like the one I just spent, laughing and talking and spending time with the people you love. I’m privileged to have so many people who love me, and I hope I’ll always remember how important this realisation is.
I hope you all had lovely weekends, too, and if – as is the case in Ireland – today is a day off for you, I hope you spend it well, doing something you’ll be happy to remember in years to come. Happy New Week!