Rock Solid: Local Writer Kathleen Norton Meets Family From Ireland
Rock of ages: A piece of the old sod symbolizes one family’s search for its Irish roots
Illustration by Chris Reed
In March, we always raise our glasses to the Emerald Isle — but this year, I raise a rock.
It’s a small, weathered, slightly crumbling piece of stone. Unspectacular as it may seem, this rock has traveled from a hilly farm in Ireland to a place of honor in my dining room. How it got here is quite the tale.
Some of you already know the first chapter. Last summer, I wrote of an amazingly lucky online ancestry search that took me to Ireland and the kitchen table of my cousin, Martin Fitzsimons.
Until then, neither of us knew the other existed. But my great-granddad, who immigrated to America in 1901, was a brother of Martin’s grandfather, who never left Ireland.
At the same time, family of a third Irish brother popped up in California. Martin put the two American branches in touch with people from his branch who have recently immigrated to Australia. Before long, we had a Facebook page with cousins on three continents.
After my trip, my only regret was that I’d forgotten to take home a bag of dirt from the old family farm in Ireland. “Shoot!” I said on the flight home. “Well, I did find a cousin. It won’t get much better than that.”
Oh, but it did.
Soon after we met them, Martin and his wife Bernie were invited to a wedding in Chicago. It would be their first trip across the pond. The e-mails started flying. “You’ll be on our continent anyway,” I said. “You gotta come to New York!”
So they did. From Chicago, they flew to the Valley for a few days at our house in Red Hook. Then we played tour guides for their first day in the Big Apple.
“You hardly knew each other!” said astonished friends. But you’d never have known that if you’d witnessed our hugs at the airport, or seen us at “Top of the Rock” at Rockefeller Center, gazing at New York Harbor — the entry point for our ancestors.
You’d also never have known I’d been a ball of nerves before their arrival. I wondered how our Valley would measure up to their beautiful homeland. Would our green be green enough? Would our rugged hills be rugged enough? Would my soda bread pass the test?
At home, we took on a mega-housecleaning and mini-makeover, which included the installation of a new guest bathroom toilet seat — a project that nearly caused a divorce when we had to double-team a wrench.
But all that was forgotten once Martin and Bernie arrived. They declared my soda bread “delicious,” chowed down at their first American diner (the Eveready in Hyde Park), and marveled at the landscape. On a windy stroll at the Walkway Over the Hudson, Bernie declared: “Ah, Kathleen, I just love Poughkeepsie! It’s grand!”
Admit it, Valleyites. This is not something we hear every day — especially in an Irish brogue that would melt the butter off a scone.
Later, Martin gave me the rock from the farm my great-granddad left as a teenager and never saw again. Talk about goosebumps. I’d never told Martin that I’d regretted not taking one myself.
Now that rock is our link to the past, a link to each other, and a link to the folks on a Facebook page who share our blood.
So this March and in this house, we’ll surely toast our roots — as well as the little rock that stands for us all.
Writer Kathleen Norton is the author of the e-humor book If 50 is the new 30, then 30 ain’t what it used to be! Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.