The Richness of Ireland’s Southern Coast

County Cork: Cobh, and Kinsale

Day 3 dawned bright and clear. I ate an early breakfast of homemade brown bread and hot tea with Shirley, my AirBnB host, before heading west into County Cork. It wasn’t long before I understood where the money is in Southern Ireland. Wide lined roads, large homes, and modern cathedrals stand out in my memory. When I glimpsed the seaside towns of County Cork, I first began to think that I could happily call Ireland home.

An hour or so in, I followed a left-hand turn sign promising “scenic views” then spent the morning on backroads wending through Ringville and Ardmore. I could not resist making frequent stops to gaze at the lush fields and coastal bays. 

Yes, the fields are really that green and the water that blue.

This leg of the drive offered some of the prettiest scenery, for me even rivaling the Cliffs of Moher. 

*Click on a photo to enlarge it and eliminate the caption.

I skipped Cork in favor of quaint but tourist-ridden Cobh (pronounced “cove”), but just missed the day’s final tour of Spike Island. I did manage to snap a quick shot of an impressive church.

I have never been a fan of touristy places so I made another unplanned detour (thanks to Trip Advisor) and enjoyed late afternoon solitude amidst the vibrant colors of Fota Arboretum & Gardens.

Bright green moss grows everywhere in Ireland. No wonder fairies and gnomes love it here!

A must for tree and plant lovers, this garden situated on Fota Island on the coast close to Cork city, is home to one of the most important collections of trees and shrubs in the British Isles. Many would not grow elsewhere in Ireland, but thrive here thanks to the micro climate created by the warm waters of the Gulf Stream. In fact that is how Fota got its name – it is derived from fód te, meaning warm soil. The arboretum was established in the 1840s, and many of the trees were collected on expeditions to South America, Japan and China. It’s not just trees though. In the Victorian Fernery you can see Tasmanian tree ferns planted over120 years ago … and the beautifully restored Orangery is a perfect home for citrus plants and a magnificent Canary Islands Date Palm.

DoChara Insider Guide to Ireland

Very near sunset I arrived in Kinsale, just in time to catch these gems:

Day 4 began with a sun gazing session – the first I’ve had in some months. My plan was to follow the Wild Atlantic Way (N71) until I reached Glengarriff, where I wanted to do some sightseeing and perhaps even hike in the local Nature Reserve. I planned then to turn left onto the Beara Peninsula with a hope to cross the Healy Pass at sunset. But after seeing Kinsale the evening before, I could not resist returning there that morning. I met Don Herlihy and about eight other travelers at 9:15 A.M. in front of the Tourist Information office. The weather was partly cloudy with sprinkles, but the rain did not diminish our enjoyment of Don & Barry’s renowned 90-minute stroll of Kinsale. Although completely spontaneous, the €8 tour turned out to be one of the highlights of my trip. 

Kinsale, from the Irish, Ceann tSaile, meaning Head of the Sea is a medieval fishing port renowned in Ireland for its fine food to this day. Because of its geographic location, Kinsale played an important role in both world exploration and Ireland’s military defense. The bulk of the town now sits on land reclaimed from the sea. It rises up in distinct tiers from the harbor to the radio tower in the background of the photo below. The tower marks the original water line.

A narrow, winding street about 2 blocks above the harbor. The left side of the road still bears the natural curve of the shoreline it once was.

After the tour, I stopped in at the Lemon Leaf Cafe for brunch. An excellent choice (thanks, Trip Advisor)! There I met a couple from Minneapolis. Being Americans meant that I had to explain the title of my book – the people of Ireland knew what Tir Na Nog referenced. Yes, I shamelessly promoted my novel everywhere I went, and grinned with delight when I saw understanding dawn in a pair of Irish eyes. I may be half Lebanese, but the Irish get me.

I followed the coast for the remainder of the afternoon but saw little to cause me to stop. After a disappointing side-trip to Baltimore, I was delighted to find the little town of Bantry. The graveyard below sits on a hill overlooking the harbor.

In Glengarriff I had just enough time to step into Quill’s Woolen Market. My allergy to wool and the lateness of the hour pushed me back out the door quicker than I would have liked. I was now fully committed to my quest to see the Healy Pass before darkness overtook me.

More amazing coastline along the Beara Peninsula.

Though overcast, the rain held off. Still, the clouds offered a forbidding view of the pass up ahead.

Colorful sheep dotted the steep hills to either side of the road that carried me upwards. Its switchback turns would have been more harrowing to drive, were it not for my solitude. 

I arrived in Kenmare sometime around 6 P.M. My AirBnB hosts had advised me to choose someplace there to eat and Foley’s Pub served up the best mussels I have ever had. That night would mark my first time driving in the dark to find my AirBnB. The long country road to Richie and Kathleen’s house was daunting, but I found my way (thanks to *Google maps) without mishap. Richie welcomed me into his home with open arms and after a good night’s sleep, I was ready for the next day’s excursions.

*Did you know that you can download large areas of the map to use when you have no cell service? That feature came in quite helpful throughout my trip.

Thanks so much for reading and I hope you’ll stay tuned as my Great Irish Adventure continues.

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Celebrating the Day of the Dead

I am fairly certain that I have not donned a costume for Halloween in at least 35 years. This particular celebration, while fun as a child, never really found a foothold in my heart. Add to that, in Christian circles, Halloween was disparaged as “Satan’s high holy day” – something to be avoided as avidly as cursing or reading Harry Potter.

Tonight it occurred to me that little about the rituals and celebrations of Christianity ever took hold in me either, despite spending 30+ years in that paradigm. Granted, as a child, Christmas was the most wonderful time of the year, to borrow a well-worn lyric. Certainly my parents and their tradition of Santa Claus helped (I can still remember my father peeking into my bedroom to ask if I had heard the sleigh bells – his voice was as filled with wonder as my child’s heart!), but even later on in my teen years, I remember sitting in our living room mesmerized by the glowing coals in the fireplace, while white lights twinkled between evergreen boughs laden with ornaments and tinsel. Sometimes when I think about what peace feels like, that is the picture that comes to mind.

Over the years, Christmas came to mean less and less to me – especially once I understood that December 25th was not the birthday of any deity in the flesh, much less Jesus of Nazareth. In the early 2000’s I stopped putting up a Christmas tree, and have been hard-pressed to find ways to create meaningful traditions for myself or my family ever since. Anyway, every Christian holiday is nothing more than a hijacked pagan celebration of one kind or another.

In 2006 I began what turned out to be a 10-year trek out of my Christian faith. Not that I am an atheist per se. I believe – probably stronger than I ever did as a Christian – in the absolute existence of a spiritual dimension. I am certain that death is not the end. But the job of determining whether there is a personal god out there running our universe is beyond my pay grade, the purview of religion, and better left alone by li’l ol’ me.

Perhaps because of my recent fascination with the Celts, faeries, and magic, I have gravitated most towards the old religion or what many call paganism. Admittedly, my stint in Christianity has caused me to shun any and all religious traditions, especially those who claim to know ‘the way’ or ‘the truth’. But the seasons of the year and of life are something I am familiar with. And I have always had a special affinity for the moon. That is the other strong memory I carry from my teenage years: monthly chats with the man in the moon. I had a perfect view of the moon at its full from the swing in our backyard, and I have always been able to see a face on the surface of it. In fact, I am hard-pressed to look at a full moon and not see a face.

At the same time that I find myself drawn to the cycles of the moon, I also feel a renewed sense of connectedness to the earth. I do desire to establish traditions to follow, but I am content to move slowly, listening closely to my own heart and what it whispers about the lessons, comfort, joy, or depth that a particular holiday celebration can lend my spirit. I began following the full moon cycles sometime in 2015, and this year added the new moon cycles to my monthly observances. Late in the summer, I determined to celebrate as many of the eight pagan festivals (beginning with Samhain, pronounced Sow-en) I am able to this year. October 31 marks the end of summer, the last of the harvest celebrations, and the beginning of the new year for the Celtic pagans of old. Samhain is a time to give attention to our ancestors and other loved ones who have passed. Many see it as an opportunity (perhaps even an obligation) to learn about their heritage and honor dead loved ones in some fashion. Still others believe that the veil between our world and the world of the dead is thinnest on this night, making possible communication with those who have passed.

For me, I wanted to take some time to think about how those family members who have gone on affected me while they were here. To that end, I put together a display of photographs, peppered with candles, fresh flowers, and crystals (particularly those related to the root chakra) on my buffet.

My Tree of Life Grid
My Tree of Life Grid has never held as much significance for me as it does now – a lovely reminder of my life, my roots, my heritage.

I started the process the first week of October and did not complete it until this past Friday. I took my time, and thought through the many photo choices, discovering a couple of folks whose legacy I found myself unable or unwilling to honor. They are not on display this year, but perhaps I will come to terms with them enough to include them in future.

A

Through this process, I began to think about the legacy that I want to leave behind. I even asked myself what kind of legacy would be left should I pass today.  Sometimes I wonder if the reason many of us throw our lives onto the wide screen of the internet is in hopes that something we say, do, write, or photograph will touch enough random people that our legacy may somehow live on after we pass. Perhaps it is our way of dealing with the fact that death comes to us all. We as a society have certainly invented many ways to avoid ever thinking about our own death, yet that is precisely why we remain haunted by the prospect.

My sister used to tell me that she believed when we die, there is nothing, it’s over, kaput. Nonsense, I say. Her belief created years of fearful living, but now she knows the truth. Those who are able to celebrate life understand that death is not the end, but merely the beginning of a new phase of our journey. J.R.R. Tolkien said it right well:

PIPPIN: I didn’t think it would end this way.

GANDALF: End? No, the journey doesn’t end here. Death is just another path, one that we all must take. The grey rain-curtain of this world rolls back, and all turns to silver glass, and then you see it.

PIPPIN: What? Gandalf? See what?

GANDALF: White shores, and beyond, a far green country under a swift sunrise.

For C.S. Lewis death was an expansion of the world of the heart. Narnia opened up into infinite possibility, like the layers of an onion peeling back in reverse. Because of him, I will forever think of death as a doorway from the barn into the open field, with mountains beckoning beyond. (The Last Battle from The Chronicles of Narnia)

Last night was the new moon, a black moon (by definition, the second new moon in 1 month). Tonight begins Samhain, the Day of the Dead, and tomorrow the Wheel will start to turn anew. The near overlap of the black moon and the beginning of a new year holds special significance for me. I have learned that new moons are a good time to set intentions for the coming months. Since this was a rare black moon so closely connected with the start of a new year, it became a time for me to consider what I would like to see in my own life in the coming months. As I reflected on my day, I realized that it was filled with exactly what I want for the coming year: meditation, healthy eating, work, writing, and loving encounters. A good omen for what is to come, I think.

Whatever your tradition, Halloween, Samhain, or All Saints Day (November 1), may you find comfort in your roots. May you come to understand the legacy your ancestors left behind. May you honor that legacy, and learn from both the victories and mistakes of those who precede you. Above all, may you find comfort in knowing who is watching over you, and who waits for the joyous reunion to come.

Blessed Samhain!

Tales from the Old Country – Part 3

Every year when I was a child my Father’s family of origin would gather together on Christmas Day to celebrate. Part of our celebration always included a retelling of Papa’s (my paternal grandfather) coming to America. As a child, my *Fambly’s Story made its mark on me, especially since I never knew any of my grandparents – all I had of them were the stories. 

This is the final part of the series. You can read the other two here and here.

*FamblyThe First Generation’s distinctive name for themselves and their progeny is believed to have originated as a typo in a letter passed around between the siblings (true story). To this day, ‘Fambly’ embodies the closeness, love, and commitment to one another we all share.

The following work of fiction is based on the true story of why my Grandfather emigrated to America.

 ~   ~   ~

“It is well past your bedtime, Saiad, we can talk more about this tomorrow,” I said. The evening air had cooled along with my temper.  As Saiad gathered together his paper and pencils, Watfy looked at me questioningly. Your shame shames us all, her eyes seemed to accuse. She only said, “You know I am proud of you, don’t you, Ahmed? The whole Fambly is proud of you!”

 

You don’t understand; how could you? I thought. The kitchen seemed to fall away as the memories took hold.

 ~   ~   ~

I knew every mark on every wall of my prison cell by heart. My life had been reduced to nothing more than the surrounding stone and the memory of what I had done. Even if I had the will to forget, Malik’s family would not let me – each year on the anniversary of his murder, I was taken to an open area of the prison and beaten while they watched and mourned. The next day my mother and brother were allowed in for their yearly visit to bring me news, fresh clothing, and to dress my wounds.


As a kind of self-made penance, it became my habit to spend the days before my beating remembering the deeds that ended my freedom, all the while asking Allah for forgiveness. I knew Malik’s family would never forgive or forget. So, I remembered everything, beginning with the look of contempt on Malik’s face when he saw me in the grove. He knew what I had been sent there to do. “Malik,” I began, “this night need not end in death. It must look like I tried to kill you, but I do not want to do that.”

 

“Sure you don’t,” Malik sneered. “Since when can the word of a Fakhr-al-din be trusted? Come on, Ahmed, I am not afraid of you. Tonight will be your end, not mine!Despite his smaller stature, Malik had proven stronger and more resourceful than I planned, but he made the mistake of carrying a weapon. By the time I wrested the mallet from him, I was bruised and bloody enough to know that I needed to make the next swing count. I aimed for his already-injured left shoulder hoping to take the fight out of him. Expecting a blow to the head, Malik ducked. A sickening crunch accompanied the impact, and suddenly blood was everywhere. Malik’s still body lay before me and I knew it was really over.

 

My flight through the mountain village was even shorter than the fight had been. Malik’s brother discovered me as I crawled between the needles of my cedar grove hiding place. The trial had been a sham. Families for miles around had known what Malik had done to my cousin, Youssef. No witnesses were needed to convict me of a crime everyone had expected me to commit, the bloody mallet was evidence enough. My mother had cried, but my father’s smiling face I would never forget. His pride in my actions haunts my dreams.

 

Today was the day. It would be the 4th beating in as many years. Each year before, the guards arrived before sunrise; none offered me food or water, only pain. Today my captors were late – hours late. Just as I began to hope I might be overlooked this year – perhaps Allah had forgiven me at last – I heard footsteps approaching my cell. Someone was calling my name. At first, I didn’t recognize the voice. Had they changed my guards again? Wait, was that – ? Could it possibly be my brother’s voice I heard?

 

“George! Is that you?” I whispered as loud as I dared through the small hole in the door to my cell. “What are you doing here?” The next thing I knew someone jimmied the lock and the door to my cell swung open. There before me stood George with Papa and my Uncle.

 

“You are free,” Papa simply said.

 

“What?!” I shouted. “That’s not possible, the guards -“

 

“The guards are gone, vanished into the night,” Papa assured me. “There has been a coup. Chouff is ours once more.”

 ~   ~   ~



Saiad shook his head, eyes wide in disbelief. “They let you go, just like that?” he said.

 

“Not ‘just like that’,” I began, “but yes, I was free … for the moment.” 

 

Watfy tried then, “It is hard for you to understand, Saiad. You did not grow up in Lebanon. It is a different world, not like America. 2 or 3 families fight over who will run an entire region. When they fight, people die. When people die, others take revenge. It is all we have ever known,” she said with a sigh.

 

“What about the police, the government? Congress?” Saiad asked. I shook my head. “Well, if people always take revenge, how did you survive, Papa?”

 

“I would not had I stayed,” I said. “That is why I came to America. It took about a year to make arrangements to leave, and going was hard, but I did not want to live my whole life looking over my shoulder for an assassin who would one day come. I was safe as long as I was in prison; once they could not hold me, my life was forfeit.”

 

“Mama, did you come to America with Papa? What was it like riding a boat all the way across the Atlantic Ocean?” Saiad asked, looking at Watfy in expectation of another long, interesting story.

 

“No, Saiad, I met your father many years after he left Lebanon, but I knew the stories about him since I was a young child. I told you, where I come from, your papa is a hero! But he is right, it is late. I think the story of how we met will keep for another day.”

 

“But, Mama!”

 

Giving Saiad my sternest look, I took a breath to scold him, then stopped. I suddenly realized how quiet the house had become. “Children, where are you hiding?” I said softly.

 

Slowly, one by one, 6 children filed into the kitchen. Watfy smiled as she stood, hands on hips. “And what are you all doing down here? Evelyn, everyone was to be in bed one hour ago,” she scolded playfully.

 

“I know, Mama. Everyone’s ready for bed. We just couldn’t help listening to Papa’s story. He tells tales of such adventure!” Evelyn exclaimed.

 

Reaching my arms out to pull Idell and Fred onto my lap, I asked, “Do you want to know the greatest adventure of my life?” I waited until I saw 6 little heads nod. “You!” And planting a kiss on each one, I ordered, “Now off to bed!”

Front: Saiad, Evelyn, Fred; Back: Aunt Lufta “Sissy”, Idell, Watfy (Mama)

 ~   ~   ~


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Tales from the Old Country – Part 2

Family PrinceMy Family’s Ancestry:

    Emir Fakhr-al-Din (1572–April 13, 1635): a Druze prince and an early leader of the Emirate of Chouf, a self-governed area under the Ottoman Empire between the 17th and 19th centuries. His period was characterized by economic and cultural prosperity, and he fought other Lebanese families to unite the people of Lebanon and seek independence from the Ottoman Empire. He is considered by some to be the first “Man of Lebanon” to seek the sovereignty of modern-day Lebanon.

Source

The following work of fiction is based on the true story of why my Grandfather emigrated to America.

(If you missed it, click here for Part 1)

“Papa, how do you spell ‘puhlitikul priz’ner?” Saiad asked, his pencil poised in the air above the paper. The once-clean page was now filled with words intermingled with smudges of lead matching the black spots on my son’s hand. After writing furiously for a time, he now sat breathless in anticipation. Saiad always had loved a good story.

“And why would you need to know something like that? Are you hoping to become one?” Watfy asked, as she stepped into the kitchen. She looked down at Saiad with raised eyebrows, awaiting his answer. The twinkle in her eye betrayed her delight in her eldest son, undermining her effort to look stern. Saiad looked up, and furrowing his brow in mock suspicion said, “Were you spying on us, Mama?” Laughter broke out of both of them then.

As always, my wife’s black hair was pulled back into a tight bun, accentuating her high cheekbones and large, round eyes. With a wave I motioned her to me, and, placing my hand on her extended abdomen, said, “Any day now, yes?” I flashed her a boyish grin and the weight of 51 years seemed to fall away from me. What man would not be proud to bear 7 children, and with such a beautiful wife? Shaking her head, she batted my hand away, stepped over to the stove and began cooking the thick, dark brew that made American coffee taste thin. How did she do it? Nine months pregnant, with 6 children already to care for, yet she never seemed tired.

I looked at her straight back, strong shoulders, and delicate neckline and wondered again how such a lovely girl had willingly left her home – at 16! – to marry someone more than twice her age whom she’d never even met. “Saiad wants to know why I left Lebanon,” I said, shrugging. “Maybe you should tell him why you left, too.”

“Well, now, that’s a tale worth telling,” she said, turning to Saiad with a grin of her own. “But where to start?”

“At the beginning, Mama,” Saiad exclaimed. “I want to know everything!

Watfy’s accent was even thicker than mine. After 15 years in America, she still had not mastered the English language. I had begun to think she didn’t mean to. In some way I did not understand she used the language of her homeland to stay connected to the roots she had left behind. It was a stubborn defiance so characteristic of her, almost as if to say, “I left my home to be with you, but I will not abandon what I was or who I am.” Her defiance carried with it implications about what I had abandoned in the quest to leave my past behind. At least, in her mind, too much of the man she had heard about in stories at home did not seem to live in reality here.

I married a proud woman, no doubt about that. Watfy never let me forget that she had the good sense to marry into a royal line. She didn’t seem to understand that no matter how ancient or powerful my lineage had been in Lebanon, it meant little to nothing today, here in small-town Virginia.

~   ~   ~

The news hit hard. “You mean he’s dead?” Papa asked. His deep voice carried an angry undertone as dark emotions boiled up to the surface. The messenger only looked down at the floor and nodded faintly, fearful to be the bearer of such news. “My nephew, dead?! Who do these people think they are?!” Papa roared.

The setting sun sent streams of light through the narrow window slits, casting long, broken shadows of my father’s sharp features onto the wall behind him. His prominent nose only seemed to grow larger when he was angry. The inevitable had happened. My cousin’s recklessness had finally been rewarded with his death. Despite Papa’s display of anger, everyone had known this day would come. The cycle of vengeance between the clans vying for power had been carried on for centuries. There was no way to stop it now … or was there?

“Papa,” I began, tentatively, “what if we make a show of outrage, then demand restitution of some kind? Perhaps a piece of fertile land? What better way to display our right to rule than to put an end to this senseless violence? Besides, imagine what the clans could do united rather than divided.

“What are you talking about, Ahmed? You know how this works, ‘An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth!’ There is no other way. Find out who did this and kill him.” Papa waved us away dismissively. You always knew when a conversation with my father was over. Papa never questioned the obedience of his sons; he didn’t even look up to see if I left when dismissed. It was assumed that as head of the Family his every command would be obeyed, and even at 25 I would not have dared to defy him openly. “But I am not a killer,” I thought. “There has to be another way, and I will find it.”

The chosen day was hot, almost stifling. Even in the shade I was sweating under my silk robes. I likely would have been sweating even had there been a cool breeze. My heart was racing. The plan was in place, and I knew it was a good one. Still, I could not stop myself from going over and over it in my mind. 

Malik spent every Saturday in his parents’ home and left just after evening prayers. An ambush would be simple. I would follow him until we were out of earshot of the neighbors; his path always took him through the small olive grove on the eastern side of the village. The grove would be deserted on a Saturday night.

Blushing, I remembered the last time I had met Lutfiyah there. Almost 3 months ago, yet it seemed like yesterday. I could still smell the spiced oils she had combed through her hair. I wonder what she would say if she knew I was going to our little grove for revenge instead of love.

Focus! I chided myself back to the present. Once I had given Malik a good beating, I could make my way through the little village of Barouk and be back home before dawn. I would have to deal with Papa, then, of course. Maybe he will believe that I left Malik for dead; surely Malik’s family would know I spared his life. Perhaps we would be able to negotiate a truce, in time. But I had already made up my mind. I would not become a murderer, not even for my family’s honor.

~   ~   ~

“Did you know your papa is a famous man in Lebanon? Where I come from, his name is known in every village for miles around,” my wife declared.

“Really? What did you do, Papa? Were you an explorer? An inventor? Maybe you had riches like a Sultan!” Saiad turned to look at me, dark eyes alight with dreams of the great person he imagined he was seeing for the first time.

The shame in my eyes as I turned away from him was not lost on Watfy. “How can you feel shame for defending your family’s honor? Only a coward would have run from his duty, Ahmed. You did not run,” she said quietly in her native tongue, so that Saiad had to struggle to hear and keep up. “Didn’t run? Run from what, Papa?” he said.

“Your papa would have you believe that he acted dishonorably,” she said, speaking in heavily-accented English once again. “But in the region where we grew up, he is a legend. His family displays a mallet on the wall in their home to proclaim your Papa’s commitment to justice,” she said with obvious pride.

Finding it easier to argue with her in my native Arabic, I said, “What kind of justice does it proclaim, Watfy? Did Malik’s death bring my cousin back to life – NO! Vengeance has no power to restore. ‘An eye for an eye’ only leaves two men blind!” The scraping of the chair legs as I rose from the table could not cover the frustration in my voice. “I want to celebrate life in this family, not death. And where would you be today if I had suffered the same fate and met my end at the hands of Malik’s family champion – ‘a tooth for a tooth’?” The screen door slammed for the second time that night as I stalked out into the darkness.

Taking a deep breath, I looked up and watched the moon slowly rise over the little brick home sheltering my beloved family. What would I do if someone ever took the life of one of my children? My wife? I know what I would do – I had done it before. And my fierce protectiveness had absolutely nothing to do with ‘family honor’. 


Papa circa 1930
Papa circa 1930

Mama circa 1930
Mama circa 1930

 

As part of Emily’s Remember the Time Blog Hop (also credit: Rarasaur) I have here recorded my memory of Papa’s Story from his perspective.

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Tales from the Old Country – Part 1

Every year when I was a child my Father’s family of origin would gather together on Christmas Day to celebrate. Part of our celebration always included a retelling of Papa’s (my paternal grandfather) coming to America. As a child, my *Fambly’s Story made its mark on me, especially since I never knew any of my grandparents – all I had of them were the stories. 

As part of Emily’s Remember the Time Blog Hop (also credit: Rarasaur) I have here recorded the Story from Papa’s perspective.

*FamblyThe First Generation’s (photo at end) distinctive name for themselves and their progeny is believed to have originated as a typo in a letter passed around between the siblings (true story). To this day, ‘Fambly’ embodies the closeness, love, and commitment to one another we all share.

The following work of fiction is based on the true story of why my Grandfather emigrated to America.

Small-Town Virginia

Saiad looked up from his paper. I could just make out the words “My Family” scrawled across the top of the otherwise blank page. Nice to see his penmanship was improving.

 

“Why did you decide to come to America, Papa? What was it like riding a boat all the way across the Atlantic Ocean? You had to come through New York, right? Why didn’t we stay in New York? They say that New York City’s gonna have the tallest building in the world! They’re calling it the Empire State Building. Why did they make you change your name, I forget? Papa, please, tell me!”

 

The barrage of questions left my mind struggling to focus as I met Saiad’s gaze. English would always be a second language to me. My eldest son’s 10-yr. old eyes glittered with expectation in the reflected light of our kitchen while my brain struggled to comprehend the meaning behind his rapid-fire questions.

 

“The tallest building in the world? Taller even than the Pyramids of Egypt?” I asked with a smile in my voice. After almost 20 years, my thick accent identified me as an immigrant, just in case my Middle-Eastern features and olive skin-tone failed to do so.

 

“Papa, buildings aren’t the same as pyramids!” his exasperation evident in his sigh.

 

It slowly began to dawn on me what he was asking. How could I ever tell him the truth? Should I tell him the truth – all of it? I certainly couldn’t risk having him write it down for his teacher to see. What would happen to our little *Fambly if this growing community ever found out what I was … what I’d done?

 

“I’m going for a walk,” I said as I stepped out into the cool evening. “I’ll be back in a little while and we’ll talk more about the difference between buildings and pyramids.”

 

“But, Papa—“ Saiad’s protest was cut short by the slamming of the screen door. I really need to fix that, I thought.

 

The last of the summer fireflies, dim in the twilight, flitted amidst the fig-laden branches in the back yard. Like miniature lanterns the tiny insects etched blinking, broad-leafed shadows onto the ground surrounding my homeland’s favored tree. I could hear the faint voices of children coming from inside the house. The voices grew louder, shriller; yet another argument had broken out between the girls. One calm voice cut through the chaos. I shook my head and smiled, thankful for Evelyn’s seemingly miraculous ability to restore order amongst her high-spirited younger sisters.

 

Saiad’s questions crowded back into my thoughts and my smile faded. Sighing, I wondered for the hundredth time at the wisdom of my decisions. Were my children ready to hear my story, to know me for what I was? The memories began to flood my mind, vivid and uncontrollable, like a nightmare from which I could never wake.

 ~   ~   ~

Sultry air matted thick, black hair to my face as I picked my way through the Syrian foothills. It was well past midnight. The little community slept, leaving the narrow streets deserted. A waning moon peeked out from behind threatening rainclouds. The dim light was all I had to help me avoid rocks and pitfalls in the packed dirt. For this reason I traveled at a snail’s pace when everything inside screamed at me to run.

 

Had I really done it? The scene played over and over in my mind as I tried to understand what had happened. How could my plans have gone so wrong? No one was supposed to die!

 

I heard them then. Shouts and screams began to bounce across the rocks, echoing between the stone houses nestled in the hills. They followed me down steep pathways like the sure-footed goats who called this region home.

 

Someone had found the body.

 

I picked up my pace as best I could on the uneven terrain. I had to get out of there before anyone saw – too late! The light of a lantern cast my silhouette back and forth on the packed ground ahead of me as it swung from the hand of one of my pursuers. Quickly I dodged into a copse of cedars and crouched, catching my breath. Maybe I could blend in with its thick branches.

 

The shouts came closer now, accompanied by more lantern-light. Angry voices began calling to one another, organizing a search of the dark doorways. I recognized many of those voices from the marketplace. I knew these people, and they knew me. I also knew if I didn’t get out of there soon I would be surrounded. But wasn’t I already surrounded – trapped by years of feuding resulting in blood I hadn’t meant to shed?

 

It was only supposed to be a beating, I chastised myself. “You let it go too far,” my whispered accusation fell dead on the thick, humid air, heard only by the branches enveloping me. My family had never understood my distaste for vengeance. “How can murder restore a family’s honor?” I had asked again and again. No one ever listened to my objections.”This is the way it has always been” was the only answer my father would give.

 

Of all people, how had this task fallen to me? Yes, I was tall and strong; as the eldest it made sense for the family to name me Champion. But I wanted the cycle of vengeance to end. Tonight I had proven I was no better than my Fathers. I had guaranteed the cycle would go on unchecked, perhaps for generations to come.

 

Branches around me began to move. Someone had decided to search the little cedar grove where I hid! A lantern fought its way through heavy limbs. In seconds I would be discovered. What can I do? I asked myself. I knew there was only one thing to do: RUN!

 ~   ~   ~

Back inside the brick house the cool tiles against my bare feet helped calm my thoughts. I turned to Saiad, resigned at least to make a beginning to my story. After all, my history was the heritage of all my children and their children after them. Surely the meaning of my name – honesty – held weight, even if it wasn’t enough to counterbalance my fear of uncovering old secrets.

 

“What do you want to know, son?” I asked. Before he could take a breath and renew the onslaught of questions, I added, “But, I’ll thank you to ask one question at a time!” I looked pointedly at Saiad behind a raised index finger. Then, shooting him a half-smile, I took my seat across the table.

 

At that moment I wasn’t sure I was prepared to relive those difficult years, but I felt as if a weight had been lifted. I knew I had to find a way to help my *Fambly understand why I chose to leave my homeland to make a new life – for me and for them – in America.

Our Family Tree from Lebanon, early 1900's. The third branch up on the right represents the first generation seen below.
Our Family Tree from Lebanon, early 1900’s. The 4th branch up on the right (last 4 leaves) represents the first generation (men only) seen below.

 *I chose to make “Fambly” part of Papa’s vocabulary because, although he was not alive when the name was born, it was his dedication to and love for his future generations that made the name possible to begin with.

The eight siblings which comprised the second-generation standing in birth order. My dad (far right) is the only one still living at the time of this writing (2/2014).
The 8 First Generation Siblings standing in birth order. My Dad (the youngest, far right) is the only one still living at the time of this writing. He will be 86 years young in March, 2014.

 Tales from the Old Country, Part 2

rtt-new 

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