Turf Fire

     There is an inside joke in my family, and it’s relaxin’. Try and say it in an Irish accent to get the full effect.
     I should clarify that only the neurotic New Yorkers in my family slap their thighs and giggle maniacally at this word. My relations in Ireland don’t get the joke. They give me a quizzical look and ask, What are ya on about?
     I’m on about the leisurely country lifestyle that I try to adopt every so often, whether I’m on my holidays in County Sligo or just in that frame of mind stateside.
     That’s the mission this month as I spend some time trying to go native on the old sod. Relaxin’ is a souvenir from last year’s trip.
     My Sligo-born dad had taken my sister and me to visit his friend who lives up in the Ox Mountains, an area seemingly untouched by globalization that is still creeping across the West of Ireland.
     Miles from the last pub, and a good distance even from the gate fencing in the property and horses that have free rein, we drove up to a small country cottage. After no one answered the door, Katie and I chastised our dad about showing up at people’s houses unannounced.
     “No one’s home,” we whined.
     Unconcerned, my dad peeked into a window and rapped on that. “Oh, he’s just relaxin’,” Dad explained.
     Our catchphrase was born the second Jack opened the door, wearing a traditional Irish tweed cap and three-piece suit.
     I shared a look with Katie as Jack, still spry at 75, led us into the Spartan sitting room from which he had just been roused. [Continued…]

     Flies buzzed about. A can of marrowfat peas sat empty on the stove. No television. He was just relaxin’ in his three-piece suit. Why not?
     The Irish are somewhat famous for not announcing their plans. When company appears at your doorstep, to hell with what you had planned for the day. Get out the whiskey, or put the tea on, because it’s time to settle in for a nice long visit. Might as well do it looking sharp.
     As Jack and my dad talked for eternity about … it’s hard to say, cattle? land? … I wished it would not upset the delicate natural balance to take pictures of the scene in front of me.
     Finally after an hour or two of this, my dad offered to drive Jack into town, referring to the solitary pub and convenience store that lie some miles down the mountain road.

     Jack was delighted at the offer. “Just let me get dressed!” he exclaimed. Then Jack stood, lifted the cushion from his chair, extracted some sweaters from its depths and disappeared into another room.
     He emerged, about 20 minutes later, wearing a completely new three-piece suit paired with shoes buffed to high heaven. Once outside, as a pair of horses cantered up the path, it felt right to take out the camera.
     I am lucky enough to have a picture of relaxin’. Whether I can put it into practice is another question.

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