We flew to Ireland in January 1989. The daffodils were blooming when we landed in the morning in a frosty Dublin. We had our savings – $10,000 – and planned to try three months on the east coast of Ireland and three on the west. Jim’s new pension just covered our expenses at home: car payments, mortgage, utilities and snowplowing. I had no income. We spent the first night in Dublin in a ‘grotty,’ cold bed and breakfast, wondering what the hell we had been thinking.
Very quickly we learned that there wasn’t a job to be had and that we could only rent for a minimum of six months, so we decided to try Dublin for the six months. Naturally rents for our first flat were higher than we wanted to pay, and the rate of exchange was not in our favor. While I was quietly freaking out, Jim said, “Have faith. Things work out.” They did. Our six-month experiment lasted six years.
We took a taxi to our first flat in Dublin. The next year we drove our leased Mini to our new rental cottage in a village further south in County Wicklow. A year later we needed several trips in our leased four-door car for our third move to a mews house, also in County Wicklow. We were acquiring ‘stuff’ – our boxes of clothes, books, LPs, and pictures that we had packed before we left – ready for shipping.
We had spent most of our $10,000 by the time our car sold in the States. The very next week I came back home with my first IR£200 check. I had been paid for consulting on a PriceWaterhouse/University College Dublin (UCD)/Hungarian Ministry of Agriculture project. Really! That ‘gig’ led to a lectureship and process consultancy on the Faculty of Commerce at UCD. I taught graduates, undergraduates, and postgraduates, and the dean asked me to develop courses in Business Ethics as well as Personal Skills in Business. I even taught in Hungary.
Soon, in addition to the lecturing and consulting work at UCD, I was delivering workshops for the Irish Sate agency for hospitality and management seminars for a British training company. I wrote seven ‘how-to’ books, as well as academic and popular articles for journals, magazines and papers. I spoke at conferences in Killarney, Waterford and Belfast. What a life! It was unbelievable!
One afternoon Jim said, “You owe your former boss a thank you.” What? I couldn’t believe my ears. I was still smarting from the blow to my career and my ego. Jim said, “He did you a big favor. If it hadn’t been for him, you’d still be there!” Right again, Jim. He turned my simmering anger into gratitude.
Our lives were idyllic. We strolled along the strand, along the piers at Dun Laoghaire. One evening, we were delighted by a window in a bookshop downtown; it was covered with posters promoting my first book, ShowTime! We visited Jim’s old neighborhoods in Dublin. We drove through the mists of Connemara and walked around Galway. We meandered through Cork, Waterford and Portumna. We went to see the Druid Theatre Company, and to the Gate and the Abbey Theatres. We ate fresh scones and jam in Enniskerry.
Jim drank Jameson in the pubs in Dublin; we ate sausages at Bewley’s. We walked. We laughed. We had cold feet and noses at night. Jim bought treats for Kelly, the golden retriever, who visited the mews house. Our biggest problems required Jim to shoo sheep off the front lawn, get mice out of the cabinets, or ask the traveling people, the tinkers, to leave the property. One morning as I was driving to work, two horses galloped down a hill into the side of our car. Neither of the horses was hurt, nor was I, and no one at UCD was remotely taken aback by my excuse for being late.
While Jim welcomed retirement and chose not to work, he did write some articles for Variety International. Always introspective, the interviewing process made him uncomfortable, and he no longer wanted responsibility. He wanted to read, to walk and to travel.
Eventually, our little house in upstate New York sold. I felt sad. But ever the pragmatist, Jim said, “It was time to sell it. I was worried about the plumbing.”
With Jim’s pension, my income from the university and no more financial responsibilities in the States, we were able to travel. I was always a nervous flyer, so Jim held my hand on every flight, but he insisted on my looking out the window at the sights as the plane banked to the right or left. We traveled together to conferences in London, Bath, Luxembourg and Milan and to deliver training courses in Manchester, Budapest, Belfast and Debrecen.
And for pure fun, we visited Rimini, Florence, Copenhagen, Bruges, Athens, Palma, Amsterdam, Moscow, St Petersburg, Helsinki, Oslo, Warsaw, Berlin, Paris, Cannes and Monaco. We stared in disbelief at the Kremlin, Checkpoint Charlie, St Peter’s and Elsinore. We held hands wherever we went. We ate thin-crusted pizza in Nice, ordered moules avec pommes frites in Bruxelles, ate croissants in Paris. We fought off urchins in Rome and got caught in a train strike in Sorrento and a vaporetto strike in Venice.
And always, in addition to the museums and palaces, bookstores were part of the itinerary. Jim could sniff out bookstores in Europe as well as he had in the States. He went to the Strand or the Gotham in New York, Toad Hall in Rockport, Shaver’s in Savannah, the Harvard Book Store in Cambridge. In Europe there was Shakespeare and Company in Paris, Waterstone’s and Hatchard’s in London, Kenny’s in Galway, Hodges Figgis in Dublin. He didn’t necessarily buy; he browsed. However, he would buy Bernard McLaverty, Desmond Hogan, Michael O’Siadhail, Lar Redmond, Bernard Farrell and add them to his “Irish collection.” Books were always in his life. He once said, “It’s time to get rid of the books.” I couldn’t. We didn’t. They traveled with us.
Even in the south of France, Jim found English books. During UCD’s winter semester break we headed to Nice, because we enjoyed the food, the open markets, the sunshine and the walk along the Promenade des Anglais, where we admired the elegant, mink-clad women walking their equally fashionable, adored, adoring and adorable dogs.
One winter, though, our travel agent in Ireland said that the studio apartment we had previously rented in Nice was unavailable. I was disappointed. “What if we go to Hilton Head, South Carolina instead? It’s off-season,” I said. “We would be paying for the trip in Irish punts, and with the rate of exchange in our favor, we could afford to go. And the water pressure would be a refreshing change.” Hilton Head came to mind because we had spent a pleasant week’s vacation there some years earlier and had returned for a conference, where serendipitously an editor bought the rights to ShowTime!, which was added to their academic series. The magic seemed to be non-stop.
Jim concurred. So that year over the winter holiday, we flew to Hilton Head. We walked along the beach and biked the trails. What do non-golfers do on rainy days? Look at real estate, of course. I asked Jim what he thought about buying a condo in Hilton Head. “If we owned a place, we could come to Hilton Head in the winter instead of worrying about whether we could get a studio in the south of France.” We were renting in Ireland and no longer owned property, so I used his old line on him: “We would have a tax break.” We bought a condo.
Shortly after returning to Ireland and to my classes at UCD, we received a phone call from my mother’s live-in aide. Mom had been taken to the hospital diagnosed with a stroke; the physicians found breast cancer, too. We stayed in touch with her doctor and decided to fly back to New York to be with her. From there we returned to Hilton Head, found a nursing home and hired an air ambulance to fly her south. She died two weeks later. My profoundly demented dad was unaware of my mother’s death. He died two years later – four months after Jim’s initial diagnosis of dementia in June.
Earlier that year, as we had been walking along the strand in Bray, Jim had said, “It’s time to go home.” Did Jim have intimations of his own illness? How long after a neurodegenerative disease begins to wreak havoc before symptoms appear?
Leaving Ireland was bittersweet. Besides having fallen in love with the country, I was thriving on the lecturing, writing, speaking and consulting. Leaving brought it all to a sudden and dramatic halt.
The final extract from Part One of DIGNIFYING DEMENTIA will be published next week.