Change of Plans

My nomination as Director of the new cultural centre to be set up in Gensdouce came as a surprise. But a bigger surprise was in store when I discovered that it meant my having to leave Gensdouce for six months and follow a training course which would qualify me for most of the tasks awaiting. That was the theory anyway. But I wasn't my father's son for nothing, and I was weary of anything that smacked of academia without actually achieving anything practical. At least, my training course was to include some time actually working in an existing cultural centre alongside the director.

In the event...., but more of that later. Because before I could actually begin the course, I was recalled home. It was now April 1981, almost three years since I left Ireland and set out on my French adventure. I realised now how naive I was at the time. No wonder, Mayor Demille actually threw me down those stairs when I informed him I was coming to stay with his son. And the bottle of whisky I offered as a bribe probably didn't help matters either. In all this time I had not been home once. I didn't think much about home, although I did write now and again just to let everybody know how I was going. So the news of my father's illness brought me up quick. My father was the main reason I had left home. Not that we'd quarrelled, nor was I running away from anything. But he was such a strong personality, I felt strangled whenever I was in his presence. In fact, it was him who first broached the idea that I leave home, though I don't think what he had in mind was quite what actually happened.

I was packing my things away in preparation for my move when the news came. I didn't have a phone so any messages were sent to the pub and it was Annie who came to tell me. As the old saying goes, no one can render bad news like an Irish lassie, and she broke it as gently as she could. By the time the news had sunk in, John had arrived with my ticket and all the papers I needed to leave and come back into the country, so they'd obviously waited a couple of hours with the news. That evening I was on the same train that had brought me here just a few years earlier. But my mind wasn't in the mood for reminiscing, neither could I fix my thoughts on my dad. I just hoped and prayed, I'd make it on time. Indeed, the way I got off and pushed that train would have got me a packet of gold medals had it not been merely in my dreams. My belief that I'd see him again held right up until the end, but the moment the train pulled into Limerick station, I knew it was too late.

Jeanie took me straight from the station to the undertaker's and I spent the next hour in intimate if imperfect conversation with Dad. I began exchanging the latest gossip from Gensdouce, just as I did in my all too infrequent letters, but I slowly warmed to the strangeness of the situation, him there, so quiet, his now miniscule presence and me the overbearing one. I told him all about my new opportunities, about how I was following in his footsteps in becoming a people's educationalist. I know he smiled at that, and for the first time in my life I felt a sense of glowing approval coming from him. With that I said goodbye, not wanting to spoil this one last memory of beauty.

The funeral wasn't all it was cut up to be. Indeed, I remember feeling how sorrowful it was. There was so much that could be said to console, so much hope that could be given, yet the priest made it seem all in vain. And all through the ceremony the words of that African on Christmas day in Guillaume's church kept echoing through my mind. I wasn't yet convinced of the veracity. I had talked the matter over with Guillaume several times. He quietly put forward his belief, or his hope, as he preferred to call it, and urged me to think it over. Now, listening to the meaningless words coming from this pulpit, Guillaume's hope seemed a brightly burning fire. If only, I could bring myself to believe.

In the days following the funeral I managed to get permission to enroll myself on the next course, so I stayed another few weeks with my mother. We didn't do much more than talk, but that was what Mam needed. She talked and made me talk. I told her all about Gensdouce, my work, my friends, and of course, she wanted to know all about Violette, whom I had mentioned in passing in one of my letters. It wasn't easy to make her understand that all that was history. Mothers must be the most eternal optimists ever. When the time came to go, I was glad to be leaving her in excellent hands. Jeanie and her husband were living close by. I knew they would take good care of her. I also promised to get in touch more often than I had done. And with a promise that they would all come and visit me as soon as I was back in Gendouce, I once again left my native Ireland to make good my fortune in France.


"No one can render bad news like an Irish lassie..."
Good quirky line blended in with the emotional heaviness.

Penelope Anne

9 January 2008 at 20:28  

oh paul... simon continues to flesh out,, adding deep emotional wrinkles to his character... very lovely....

9 January 2008 at 21:21  

I hadn't realized just how much time had passed for him. This one was sad, but life has those moments and they can't be left out.

10 January 2008 at 16:50  

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