Awakenings, Memories, and Gratitude

I love spring. Even if it still feels like winter nine out of ten days in a row, there are still those short bursts of warmth that coax the buds out of hiding. The air feels lighter and the days grow longer.

Walking the dog this evening, I was lost in my thoughts, so lost, in fact, I don’t remember how I even began thinking about that day. I was about seven at the time, at least I think I was since I would be entering second grade after that summer – perhaps I was six. In any event, it was our second trip “home” to Ireland with Mom. We had gone the summer before and loved every moment. We were going back to see our grandmother, aunts, uncles, and cousins. I don’t remember a great deal about this trip in particular except that there was a Doberman pinscher named Opel, owned by a neighborhood boy who enjoyed eating bees. We would catch them in the large white flowers which grew on a vine on the street and feed them to him. He was in ecstasy.

The next thing I remember was going out with my brother and cousin, Mandy, over walls, through hedges, by small rivers, and across fields on adventures. My brother thought it would be great fun to find a switch and go running after the poor cows whacking them in the rear. He certainly was enjoying himself until one of the cows got angry and chased him. He fell, and the cow ran right over his leg, breaking it. My cousin and I ran to where he was, helped him up and walked with him between us. We shouldered him back through the fields and hedges, back over the wall – catching him as he jumped into our arms, and to the house. I remember the mismatched crutches they gave him since he would be leaving for America and taking them with him and I remember the note my uncle Seamus inscribed on the cast – “Break a leg!”

My mother, cousin, and I went to visit my grandmother in another county. I don’t remember the circumstances around who was where and why at the time, but we had definitely spent the night. Despite its being a bit snug, I was wearing my favorite night-dress. It was red with Snoopy on the upper right side where a small packet would be. The beautiful coral roses were in full bloom outside the windows. There were no screens on the windows, Mom said screens were an American thing since there were no mosquitos in Ireland, just flying daddy long legs.

I hadn’t thought much about the lack of screens or the proximity of the roses to the window until I was suddenly writhing in pain from the repeated stings of a yellow jacket. I ran screaming through the house. The vile insect had flown up my gown and was stuck. I can’t remember how many times it stung me before Mom got it over my head and threw it out the kitchen door. She sat me down on the lone kitchen chair for all of a millisecond before I began screaming again – there was more than one, and the other was in my panties. She ripped them off and threw them out the kitchen door. And, as I sat sobbing in pain, all I could think about was how embarrassed I was that my underwear was outside for everyone to see.

After a while, my mother had gotten me dressed and cleaned up and sat me next to my cousin in the back bedroom watching tv. Mandy, two years my senior, turned toward me, gave me the queerest look, and got up and walked out. Later, I found out she had gone to my mother and said, “Aunt Máireád, Heather looks like a boxer.” and led her back to the room. The next moments flew by. Mom roused my grandmother, telling her we needed to get to a hospital. I attempted to put on my shoes – shoes that had earlier in the day been two sizes too big – and was unable to put them on my swollen feet. I began wheezing. Mom raced me into the car, grandma got into the driver’s seat and proceeded to drive in slow motion.

Frantic now, Mom must have known we wouldn’t make it if Grandma drove us any longer, she begged her to pick up my uncle, Stephen. We pulled up outside a building, my uncle came out, looked in the car, and hopped in. We were flying now down narrow streets, stopping in front of the doctor’s office. The next thing I knew I was on the exam table, and he was coming at me with a gigantic metal syringe right out of some Frankenstein movie, and I lost my mind. I was terrified, kicking and screaming. Red-faced, the doctor barked at my mother, “Madam, this is a matter of life and death. Hold her still.” It took them all to hold me down while he gave me the shot and then sent us to the hospital. He must have called ahead because they were waiting at the door with a tracheotomy tray. Thank God, they didn’t need it.

They wanted to keep me overnight for observation. It had been a busy week, and the hospital had only one room left, and all it had was a crib. I would be ok if I curled up a bit, Mom said. She took me outside to walk a little before she left. We were supposed to go back to America the next day, and my mother had to pick up my brother. When we returned, there was a wasp in my curtains, and I panicked. Mom got the little beast out and closed the sliding glass door. That evening, while I lay awake in the crib, a girl poked her head into my room and asked me if I wanted to come to play. We walked down the hall together where there were a number of beds together in one large room, all filled with children. We laughed and played until one of the nurses came and we all high-tailed it back to our beds, me sliding sock-footed down the hall.

The next day was hectic and impossible. We got all the way to the airport only to find we had missed our plane.

We found a nearby bed and breakfast and spent the night – we would catch the next one. The breakfast was glorious – a spread fit for a king laid out at the long farm table. The front door was open to the sunshine and let in a lovely breeze. I had an egg and toast on my plate. Reaching over toward the jam, I started screaming, there was a wasp stuck in the marmalade. Mom rushed me out the door right next to a buzzing rose bush. It was time to leave.

We didn’t go back to Ireland again for many years after that. But, when I think back to the events of that trip, I am eternally grateful for my cousin who knew enough to alert my mom and my uncle who drove like a bat outta hell to get me to the doctor. They saved my life that day so that I could watch the spring blooms at sunset today.

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