“Your feet will take you where your heart is.”
– Irish Proverb
It’s been thirty-three years since I last saw my Irish Servas friends Olive and Desmond. When we first met they were getting their organic farm going and I was four months into my solo world adventure. In a photo they have of me I’m a hopeful 28-year-old wanderer holding two-month-old baby Grace.
At the time, in 1986, the mass transportation system in Ireland was horrible (still not great). A few locals and a policeman assured me it was safe to hitchhike, even for a woman on her own. With a weak U.S. dollar, my money didn’t go far and no transportation costs would help stretch my meager budget.
My plan was to head south from Dublin, west to the coast, then up to Northern Ireland. And that was what I did. I rode in a milk truck making stops at local farms, rode in a topless dune buggy with a couple bundled in rain coats, rode in a police squad car and on motorcycles, in tiny cars I barely fit into and trucks I could hardly climb onto. I got rides from families on their way to hike in the mountains, young people headed to the beach, old people going to visit their children, priests on their way to see sick parishioners, German tourists looking for wide open spaces and Americans in search of their family history.
The days dripped, leaked, pissed, fogged, hailed, sprinkled, thundered and pelted as I plodded along the untamed, windswept land of bones and untold stories where the limbs of my family tree grew, a land that gave me a sense of belonging, a land where my withered roots started to grow.
It’s so easy to see the passage of time through baby Grace growing into a beautiful woman with three young children of her own. But what has changed in me over those thirty-three years? I’m still a hopeful wanderer, who hasn’t let her roots grow deeply in any one place.
Will I go back to America like my great-grandfather went back to Ireland, back to our natal homes? Or will I keep one foot on each continent? Maybe I’ll never find my forever home, the place where both my feet are planted firmly on the ground. But then again, maybe some people aren’t meant to settle down.