Monday, October 22, 2012

This One's For You, Donn

I met Donn at my father-in-law’s funeral.

When you’re an ex-pat, it becomes impossible to avoid eavesdropping on your native accent.  That familiar twang cuts right through the murmur of the local crowd and parks itself right in your ear.  So when I heard that American accent behind me, I couldn’t help but listen in. 

He was chatting with another of my father-in-law’s friends who happened to be in the insurance trade, asking about the ins and outs of driving in Ireland.  Did he need to get an Irish license to drive over here?  Did he need to get a license to buy a car over here?  Could he get insurance on a US license?  Questions met with little more than head scratching and brow furrowing from a man who didn’t come across much in the way of transatlantic business. 

Naturally, I chimed in.  I’d asked the very same questions not that long before, after all.  So I was able to give him some solid advice and confidently answer all the follow-up questions.  We got to talking, after the funeral, and again when we decided to meet in the pub the following day.

Donn first met Padraic (that’s PAWrick, my father-in-law) years before thanks to a shared love of Irish history.  In particular, Donn was interested in Sean MacEoin, and when he found a book by Padraic on the subject, he decided to reach out to the author.  It was the beginning of a great friendship, a contagious friendship that drew in their wives, children and even grandchildren. 

I’d heard about Donn and his wife Susan, knew about their regular trips to Ireland, trips that included visits with my in-laws, but I never had the chance to meet them while Padraic was alive.  And of course, I never heard any of this from Donn’s perspective. 

When we met at the pub, Donn came armed.  He was loaded with pictures and books and documents, each with some connection to Padraic.  Each was an artefact, a record of some profound moment in history – national, personal or otherwise – and he recounted the story behind each with unguarded, wide eyed enthusiasm.  And when he came with me to visit my mother-in-law after, he told the same stories again, with the very same passion and excitement.

Donn was, perhaps as much as anything else, a packrat.  He collected memorabilia, books, letters, photos… things.  More than that though, Donn collected stories.  He treasured the significance of objects, the human connections, the story behind the story.  This was the passion he was so eager to share with us, that day and in the years to follow. 

Donn and Susan continued to make annual visits to Ireland, visits that always included us.  I never saw Donn more than once a year, and when the timing didn’t work out, we wouldn’t see each other at all that year.  But I always looked forward to their visit, always wanted to spend the day in what was invariably great company and great conversation.

Their visit this last time was especially poignant.  It was the first since my mother-in-law died last spring.  It was also his 65th birthday, and it was a brilliant night.  We ate and drank and yammered away the night, and even though they stayed later than usual, the end came too soon.

Donn passed away this weekend.  I miss him.  I wasn’t expecting to see him for nearly a year, but I miss him. 

I wish I had words for Susan that could help, that weren’t so uselessly trite.  I wish I could put a bow on this, offer some perspective, some comfort, some way of making his absence less of a hole in the world. 

Maybe the best I can manage is to take a leaf from Donn’s book, to revel in the connections, and to tell this story the best I can.