pub crawling through Ireland (spoiler: there were no fuzzy green hats).

Pub crawling on St. Patrick’s Day always seems apropos. In the U.S., this could mean out of control, drunken misfits in green top hats, clover laden socks, and hired, inebriated leprechauns singing Whiskey in the Jar. Pub crawling in Ireland, however, is a different story.

Granted, the general landscape of the true Irish Pub has been regenerated fairly well overseas, perhaps due to the mass emigration of the Irish people during the famine of the 1840s. The Celtic heritage travels well, accompanied by soft barstools, a proper pint of Guinness (or Murphy’s while in Cork), and a warm fire.  If you’re lucky, the cute tender behind the bar in County Clare will teach you how to pour the perfect stout.

Or, you may find your pints are being overlooked by angels at a refurbished, 12th century abbey in Ennis.

And then there’s the day drinking choice of the locals, in many areas a refreshing, local cider. In Galeic Dingle it may be Crean’s, a perfect component to a just-off-the boat fish and chips lunch, and where #twistedsistergoestoireland lives forever on a U.S. dollar bill tacked to the wall at John Benny’s Pub.

Driving through a ring of brilliant sunsets beyond compare, rocky beaches, and picturesque green countryside, the pubs of County Kerry warm the soul in musical flair, with generational Irish families playing flutes and accordians side by side in fervent stride.

 

And where your Guinness may also be accompanied by a baby.

Traveling East, there are always the outdoor discos of Cork, where cobblestone streets meet tight leather pants and stilettos, often paired with chiseled chests and remnants of British accents, and where reminders of walled cities and revolutions are overtly apparent.

 

Or, as you can imagine in Dublin, not too far from the Gaol which sparked unrest in a tumultuous population, the perfect pint, poured in a glass pub on top of the city, is perhaps the best Guiness you’ve ever tasted in your entire life.

 

Suffice it to say, St Patrick’s Day may mean something all together different to me now, since we’ve traveled through the depths of the Irish countryside.  One thing is for sure: while you may not find me in a green fuzzy top hat this year, you will find the heart of the gentle Eire, gently swaying in the breeze of mutual love and respect for my ancestors who sailed across rough oceans for a different dream. One of freedom, one of family, and one of plenty.

Slainte.

exploring my German roots with a Karbach IPA

I have been reminiscing about my roots lately.  Where I come from, where I have been.  Where I am going.

I am at least a fifth generation Texan, on my father’s side.  My family hails from Southern Texas, the likes of Matagorda Bay, Vanderbilt, and Edna. I have many memories of the house on Yuba Dam Street.  Stepping onto the concrete steps, the sweet stench of humidity, dust, sweat, and stale vanilla wafers always enveloped me as I crossed the threshold.  Newspapers of weeks and months, piled high on the surrounding polyester couches, ruffled in wake of an oscillating fan.  I would stare at my Meemaw.

She sat directly in front of us, perpendicular, watching a small antenna television across the room.  TV trays held Soap Opera Guides, cups of water, and plates of crumbs from the day. Gripping her cane in one hand, and rocking back and forth to gain traction with the other, she would eventually grunt, and in a woof of air, would stand and walk over to me.  I was always aware of her ailments, yet Meemaw nevertheless hugged me tight.

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I was named for her husband, a blend of alcoholism and emotional anger, sweetness, and cruel frailty.  I was also born on his birthday, a few years after his death, and must have been a consistent reminder of her difficult life with him, although she never showed it.  Meemaw loved all of her grandchildren a great deal.  Soon after we would arrive for a weekend, a closet would open, and presents commenced: a crocheted pink afghan for my dolls, grocery store perfumes, and clearance costume jewelry.  Looking back, it is easy to see that my grandmother was a hoarder, but I expect nothing less from those raised in the Depression, with memories of belly aches and longing.  Her bedroom was lined with bookcases, and filled with newspapers, sheets, dusty antique bottles, collectible ceramics, picture frames, and SAS shoes.

Meemaw’s extra bedrooms were playgrounds for little girls, with plastic dolls, blankets, cribs, and figurines from the 1950s.  At night, we would sleep with the windows open, as to be awakened by chirping birds and to be stifled by the humid heat.  The only air conditioners were in her bedroom and the living room.  My love of pimento cheese stemmed from her kitchen, as well as SPAM, vegetable soup, and store bought shortbread cookies.  She bought thick sliced ham, and Velveeta block cheese, and we would eat white bread sandwiches with mustard while watching General Hospital or Hee Haw.  Meemaw took me to watch The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas for the first time.

There were several buildings outside, one where she kept canned goods like pickles, peaches, and beans.  Another my Papa used when he was alive, and contained his carpentry tools, old hammers and saws, and I had heard at one time even a cow.  Some local thug took the liberty of tagging it, but I still dream of my namesake there.  I often see him, a skinny image, watching over me at night, in a stingy brim hat, in gray pants and a white shirt.  Maybe I am dreaming….

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We moved away when I was 13, and returned when I was 17. Meemaw died that summer, just a few weeks after we returned home to Texas.  We had only visited one time that year.  While I never got to say goodbye, my heart still holds much love for all she was. My daughter now uses that pink afghan blanket for her dolls.

I drove by the house on Yuba Dam Street recently.  The grain elevator is still in working order at the end of the road.  While a lot of structures are in ruins, her house still remains occupied… although I imagine barely standing.  This Spring I tip my glass to Meemaw, one who never drank, who bore the weight of an alcoholic husband, who lived on the brink of poverty, and who raised many children, including my father, who carved his way out of the tiny town of Edna to accomplish much more than many could imagine.

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Houston’s Karbach Brewery Company prides itself in training in German style, which is perfect; my Meemaw was originally a Frenzel, and often times her smashed potatoes found themselves intertwined with sauerkraut and sausage.  The Rodeo Clown Double IPA is a strong one… just like her.  It has 9.5% ABV, an intense, hop flavor, thick head, and aromas of citrus and orange peel.  Perfect for a gal like me.  Available at HEB for $9.

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Here’s to remembering our roots.  And our branches.  Go Local. Go Texan. Cheers.

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This post is part of a series in the Not So Small Stories hosted by MFA writer and novelist Kirsten Oliphant. 

I STILL HATE PICKLES