Sunday, May 29, 2011

Where's a good gust of wind when ya need one?

I was meandering amongst the medieval weapons at a local Highland Festival a few months back when a voice behind me suddenly screeched out,         “Gi’ me just one good gust of wind t’day!” 

I carefully lowered the double-sided hatchet I had been considering for a wall decoration and did a turn around to find the source. I was not disappointed.

The screecher was not a day under 90 and sporting a wicked smile along with miles and miles of red plaid draped over her tiny body. She caught my confused eye and laughed out loud. I couldn’t help but smile back.

Months later, I recalled her statement during a conversation with a friend about kilts and the truth of what is really worn underneath. Seems that if you are going to wear a kilt in authentic Celtic fashion, you need not bother with boxers or briefs.

Suddenly, I knew why red-plaid lady was hoping for a good gust of wind. She was a 90-year old voyeur.

My male kilt-wearing friends tell me that there are two things you can anticipate when wearing a kilt. The first is the quest for the truth on what exactly is really worn underneath. It’s a question that continues to be asked and answered in numerous ways and with a multitude of witty quips and gestures. That question, I’m told by every kilt-wearer, is as certain as an Irishman walking into a bar.

The second thing kilt-wearers can expect are the looks from passer-byers.

Serious head-tilted-sideways, eyebrows-lifted, well-will-you-look-at-that kind of looks.

Since I’ve moved to my little slice of Celtic heaven in Florida and joined up with my friends in the New World Celts, I’ve been exposed to a lot of kilts. (pun intended). And I’ve come to understand the significance of what the kilt represents to the wearer. Seems it’s more than just a skirt. Much more.

The material’s color and pattern (tartan) on a kilt represents the family, or “clan” of the wearer. In days-of-yore the wearing of the family tartan aided in identifying unknown relatives who drop in uninvited for dinner.  (I’m totally making the dinner part up)

Tartan is particularly associated with Scotland but Ireland now has a few tartans specific to families and areas. My neighbor Jay, an Irish kilt-wearer, said it well, "Wearing your ancestral tartan invokes great pride in your family roots."

Not having yet worn a kilt, I went to the experts - the men I know who actually do wear kilts – for some witty insight. They did not disappoint me.

From Jerry:
Two years ago at a Renaissance Fest I was standing with my friends - we were all in kilts. Two ladies walked up and asked what we were wearing under our kilts and of course Andrew, not one to resist a challenge - put up his arms and said, "Check for yourself." Without hesitation she grabbed the bottom of his kilt from the front and lifted it over his head. After standing there (a bit longer than necessary I think) she dropped his kilt and without missing a beat asked, "Who's next?" I knew right then that wearing a kilt would be nothing but a grand time. 

And Larry shared this disturbing-yet-hilarious story from his experience at a Highland Fest- There was a 93-yr old lady walking around Clan Row with a walking stick that was outfitted with a bicycle mirror at the bottom. On the handle she had a horn. She would walk up to a man and hold the mirror between his legs. If she liked what she saw she would blow the horn. She was a hoot."

If you want to see a good showing of kilts of all patterns and colors, I recommend skipping over to a local Highland or Renaissance festival. These fests abound in America, and truth be told are one of the most entertaining events you will ever attend. If you go, make sure you stroll through the Clan tents and stop for a chat – there are no warmer or prouder people than Celts, especially when they are festing. 

While there, you can also buy an off-the-rack kilt. Or if you decide you really want to research your family tartan – you can easily purchase a kilt online.  Be prepared to dig deep in your wallet, however, since custom-made kilts are made in Scotland. The price and the wait (kilts take on average 6 weeks to arrive) are more than worth it, so I’m told.

Here's to kilts and all who wear them.
And here's to great gusts of wind for 90-year old women with wicked smiles who apparently need them.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Good-looking Scots aside.....

There is not one ugly man in Scotland.
Well, in Edinburgh anyway.

I’m serious.

I remember saying this to my husband as we sat sipping our stout in a pub on the Royal Mile in 2007.

(Me) “Have you noticed how good–looking the Scottish men are? …There’s not an ugly one in the lot.”
(Him – eyebrows raised)  “Um…I’m right here
(Me) “Yeah I know…. but seriously, have you noticed?”

The absolutely adorable bartender who had served us brought on this observation.  I should mention here that he was my daughter’s age so I wasn’t looking for myself. I remember wondering if Scotland was too far from Florida for me to suggest a meeting.

After that, I started noticing that pretty much every Scot – regardless of age- looked a bit like either Gerard Butler (P.S. I love you, 300) or Sean Connery.

This turned out to be more or less the theme of the rest of our trip. Good thing my husband was good natured and confident in our relationship.

Good-looking Scots aside – it was also during this trip that I started to really grasp the significance of having a Celtic heritage.

Granted – a Scottish heritage is uniquely different from an Irish heritage – and both the Scots and the Irish won’t hesitate to point that out to you if given 20 minutes over a good pour.

But you can’t walk through Edinburgh castle, stand in the middle of the room where Catherine, Queen of Scots gave birth to King James (yes, of the Bible – that King James) and not be overwhelmed by where you are standing and what those walls must have seen and heard over 500 or so years ago.  It’s not just overwhelming, it is a real ‘holy crap’ moment.

Scottish history is rich. Most of us are familiar with the story of William Wallace, made famous to ignorant Americans in the movie “Braveheart.”  When that movie came out suddenly every non-Celt felt a connection to the Scots and their long and desperate struggle to gain independence from years and years of usurpers. We all wanted to take up our battle-axes in their defense. That lasted…oh…maybe a few months while the movie was popular. Battle-axes are such heavy things after all.

But the heart-wrenching quest for Scottish Independence continues to wage battles in the hearts, minds and on the tongues of many a Scot to this day. And well it should. We Americans take our independence so lightly.

Can you even imagine being occupied by England today? 
Good Lord....…we would be wearing knickers and talking as though we had just eaten a giant dill pickle. (no offense to the British, I’m sure.)

So here I am heading to the other Celtic country…the one of my heritage. Again – a country whose citizens have received unsolicited favor from a monarchy and government whose border does not touch their own. (again - no offense to the British, I’m sure)

Irish history is as rich and tumultuous as Scotland’s.  And I look forward to having many significant moments while under the skies of Eire (Ireland).

I look forward to touching walls that, if they could talk, would paint pictures and tell stories of struggles and battles and peace. 

I look forward to walking on the hallowed ground in a circle of stones. 

I want to look at the moon in the night sky so that when I go back home and look upon the moon again – I will know I’m not that far away from where I come from.

I want to dance at a ceili. I want to have a real guiness. I want to kiss the cheek of an old Irish man.

I want my heritage to imprint itself upon my heart through the people and land of Ireland.

And I guess it would be okay if I had a few good-looking Irish men to look at as well. Just sayin…..

Saturday, May 21, 2011

No Plans Whatsoever

I’m one of those unique and strange women who love to hear the slam of a hockey stick on ice and the smell of fresh cut wood in a hardware store. I’d rather be fishing than shopping, and I love to tinker with the new electric drill my mom gave me for my birthday. I’ve drilled holes all over my garage walls just trying out the different bits and speeds. It’s so cool.

I have plenty of girly-girl clothes in my closet and bling in my drawers, but my favorite shoes are my converses and flip flops. Or better yet – no shoes at all.

And I’d rather be digging in the dirt in my garden than shaking hands at a gala. 

I’m not big into designer clothes – cotton is cotton I say – and I rarely spend more than twenty dollars on sunglasses because they have a way of walking away on a weekly basis.  (I like to think all my lost sunglasses have gone to good use by someone who really really needed them.)

To me, horizons don’t represent an end…but the potential for a beginning. And a sunset on that horizon doesn’t mean the sun is gone, it means that the moon is on it’s way.

My ipod is stacked with over 400 eclectic songs…country, classical, Broadway, Gaelic and pop, and I’ve been caught outside more than once - headphones on - singing out loud to my favorite tunes while working in my garden.

I would rather be baiting my hook with a live shrimp somewhere on a boat in the Gulf than sitting at a fancy restaurant eating shrimp.

All of these things are just a few of the thousands of pixels that make up the whole of me. 

Have you ever given thought to what makes the whole of you?

I’m comfortable in my own skin and content with life in general and have absolutely nothing to prove to anyone. Really.

Which is why the time is right for this solo trip to Ireland.  Being comfortable in your own skin is important when you are traveling over 4,000 miles to meet 4.5 million people and have pretty much no plan.

Right now the only definite plan I have is that I will definitely land in Dublin – I will definitely stand on the port in Cobh - and I will definitely return home.

Otherwise, I’m taking a cue from my ancestor, John Murphey, who left Ireland in 1807, and who - I’m guessing here – most likely didn’t have a plan.  If it was good enough for him, it’s good enough for me.

My friends and family are all over the place on this. Some think it’s exciting and some look at me sadly like they may never see me again.

But I’m beyond excited about this trip. Maybe I did get some of young John Murphey’s sense of adventure after all.

Who will be my first new unsuspecting Irish friend?  What will be the first word I hear spoken in that beautiful Irish lilt? (Which, by the way was voted the sexiest voice in 2009)

Is Ireland really as green as they say? How many pub stories will I hear and will they make me laugh out loud or even cry? How well will I navigate the roads and will a lost road lead me toward something I never expected to find? 

Will I see smiling Irish eyes? Will any pub top the fish and chips I love at Flannigans in Dunedin? Will I be brave enough to try out the 4 or 5 gaelic words I know?

Will I miss someone when I leave there?

If you are from Ireland and you are reading this – talk to me.

Or if you have been to Ireland and you have a story to share, then share. Paint me a picture of your Ireland and what I can expect to experience.  Tell me where I should go to fill in the time in between landing and leaving.

Travel with me on this amazing journey of celtic discovery.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Enter: The New World Celts of Dunedin

About relationships.

One thing I know for certain about that- and that is this. There are absolutely no guarantees.

There may be a few exceptions to that blanket statement – such as a loyal, loving, stupid dog.  My dog is 11 years old and every day when I walk in the door he acts as though he can’t believe I came back. It’s the most amazing thing.

Children might be another exception. There are guarantees with kids – they need you to help them learn balance on their feet and on their bikes - guaranteed. They are guaranteed to lose the very teeth we were amazed to see appear just a few short years ago. They are guaranteed to cost you money and break your heart. And the best.....they are absolutely guaranteed to make you laugh out loud on a regular basis if you are paying close enough attention.

But in relationships of the opposite sex or of friends or family – there are absolutely no guarantees.

You are not guaranteed a date to the prom.
You are not guaranteed that someone will keep the promises they make.
You are not guaranteed that you won’t make a fool of yourself at least once in your life with someone of the opposite sex. In fact…that is a guarantee.
And as much as you want it – you are not guaranteed that the person you are sharing your heart with right now will be there this time next year. So lap it up.

And there are no guarantees of deep and lasting friendships.
No guarantees that people will just love you in your raw, natural “this is who I am” state for the rest of your life.

It would be great if when we were born, along with birth certificate came a “Certificate of Guarantee.” If I were given the opportunity to have just one guarantee presented to me in my lifetime –just one – it would be this. “Joyce is hereby guaranteed the gift of loyal, lasting, meaningful friendships for the rest of her life”

You may be wondering why I didn’t ask for a guarantee of health, wealth, love, etc.
Well here’s why.

With a guarantee of health, that would be great – but in my excellent health I would want someone to celebrate with me when we reach the peak of Mount Everest together.

In the case of wealth and the accumulation of “things”…again, what fun would jetting to the South of France be without honest friends to tell you how bad you look in the skimpy Marc Jacob dress or that the very cute Frenchman is not really attracted to your personality after all.

And in the case of love…well….if there were guarantees in love then where would the mystery be? Mystery is the best part of love after all.

Nope, I would want friends.

Friends that make me laugh and laugh with me. 
Friends that don’t ask questions when I don’t quite know the answers. 
Friends who don’t point out my flaws without sharing theirs. 
Friends that tell me I’m being stupid or petty when I need to hear it. 
Friends that show up at my door unexpectedly with a bottle of wine and their company because they know I need it. 
Friends who challenge me beyond my limits. 
Friends that don’t accept mediocrity in me. 
Friends that don't walk away when life dishes out ugly.
Friends that understand when I need silence and are content to be silent. 
Friends that appreciate my cynical humor. 
Friends that say I sing beautifully.
Friends that, when they don’t know what to say…say nothing.

I have been blessed to have friends like this in my life. Some I’ve had for over 20 years and some are newly acquired. 

It’s the newly acquired friends that have me totally stumped and astonished. I didn’t go looking for them, but rather stumbled upon them quite by accident. I didn’t anticipate that they would move into my heart so quickly. I didn’t anticipate they would accept me for just me.

And while there may not be any guarantees in friendship, for me – this group of friends brings all kinds of comfort that just a few months ago I really didn’t think existed.

And they are a group of characters. Each one unique and beautiful,  The Dunedin Celts of the New World. 

Love that you found me when I needed you.
Love that you included me with no questions or expectations.
Love that you love each other without boundaries or walls.
Love that you are my friends.
Love that in a life with very little guarantees in the way of relationships that I am guaranteed a place at your table.
Love that.
Mike and Scott standing guard for Celtic Women when they came to Clearwater

Anne and her Tara Tartan
Mary (President of Dunedin NWC) and Emmet

Saturday, May 14, 2011

What's in a name?

I recognized the smell immediately.
I had just pulled into my garage and had one foot out of the car and one foot in. Then I smelled it.
My first thought was “something died”
Second thought – “Where is a vulture when you need one?”
I heard the ping of an IM on my phone at the same time and looked down to see my attorney was calling. Ah…ironically, the vulture did show up.

Maybe if I just sit here long enough – alone in the garage with one foot out and one foot in my car, it will magically go away. Not likely. I resigned myself to the deed ahead and slowly dragged myself out of the car.

I knew it was a rat – or I thought it was most likely a rat. And here’s what led me to my brilliant (and correct) conclusion.

A few months ago (yes months) I started hearing the late night pitter patter of feet in my attic. I live in a very quaint bungalow (another word for small) that is approximately 90 years old. Everything constructed in this house is wood ….right down to the wooden floors that, by the way, if there’s a hole you can see straight to the dirt underneath. But I love it. It’s home. And it’s mine. Well mine and my banks.

I chose to ignore the pitter patter (which after a few months had actually become a thumping)…and carried on with life. They could have the attic, I figured, as long as they stayed out of my space. Critters don’t freak me out – after all, don’t mice belong to the squirrel family? And I have squirrel feeders in my yard, so they have to be okay.

A late night visit from the gas man revealed what I hoped to never know. He was working on a gas line out back when I heard “holy crap!!!....Did you see the SIZE of that thing?!”

No..actually I hadn’t.

“That was the biggest rat I’ve ever seen. Lady, you’ve got a problem.”

The “rat” had come down the side of the house and practically jumped on the man before he could jump out of the way.

My neighbor was less concerned than I. When I told him the story he said “oh yeah, you have fruit rats”…like that’s a nice thing. Like putting an adjective in front of the word “rat” makes it less than a rat.

“WHAT is a fruit rat?” I asked….

“Well you’ve got fruit trees (true, I have an orange and grapefruit tree)….so you have fruit rats. They are drawn by the fruit”

Well I also have roses.

That got me to thinking about names.
(Stay with me here – this is supposed to be a blog about my Celtic Journey so I’m connecting the dots.)

Names are important. Soon to be parents spend months fussing over the name of a baby. The Bible is full of names of people who begat each other. We assign nick names when our name is too much of a mouthful. We have our jewelry inscribed with our name. Our name is the ONLY thing you have when you are born and when you die. When we marry we take on the name of our spouse. Or if you are really progressive you hyphenate your name. Your name tells you much about your history, heritage and attitude.

Names are really the few things we have no choice in. We are given it like a unsolicited gift and we spend the rest of our lives flaunting it or hiding it.

In looking at my Irish heritage I’ve learned that there indeed were some very strange names in our Murphy clan. In some cases children were obviously named after historical figures. But in some cases one has to wonder if after 10 or 12 kids they just ran out of ideas and let the drink decide.

Here are some interesting names we’ve uncovered in our family:
Washington Murphy (not very original)
Sacarissa Davis (now.... she just sounds mean)
Wellington Clinton Murphy (wonder if he dated a Monica? Just sayin....)
Icela Melinda Murphy (Icela? Seriously?)
Lincoln Grant Murphy and his brother George Washington Murphy (no comment needed)
Nellie Belle Shilling (bet she heard “Nellie bellie” more than once)
Ida Urith Kempton (looks too much like"Ima urethra"….eww)
Flotella Murphy (as in a fleet of ships??? Poor girl....)
Benjamin Franklin Pierce (nothing like parental expectations from an early age)
Lydia Murphy Murdock's sons -- Jackson Clinton, Martin Vanburen and William Tell (oh my)
And finally, and more recently....not a family name per se but stilll
Fruit Rat (nice, but not so nice)

Yep, names can be very revealing.
I'm thinking if we could just randomly assign a discriptive to our names - which would be a lot of fun - I would assign myself "just Joyce."
My friends might label me differently, however. But hey, it's my blog.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

We are his legacy

He was born in 1781 and according to naturalization records he arrived in New York on April 3, 1807 from County Cork, Ireland. 

He was 26 years old. And he was 40 years ahead of the masses escaping the potato famine, which, I like to think, makes him a visionary.

It's because of John that I'm writing this blog today surrounded by palm trees and gulf breezes with an American flag flying off my front porch. Thanks John.

I like to imagine his face. I'm sure he was handsome.

I ask myself.....what would make a 26 year old young man leave everything he knows, everything he had touched since childhood, everything that is certain in his life...step on a wooden sea-vessel, where odds are not in your favor to arrive in good health or even alive - and go to a strange country with absolutely no guarantees.

What kind of courage did he have? Or was he just plain ignorant and had nothing else better to do? Was he running from something or was he in search of something? What was he thinking and what were his dreams? What did he expect to find? Did he have a skill? What did he pack to take with him? Did he leave a sweetheart behind or was he hoping to find one? Did he shed tears as he saw the coast of his homeland fade away? So many unknowns....  

Cousin Mike writes, "During that time many of the Irish emigrating to America from County Cork left from port of Queenstown. The community was renamed Cobh in 1913. (pronounced Cove) It is interesting to note that this was the last port in which the ill-fated Titanic stopped to pick up passengers on April 11, 1912. It hit the iceberg and sank on Sunday night, April 14" 

See? No guarantees. 

We have been able to track young John from his landing in New York to his eventual land in Morgan County, Ohio. (this is the same place we always went for the family reunion mentioned in the first post) If he was a visionary, I'm sure even young John never envisioned a park filled with three generations of Murphy's almost 200 years later. We were his legacy. We ARE his legacy. 

Oh how I wish I could have sat on the edge of that dock with him, talking about life as our feet dangled over the water. How I wish I had his courage and spirit of adventure. And how I hope that his legacy thrives through me.

(RE: The song below.) If you know me well, you know I've been playing guitar and  singing since I was a young girl. If you don't know me you know.

In my earlier years I often wrote songs.Little did I know it was my way of telling stories - a gift of my heritage and from God. In the past dozen or so years I've felt little or no desire to pick up my dusty guitar. Not sure why - my son Sam plays beautifully so everytime he visits my guitar gets a good tuning. 

For young John Murphey, I wrote the song below. 

Distant Shores 
A song by Joyce Pemberton 

There's no explaining what he feels or why he's feeling 
He's in his homeland but he's drawn to distant shores 
His heart is not divided - he's committed to his home 
Can't help but wonder why he's drawn to distant shores 

He walks and works the land where kindrid blood was spilt 
His father's footsteps echo gently in his mind 
His children keep him grounded and his music gives him life 
Still wonders why he's just so drawn to distant shores 

Hearts can be divided, it's an ageless melody 
Contenment always just beyond our grasp 
Packing bags in search of something we really can't define 
Is what our fathers did in generations past

As they left their homes in search of distant shores 

His friends have been his friends most his whole life 
They know him better than sometimes he knows himself 
But they don't know all that moves him Or the struggles in his mind 
That while his heart is in his homeland 
He's drawn to distant shores 

Gentle breezes ore the heather make him smile 
Brings in the morning like a blanket on his soul 
And tonight he'll lay his head down 
As he did the night before 
And in his dreams he'll see the faces Of those on distant shores

I started the search for my roots in the 80's, but my cousin Mike, who is my age and the only other relative as obsessed with heritage as I am - completed the search just this past year.      

Mike has become an expert on our family genealogy, going as far as to dig up a fourth cousin twice removed and reuniting said cousin with his mom, who he was separated from at childhood.

It's scary what Mike knows...he can rattle off names of relatives 3 or four generation deep as if he has known them all his life. In fact, his rattling of generations of names has been known to put many a folk into a glazed trance. (Sorry Mike but it's true)

Mike's the one who uncovered the name that counts the most.                                    
His name was John Murphey. 

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Aunt Rose and the Squirrel (or better yet, how my journey began)

The old merry-go-round still stands today
Researching family roots seems to be the hot ticket of late, and I don’t mean to brag but I’d like it known that I was ahead of my time in the 80’s when, after taking a look around me at the family gene pool, my curiosity and concern got the best of me.

So I decided to do some searching. In the 80’s there were no home computers with Google search so I was content to sit down to write letters by hand. I sent letters to all kinds of relatives, just asking basically “who are we?”

One response stands out in my memory. And I swear this story I’m about to tell you is true.

From a child's eyes, our Aunt Rose was old. She was actually my mother’s aunt, and with her silver hair pulled back in a bun, she always looked like she walked straight out of an episode of Little House on the Prairie – petticoats, long skirt and all. 

I only saw her once a year at the family reunion but I recall her clearly – she was a novelty. She and “Uncle Red” (so named I’m guessing due to his red face, because his hair was snow white) were regulars each year at the reunion.

The reunions were always a fun event for the dozens of cousins because we could run and scream and get absolutely filthy and nobody cared. We each were given 6 tickets that we could exchange for ice cream, lemonade or a box of cracker jacks. There was power in that ticket. There was also an old wooden merry-go-round that scared me because I always thought I would get stuck under it. But I digress….

With all the crazy activity at the reunion I still found myself fascinated by my colorful relatives…such as Aunt Rose and Uncle Red.

Before I finish my Aunt Rose story – it’s important to mention here that I come from a very musical family. My grandmother Elva Murphy played banjo and was known for carting 7 or 8 of her children, including my mother, around the county to sing at various churches and county fairs. So it’s no surprise at the family reunions there was always a sing-along around the piano.

Back to Aunt Rose….

The sing a-longs at the reunion were pretty much honky-tonk songs about beer and bars and lousy cheating men sung in tremendous loudness with rich harmonies while my uncle Virgil pounded out chords on the piano. That is, until Aunt Rose and Uncle Red would make their way toward the piano. The Murphy clan, without missing a beat, would smoothly move into “Amazing Grace…” it was classic. Still makes me smile to think of it.

Anyway – back to the letter. As I began my search for clues to my heritage I received, much to my delight, a letter in the mail from sweet Aunt Rose. She sent me a 4-page letter – front and back- with all the family gossip written on lined writing paper in carefully penned “old people” handwriting. My cousin Mike still has this letter and although I can’t remember all the content, the one line I recall goes something like this;

I’m sitting here at the table while Uncle Red is out hunting for another squirrel. The one we have for dinner is awfully scrawny...”

Years later I was almost salivating in anticipation of her response when I read this letter to my teenage daughter. She didn't let me down. She hesitated for a minute – I could see the horror on her face – then she said, “….So these people are blood relatives?”
Thus began the revelation of who I was and from whence I came.