It was a Saturday afternoon in a cavernous shop called “Dick’s Sporting Goods”. While Abe was making the search for a new pair of soccer shorts into some sort of eternal quest, Finn Hannigan was roaring the way one year olds do when they are stuck in a buggy too long. His shouting was being made worse by the fact his five year old brother Charlie was trying to soothe the toddler’s anguish in his own unique way, by twisting his fingers when nobody was looking. The sweat was teeming off me when I saw an older woman staring a little too long at the scene before her.
Knowing her eyes were training on my miscreant boys made my cheeks flush the way everybody’s do when they can’t control their children in a public venue. Eventually, my worst fears were realised as the busy-body walked towards us. I was rehearsing all of my potential comebacks in my head when the woman started talking.
“I’m very sorry for staring but I’ve three boys too and they are all grown up now and just watching your kids there brought back so many memories,” she said. Not exactly what I was expecting.
“If you fancy more memories, you can borrow them for the afternoon,” I said, hoping she had a more developed sense of humour than a lot of Americans who don’t really “get” jokes about kids.
She did have a sense of humour. At least I think she did because she didn’t react to that comment. She was off on a different tack.
“Where are you from?”
“I know that. What part of Ireland?”
That was all she needed. Like most Irish-Americans, the moment they have ascertained where you are from, they have license to share their own lineage and personal histories. Her father was from Galway and her mother was from Roscommon. Or it could have been the other way around. I’m so inured to Irish-Americans waxing lyrical that I’m not as mannerly or as attentive as I should be around them.
Anyway, we shot the breeze for a few minutes. She complimented my children. I repeated my offer that she was welcome to borrow them for a couple of hours to disabuse her of the notion that they were nice boys. Then the weirdest thing happened. Even after 11 years in New York, more than a decade bumping up against Irish-America, this was a first. I noticed tears in her eyes. Real tears.
“Are you okay?” I asked, now beginning to fear I’d been chatting with a lunatic in disguise.
“I’m fine. It’s just your accent brings back so many memories. When I was young, the house was always full of Irish people and I’d go to bed at night listening to all the different accents talking in the kitchen. And just talking to you now has brought me back there and made me realise how much I miss my parents, even still.”
What is there to say to that? I mumbled an apology though I had nothing to be sorry for. But I didn’t know what else to do. How do you respond to something so genuine, heartfelt and sincere, especially when a part of you is wondering whether any of your three lads will one day hear Irish accents and be transported so magically back to their own childhoods? Will they have such warm memories too? Will they well up in public?
An hour later, I dragged the three hooligans in the door and the wife asked them if they had a fun day out.
“It was great,” said Abe. “Dad made a woman cry at Dick’s!’