I love tea.
Not only do I love tea, I love the idea of tea.
It cures all ailments.
All ills made better.
Whether it’s taken like coffee – a caffeine pick me up – or a cup alongside a candle – for either prayer or writing time – or High Tea with finger sandwiches and mini pastries, it doesn’t matter to me.
I do draw the line at most herbal teas preferring my infusions to have actual tea leaves in them, and my preference is black tea rather than green, white or others.
I visited a group of friends a few years ago, and one was an immigrant from Wales. He brought me proper tea to wait on my bedside before I even got up for breakfast. While I was visiting, after my Welsh friend and his wife went to sleep, another friend put on the kettle to make us two cups of tea or hot chocolate or something that needed warm water. When the kettle whistled, we were a moment too slow, as my friend, while more or less still asleep or very groggy, came out of his bedroom, went straight to the kitchen without saying a word, turned off the kettle, and fixed the tea for us. Then he went back to bed. If there was ever any doubt if the British have tea in their veins, this settled it for me.
I am the kind of person who brings tea with me when I travel even to retreat weekends. I have loose leaf tins and an infuser that goes with me as well as investing in a travel tumbler with infusion attachment. It keeps my tea hot for a ridiculous amount of hours.
As I made my packing list for my last holiday to Ireland and Wales, I began to write “tea” under the space I left for food until I very quickly realized that to bring my own tea to Britain would not only be insulting, but redundant.
While my son needed ot buy an extra carry-on for his candy (truly, I am not exaggerating), I saved what little space I had for two large boxes of Welsh tea and two boxes of biscuits to go with them. I like candy as much as the next guy, but I do have my priorities.
Having just returned from Ireland, with October upon us, and our applepicking happening just this afternoon, my mother-in-law has been much on my mind. Jean. Our trip was visiting her home, her cousins, and interring her ashes with her father, and applepicking was her “holiday”. She came up every year for applepicking and was also here for most of my middle child’s birthdays. He was born in October. She didn’t drive, but that didn’t stop her; not one bit. At home she traveled by public bus or walked or with friends. She used to take bus tours for those senior casino trips. She rode Greyhound or Trailways or whichever line was available to see us, arriving in New York’s capital in the afternoon before the roads were seized by rush hour. She also took Amtrak to visit my sister-in-law when she was in Virginia or Maine. She knew how to pack and only brought what she could carry, leaving plenty of room to bring home loads of apples.
When she left home in Northern Ireland, she traveled the world, meeting new people, finding adventure. From the UK to Afghanistan to India to Australia to America, where she settled, getting married, and having kids.
So many stories to tell, tea to drink, food to create and share, not to mention her Christmas dinners that I can only try to emulate and her trifles that I won’t even attempt for fear of not meeting anyone’s expectations, least of all mine.
Growing up in Northern Ireland to a Catholic mother and a Protestant father, she was not a fan of the church and its rules, especially because of the way her father was treated back in the day. However, she was remarkably supportive when I became Catholic with no warning or preamble. She encouraged me. She found items that she had from her mother – a book of Catholic prayers for example, signed with her mother’s name and dated 1919. She said she didn’t know why she had kept it for so long, but now she knew and gave it to me along with a small First Communion statuette and a key chain with tiny figures of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.
She was kind and generous and gave more than we could have ever given back.
Every step, every rock, every drop of rain in Ireland reminded me of her, especially always bringing an umbrella along.
Just in case.
It used to be that September was known for Back to School, falling leaves, and colors changing. Even outside of the Northeast, that is the stereotype of fall and September.
Now, and for the last few years we have had what many call an Indian summer. It cools off just enough to lull you into plaid and flannel, and then Mother Nature turns up the thermostat. It’s warmer today than most days this past summer. The first week in September, just a few weeks ago, I thought I was still in Northern Ireland – bright, sunny, occasional rain, and seventy degrees max!
What happened September?
Still, I won’t be stopped from wearing my sweater and my favorite boots to kick around the leaves – red, gold, orange, and yellow, eating an apple right off the tree, or from drinking that often too hot apple cider.
If I stand in the shade, it might just feel like fall.
As incongruous as it seems, as much as I have a fear and dislike of water and boats, I really love waterfalls. I also like watching rivers and despite past vertigo at the expanse of oceans, I really loved my experiences in Ireland at the North Atlantic.
However, more than anything else, it’s waterfalls. As a kid, we visited Niagara Falls every other year, and I took my oldest son there right before he started kindergarten. It was the one place I always wanted to show my kids, and we were able to do that finally, last year. It made such an impact that my daughter asked as we were crossing the bridge back into the United States when we would be visiting again!
When our kids were young, we lived in a small city that had a waterfall that was the Niagara Falls of its day (the turn of the 19th century), and I loved visiting there just to watch the falls flow gently over the side and crash loudly on the rocks below. They were nothing like Niagara, but It was so close that I could visit frequently, and it was a safe place during the height of my depression.
I was excited when our cousin, Christine told us about a trail that led to a lovely waterfall nearby on the way to the Giant’s Causeway, our Friday destination. She wrote down the directions which seemed easy enough, and off we went on our Coast Road adventure!
Before putting them safely into the glovebox, I glanced at the directions, and took mental note that after turning left at the sign for Glenarriffe (one of multiple spellings we would see) we would need them again.
It was a very long drive to get to the north coast.
We stopped a couple of times on the way, ending our journey not at the Causeway, but at Ballintoy since it was raining, off and on, as is the custom in Ireland, and it was getting later than we’d anticipated returning for dinner.
About halfway along the coast road, after having only a modest breakfast, we were getting hungry as articulated by the two youngest passengers as only they could do. My oldest son clicked on his GPS and found us a nearby restaurant that we thought wasn’t too far off the road.
We could break for lunch, and then get back on our way to the waterfalls. I still wasn’t sure that I could physically handle the trail that Christine described, but I still wanted the kids to see as much as they could of their grandmother’s homeland.
My son directed us to the restaurant, which was simply turn left and follow the road to practically the end. The restaurant also had sleeping accommodations, and a gift shop. The huge windows of the restaurant, Laragh Lodge, backed up to the forest, and there was a sign and a trail to the Glenariff Forest, and another beyond that on a wooden bridge called Waterfalls Walk. I was thrilled that we’d found a back way in so we wouldn’t have to figure out how to get the the trail on our directions after eating!
It began to rain right before we parked, but it wasn’t far to walk to the entrance, and I had my umbrella. We knew from previous experience that the rain would be short-lived.
We had a really delicious lunch – all of the food on this trip could only be described as amazing. Not only the restaurant food, but the home cooked meals that we had with our cousins. Here, I had chicken goujon with champ and a salad garnish.
As we finished eating, my daughter and I headed straight to the gift shop as the rest of our group headed towards the dirt path to the forest. I had to dig deep into my coins and I still didn’t have enough. The woman behind the counter let it go. She was very kind. It was so hard to choose which items we wanted, and my daughter was in love with the unicorns and fairies.
As soon as we left the small shop, I could hear the river and the falls, and the sound of the water soothed me. I had to pause. As we got closer to the wooden bridge, I was enveloped in the sound of the rushing river, and the darkening of the trail as the trees knitted their branches overhead creating a high canopy that separated into two trails, one that led uphill and the other down. My husband and older son had already gone up, and I chose down, thinking that it might be a bit easier for me.
It was, but coming back up not so much!
I could see the falls through the trees as the trail curved, and there was a handrail for part of the walk down. I was so close that I couldn’t not go all the way down to the falls.
They were the most perfect forest falls. Water coursing down the rocks, surrounded by grass, larger stones, and trees, landing gently at the bottom, like a fairy glen. I could almost picture the ancients coming to the base of the falls to gather jugs of water, bathing, and swimming. Of course, this part of Northern Ireland is known as the Nine Glens of Antrim and faeries are a popular treasure here.
We stayed for a bit. My kids stepped back, knowing that this was a place that I wanted to relish in the quiet sounds of the forest. Looking up, I could see the rest of the group on the trail just above the falls. I only considered meeting them up there for a moment, but then quickly decided that I was happy right where I was.
I just enjoyed leaning on the railing that separates the rock we were standing on with the water and the falls, and just listening to the water flow and land at the bottom, feeling the cool breeze through my hair on my face, letting the spirituality of this sanctuary emanate and inspire through me.
This was my place.
Then, it came.
One drop, two at first. I still had my umbrella, fortunately because when the rain came again, it came.
Torrents and heavy, and not even the canopy of trees could keep it from us. It’s what I imagine a rain forest is like, but colder, harder, and unrelenting. We got back up the hill before it became too slippery, and kept walking as fast as three of us under one umbrella could until we got to the shelter adjacent to the restaurant’s door. We sat there while waiting for the rest of our group – the boys with the keys – to return to the parking lot. They were drenched!
As we made our way back along the road to the Coast Road to continue our journey to the Causeway, I took another look at our cousin’s directions to see how far we were from her trail:
Larne – Coast Road
At sign for Glenarriffe
Take road to
restaurant half way up hill
Park at restaurant and
walk round back to waterfall trail
We hadn’t known it while we were following my son’s GPS, but we followed her directions precisely.
Nothing could describe destiny any better than that.
It’s hard to know the entirety about a person even when you see them often. We tend to group people into family, friends, work colleagues, acquaintances, but in all of those labels there are those who don’t fit or who fit into more than one.
My friend, Anne was like that. I met her at church. For a long time, I didn’t know her name. She sat two rows behind me, and every daily mass that we attended together, we’d shake hands and share the peace of Christ. She always smiled at me, and reached across the separating pew, and I looked forward to our daily rite.
She knew my name before I knew hers. Even after knowing her better, I would always confuse her last name with her first name since her last name was also a first name.
She was also part of the Red Hats group that I lunched with monthly. She never wore a hat, but she always had on a brightly colored jacket and scarf. She was always put together, and she had a brightness that expounded on her outfit.
She always welcomed me, and asked about my kids.
I saw her sometimes in the grocery store.
We had one of our Red Hat luncheons at her house, just last year, and I saw her collections from her travels. One was a miniature tea pot with a red dragon on it from Wales. Her house was full of greens, and her back porch was almost identical in shape to ours, so she let me take a few pictures for my husband who’s been wanting to make ours more functional and less storage. She even invited him over to take a look at how theirs was decorated to give him some ideas.
We disagreed vehemently on politics, but the few conversations we had proved to be more discourse than argument, and a benefit to us both.
She was just so kind to me, and vibrant. She had a booming way of talking, but she didn’t leave you being shouted at. She was just full of spirit.
She died last week. She suddenly became sick and that became worse, and than something else happened, and it just limped along, but her faith kept her. Her family and friends visited, and she called on our priest to come to see her, as recently as a few days before she died.
When I read her obituary, I discovered things I hadn’t known.
For one thing, she was 82. I know that my Red Hats group tends to be older, but I would have pegged her for 70 at the most, and more likely I thought she was in her sixties.
She was born in the town where I went to college, and in fact attended that college, studying education as I did. We graduated thirty-one years apart, both with Bachelor’s of Science degrees in Education. I don’t think either of us knew that we had that in common. Our school’s mascot is a Red Dragon, like the national symbol of Wales.
In realizing that she had been a teacher I could now recognize how she spoke. Teachers have this way of getting things across, and Anne was no different.
Her funeral is tomorrow.
She was steadfast and kind, faithful and spirited.
She will be greatly missed.