I have just spent a week in my hometown. It’s been the first holiday here since Covid hit and since my marriage separation, so a lot of firsts.
I have often said marriage breakdown is like a death without a body, and that, just like death, and the grief that comes with it, there can be challenges with ‘first times’ in certain places and the memories they can trigger. So, I was worried about the impact of the latter reality on the trip. My husband and I both did a lot of growing up in this town and returned here many times over the last near thirty years of being together. I therefore wondered if each location might be marred by an overpowering memory of ‘us’, that would sink my soul into the earth.
My hometown is located in one of the most beautiful spots on earth and that is not just boasting. Kerry, also known unashamedly as ‘The Kingdom’, has the Atlantic Ocean on one side and the mountains on the other. Mix that in with lots of lush fields, valleys, rivers, lakes and a bit of sunshine and the scene can look like paradise at times, beautiful and inviting to the soul.
While I had anticipated the challenges of ‘first times’ on this visit, I hadn’t anticipated the soothing, peaceful, calm, reassuring feelings that would come from the old familiar landscape I would come across on my trip, like seeing the mountains I grew up looking at every day still standing, or the beach a short drive away, with its miles of strand as outstretched as ever in anticipation of the humans that might seek to land on it. There were the old houses and fields passed by on journeys hither and tither to these beautiful places too, whose fence and wall details were somehow etched in my brain from some time way back that felt like forever.
There was even reassurance and comfort in the furniture of home, in crawling into my old bed, in seeing a familiar old plate with its now worn but well remembered flowery print, or a kitchen knife with its engraved rosy pattern on the handle, sinking into a knob of butter for the spuds!
Of course, the people too brought comfort and calm, my parents, and the odd chat with people from my childhood, who, though aged, still had the same turn of phrase or sense of humour. The accent too of the locals, was so good to hear, reminding me of my grandparent’s voices often and thus always making me smile.
There were a few pangs of ‘first times’ too of course, tears welling up as I passed the church where we got married, and the place where we held our reception, but even in those moments, I reflected too on all the wonderful times that had come from that day, most especially the three great children we had had together, the many happy family moments and laughs and holidays and those memories helped to bring some healing too.
There was a time when my hometown drove me crazy, when my teenage growing pains, seemed to be made all the worse by it all, when my parents were the people I wanted to escape, where the familiar fields and houses made me want to run 1,000 miles, a time when I was ready to expand my horizons beyond it and desperate to do so too.
I expanded those horizons with many great experiences since those days, in working life and travel and in family life. But I am now in a different season of life to that teenage girl longing to be free from her perceived suffocating hometown environment.
In this new season of life, with the challenges of Covid, kids growing up, a marriage over, having been through ill health and now living with a heart condition, sometimes the ground beneath me can feel like it is shifting quicker than I can keep up. Perhaps that is why the reminder this week, that the same tides still ebb and flow, that the same strand is still outstretched waiting for me, or that those same mountains are still standing tall, ready to watch over me was so comforting to my soul.
The familiarity of my hometown, is no longer the annoying, limiting, frustrating experience it was in my teenage years, but a reassuring, comforting and soothing experience in my midlife.
So, thank you to ‘The Kingdom’, for reassuring me, that in spite of life’s challenges, and the ever-changing sands beneath our feet, that there are the constants too, to anchor us, comfort us and renew us in this life after the challenges once more.
© Pauline O’Shea
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