I helped do the flowers for Holy Thursday this week in our church–deep pink snapdragons with soft mouths and half opened lilies. Easter’s late this year. Once, I spent Easter in Ireland with my sister a long time ago. She’s six years younger than I am. She lived one winter in Dublin working as a consultant for an American company. Her musty apartment was in a block of new buildings on an old street in Dublin. There was an impressive church across the street, a small shop where she bought peat and next to that, three bars, and farther along at the crossroads a bank, a butcher, and a bookstore. I visited her in spring when she had lived in Ireland for almost five months.
She hated Ireland. I thought Dublin was green after a long muddy New England winter when I lived in a cottage. I admired the bright orange and green doors, the little front gardens that looked like illustrations of medieval gardens, one primrose here, a daffodil there.
When my first husband was sick, Mary Jean had a hard time dealing with everything.
“It was those marks on his head that really bothered me,” she said as we drove out to the country from Dublin. “We wanted to design a way that they wouldn’t have to leave the ink on like that.”
She’s always been the one in the family who could fix things. She knows how to read directions and how to put things together. She works as a consultant and rearranges systems that have misfired. Her house is meticulous. She doesn’t like disorder. She’s always been a kind of gift in the family, born with collapsed lungs, not expected to live the night, baptized as soon as she was born.
She was the only one who couldn’t help us when Steve was going through radiation therapy for brain cancer. She stayed away. She refused to get involved. As we pulled up the hills to the country outside of Dublin she said, “They all figured I didn’t want to go to the funeral, they left without me.”
She followed a day later and walked with me down the streets of Monroe, Iowa while we waited for my friend Chris who was driving Steve’s body across the farms of Iowa to Monroe. We stood together and watched as the long white hearse pulled into town, streaked with red mud from the journey. It was April, and fitfully warm. There were tiny leaves on all the tress along the Mississippi. Later, we looked for my father who was missing. We walked the empty streets of the town, our long black coats hunched up against the cold spring, searching for my father, afraid that we had lost him, too.
“I went to get a milkshake,” he said, “in honor of my father.”
We drove on narrow roads. “I wish we were Italian,” Mary Jean said as we swerved to avoid a man on a bicycle, “I like the Italians so much better than the Irish. I really don’t like the Irish.”
The landscape was flattening as we watched, in canal country on our way to the west, which we heard was wild and spectacular. It was Good Friday.
Wherever we drive in Ireland the land reminds itself of what it was. Stones and water. Stones and rain. Wind and water. Dirt and rain. Wind and leaf, green and wind, wind and rain.
I read the map and guidebook. Mary Jean wouldn’t let me drive. I looked up from the description of a Celtic cross in Sligo and saw Jesus perfectly still, the cross resting on his shoulder, blood dripping down his face from the crown of thorns. It was raining. Around the next corner, Mary Jean said, “Look.”
There was a crowd of people gathered near another Station of the Cross. This Jesus looked worse than the first. “It all gives me the creeps,” she said, and we drove out of the little town.
It’s Good Friday again now and my daphne is blooming sweetly pink in the bed in our courtyard behind the narrow house.