Helen Thorpe

Helen Thorpe

A weeklong electronic journal.
Sept. 13 1999 9:00 PM

Helen Thorpe

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My cousin Donal woke me this morning. "I'm running late," he said. "If you hurry, you'll make it to Mass." That was all the excuse I needed. I pulled the sleeping bag over my head and pondered my state: not bad, considering. Our cousin Michelle was married yesterday--she's a cousin to me and to Donal--and everyone in the family had done their best to make certain that the day was a memorable one. My contribution involved traveling here to Ireland from my home in Texas and then drinking a lot of Jameson's.

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"The last time I saw you, you were suspended somewhere between the floor and the ceiling," my uncle Brendan said, when I finally appeared downstairs. "Levitating." He was referring to the strenuous hopping that I resorted to at around 2 in the morning, having abandoned more complicated dance moves at that point. Brendan and his wife Kathleen (my mother's sister) were turning Donal's house upside down searching for their son Cormack's trousers. He had no idea where he'd put them and was in bed in the next room, giggling. Fifteen minutes later the trousers were discovered in a white plastic bag by the door.

I drove up to Cavan from Dublin yesterday morning with my cousin Caroline. We continued past Donal's house to Cornaslieve, the dairy farm where Donal and Caroline and their three siblings were raised. My mother was raised there, too, with her nine brothers and sisters. When Caroline and I went inside the farmhouse we found our uncle Ollie, over visiting from his nearby farmhouse, beside the coal-burning stove in the main room. "Well," he said. "How are ye keeping?" My aunt Anna and uncle James, who've run Cornaslieve since my grandparents died, came in and asked the same question. We stood around and caught up on all the news.

Caroline and I went upstairs to the bedroom that used to be my grandparents' room to get ready. Every time I enter it, I think of my grandfather, 90 years old and bedridden. Underneath an image of a wounded Jesus, I pulled on a pair of cream-colored stockings and a navy dress. Caroline shucked off her blue jeans beneath a relief of the Christ child. We put on our makeup by the window, where a chipped plaster statuette of Mary stood beside two crucifixes and several plastic bottles of holy water. I went to look at myself in the bathroom. Out the bathroom window, I could see that the concrete yard behind the house was wet with rain. Over in the hay shed, a line of washing was hanging where it would keep dry.

At the church, my cousin Hugo came striding over, a nervous wreck. I helped him hand out wedding programs. Hugo is much younger than I am, but he is a close friend, as we correspond by e-mail. I thought I knew why he was rattled. His father, my uncle Francie, died in a bad accident several years ago, rending the fabric of the family, creating a gaping hole. Hugo's mother, my aunt Nula, has had a hard time since. And now we were gathering to celebrate the first wedding of any of Francie and Nula's children. To take Hugo's mind off things, I said something silly about an episode involving a fire extinguisher that took place after the last family wedding. "Your sister!" he said. "She's lethal! She had me drink a bottle of whiskey that night."

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The stone church we were standing in was built right after Catholic Emancipation, when Catholics could build churches again. My grandparents were married here, and my parents, as well as most of my aunts and uncles. Francie and Nula were married here. Now Francie's buried in the graveyard, beside Granny and Grandad. Michelle arrived in a silver Peugot, driven by our uncle Ollie. "This is so weird," she said as she stepped inside the church. Michelle has pale green eyes and short black hair, and she was wearing a dress made of white silk that swirled around her ankles. Her sister Lisa, with pale blue eyes and long black hair, was wearing blue velvet. Ollie walked Michelle up the aisle, to where Sean (the groom) was waiting, and the sight of our bachelor uncle filling in for his missing brother made me have to blink. Hugo, who is in the national choir, had drafted one of Ireland's best singers to perform during the service. The singer began each song in a fine way, and then soared up into a register that can only be described as uncanny. Afterward Nula called it "a touch of heaven." Later I saw her waltzing around the dance floor at Sharkey's Hotel with a gentleman who had bushy white eyebrows and was very light on his feet. Even when a waitress spilled a jug of ice water down her back, Nula didn't get disheartened; she would not be the cause of any sadness. Sometime after midnight, magic performers hired by Michelle's brother Stephen did an act involving torches and disco music, in which a punked-out girl wearing black leather shorts whirled fireballs around in circles until they became a blurred, dazzling pattern. After that there was a lot of delirious stomping by the wedding guests, and I think that's when I started hopping.