Maura Mulligan in the garden in Achill.
By Maura Mulligan
Today, June 20, starts my staycation schedule – get up with the sun and while it’s still cool, walk to the local park and commune with the waking birds. Not being a lover of hot weather, I won’t go out again until the sun sets over the Hudson River.
My neighbor Natalia drove me to Home Depot to shop for an air conditioner last week. Decked out in our masks and gloves, we decided that her diplomat partner’s car was big enough for reasonable social distancing. On our way back with my new portable cooling contraption, I phoned the building superintendent to ask if someone might be available to carry the air conditioner upstairs to my 4th-floor apartment.
“I realize it’s not the super’s job, but I’m prepared to tip,” I began.
“My husband hurt his back,” she responded quickly. And no, there was nobody she could recommend.
“No strong man around,” I said to Natalia. “Let’s leave it with you on the 1st floor for a day until I find someone.” She agreed, but as soon as we got it in the entrance to the building, she insisted that her youthful arms could push the 70.5 lbs. machine up four flights – one stair at a time.
“I am strong. I can do it. When we meet God at the end of life, He will not ask how big was your family’s car? No! He will ask instead how much help you gave to others in your lifetime,” she said firmly. Then she reminded me that I had helped her daughter learn English when they first arrived from Colombia and that I should not forget the Irish saying I had told her about: “Ar scáth a cheíle a mhaireann na daoine” – under the shelter of each other, people survive. I tried to reason with her, saying I can “survive” for another day and that there was no rush. No amount of persuasion would deter her from “getting extra exercise.”
I don’t understand how she wasn’t exhausted. I put my foot down however, when she volunteered to take the old air conditioner out and carry it downstairs five flights to the trash area. “I take the old one away and install the new. Look,” she said, “the instructions are in Spanish too.”
“Well, maybe we do survive in the shelter of each other,” I said, “but I don’t want to visit you in the hospital. You’ve done enough for one day. I’ll find someone tomorrow.”
My young strong next-door neighbors are new to the building. Besides, they are non-English speaking. I should wait to get to know them better before asking for help, I decide. So, where to find someone? Colm Flynn, of RTE who interviewed me in April for the program “Nationwide,” informed me that Corina Galvin was his go-to person when he’s working on this side of the Atlantic. “She knows people all over the country,” he said. Corina, who does volunteer work for the New Yor Irish Center has been my own go-to person for help with Zoom and other techie issues. I asked if she knew any “handy people” on this side of the Hudson River. She put me in touch with a young Cork man, Paul and his wife Emma who live in nearby Weehawken. They were as surprised as I was to find we were neighbors in this mostly Hispanic area.
The writers group in Achill.
The next day as Paul removed the old air-conditioner and installed the new one, I felt a mixture of relief and sadness. The relief was because the 20- year old noisy crock needed to be replaced. The sadness was a deeper realization that due to the Covid-19 restrictions, I will be here in New Jersey all summer and need the cool air. This will be my first “staycation” since I started going back to Ireland each summer since 1980.
How I miss the planning - deciding when to leave, choosing where to go each week and selecting new writing to share with Scoil Acla’s writing group on Achill Island. Tears falling onto my keyboard reminded me that I already miss the gathering excitement in my soul upon seeing the Michael Davitt Bridge and the sign, fáilte go hAcaill - Welcome to Achill. Seeing Croaghaun the mountain with the highest sea cliffs in Ireland, reaching up as if directing the formation of white fleecy clouds is magical. My friend, Anne and her cat Charlie always welcoming me back to Dooagh along with Marie and her other friends from Dublin. Visiting Seán Cannon’s Western Light Art Gallery to see what new panoramic images of early dawn or sunset he has captured. Anraith neantóga for lunch at the Beehive and the owner Patricia behind the counter saying, “you’re welcome home, Maura.” Tears won’t stay away when I think about the peace I always feel walking the hills of Dooagh often meeting no one but sheep on my way to the heavenly Keem Strand.
A food parcel from Oranmore.
Even if I decide to take advantage of the Aer Lingus bargain prices right now, I wouldn’t have the challenge of deciding between the sean nós dance class at the South Sligo Summer School and the set dancing class at the Joe Mooney Summer School in Drumshanbo. Both are canceled. In Clare, where traditional music is at its best, I’d meet up with pal Bernadette but we couldn’t go dancing at the Feakle International Festival because that too is canceled this August.
Thinking I need something to lift the sadness when suddenly, a text from Natalia tells me that there’s a package downstairs for me. I grab my mask and go. The return address: Irish Taste Club, Carraig Lár Shopping Center, Oranmore, Co. Galway. Thank you, God and cousin Judy. The thought of Irish food helps me feel better even before I open the box.