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It alights here then there; The concrete canvas exhales its heat. Then the smell of summer rain, The dirt lifts its spiceThe effervescent grass and her Spiraling steamThen we’re dancingStomping out the beats with our bare feet, Washed, enveloped, Screaming out with the streaming downThrowing arms up to a heaven that’s been opened Just to clean this bit Of the world For a moment.
Rain: The rain begins silently until accumulating enough to shake the braches, rattle the world above my head, drip through the strands of my hair envelop me Face washed cleanMelancholy of the clouds.
II: I know the thunderstorm Like an old friend-The flood plain of a memoryThe sky rending open with that First flash of lightning 2…3…4…BOOM!! The clap of thunder you didn’t expect To be quite so loud. -a smell, a touch, a sightThen there are the torrents, and the frantic Drumbeats of rain and then It moves through as quickly as it came-rattling the window panes for a momentThe walking away, throwing a final Impressive Boom Over its shoulder and we’re just left With the rain.
III. The little Silver MapleLithe dancer Shaking its limbs In exaltation, Feels the air moving around And over them. The physical space of Stretching up and out… Being aware, Warmed by the sunshine, Cooled by the raindrops.
The tree begins to reach its many branches up and out, firmly anchored to their trunk, secured by the melding of joint with extension-ready to embrace the sun, the wind, the rain…
My great-grandfather, Matthew Brennan, was born the eldest son of John Joseph Brennan and Catherine (Kate) Whalen on December 31, 1900. From the first, he was every bit as hard-working and determined as his predecessors . A letter, written by a former teacher of Matthew’s, Mary Murphy, tells of him sitting “in his seat looking up at me with those trusting blue eyes, waiting for whatever task I was about to assign and then bracing himself to do his best.”
With the grace of a dance, the many limbs stretch, flex, and absorb the music of a spring coming alive-in Illinois it’s the coo of the mourning dove, the trill of the red-winged blackbird, the rise and fall of a wind alternately warming and cooling the air, flowing silently toward summer’s heat.
Matthew farmed the land in Elkhart as well- his farm just across the road from his father’s. He married Edith Barbara Buttell on January 20, 1926 and to the couple was born 4 girls: Mary Katherine, or Aunt Mary Kay, born November 29th of that same year, JoAnn, my grandma, born February 22nd, 1929, Helen Clare, Aunt Helen, May 25th, 1930, and Lois Jane, Aunt Lois, April 13th, 1932. With only girls born to this household, the Brennan name would realize its end in name only, but would be the beginning of so many more.
Once begun, each branch makes its own limbs, spreading out, a multitude of threads spun from a single web, a stretching of fingers from the hand, wrist, arm, at once reaching out and pulled down to the larger branch, trunk, roots.
From my grandma’s childhood she recollects that her father was a bit of a dandy, a jovial personality, inclined to good-natured mischief. At the end of his days in the fields, he would give his girls rides on his horses, and he would set them to small tasks like picking the bugs off the plants to put in little cans of gas. My grandma, jealous as all little girls are of their daddies, also remembers not liking the lady that would sometimes bring them horehound candy and talk to her dad.
In the tension of the summer heat, the pressure of the clouds builds, rain presses down and the energy unleashed is an illuminated branch of Heaven’s own brilliant fire, lashing a night sky and reaching out through the space, time, and wonderment of a people always drawn to the amazing spectacle of such a passion.
On the 8th of January, 1938, my great-grandfather died due to circumstances arising from their house fire. The direct cause of his death is uncertain, whether it was smoke inhalation or a heart-attack, he passed as a result of his many trips in and out of their burning house to save anything he could. My grandma was nine years old at the time. A letter, written by that same teacher of Matthew’s, Mary Murphy, states; “isn’t it difficult at such times to reconcile ourselves to the will of God and feel that all he does is best?” Out of this tragedy grows the symbolic embodiment of our branch of Brennans rising from the ash and
growing into the multitude of families we’ve become today: Brandenburg, Martin, Jessup, now Heavrin, Rewers, McCarthy, Morris, and even Rankin-all threaded through with this same Brennan blood.
Wind-whipped, weather-beaten and worn, the bark may show scars, a limb may fall from the whole, yet it stands, ever-present with the essence of place. The leaves, next year’s leaves, bear the same genetics of those that had fallen.
Matthew was most likely one source of the kindness and patience I see reflected in my Grandma and my Dad as well. He is also the source of summer’s slight red tint reflecting through the brown of my hair-a physical reminder of my Irish inheritance. In the blood of succeeding generations-the essence of a person remains-a mannerism, a tilt of the head, a familiar laugh or look about the eyes, in this way, our ancestors are never truly gone.
What’s in that moment the rain begins?
The water collects in streams that wind their way through dirt, carving paths topographic maps show these Earth’s scars powerful torrents turning dirt to mud and reminding us of the clay we all are.
I’ve been enchanted by the rain ever since I was a little girl: the way it sounds through the
leaves in the trees and the way the wind shakes out that second shower; the way it looks in the distance, spreading its sheets over the landscape; the way it smells of hope in the spring and the Earth’s heady heat in the summer; the way it feels on my bare skin. I never feel so clean as when the rain has rubbed her hands over my face. Of course, it rains a lot in Ireland. It rained almost everyday we were there, for at least a little while each of those days. The skies grey and darken and the clouds wring themselves out over the island. You can’t let the rain stop you from your sightseeing while there; you must remain as unaffected by it as the Irish themselves. The golfers there know nothing of calling the game on account of the rain. In fact, at one of the golf courses we visited, I naturally thought this one group was packing up, heading into the clubhouse when the rains began, but a few seconds after I thought they were headed in, I realized they were just heading out, pulling their clubs along behind them because the course was too wet for them to take a cart. They were as jovial as any group headed out for a leisurely afternoon of golf. The entire time we were at Blarney Castle, the skies opened and we climbed all of those wet, slick, stone steps just to reach the top to kiss the Blarney Stone. My grandma was as undaunted by this hazard as any agile teenager bounding up and down the steps of a familiar floor plan. That much grey over the land may dampen the spirits of anyone, particularly those not used to the lack of sunshine, from time to time, but then you realize that the rain, the dreary weather, is the reason for the grass, that vibrant green, beautiful grass. Also, there’s the moment, that glorious moment anywhere, in Ireland, in Illinois, when the sun breaks through the clouds and shines full force on you-eyes closed, face
lifted, and the birds trill with joy or you begin a feverish dance, stomping, twirling out the last bit of the storm. Or, there’s the moment when you wake up and instead of dead winter air, things are coming alive again and saying, “we’re here, we’re here”-children just arriving at their destination, and you walk outside barefoot, praising whomever your God is for your dirt-covered soles because in that moment you are exultant for this dirt-covered life that will be washed clean again with the rain.
Huntington Castle’s Yew Tree Walk
Sometimes a string of words or a familiar line
of trees will fairly well break your heartthe memoriestransient, effervescent, the magic things taking the form of steam, spiraling upward, dancing, pulled and pushed by the wind.
Behind Huntington Castle in Carlow County is a path, flanked by ancient yew trees-silent witnesses to time. We were told the monks used to walk that path before the
Castle came into private ownership. No one tells you that you can’t speak there, but we didn’t anyway; I mean, what would have been the point? What could we have possibly said that would have been more absorbing than our surroundings? We were there in that moment, but there have been many others as well, the trees seemed to matter of factly point out. The place was a bit mysterious, a bit ominous, and overwhelming, but there was also an underlying peace in there as well. Time has been absorbed there, inhaled in the leaves of the trees and exhaled as fresh air for the next generation. There might have been a kind of sorrow encapsulated by all this of time’s passage, people coming and going. Silent monks used to drift down this path, probably fairly floating on the breeze and here we stand on the very same soil-Grandma, Pat, Katie, Denise and me, exhaling our presence into the atmosphere as well, adding to the passing of the years. Back at the car, the spell was broken; we laughed at the solemn, eccentric strangeness of the Castle’s owner, who had been the one to give us the tour herself, showing us her shrine to Isis in the basement and her stories of the ancestors of the place still drifting about. I’m just glad I didn’t meet any of them in person. Here, two years later, I’d mulled over this memory a fair part of an afternoon, and then after, during the evening, I walked by one of my own Brennan ancestors. It was dark, and the window I passed in front of was backlit from the outside. Out of the corner of my eye a shadow flit a step ahead of me and in the next second, fell right into my stride.
The Baptism Party
In the rain there is a solemn washing of the world, but also,
the joy of an imperfect landabsorbing, renewing, re-creating life in a new way. Baptized by the Father, with Earthly water and with Heavenly fire, a child added to the familygreater than the sum of all its individuals, rejoicing as one.
The epitome of our entire trip to Ireland in terms of understanding, enjoying, and reveling in family-We were staying in Killeshin, just outside Carlow with Ann Moore at her Quarry Ridge Bed and Breakfast. Hers was the B & B we’d spent the most nights in and
on the last night of our stay, she was hosting a baptism party for her granddaughter. The Irish do baptism parties a bit differently than we American Catholics do. There was a cake and some little finger foods, and people dressed nicely, but there was also a bouncy house for the kids, a huge meal, a DJ, a cab ride into town around 11pm for the remaining revealers around 21 years of age, and booze-lots, and lots of booze. We were the only guests that Ann had booked rooms for that night and Fate probably had something to do with that because instead of being put off by the throngs of people and the music, we were intently watching and eavesdropping, and immediately overjoyed when the invitation to join in the party was extended by our hostess herself. We came down out of our rooms and were welcomed into the kitchen with such a friendly hospitality that we felt at home instantly. Ann’s brother-in-law bore an uncanny resemblance in looks and mannerisms to my dad’s cousin and Katie and Denise’s Uncle, Matt, that I wondered just how far back our family tree extended. There was an ease and familiarity there with those folks that just reinforced my familial pride. I don’t care how far back you would go in time, a certain type of link trickles down through humanity making its little presences known in each generationshadows of our predecessors making themselves known from time to time. There amongst Ann and her family, we really felt and understood the presence of family. Being there with my Grandma, my second cousin, Pat, and my two second cousins once removed, Katie and Denise, we were all linked in a common story. We ended up giggling through half the night, letting our own version of an Irish brogue tint our speech and warm our common Irish blood, blooming in our cheeks and coloring that night of our
trip with the most vivid memories.
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