This, I thought as we stepped into the quiet pub in Adare, County Limerick, must be a sign.
Of the only five patrons, four wore charcoal tails, with bow-ties untied, and sat in a semi-circle anchored at the bar. The eldest among this group, a dignified-looking older man with a sharp part in his grey hair, stiffly nursed his pint. The others, much younger, squirmed like students starting an exam they didn’t study for. They conversed in the tense, grumbling tones heard in doctors’ waiting rooms and churches.
It was the first full day of our first trip to Ireland. The soft Thursday fell on our tenth wedding anniversary, a milestone punctuated with fresh stamps in new passports. My beautiful and ever-patient wife had warily agreed to the surprise trip, despite my bungling both the “surprise” and ”trip” parts. I had to take her to renew her passport, a setback from which I recovered by fatuously refusing to say where we were going (the clerk politely restrained herself from laughing). I had also forgotten that our last venture, a late-spring cruise while we were expecting our first child, made her change colors like a chameleon under a disco ball. The airport lounge passes were as valuable as the passports.
INSIDE THE PUB
The pub resembled what I pictured one should be. The heavy door of darkly-stained oak, a long-standing invitation to the promise of hospitality, had beckoned as we sought shelter. It opened to a comfortable room with low, soft couches that flanked an oversized, formally-mantled fireplace. The wall-length bar that filled the next room housed an hourglass-shaped mirror and shelves crowded with bottles and trophies. Shiny brass rails outlined the bar’s face and provided secure holds. Daylight beamed down onto the mirror from above. Gathered in front of the bar, small tables and benches clustered on either side of a brass-capped fireplace, like sheep around a sheepdog.
The room radiated friendliness. I could only imagine the conversations it had hosted during the near century and a half that it stood. We settled nearby to accept the embrace of the peaty fire, and tried not to look like eavesdropping tourists.
We did not hear much. As I prepared to offer the groom’s party a round for luck, a swirling thunderhead of pastel and floral perfume blew in, swishy and scolding. The other half of the grand event had arrived, and they were not there to order pints.
From the heavily-brogued, distinctly competing streams of invective, we guessed that not only were the proper authorities unaware of the groom’s whereabouts, but that the busted had also apparently lost track of time. Scraping noises and apologies suddenly filled the room. The men scrambled to fasten bow-ties, and managed to form a single line to the door, herded like surprised strays on their way back to the corral. Maybe this wasn’t such a great omen after all.
THE REMAINING PATRON
The remaining patron, a rumpled older man in grey athletic pants, half-sat on his stool at the end of the bar, and watched through thick plastic glasses.
The scolding faded as the door slowly closed. For a few seconds, the only sounds were some ’80s pop song, and the crackle of the fire. He looked at us for a second or two, decided we were it for entertainment, then grabbed his pint and wandered to our table.
He was a retired truck driver, and a regular, but no, no, this was not his usual day. He happened to be there only because he awaited his grandson. They were going to look at a car. The boy was just old enough, to his grandfather’s worry.
Grandson was always on about cars, said our head-shaking companion. Talked about them constantly. His only apparent ambition, which we learned he had never been dissuaded from thinking was a rational one, was to own a flashy, expensive supercar. Not that the lack of income or places to drive one were any bother. His grandfather rolled his eyes. His own first car, he announced by way of comparison, was a Mini.
A BIT OF WISDOM
The conversation briefly turned to us, as we let him in on the day’s significance. After a pleasant congratulations he informed us, again probably for comparison, that his parents were “…the oldest married couple on Ireland.” They had been together 74 years, he said with a sudden faraway look that suggested he had not considered how long that really was before. He paused for the first time since he joined us.
His reverie shook away. He himself was married, he continued, nearly 50 years. As he let that sink in, he put a foot on a chair and rested an elbow on the raised knee, suddenly the professor delivering the heart of a well-rehearsed lecture. “Ya know,” he said, slowing the pace of his words for emphasis, “ta be married this lahng ya only gotta know two wurds.” He held out a fist and counted them out with thumb and forefinger, “Yes. Love.”
That was the secret, apparently, to keeping out of trouble. Valuable advice for us relative newlyweds.
A phone behind the bar rang. The bartender appeared, listened, then beckoned our guest, who rolled his eyes again. A few seconds later he demonstrated the value of his advice, nodding at the wall in time to “Yes, love. Yes, love. YES, love.”
She probably heard us laughing before he hung up.
He returned with apologies. Grandson had ignored his instructions to fetch his grandfather at the bar, and went to their house instead. Our guest grumbled us congratulations again, then hurried out the door.
We moved to the bar and ordered new pints. I felt oddly enlightened. Our first encounter in Ireland was a front-row lesson on maintaining respect in your relationships. It occurred to me that had we not taken that trip and entered that pub at that time, we would have missed the serendipitous moment. We were supposed to see it. My blood chilled a bit.
After calming with my new pint, my wife suggested we should probably move on. It wouldn’t do us much good to sit in the pub all day. Besides, she said, there were other things to see.
“Yes, Love,” I said.