Lawn chairs2

My aunt Mary Keane was born in Ireland and immigrated to America in her late teens. She met and married my uncle Richard about ten years later and they settled in southern New England. Growing up I had occasional contact with them, mostly at family get–togethers around the holidays. Other than being family I don’t remember that we had much in common then. Mary was quiet and a bit shy. She always seemed slightly out of place although quick to laugh at a good joke or story. In my twenties I took my first trip to Ireland and at the next family gathering I found myself talking at length to Aunt Mary about my trip. She was very interested to hear all the details. Talking about Ireland really opened her up and brought her to life. I remember tears in her eyes as she told me a bit about her growing up in Ireland and having to leave because, at that time, there was little opportunity for women. She missed Ireland and her family tremendously. But we had formed a bond with Ireland as the connection.
Soon after that first trip to Ireland, and enthralled with traditional Irish music, I took up the fiddle. Mary heard about this and called me with enthusiastic words of encouragement. She mentioned that her brother Frank lived in County Mayo and played the fiddle himself and that I should visit Frank and his wife Winnie the next time I was over. So sweet! As my fiddle playing progressed I eventually found myself playing in a traditional Irish band called the Greencastle Band. We played throughout New England and even released a couple of records on the Blarnytone label (that’s right!). We got gigs even when it wasn’t St. Patrick’s Day – very rare at that time. Mary and Richard became our biggest fans. They would show up regularly at performances and Mary would always find some space to dance a jig or reel. She knew what she was doing and the audiences loved it. It was always great fun. Mary was the “real deal”! I remember a performance we had at a park in southern New England opening for a Fourth of July fireworks display- (we had an agent who got us some unusual gigs!). We got there hours early to set up the sound system and have time to get a bite to eat. Placed dead center in front of the stage in this large open field were two vacant lawn chairs. Nobody around, just two vacant chairs. Someone made the comment, not seriously, that it was probably Mary and Richard. We all had a chuckle. But sure enough when we came out for our part of the show there were Mary and Richard seated in the lawn chairs with big smiles on their faces. We opened with a set of jigs (“Tripping up the Stairs” if I remember correctly). Mary got up and danced and many in the audience took her cue. What fun we had! The fireworks were the grand finale for a wonderful evening. It brings tears to my eyes as I think back to those times. Sadly both Mary and Richard have passed but the Irish connection we had brought us all together for a while. What wonderful memories!
I did get to visit Frank and Winnie in Mayo but those words will have to wait for another time.

Jim Remington is a teacher and director at the Lakewood School of Music in Lakewood, CO, and lives with his wife, 2 horses and 2 dogs in the Wet Mountain Valley near Westcliffe, CO. Jim can be reached at: remingtonlj@gmail.com

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