Sometimes we don’t choose home, home chooses us. We fall in love not with a place but with a person, and if that person lives elsewhere, we find ourselves far from our original home. Home becomes the place where our beloved is. And even when our beloved is gone, this place is still home.
The following post touches me deeply. It’s about chance meetings that change our lives in both big and small ways. About love and loss. About tea and travel and baking pies. And ultimately, it’s about finding home in the heart of another.
I’m grateful to Kate McDermott for allowing me to share her story with you. You can read more of her work at Kate McDermott’s Newsletter.
This is the code word my friend Cindy and I use on a journey we take together to Ireland in 2019, the last international trip that either of us take BC1. When either one or both of us become weary of walking or driving, Tea? is the cue to set the compass for a refreshing pause in our travels to the local tea room in whatever village or town we are near. On one day, The Butter Market Cafe (now closed) in Kilrush, County Clare provides just what we need.
We walk through the door and see that all the tables are taken but as Ireland is known for its gracious hospitality, a woman beckons us over to share the empty seats at her table and we gratefully accept.
I’m just off to the WC. Can you watch my stuff?
She has a husky voice with an American accent and a wee bit of a lilt.
Absolutely! Happy, too.
And off she goes.
While Cindy watches her stuff, I head over to the counter and place an order for refreshments…tea for her, a latté for me, plus several baked sweets to share. I carry everything back to the table and our new friend returns. Introductions and a few pleasantries are next.
Where have you traveled from today? Where are you going to next?
We share that we are in week one of three wonderful weeks of meandering along Ireland’s west coast.
How about you? What brought you here?
And with that she begins a story that has us riveted in moments.
In her 20s, she travels from America to Ireland and meets an artist-musician Irishman along the way. They fall in love and together travel around his beautiful country. As the time comes closer for her to return to America, she contemplates a permanent move to Ireland to be with her soulmate. When she returns home she tells her mom of her feelings for this man, stronger than any she has ever had before, and also of the deep fear she has of making such a big move. Her mother hears her daughter’s words and then tells her a story which she has never known before.
When her mother was young, she too traveled to Ireland, met an Irishman, fell in love, and became pregnant. That man was our friend’s father—a father she had never known until her mother told her at that moment. I can only imagine the surprise and shock she was feeling when she heard this but our friend continues.
Her mother asks…
Do you love him?
Then you must go and be with him.
…and so she does. Our friend makes the move to Ireland and marries her love. On trips back to see her mom he comes as well. All is well…perfect she says and there is happiness in her face, but as she continues her story we see it replaced by sadness. He is diagnosed with cancer…terminal cancer and on a last trip to America his condition becomes so dire that…
All he longed for was to go home, to die in Ireland the land of his birth.
They go to the airport to make this final trip but he has forgotten his passport. She pleads with TSA and Customs to let him go home please because…
Can’t you see how sick he is? He just wants to go home…to die.
And somehow…somehow he is allowed on to the plane to make that last Atlantic crossing. He dies soon after. She tells us of her heartbreak, feeling so alone, and how difficult it has been to go on without him.
There is a piece of land with a cottage in his family and with every cent of money she receives after the death of her own mom she buys the small portion that has the cottage on it. She lives there now. It is far from town and as she has no car she relies on friends to give her rides into town for supplies and visits to the tea room. She tells us of the small garden she is starting and how she feels his spirit so strongly in the cottage. This all she needs, she says. It is enough. It is home.
She turns, looks at me, and asks…
What about you? What do you do?
After hearing her story, my own seems very pale in comparison, but she seems honestly captivated when I tell her I teach pie making, write books, and share with her three life lessons I have learned from pie…
This is why our paths crossed…so I could hear these three things.
When we get ready to leave there are hugs all around. She tells us where we can find her on social media and later I send a message hoping to hear back, but I never do.
The memory of our lives intersecting in this one shared moment will be enough.
James Beard Award Finalist Author, Kate McDermott is the author of Art of the Pie: A Practical Guide to Homemade Fillings, Crusts, and Life, Home Cooking with Kate McDermott, and Pie Camp: The Skills You Need to Make Any Pie You Want. She lives at Pie Cottage, her home on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington State, where she gardens, tends her wood stove, walks, and writes. She invites you to visit her Substack at Kate McDermott’s Newsletter.