When I lived in Europe, my grandfather was the only member of my family to visit me. He had never flown so my parents decided to put him on a flight that was non-stop to Frankfurt where I would meet him. My dad flew to Chicago with him and put him on a Lufthansa flight. What my father didn't realize is that the flight to Frankfurt was canceled; Grandpa opted for a British Airways flight to London and then another flight to Frankfurt. That meant he had to change planes at one of the busiest airports in the world.
When I arrived at the Frankfurt Airport, the folks at Lufthansa told me they weren't quite sure where he was. Now my grandfather, being of Irish descent, had the gift of the gab. About 8 hours after he was supposed to arrive he came through the doors of customs with a blonde woman on his arm. I could tell that the two of them had had a few drinks on the flight from London. He hugged me and said, "Is this Germany?"
A few days later we flew to Dublin so he could set foot on the land his family came from. The flight was really bumpy over the channel; he didn't seem to notice. I was white-knuckled the whole way.
Once there we rented a tiny Fiat that supposedly fit four. It was a stick shift and I was driving on the other side of the road. That meant shifting with my left hand. One way streets were a real challenge. I was honked at a lot. We finally headed for Cork. That's the port his father had left from.
Grandpa was very disappointed that there were so many Coakleys in the phone book. Sort of like Peterson in Minneapolis. I think he imagined some grand reunion with the family where they would all tell stories of his father's departure to Boston.
The first morning at our bed and breakfast grandpa asked the "wee lass," as he called her, if he could have a bit of whiskey. I wanted to crawl under the table; the wee lass did not blink an eye. She returned with a small glass filled to the brim. He smiled at me, raised his glass and said, here's looking at you my dear grandchild. Then he would loudly burp. That request, toast and burp were repeated every morning. He lived to be nearly 90 so I guess it didn't hurt him.
About the third or fourth day out of Dublin, grandpa slammed the car door on the seat belt; we were never able to open that door. So he road in the back seat and the luggage was piled on the front passenger seat.
About mid-morning each day he'd announce that he had a wee bit of a thirst. We would find a pub where we would stay until lunch. He had a bunch of JFK half dollar pieces which he would spread out on the bar. We drank for free as long as those prized mementos lasted.
In Galway, we saw the movie "Love Story." Like so many other people in the theater, I cried and even sobbed at times. Grandpa held my hand and assured me everything would be okay.
He refused to go to the North; that was back when things were still pretty bad between the two parts of Ireland. After ten days in Ireland, I put him on a non-stop flight to Chicago where my dad was to meet him. I stayed at the airport long enough to see the plane taxi and lift off. I wasn't taking any chance with grandpa.
Good memories for this St. Patrick's Day. We are breaking with tradition tonight and having homemade pizza. The green part will be fresh spinach.
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