Thursday evening took me out the road a ways. I ended up in Carrick on Shannon, which is a town I don’t get to very much anymore. There was a time though when I used to pass through this town regularly on my way home from Dublin to Sligo, where I grew up.
There are an awful lot more roundabouts now than there were and the traversing of the town has become largely unfamiliar, though the countryside, once you’re out the Sligo-side, is achingly familiar still. For me, that road had always been about leaving or coming home. Mostly coming home. I’d been away and now I was coming home again.
Revisiting it, the other evening, evoked a small memory.
Most of trips home through Carrick and on to Sligo happened during the years that I was in college in Dublin. The long Friday-night bus journeys home, the considerably-less-auspicious Sunday-night journeys back. Regular homecomings and departures to and from not-too-far-away. But, after I moved to London, the homecomings became rarer and obviously from further away.
That memory was of one such journey home. One of the rarer ones.
The people I worked for had given me a car – a brand new car – and I was driving it home from London in the Summertime to see my folks and all the old crew. The town after Carrick on Shannon is Boyle and I was just driving over the bridge there when I spotted Kevin in his Mobile Bank Van. Kevin was one of my Dad’s very best friends and he drove the Mobile Bank Van around the environs. He didn’t do any transactions himself; he just drove.
I pulled up in my new car to say hello.
That welcome. That’s the memory that came back to me in Carrick on Shannon the other evening. There were no emotional fireworks or dramas. Kevin was just pleased to see me. He was patently and evidently pleased to see me. We shook hands and he welcomed me back to Sligo and he admired the new car they had given me over there in London.
That’s the memory in its entirety. Two men on a bridge, one old, one young, both very glad to see each other again.
But memories are tendrils. Slender and fragile in many ways but unbelievably strong in many others. They run wild.
This one simple memory-tendril quickly leads to another and another.
Kevin was always the first to turn up with a Christmas present on Christmas Eve morning, when Santa’s arrival still seemed like an eternity away. I was allowed to open his present and play with it even though it wasn’t yet present time. It was Lego.
Kevin bringing me out in a rowboat on the river to the larger boat he used to look after for somebody. The joy of being in the big boat, pretending to go somewhere cool but never going anywhere, except home.
My Dad at Kevin’s funeral, walking back down from the casket and saying quietly to me, “That’s not him. That’s not him.”
Trips to the cemetery with Dad, to visit Mum, and then to stroll around among the graves, never missing a visit to Kevin, who had a little fisherman put up on his headstone. We always remarked on it; how nice it was. I should get Dad one, maybe.
Over time, a memory becomes like a sketch. It distills into some kind of blur. A tangle of swiftly enacted lines on some crumpled page. But such a sketch is no mere scribble. It can be like a sketch by Picasso or Leonardo De Vinci.
It can contain an entire world in its faint constructions and that world can lead on to others.
(In memory of Kevin. A good friend to Dad… and to me too.)