My dream is dominated by voices. A steady hum punctuated by the lilting rise and fall of Irish brogue. All familiar, yet faceless and nameless, just voices from another room that the child hears from his bed. Lying still in the semi-darkness, eyes fixed on the streak of light and shadows funneled across the ceiling from a cracked open door, here, safe in the heart of family, he listens to the prayers float out of the shadows, the laughter of uncles, clatter of dishes, muffled come-cry. But the voices are the dream: the dream is in darkness and the voices come from everywhere, as if through the walls. I say voices because there are no words. No words can be discerned. He strains in the darkness to hear the message, but when he listens too hard the voices become muted and he is left alone in the holy dark.
The music drifting through those walls was so often sad, full of longing and loss, sung by a generation who left home and mothers and fathers they may never see again, who grieved the lost blessings of the familiar and the true. “I’ll wait for the wild rose who’s waiting for me, where the hills of the black Mourne sweep down to the sea.”…”If you ever go across the sea to Ireland, maybe at the closing of the day…”…”Oh Danny boy, the pipes the pipes are calling”.
My father stands and sways at the center of the room, trenchcoated and drink in hand, weaving above the aunts and children in a sentimental tenor heaven. And then with a rush of pushing, some giggling, some gentle cursing, and much mugging, the single men and boys are gathered by the piano to raise their voices to “Shake Hands With Your Uncle Mike”. My mother attempts to rouse the room with yet another chorus of “If You’re Irish, Come Into the Parlor”, but by then you could hardly fit another person into the parlor, Irish or otherwise. Somehow the bodies would part as the aunts passed to and from the kitchen, where, as if in some sorority ritual honoring their rites of calling as aunts, aproned and cheeky, they presided.
Uncles were another matter: vested and half hidden in smoke and laughter, they tousled hair, gave coins, and huddled at poker in the back bedroom, before snoring and farting their way through the last plaintive songs of the evening. And then the parade of pajamaed children kissed aunts in their turn and marched off to eider downed beds to lie in the sacred darkness, to weave their dreams from the fabric of these moments and the lilt of these familiar voices.