Firstly, let me tell you about The Priest:
I had never met him, no he was my brother John's friend. His very best friend for 41 years. He was bereft when he called me this last November to let me know.
"Kara, how will I adjust? His letters came daily."
"Yes, I know dearest. I am so very sorry. No more letters or phone calls."
"He had all of those cats"................John's voice trailed off.
"Remember, John, he has many wonderful neighbours. They will help the cats be placed for adoption."
"He died right there in the street while talking to a parishioner. They supposed it was his heart. You will remember, Kara, he hadn't been well for some time now."
"Yes, John, of course I remember. What a great friend he had in you."
Secondly, let me tell you about The Beekeeper:
He had lived on the Mountain where we had all grown up. He was from England, as was his daughter Janet, who had become my childhood friend. Although Janet and her father Michael had moved to America, her brothers had stayed behind with Janet's mother in Surrey. I didn't ask any questions about the rest of them. Mama said it wasn't polite. And so, to this day, I haven't asked my friend about it. Just wouldn't be polite, and if she had wanted me to know, she would have told me by now, I have reasoned.
Michael was a brilliant man, and had travelled extensively with England's version of the Merchant Marines. He was full of stories about the various ports of call over his career. I was always a welcome, and very hungry little addition, to their dinner table. And so I remembered him in younger days. Through Janet and my too infrequent adult visits back home, however, I was able to observe him as he was in retirement. He was not one for much television, and was happiest working out in his shop at the back of his property. He became a skilled craftsman and artist. Stained glass so lovely that some of his pieces were made into the new window of the old stone Church.
And then there were the Bees. He became so skilled over the years at keeping his hives, and he and daughter Janet won contests at the local fair for the varieties of honey. Eventually, last year they had returned to England, and had won the blue ribbon prize at the London Beekeeper's Finals. That had been this past summer.
Janet had called me when Michael had died early this December. Typical for Janet, she said "Well, that's life, isn't it? We just have to go on".
Thirdly, let me tell you about The Gentle Guide:
Don Carlos, my husband and I, had never taken a honeymoon after we had eloped. We needed to get back to our jobs, and had "run away". I had only confided our last minute plan to my new supervisor Laurie, since she needed to approve the Friday before as a unpaid day off. We needed a travel day. DC and I had only known each other a few months. How many times had we spoken over the years about honeymooning in Ireland or England? Countless, to be sure.
Finally, in our 27thyear of marriage, we chose Ireland. In our 5 days there, we had only one day to spend at a remote village Pub/B & B combined. It was a Saturday night, and the pub attached to it was in full swing. It was in The Celtic Tiger days. Although Matt tended bar and Sherry saw to the food, the Pub/B & B was still in Sean's family. He was an older man now, and met up with his brother and some friends. There was the singing of songs, along with pints of Guinness and Cider. The greatest thing about the Pubs in Ireland (and this was true anywhere we went), is the complete integration of the villagers with the visiting travellers. A meeting place where all are welcomed on an equal footing.
Sean made sure he got around to meeting all of the people over that summer from mainland Europe, Australia, and us "The Yanks". Soon enough, he found out that this was our honeymoon "27 years late". Yet typical of the Brigadoon elements of this night, time stood still. We were dubbed "The Honeymooners" and moved to a special end table. We had photographs taken, and one was of us toasting the occasion with Sean.
Just last year in April, we returned again. The Celtic Tiger was no more, but we had 2 weeks on this trip, and so we were thrilled to be able to spend a few more nights at Sean's Pub/B & B. He remembered us straight away, and this time directed us to the grave of my ancestors. The daffodils were still in bloom, and it moved me to be able to pick some to lay directly beneath their markers.
Yet on this trip, we could see that the years had taken their toll on Sean. His hands shook as I said my goodbyes before heading back to our room for a shower and a few hours' sleep. DC was already in bed, but I was slow to leave this magical place. We had to be awake by 3AM to meet our taxi-driver outside Sean's establishment, then on to our flight out of Shannon at 7AM.
I told Sean. He returned to me, and, looking me straight in the eye, he said, "I am right across the road if and Don need me".
"Need you"?, I puzzled aloud.
"Why yes", he replied. "It won't be the first time that I have responded to a knock on my door in the middle of the night. I am just across the road. You don't want to miss your taxi driver, and other arrangements could be made to get you and Don in to Shannon."
"Even at that hour?"
"Certainly dear. I have lived here my whole life, don't forget. I have all of the necessary connections."
"Why thank you Sean" I replied. I didn't say that I wouldn't even considering waking up an older man such as himself at that hour. He might take it as an insult.
"Don't mention it, and I mean it now", he said with sweet conviction.
As I put out my hand for another goodbye, my eyes were drawn even more to the way Sean's black suit hung on him. His hands shook fiercely now with Parkinson's as he lifted my steady hand to his lips and with a kiss good-night, said, "Perhaps Kara, we will see you and Don in the near future."
"That would be a dream. I am afraid we are not overly blessed with the riches for another trip so soon."
"Yes, well it costs nothing to dream, Kara."
As he turned and shuffled to the door, he tipped his hat to me and spoke these words:
"Don't forget now, I am available should you or Don have any need come to my door tonight. In the meantime, good night to you and God Bless."
"God Bless, Sean. "Today we received the call from Sherry. As well I had suspected that night last April, we had seen Sean for the final time. He passed away December 30th, on the exact day that he had been born.
Was it out of the question that his daughter in law had phoned us? Not really. She was an American herself and she and I had become quite friendly over the 2 visits, and so she kindly remembered us.
Today, I lit 3 candles; 1 each for Father Noel, for Michael, and for Sean.
God decides who rings in the New Year and who does not .
This Holiday Season had strangely brought many memories to me from The Three Wise Men, these modern day men who had given their unique gifts to so many. How humbly may I receive them now, and in memorium, I promise to handle them with the greatest of earthly care. It is my only gift tonight, this my communion. I need not take it in any Church but the one which resides in my heart.