A salute to the Irish and their God-forsaken roads

It's been a while since I've written and I decided that there is nothing better to kick things off again than St. Patrick's Day, especially considering the only proper ways to celebrate the day are wearing green and drinking beers and some crazy people eat corned beef, which isn't bad, but I'll just take the beer, thank you. Instead of write about what's happened over the past couple of days, or why I've been so bad about updating my blog, I thought I'd tell an Irish tale, titled, "The time my father tried to drive us through Ireland" OR "How the Rotondaro family nearly perished on a road fit only for goats and bicycles."

Happy St. Patrick's Day everyone!

The summer after my junior year in college, my family planned a two-week trip to Ireland. The plan: fly into Dublin, drive south, up the west coast, and then back to Dublin before leaving. It was incredibly exciting. My parents even gave me incredibly effective sleeping pills for the plane ride over, so all I remember are a few words to Vinnie and then deep, dreamless sleep. We were there in a flash it seemed. Later my brother and I engaged in almost physical fights over who would swallow the last of the magical pills when we were both fighting horrible jetlag and couldn't get to bed at a proper hour, but that's another story.

We arrived, well-rested and piled our luggage into the tiny little car we'd be driving for the remainder of our stay. As you know, the crazy people in that part of the world drive on the other side of the road, and so the driver's side is opposite what it is in America. Driving stick, which most everybody does, proves a real challenge for those not used to it because you are not only on the other side of the car on the other side of the road but using your other hand for shifting.

My father, however, was in remarkably good spirits and ready to take on the challenge. He'd driven us around the countryside when we were just small children on another visit we'd made, and didn't see any reason why he couldn't manage it again.

Here's a reason - We were driving, happy, my father was singing, even. He was belting out a jaunty little traditional Irish tune called "It's a Long Way to Tipperary," when BAM! There was a loud noise and some friction on the passenger's side of the car. That's where my mom was sitting, near the side of the road, and this was the first of many incidences during which she feared for her life.

He'd hit another car, specifically, another car's side mirror because he'd been driving too close to the side of the road - typical, because as the driver in Ireland you're sitting close to oncoming traffic and people new to this tend to steer towards the edge of the road rather than close to the middle.

We didn't go back and check on the car we'd hit. We did laugh a little and excused my father this time because we got it - it was hard! He drove on, but the car was now silent, the singing ceased.

It wasn't long before a steady thump began on the left side of the car as though we were driving over something over and over again. Turns out, we were. My father was so far over to the left that he was driving into and over each house's driveway, including the separations in between. We were being thrown up and down as he cruised over each raised section of pavement, but we didn't say a thing. Somewhere in the common-sense part of our brains, we realized that saying anything negative about this man's driving at this moment might be the end of it all. He might take his hands off the wheel and give up. As it was, he was visibly tense, his body tight and leaning forward. We remained quiet except for the nervous giggle that escaped from me or my brother every now and then. We couldn't help it. We were thinking about dying on a foreign road.

It went on for a while before the situation intensified. We entered a more woodsy stretch and tree limbs began whipping through my mother's window. Some of them hit her in the face and some of them were very large. My father looked over at her every now and then, quickly, a nervous look upon his face as though he was not the one who had any control over all this. A lone tear fell down my mother's cheek and still, no one said a word.

The experience, as all such stressful experiences must, ended when we finally pulled into the long, winding driveway of the historic inn where we were to spend the night. When we understood that we were off the main roads, so narrow and full of cattle, we breathed easier, we started to smile. We spoke. We made fun of my father. He could take it now because we had survived, the family vacation would continue although there'd been a moment there when each of us had imagined it crashing down around us in a shower of shattered car parts and yelling.

We were safe. And then, horribly, we weren't. Caught up in the joy of the moment, my father had completely forgotten where we were and let the car drift over to the right side of the road where a woman and her many children were driving the opposite direction, and right where they should have been. It happened quickly - she saw us and we saw them and both cars came to a screeching halt, the nose of our car right against theirs. As our Irish friend drove off, screaming obscenities, we took a deep breath, realizing that once again, we'd escaped. We drove on to the inn, had lunch and a beer, and my father didn't set foot in the driver's side of that car again that trip. We found my mother was much better suited for the job. We explored great, beautiful cliffs, and old pubs, met the kindest people, and visited the historic sites and still the best story is the drive from the airport.