Stepfamily Issues

Personal stories about stepfamilies, childhood and general family issues.

August 31, 2007

meeting mom's irish family

Tennille's mom had married an American serviceman on leave in Ireland, and after fifteen years away from the land of her birth she wanted to return for a visit - taking the family with her.

"I was 7 when my family took the trip to Ireland," says Tennille, "and my brothers were 10 and 13 and my little sister was just 2. I remember it well because thanks to that trip I've refused to travel outside my home country ever since!"

"My dad hired an old car in Belfast and we took a long, leisurely trip down south where my mom's relatives lived."

"Even though I was pretty young at the time I can remember how dad had trouble driving on the left side of the road," laughs Tennille, "and how amazed I was at how green and neat the countryside was."

"The further south we got the narrower the roads became," relates Tennille. "Some of them weren't even sealed properly - and we'd often have to stop for herds of cattle to cross between fields. It was bizarre!"

"None of us had ever met any of my mom's relatives so it was going to be a reunion for her but a big shock for the rest of us."

"It wasn't the first time we had been away on a road trip as a family," says Tennille, "but it was the first time we had traveled together to a foreign country - and Ireland was as foreign as it gets for us!"

"Visiting the south of Ireland where my mother came from was like going back in history - hundreds and hundreds of years," laughs Tennille. "And that's how my mom's family like it. They don't believe in change and new-fangled things like telephones and televisions or even running water. They were sort of Amish in their thinking but without the old-fashioned clothes."

"My grandparents lived on a little farm with my mom's eldest brother and his wife and their children - my cousins."

"They had no modern conveniences - none at all - and they didn't even have a bathroom with a water closet, and as far as I know they still don't."

"They had a hut built over a stream with a plank with various sized holes - and we had to find a hole that fitted our butts and do our business in the stream below," laughs Tennille. "I was terrified I'd fall through the hole."

"Because that was the stream they also drew their drinking water from - upstream of course - dad wondered about the families upstream polluting the water."

"He made sure that we drank only boiled water," says Tennille, "but my cousins didn't and he couldn't understand why they were so healthy. But then, my mom survived that sort of lifestyle, too. I guess the Irish are sturdy stock."

"The sleeping arrangements were even more bizarre," laughs Tennille. "There were only two bedrooms and my grandparents slept in the same room as three of my cousins - who shared a bed - and the other two cousins, the younger ones, shared a bed sleeping in the same room as their parents."

"There were no single beds - it was two or three in a bed," says Tennille, "and mom said it was even worse when she was a kid. There were 14 children in her family and most slept on the floor."

"We had hired a car with a sort of trailer attachment so we slept in luxury compared to my cousins," says Tennille, "but we still had to use their 'toilet' and it got so bad that I just couldn't go at all."

"On the farm they had mainly cows and pigs," says Tennille, "and I enjoyed helping my cousins with their chores - except milking cows. That was gross."

"The most fun we had was playing with the pigs," laughs Tennille. "We tried to ride them like a horse and they'd really go fast."

"The countryside in southern Ireland is so different from home. We were told not to roam off on our own because there were bogs that would swallow us up."

"A bog is wet land that's like a marsh - and somehow they use the earth from the bogs as fuel - and call it peat."

"I loved the way my cousins talked and they thought my accent was cool, too."

"My mom was crying her eyes out when we left her parent's farm - she thought she would never see them again," says Tennille, "and even though I was sad to leave, in a way, I would have literally died of constipation had we stayed there any longer."

"When we got home my mom was too busy with my baby sister to notice that my stomach was bulging and I was in real pain," says Tennille, "and being the middle child I'd sort of gotten used to not making a fuss about anything. Anyway, when I finally told her that I hadn't evacuated my bowels for about two weeks she didn't believe it was possible - but it was!"

"I can still remember the purging she put me through," grimaces Tennille. "I'm not sure whether it was the 'holding on' or the purging that totally stuffed up my bowels, all I know is that I've never been the same since that trip."

"I'm 37 now and still suffer from constipation," confesses Tennille, "so those Irish bog toilets - and the subsequent purging my mother gave me - made a lasting impression on me."

"Come to think of it," muses Tennille, "just about everything we suffer from as adults - physical or mental - has roots in our childhood. I'm sure someone wants to tell me that if I really worked on the problem I could cure myself of fear of travel and strange toilets - but I couldn't be bothered. Compared to everything else, constipation is not a monumental problem. Some things you've just got to be philosophical about. Right?"

"I still keep in touch with my cousins but I'd rather pay them to come visit me than go back to Ireland," laughs Tennille. "In fact, I like my modern conveniences so much that I refuse to travel too far away at all - just in case I can't find a decent toilet - and that really bugs my husband and kids."

"Also, I know that Sagittarians are supposed to love travel and extreme sports and that sort of thing," laughs Tennille, "but here's one Sag who prefers to do her traveling via the comfort of a sofa with her finger on the remote."

(Tennille's story first appeared as an irish bog and is reprinted with permission.)

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