Not Just Another Meal

By Susan DeBow

Please don’t ask me what I had for lunch today, or what I did yesterday. I won’t remember. But ask me about my first trip abroad by myself, to Ireland, which was thirteen years ago, and I can tell you almost every detail and regale you with stories that would fill a movie. And not just of my first trip to Ireland, but the five subsequent trips there, my trip to England and also to Italy.

Why is that? Why can’t I remember what I told my husband I would do five minutes ago, but given a few minutes, I can transport myself to one of my trips?

When I travel, I am the star of my own movie. I get to be the director, cinematographer and writer. All of my senses are engaged. When I am in travel mode, I am actively writing the narrative of my life. At home, I tend to let the narrative write me. And my involvement wanes.

Even with my eyes open, I can see myself walking through Kennedy airport in New York. The light is dingy. There are temporary walls up as construction is taking place. I am carrying too much. Your first trip, you always carry too much. I had my big camera case, large laptop case and a heavy laptop as they hadn’t yet gotten them to the size of a diaper. A purse and I pulled my carryon. It took a year for my left elbow to recover from the strain I put on it.

We boarded the plane. I took my seat, in aisle one, and within two seconds, my seat mate, began talking to me in a thick as goulash Northern Ireland accent. Within the first sentence I heard the “f” bomb three times, and I had also learned, as my hearing picked out selected words that I could understand, that this fellow had been strip-searched when he had arrived at Kennedy, a few days prior, and had been followed. Ninety percent of everything else he said, in his agitated state, I didn’t understand. But what played in my mind was, holy guacamole, they are going to think I am with this fellow and a member of the IRA – and when I land in Ireland they are going to strip search me and arrest me, and I will never see my family again.

After dinner, I stopped the air hostess and asked her if I could perhaps move to another row where no one was sitting, so I could have more leg room.

I bid my seat mate adieu and high-tailed it to a seat on the other side of the plane where I would try to sleep, (but was too excited), was amazed by how many people on the plane had Irish accents, and thought I had really made it when, in the morning, they handed me a real, warm, cloth to wipe my face. Unfortunately, the warm towel didn’t erase the feelings of homesickness that I already began to feel.

It was also the first time I had flown into the new day. As the sun came up, I looked out the window and set my sites on the coast of Ireland.

By the time we descended into Shannon airport, I realized I was out of my element and even though I had read several travel guides, none of them had addressed the emotional upheaval I was feeling. It didn’t help that the weather was grayer than my mood and that there were soldiers standing by a car, machine guns at the ready.

Everyone else who had gotten off the plane looked to me as if they knew where they were going. And I hadn’t a clue. There was no one at the customs gate, so we all walked through like good sheep.

I headed to the Dan Dooley car rental (see, I even remember that), and signed for my car. I had left most traces of my sanity and bravery somewhere over the Atlantic, yet my adventure had just begun. At the lot where I picked up my car, I asked the man if there was a place I could practice driving a bit as I would now have to drive on the opposite side of the road than I was used to. “No, no,” he said. “Just watch the round-a-bouts.”

It was at that moment that I realized – I had gone a long way and spent a lot of money just to die.

And then I drove off, planning in my head how I could hop a plane home the next day.

It took two phone calls to my husband, sitting in the living room of the bed and breakfast crying uncontrollably while the owner of the house tried to console me with tea and biscuits, and a night’s sleep, for me to change my mind and stay and give traveling alone and Ireland a try.

In the morning as I sat at breakfast talking to a woman from England, who had come to Ireland on holiday, the girl who had landed in Ireland the day before, the one petrified of her own shadow and scared to be who she really was, was disappearing with each sip of tea. I apologized to the sweet woman who had tried to console me the night before.

“Oh, you are fine,” she said, her Irish accent sounding comforting instead of just different. “They are all nuts when they get here from America,” she said. “It’s called jet lag.”

I got in the car that morning and took a deep breath. The cows across the narrow street stood at the fence, watching this American international travel virgin. I waved to the cows as I turned right out of the parking lot and onto the left side of the road. The roadmap sat unopened on the passenger seat of my car. For the next three weeks, I would turn left if I felt like it or turn right if it pleased me. If I came to an ocean, I would adjust my path. But for once in my life, I would take the road less traveled.

Me, myself and I…would travel the roads of Ireland. For three weeks I was nobody’s wife, mother, daughter or sister. I’d meet an Irish shepherd who wanted me to stay on the side of a mountain with him, learn I needed to perfect and perform a “party piece” at a “hooley,” perform as “Tony” in West Side Story with other women artists, who, too, had come to Ireland to find a muse, fall in love with the Irish people and more importantly, fall in love with a person I had become a stranger to…myself.

PS: For the record…I had steak, baked potato, salad and cheesecake on the flight to Ireland. But I haven’t a clue what I ate yesterday.

About this writer

  • Susan Hipkins DeBow Susan Hipkins DeBow is a writer and artist. A hobby of hers is watching Law and Order reruns and then going around telling people she wants to make a “collar on the perps,” and demands a “remand.” She got hooked on Law and Order reruns after seeing Seinfeld reruns 20 times. You can read Susan’s work and see her art, photography and miscellaneous miscellany at If you are nice, she’d like to be your friend on facebook. Go to her Facebook page, Ohio Writer Girl.

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