Day’s Verse:
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
So great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him.
As far as the east is from the west,
So far has He removed our transgressions from us.

Psalm 103:11-12

I met a couple of my far-distant Irish relatives yesterday: a lady named Ethna Herron and her daughter, son-in-law, and grandson.

To meet Ethna, I took the first District line train at South Kensington Station. It was a silent-running one, unfortunately, with no announcements about the train’s ultimate destination or its next stop. For three stations I hopped off the train and looked at the platform to figure out where the train was headed; then at Earl’s Court a wonderful announcer told us all that it would terminate at Ealing Broadway, precisely the direction I wanted to go. So I stayed on that train to Hammersmith, where I alighted (I’m Nancy Drew at heart. I just wish every book I got a new convertible.) to find an enormous, bustling station. It also served as a bus depot, which helped because I had to catch a bus, which Ethna had told me over the phone was the 914 heading toward Richmond, to her house. Turns out she meant the 419, but I figured that out easily enough: this bus station included a listing of each bus’s stops. Unfortunately the bus didn’t come for half an hour, a significant wait in terms of London transportation. As time passed the crowd around bus stop B increased, massing in size until I started hoping it was a double-decker bus.

When the 419 finally hove into sight, it wasn’t two stories. Everybody crammed onto the bus including two or three women with strollers. I got on near the end of the crowd because I had to ask the driver to let me off at the junction of Suffolk Road and Lonsdale Road. After a rather boisterous bus ride that included picking up two more parents with children in strollers, the bus driver let me off. I found Ethna’s flat without any problem, and we started the awkward business of acquainting ourselves. Transportation-wise, this certainly marks my best foray into the unknown thus far.

She’s about 60 years old, used to run marathons and still does lots of walking (it seems); grew up in Glasgow but sounds quite Irish. She also looks Irish, very freckled and fair, with blonde-ish hair that may have been red or may have been naturally blonde. Moved to London about 15 years ago, ran her own business in Piccadilly Circus for a long time, then began travelling. She visited California not long ago and has visited New York “loads of times.” For lunch she served me mushroom soup, salad, and vegetarian pizza with spinach, ricotta cheese, and something that could have been either red bell peppers or tomatoes, with strawberries and cream for dessert. She told me that in our past that part of my family had members in the IRA and running various…questionable…activities. I read a newspaper article about crazy Madge Herron, who started life in rural County Donegal, became an actress and poet who knew George Bernard Shaw in London in the 1970s , and died a homeless bag lady in Camden Town.

Ethna and I went for a walk around Leg of Mutton Reservoir – I’m not kidding or making this up. It’s apparently shaped that way. Then we went along the High Street of that the little town-within-London and visited an art centre there. It’s all very quaint and pretty and non-London-feeling. Back at her apartment we gathered our wits and our things and drove to her daughter’s house, where we rendezvoused (sp?) with the daughter and grandson. We four proceeded to Kingston, where the son-in-law was scheduled to play his guitar for a Refugee Week festival. Only festival puts it nicely, implying much more than the small gathering of people upstairs in a church hall. It fails to suggest the dirty disposable dishes, the food scattered about, the three booths, the children with their balloons, the very smallness of the whole event. By this time it was 4:30 and I had met Ethna at 1:00; the son-in-law began playing at 5:00 and did that until about 6:00. It was ridiculous for me to be there, listening to somebody totally unrelated to me play his guitar and sing loudly and with more enthusiasm than skill; afterwards we had to stay and listen to some homegrown rappers talk to a generic beat soundtrack. Finally at 6:30 we left, some of the last people to exit the hall.

Ethna kindly drove me back to the IES building. Through all this driving I had to answer her cell phone twice: they cannot drive while holding a phone with one hand. So I spoke to Ethna’s 90-year-old mother, a rather strange and disjointed conversation. Ethna and I also got to talk, and she seemed quite nice. Certainly as nice as anybody else I’ve met here. She promised to send me a copy of the family tree another relative had compiled, and I promised to contact her next time I visited London. We’ll see if anything really happens, though. All things considered, I had an enjoyable, exceedingly interesting Saturday. And you can’t ask for more than that.

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