As I study my scores for this Friday’s performance with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and the Chieftains, I’m reminded of the last time I met a Paddy from Ireland. I knew this Paddy for an hour, but he will forever be my Uncle Paddy.
My mother took me to Ireland before my senior year in college. Thrilled to visit the isle that inspired my name, I died my hair red (and from the looks of the picture, packed all of my mom jeans). As we drove from the East Coast to the West, we stopped at every opportunity to take pictures of the verdant hills, the black sheep, and a cottage that looked straight out of an Irish fairy tale – small, vibrantly painted, and surrounded by fields of green.
We pulled over to gawk and take pictures of the small house covered in bright, ornate hand-painted designs, and right at that point a man in a large black American SUV pulled into the driveway, blocking our perfectly framed shot. Sadly, my mother and I had the same thought – “get out of the way of our picture, you stupid American tourist!” (Of course, who were we but stupid American tourists.) Luckily, we didn’t express our disgust out loud, because the man hopped out of the car, saw us, and called us over. We crossed the street with some trepidation, but at least it gave us an excuse to ask him to move his car. Well, he did one better. He said: “This is my Uncle Paddy’s house. Please come in and have some tea.”
At that point, we forgot we were in modern times, when stories like this end up as a CNN special of the tourists who get lured into the painted house and are held hostage (or worse). You can almost see the headline: “A Modern Day Hansel and Gretel.” Anyway, the whimsical paint, the clipped accent of the nephew, and the smell of freshly baked cookies clouded our judgement, and for that I am forever grateful.
The inside of the cottage was as bright as the outside, but in solid colors only. Soon, that brightness was out-shined by the presence of Paddy himself – an energetic man in his 70s or 80s (hard to tell). He told us how he had meticulously painted every square inch of his house – inside and out. Not too long ago, he shared, a fire had destroyed his detailed handiwork on the inside, but he was determined to repaint it. He had recently completed the first step in this restoration: the solid background of each wall (what we had seen). Next was the arduous but exciting task of deciding what decorations to paint. It would come to him as he worked. His nephew was not so pleased at the thought of his uncle on a ladder for hours on end, but there was no stopping Paddy.
After about an hour of soaking up the Irish tea, the Irish accents, and the Irish hospitality, it was time to continue on our journey. He was overjoyed that my name was Erin and that I could play the penny whistle, and he declared himself my honorary uncle, insisting that we take our picture at his front door.
When my mother and I arrived in Galway, we found ourselves in a book shop and noticed a charming book on Irish Cottages. I opened up the pages, and there it was – Uncle Paddy’s vibrant house, in all its colorful glory. But, the picture missed the brightest part – Uncle Paddy himself.