Monday, July 4, 2016

Adventures in Ireland- The Story of How I Met Gene (Part Two)

This is part two of a very long explanation of How I Met Gene. This is less about how I met him (you can read all about that here) and more about how our friendship progressed with each passing year, the adventures I've had with him and, most importantly, the lessons I've learned from having this hilarious, spontaneous, generous and kind man in my life.

November 2009

This is the trip where I dubbed The Thatch "my favorite place on Earth." So three visits is what it took. During this trip, Katie and I travelled with our friends Erica and Sawnia, who were unable to join the big birthday trip due to their event season. We stayed at a B&B on the opposite side of town. It wasn't far from The Thatch, but far enough that when you don't leave until after 3:00 a.m., there are no cabs to come back and fetch you. After a full night of drinking and being stranded with no ride, Gene had no choice but to take his car (which can only fit one person) with Katie to our B&B to get our car key from the room and then drive our rental car back to the pub. Yes. He left Erica, Sawnia and me alone in the pub for a good 20 - 30 minutes. Once back at the pub, we all got in the car and Gene drove us back to our B&B before he got into his car and went back to his place.

Here's what I wrote in my journal about this visit: "The Thatch is definitely my favorite place on Earth. I am at my happiest inside there. It was a little suspect at first because it was just Percy and the four of us. Gene showed up probably 30 minutes later and brought a round of Bushmills for all of us and we sat and talked for a while, before musicians showed up and then the night took off. Deasun, George and Jim played all sorts of instruments. Deasun taught us more dances. It was a lot of fun. I had Deasun show me how to play the button accordion which basically just amounted to me playing the scales. After the singing and dancing and music lessons, I played bartender which was great. Gene showed me how to make an Irish coffee and even how to use the cash register. I struggled with the drinks for the Frenchmen but all in all it worked out just fine. And it was a lot of fun. It was such a fun night and I love how generous everyone is who goes there. How amazing the musicians are. How gracious Gene is- what a wonderful performer he is. I love how authentic the experience is whenever I go there too- it really never disappoints. 

Jimmy, Gorgeous George & Deasun
Not the best picture of me, but it's the only one captured from my 2009 visit 
Already at home behind the bar!
And in case you're wondering, this is what the day after The Thatch looks like (well, for 2009 Molly at least- I've gotten a lot smarter since then): 

The car ride where I was nicknamed "The Bear"
After my 2009 trip I realized that when I did my annual Ireland vacation in the future, I needed to switch things up. It was always so wonderful that I'd spend the beginning of my trip at The Thatch. I knew I'd have a great time, but the let down upon leaving was pretty substantial. So starting in 2010 I made sure that both of my Wednesdays in Ireland were going to be spent at The Thatch.


This is the year Amy got introduced to the Thatch. And the year that I started going to The Thatch twice during my time in Ireland. We met at the airport and started our Ireland adventure right away by taking the bus into the city, the train to Carrick-on-Shannon and a taxi to Evelyn's.

I loved having her there with me, having her experience this place that makes me so happy and having her meet Gene. She fit right in with her wellies and drinking Guinness.

Upon our arrival at Evelyn's, she let us know that Gene was having us over for dinner before the music started. It was so nice and generous of Gene to have us over and was another turn in our friendship. And also very Gene-like to do this.

It was another memorable night at the Thatch. From my journal: "The night at The Thatch was awesome as usual. We drank Guinness, red wine and Irish coffee. I danced, played the scales on the accordion and got to bartend. Which has been one of my favorite aspects of going to The Thatch. Gene even sent me a message today thanking me for helping out and complimenting me on making the Irish coffee so expertly, and also for running the bar and being able to engage people in conversation as well."

Amy looking swell in her wellies (Alo's quote) dancing with Stripey Mike
Molly & Gene in 2010
Because Gene had plans for the following Wednesday, I wasn't sure if I was going to go back to The Thatch. I wasn't sure if I was up for it without him, or what the experience would be like. But I did end up going and had such a great time. This was also when I first really got to speak to the "regulars". There was very little music so it was a great opportunity to actually talk to people and get to know more about Evelyn, Jim, Deasun, Percy, Stripey Mike, Padraig and Alo. From my journal: "When Gene and I were emailing, he said to not keep Percy out past his bedtime and that it was important that we let him close up shop around midnight once the music was done. Well that certainly didn't happen- oops. But Percy really seemed to be fine. Once Deasun left, I thought we'd all call it a night but Padraig, Stripey Mike and Alo kept going- and so did I. We kept drinking beer and mostly Irish coffee. I kept making some and even recorded Percy walking me through how to do it. I didn't leave The Thatch until 2:00 a.m. I woke up feeling fuzzy but had to get a move on it. Off I was for the airport in Dublin." 


Right before leaving for Ireland crazy shit was going down in my life. A few months earlier, in July, I found out that I was a carrier for the breast cancer gene (BRCA2) and a couple of weeks before I got on a plane for Ireland, my sister-in-law had been murdered while getting her hair cut at a salon in Seal Beach. To say I really needed this trip would be an understatement.

My 2011 trip was a really good one because I spent a lot of time by myself, but also balanced that with spending more time getting to know my friends from here that I miss all year long. As much as I try to keep in touch with Gene throughout the year, it doesn't happen regularly, so being here is really the only time we communicate. And I felt like I got to know even more about the regulars, with me looking forward to seeing them and vice versa for my annual trip back to The Thatch.

During this trip I celebrated my birthday and Gene made sure to make it special for me. From my journal: "At one point (nearly 1:00 a.m.) Gene announced that it was my birthday and handed me a bouquet of red carnations. The pub broke out into song and then Gene made me give a speech, which I gladly did. I talked about how special The Thatch is, how I met Gene and how grateful I am that everyone was so welcome to me there. Later in the night Gene disappeared into the house and came back with a card that Lindsay mailed from New Hampshire to Gene for me, and a card from Percy too. It was incredibly sweet and thoughtful. As if it couldn't get any better, Gene said he wasn't the card type of guy, and then handed me a beautiful piece of Belleek pottery that used to be in his grandmother's home. It was the sweetest thing ever and I feel so incredibly grateful for his friendship and thoughtfulness. I will treasure it forever. I worked behind the bar, pulling pints and chatting up the locals- I loved it and was in heaven. At the end of the night it was me, Huey, Stripey Mike and Gene. And then just me, Stripey Mike and Gene. And then Just me and Gene. I didn't get back to Evelyn's until nearly 2:00 a.m. when Gene walked me home. 

Molly pulling her own pint at The Thatch in 2011 with Gene "supervising"
Gorgeous George and his luscious curls playing the flute at the Wednesday night music session
My super sweet cards from Lindsay and Percy and my flowers and Belleek from Gina for my 33rd birthday

This is the year Gene converted the front half of his house into a B&B. So instead of staying at Evelyn's across the street, I stayed in the B&B part of the house and was now just a 15-second walk away from The Thatch. Which is as amazing as it sounds. It also meant that Gene and I had plenty of time together for adventures and I got to be part of Gene's morning routine, which involved Percy coming up to the house to visit, read the paper and talk about everything and nothing.

I remember walking through the door of The Thatch on my first day of this trip and recognizing how much it felt like coming home. Another turning point for this part of my life. It felt differently this year. I knew I was walking into a place where there would be familiar faces- faces that I missed throughout the year. I knew I was walking into a place where I'd have a good time and be surrounded by people who enjoyed my company. I knew that I'd leave with memories that would put a smile on my face. It's a wonderful feeling and one I haven't taken for granted a moment since.

Because I stayed at Gene's, our friendship deepened during this trip. I shared in the morning routine, which was my favorite because it meant sitting down to the table with Gene and Percy and watching them talk, bicker and enjoy each other's company. I loved being part of these simple moments and learning more about each of them.

Katie joined me partway through the trip this year, and I loved having her with me. Her last time at the pub was back in 2008 for the 30th birthday party. She fit right in with Gene and George loving her (obviously) and talking about politics and all sorts of other things.

While I didn't write much about this trip in my journal, here's a really funny recap of my attempt at thanking Gene for his hospitality and generosity by making dinner at his house for me, Katie, Gene and George.

Katie fitting right in with George & Gene 
Molly & Gene in 2012 (with Katie creeping into the photo) 
Getting serenaded by the man himself
2013- New Year's Eve

Due to the insane generosity of my friend Elisabeth, I found myself back at the Thatch only a couple of months after I had left. We were going on a New Year's Eve adventure and spending it in my very favorite place on Earth was an offer I couldn't- and didn't!- pass up.

During the New Year's Eve trip, we had a really nice few days at Gene's and did some really great exploring. Gene was so gracious to include all of us in his plans as if it were no big deal at all. From my journal "Yesterday, New Year's Day, was one of my favorite days in Ireland ever. Gene and his friend Teddy decided at some point after drinking that we should go to the beach for a walk. We were planning on Duvet Day, but I wasn't about to turn down that offer. One of the things that I love the most about hanging out with Gene is that he's up for anything and so wonderful about including me and my friends in what he's doing. On the way to the beach Gene had Teddy pull onto some small road and we ended up going for this beautiful hill walk up to these monolithic tombs/graves called Carrowkeel. It was such a great workout and it was just gorgeous- deadly :) I loved being outside. I loved being active. I loved seeing such a beautiful part of the country. We were hardly home for long before Gene suggested we go into town for dinner. After dinner Gene essentially begged us all to go and see a movie although most of us wanted to go home and chill the f out. In the end we saw Playing for Keeps and Gene f'n fell asleep for the first 1/2 an hour. Which was classic.

Today after getting the stew pulled together, Gene decided to go into town for a walk and it was, of course, an adventure. As soon as we parked, Gene got out and popped a paper bag (which I didn't know at the time), making it sound like a friggin' gun shot, and staggered around for a few steps until he stood up and started laughing. We then went on a one hour power walk through town where Gene buzzed through proclaiming that he had to walk fast in order for it to feel like he was getting exercise. We stopped for a pint at Glancy's before heading out to Gene's for dinner and then it was off to The Thatch. I didn't get to sleep until nearly 6:00 a.m. As soon as the crowd thinned out, Gene looked at me and said "Irish coffees Molly." It's one of my favorite things about being there and for Gene to like my coffees enough to let me/ask me to make them is a big compliment! When everyone left except for the two of us, Gene started playing music to calm himself down and I made us two more Irish coffees. 

Walking arm-in-arm with Gene down Carrowkeel
Gene with Rocco and Jay
Gene's stew and Teddy
2013- October

My three-week trip to Ireland this time around was filled with plenty of time at The Thatch, a side trip to Amsterdam and a most memorable visit with my niece Laura. I also spent time getting to know some of the people from The Thatch outside of the pub. And I got to meet up with one of my dad's best friends who happened to be staying at a castle right near Gene's.

What I loved about this trip, besides basically everything, was that I had all these adventures with Gene- I accompanied him to get his car serviced in a town two hours away which required us to walk TWELVE MILES around the town of Portumna while we wanted, he took me golfing for my very first time ever (Gene said I was a natural), I accompanied him golfing and we went on a few walks.

The trip feels less like a vacation (although it most certainly is that) but more like a trip home. After returning back to Gene's from adventuring with Robin, Gene said to Percy on the phone "Molly's home." It's nice that I'm not the only one who feels that way.

Here's a part of a journal entry that illustrates why I like being in Gene's company and why it's 100% unpredictable: "My favorite part of the day was when Gene got a call from a solicitor/telemarketer asking him if he showed sports at the pub. He replied by saying sometimes they do mouse catching. That they'll come under the door and whichever local catches it/them gets a prize. He continued by saying that they do the same with beetles. They chase them around the pub and see who can get the most He was laughing silently and pointing to the phone as he was giving this man a run for his money and I was laughing so hard. He continued by saying that they keep track of how many each person has gotten throughout the year. We write it down and keep a tally next to each person's name. And then the person who catches the most at the end of the year may win a gift voucher to one of the restaurants in town. Which we get donated. The town likes to get in on it you see. I don't know how he kept it up for so long (okay, yes I do) or how the telemarketer didn't hang that phone right on up!" 

Wednesday night magic at The Thatch
Strandhill beach walk 
Practice swings and sunsets in Ireland
Molly & Gene, 2013

I returned to Ireland with my friend Elisabeth and our trip was quite memorable. My friend Jill also came to visit from Amsterdam. And this year I got even more involved in the community of Carrick-on-Shannon. Upon our arrival I went into town to volunteer with Tidy Towns- it was quite literally the first thing I did after getting to Gene's. Apart from helping clean up the town, my time with Gene this go around was spent going for walks, hanging out in Galway (the first time I actually hung out with Gene "socially" outside of The Thatch), eating ice cream, going dragon boat racing, sitting through the most painful play in the world (A Trip to Bountiful) and all the general fun that happens at The Thatch.

This trip reminded me that regardless of what I do with Gene, it will always be a memorable adventure. But when I leave I'm sad and I feel a pull- like there are two places that I want to be at once.

Here's a very funny snippet from my journal: "So by the end of the night it was just me, Gene and Derek- who kept talking about how impressed he was by all of us even though he was dragged down to have a drink with three American women. We literally closed down the pub in Galway and I was the last person to walk out. I told Gene and Derek that I'd get myself home but they insisted on all of us getting in the same cab. They dropped me off first and then continued on their way. It was such a sweet end to a very full and very fun day. Gene had so many nice things to say about me to Derek (not including the story of my 3-year old son named Wall- for the place he was conceived one night on the bridge wall coming home to Mrs. Boyd's after a night out at the pub **NOT TRUE READERS!!**). Like how much Percy loves me. how all the people at The Thatch have taken to me. And as they were dropping me off, Gene said "Molly's like a star in the sky. Like a bright and shining star." Which made me smile."

Volunteering for Tidy Towns with Gene approximately 20 minutes after getting to his house
Hanging out with Gene in Galway and drinking together not at The Thatch was a surreal- and fun- experience! 
Drag Boat Racing because of course
Molly & Gene- 2014


My adventures with Gene continued this year and included the addition of Molly Goolman (otherwise known in Ireland as Molly 2 or Molly Slow). This time around we did things like volunteering with Tidy Towns (again), going for lots of walks, going out in Gene's boat, checking out a pub down the street from Gene, getting ice cream, cleaning the pub, doing inventory, fetching bar supplies and barrels of Guinness and the usual pub shenanigans.

My trips have become less planned. Instead of having structure to every single day, Gene's way of life is starting to rub off on me. I know that something will come about and the less I have planned, the more chance there is for unexpected fun to arise.

I've stopped drinking Guinness back at home, so the only time I have it is when I'm in Ireland. From my journal: "One funny thing that happened yesterday was when Gene and I had to go down the street to get a barrel of Guinness from another pub owner. Gene asked me to go with him and after Liam agreed to lend Gene a barrel, he told him that I was looking for a husband. There's just never a dull moment with Gene. He's as funny as always. On the way over to Ireland, I was thinking how I probably wouldn't come back next year. But now that I'm here, I just feel so happy and relaxed. Obviously I'm on vacation when I'm here, so that already puts me in a better place mentally. But there's something that happens to me in Ireland. I'm happier and am always smiling and I just feel at home and very content here. It helps that I keep coming back to a place I know with people I know too."
Volunteering for Tidy Towns with Molly Slow and Gene (classy!)
Just, ya know, going boating with Gene (before he fell asleep and I got us lost)

At Bracken's with Gene and the boys for some pints after closing down The Thatch
Molly & Gene- 2015


When I solidify my plans to go back to Ireland, it feels like I'm going home. For the past two years, I've sent Gene and Percy letters once a month saying hello and filling them in on what's happening on my side of the world. Sometimes I hear back, most times I do not. Gene and I text every now and again throughout the year so I don't feel as disconnected as I had in years past.

I don't make any specific plans and for the first time ever, I spend every single night of my trip at Gene's. The generosity is overwhelming and I feel nothing but gratitude for having this house in Ireland where I am welcomed. I have keys to the house (still) and can get myself in and out as I need it. I go shopping in town and put groceries in the fridge. I do yoga in the backyard. I meet up with some friends for things like a bonfire, a farm tour and a BBQ happens on my last night- sort of as a going away thing (but also for the lottery).

Most people greet me with excitement saying "Molly's home!" "How long are you home for?" "When will you be home again? Not a full year again?"

My adventures with Gene consist of cleaning the pub together, doing chores around the house (laundry, hanging clothes on the line, making beds, cleaning the kitchen, getting a woman settled in the other room of the B&B), running errands for the pub, watering the flowers, working at the pub together (more of a necessity than in the past since Percy no longer comes into the pub). Mostly I'm given the space and time to let the stress and anxiety of work and real life leave my body.

I focus really hard on not being so sad about only have X days left that I miss out on having fun while I am there. And when I leave, I try not to focus on how sad I am that it's over, but rather on how totally grateful I am for having this place, this moment in time and these amazing people, especially Gene, in my life. 

A day ad a half after arriving to Gene's this was my first glimpse of him as he worked out a little flooding issue at the pub

Never ever a dull moment with Gene (be sure to read the mugs) and Teddy
Molly & Gene- 2016


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