Biff America: A brief glimpse of a Celtic flirtation
Seasoned love is equal parts, comfort, desire and respect. New love is both passion and discovery. But first love is a stunning mix of magic, fear, innocence and sweet mystery, as well as a great spectator sport.
It was a day of too many wet miles on a bicycle with more rain than sun and a near impossible emerald beauty. Ireland has always been a magical place for me and not only because of the whisky. Perhaps it is because I was raised with stories of the history, struggles and suffering. The very first time I visited I got a sense of place and heritage and felt very comfortable, as it is a country where, compared to the pale populous, I feel like I’m sun tanned.
She had green eyes and youthful, alabaster skin that flushed easily with the cold winds blowing off Donegal Bay. Her hair was a tone of red that perfectly matched the freckles on her nose. What made me notice her was the fact that she reminded me of pictures I had seen of my mother when she was a young girl.
Her boyfriend was a gangly, dark haired man-child — all knees, elbows and neck. You could tell that someday he would be handsome, but at that time of his adolescence, his carriage was almost comical. He had laughing eyes and a nice smile that did much to over shadow his gangly appearance.
Ellen and I were sitting on a stone wall in a small coastal village watching the sun setting over the ocean. We were frustrated and tired due to the near-constant drizzle that plagued us for days. After bicycling more than 50 miles in the rain, the late afternoon clearing did little to improve our moods. We were debating whether to risk riding another 20 miles to the next town or call it a short day and spending the night where we were.
Tempest of Youth
It was Friday night, and there was obviously some local function that brought hordes of young people (the Irish use rhythm for both dancing and birth control) out on the streets. A large group passed us, all energy and noise. The boys, with shirttails out and freshly combed hair, were pushing and shoving like young stallions hoping to get noticed by the girls who followed. The girls in question were loud and giggly and sported their poorly applied makeup like a badge of adulthood.
About 20 feet behind this tempest of youth walked the young lovers. Their quiet conversation was in stark contrast with the mass of confusion that preceded them. They were part of the pack in proximity only, and though they were two of many, they only had eyes for each other. Their nervous glances reminded me of the beauty of innocence.
They were as close as two people could get to each other without actually touching. As they passed us, the young girl dangled her arm by her side and nudged the hand of her date. It seemed to take agonizingly long, but the boy finally got the hint and took her hand. At first, he clutched her hand stiffly, like some foreign object, but soon the two of them passed from sight with arms swinging. Before they disappeared around the corner, I heard her issue a peal of laughter.
“Did you see that?” I asked Ellen.
“That was so cute.” She said.
“Do you remember the first time you ever held hands?” I asked.
Byproducts of First Love
We sat for a while and shared stories of first love. She reminisced of some guy from Pittsburgh, cross-eyed with thick glasses, sweaty palms, braces and acne. (No wonder she accepted my marriage proposal so quickly.) I told Ellen about a girl named Gail who I first kissed while standing in front of a sewage treatment plant … I’m not kidding. I’m guessing the wastewater did little to overpower the English Leather cologne that I used to drench myself in.
We both recalled the mystery, fear and excitement that were the byproducts of first love. I’m sure in some places, even in America, that innocence is still possible. I hope it still exists.
We decided to stay in that little village that night. We found a romantic bed and breakfast where we were the only lodgers. Our room looked out over the ocean and had a bathtub. The town’s only restaurant was a bar that featured many assortments of beef and grease, so we decided to buy a bottle of wine and make sandwiches in our room.
With the image of the young couple still fresh in our minds, we got out of our damp bicycling clothing and settled into our evening’s love nest. It was only after we were both freshly bathed did we sit on the floor where we could hear the waves crashing on the shore outside our window. We opened the wine and ate our dinner in the twilight and in honor of the Irish courters.
And in the spirit of seasoned love, we fell asleep next to each other reading our books …
Jeffrey Bergeron, under the alias of Biff America, can be read in several newspapers and magazines. He can be reached at email@example.com. Biff’s new book, “Mind, Body, Soul,” is available at local shops and bookstores and at backcountrymagazine.com/store.