Rush Co. Dublin
I moved with my parents and brother to Raleigh, NC from Rush Co. Dublin, Ireland, when I was seven years old. Dutch and Belgian families – including my own (Ruigrok) – brought their horticultural traditions and practices to that area in the 1930s. My dad grew up tending to his family’s fields of daffodils and, being the self-driven man that he is, also grew potatoes to sell in markets across Ireland with his brother Noel. Sometimes, he would bring Andrew and I to the big warehouses and cold glasshouses behind Granda Ruigrok’s house, and now I associate both the smell of diesel and of chilled fresh flowers with those memories.
Mammy grew up working in glasshouses and fields. She and her sister Helen each have green thumbs. During summers, I remember Nana going through notes from Helen (living in Australia) about things she needed to take care of in her garden. One summer Nana told me she had taken a video of the garden and mailed it to Helen. I still don’t know if she was pulling my leg. Whenever we were in Ireland, mammy was always outside gardening with Nana, mowing the grass for Granda, coaxing cuttings of plants to grow with a little help from a magic powder sprinkled on the stem to make the plant grow roots (I am no horticulturist).
The summers when Helen was there with us were the best. Helen and mammy would cook with Nana and argue and giggle and throw horse poop at each other on walks around Rush, while we and our cousins tried to get away from those two crazy women.
In the car, Nana Byrne always joked about robbing a cow from the fields. I really thought we could fit a baby cow in the back of the car and bring it to her house. On longer drives into sheep country, the teasing switched to how many sheep we could cram into the boot of the car.
Back in America, mammy’s cooking nourished us with the love and care she poured into those meals, and forged the connection in my head between good food and good health. Daddy makes a mean shepherd’s pie (“Aladdin’s Pie” when we were kids), and I would have flashbacks to Nana’s kitchen when we had potatoes (often), roasts, cabbage, or a big breakfast (every Sunday).
I romanticize elements of my parents’ youth. Of their times robbing apples from orchards out of boredom, driving too fast down narrow lanes, working in glass houses or fields to make a bit of money. Ireland was not an easy place to grow up in back then. I’ve had the luxury of choosing what I don’t want to have in this life, in large part because my parents built a good life for Andrew and I in America, but there’s a bit of irony in me wanting to go back to Ireland when so many people left that country for a better life.
The southern Appalachians have a feel to them that I sometimes mistake for Ireland. A life like this is exciting and terrifying, at the mercy of the landscape and the weather and pests. Working with the land under rules you can’t control. Mammy used to take Andrew and me to the wildest parts of Ireland, and could even turn the task of finding a B&B for the night into an adventure. I am not a city girl, and I think Linda Ruigrok is to blame.