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“The Happiest Man On Earth” From Pen Of Tom Ryan.

First, a reminder that limited copies of Tom Ryan’s recent successful book “The Cuppa Sugar Days” are still available from bookshops in Thurles and Nenagh, Co. Tipperary, making same the perfect present this year for Xmas.

The Happiest Man On Earth

Short Story Courtesy of Thurles Author & Poet, Tom Ryan ©

It had been Eileen’s idea to bring Seamus over to New York for the Christmas. It was probably, Tom figured, what the poor ould ‘divil’ deserved. After all, he had not been on a holiday in his entire life, outside the village back home. Not that New York weather was any better than Ireland’s at this time of year, for sure. But hell, Eileen was right, a middle aged bachelor like Seamus would not have much of a Christmas on his own in that old run-down family farm that had been home for all ten of
them, before time had reduced the family to just the two of them now.

Sure, it was the least they could do for Seamus. The States had been pretty good to himself and his wife, since they opted to move out of the ‘Old Country‘ over twenty years previously. Oh, sure there had been the Vietnam business, but he’d managed to avoid combat with his job in the Police Department, that had also ensured he and Eileen would never want again like they had when they first came to the States.
He looked around the apartment and smiled to himself as he imagined what Seamus would make of the relative luxury of it all.

Eileen had taken the car to the airport and he’d figured he’d catch up on some work for the Department, while he waited for them. Though he hated paperwork more than the Broadway beat he’d once pounded.
He rose from the couch and decided on a quick shave with the electric razor.

As he looked in the mirror he noticed the wrinkles, the red blotchy eyes from too many nights of overtime in the office; the heavy protruding belly; the paleness of his cheeks.
The years were catching up on him. It was like that in a foreign land. You figured on staying a while. You got opportunity and you got old, and pretty
soon, what with the kids grown- up and working away from home, you began to realise that one way or another, you were stuck with the land of your adoption.
But, he figured, it was better than being on the dole in Ireland, with constantly living under a rain cloud.

Seamus! heck, he hadn’t seen Seamus for ten years. He hadn’t been able to go back to the Old Land for so long what with the lease on the apartment, the kids, the job and just about everything. He figured there wasn’t much to go back to now.

But Seamus had been faithful to the last, to the Old Land, he mused.
He loved that old cabbage patch of forty bog acres in the Midlands and worked it night and day, though with nothing to show for it but constant demands from the bank, the new enemy for many a struggling farmer in the new Ireland, he thought.
Why the heck Seamus bothered to put up with it all instead of selling out and heading for the States, he never knew.
Here in America you worked and you had something to show for it at least. And he knew Seamus would never marry. Stubborn, proud traditionalist and bachelor that he was, until he could afford it.

Well, Seamus was heading on for forty years of age now. It was time he settled down with a woman. Eileen had joked in this Irish pub in Brooklyn the other night that Seamus could soon find a match in New York. Lots of thirty-something Irish exiles who had not met the right Irish/American fellow yet.
Heck, the women of New York, unattached and many loaded, could do wonders for Seamus. He laughed to himself.

The doorbell rang. He lifted the chain, partially opened the door and peered out to see Eileen smiling back at him through the aperture. He lifted the door chain and fully opened the door to see the bold Seamus; red faced from the winds and rain of the Irish Midlands; staring at him with a big broad grin on his ruddy complexion, singing “Sliabh na mBan”, all over the corridor. Seamus was going out of his mind, but in jovial form, nonetheless.
“I stopped all the traffic with a wave of my hand,” he shouted to all of New York, with a sweeping gesture of his hands.

The sight of his brother there in his navy blue suit, probably purchased in the street market at home, with a great mass of tossed dark hair and the manly sturdy shape of a blacksmith, strong and resolute, despite the alcohol, amazed him. Or was it just himself getting older.

With great emotion which had lain dormant for many years, he hugged his brother who grinned into his face and asked where he, Tom, kept the booze. He knew Seamus was not a habitual drinker, but had probably got sloshed on the plane coming over to assuage his terror at the thought of flying over the thousands of miles of the Atlantic ocean.
Eileen led Seamus into the apartment, happier than Tom had seen her in quite a while, and she began to join him in the chorus until the two of them were off on a drunken duet. For it appeared that Seamus had insisted on both Eileen and himself getting “some nourishment” in a bar in Brooklyn where Seamus said he “knew a fella”.
Tom grinned at them both and asked Seamus what was he having.
“Oh, anything at all to kill the terrible drought I got from that stuffy flying
machine…Tom. I got to tell you something …You better use some influence down at the Department. We both got a booking for singing ‘The Boys of the Old Brigade’ and ‘The Rifles of the I.R.A’ down on the sidewalks”.


Eileen laughed at the recollection of the incident.
“That bleddy cop must be the son of an Englishman”, chuckled Seamus.
“I’ll go get something from the icebox”, said Tom. Seamus laughed out loud at this.
“Ice box? Ice box? Do you know how I once used keep the butter and Guinness at home? Buried in a biscuit tin in the haggard. And that way no bright spark could take away my little supply while I was gone to the market! Joking, of course”
“It’s a great country, America” Seamus continued, “Everything is so instant. Eileen tells me if I go down to Forty Second Street, I’d even get a woman in an instant. Well, isn’t that a terror”.

There were so many things he had planned on asking Seamus about the Old Country. He was a little disappointed that Seamus was probably not in the right frame of mind for that now. Still, he directed a perfunctory question at his brother. He mentioned a few names he’d known before he’d left Ireland.
“Oh, you mention that Ryan lady, Tom. Did you know she married the Hurler Hennessey? Mary Ryan; Didn’t you take her to the ceili in Ballycullane many times…you old dog”?
Tom reflected on this. Mary Ryan. Lord what a girl! He’d nearly married her. But wide eyed boyo he was, he’d nearly married every one until the thought of having to support a family on little or nothing, had led him and then, eventually, Eileen to the States.

Seamus slumped down onto the couch after first having inspected it with a reverential eye. “Eh, begod, this contraption is so classy looking you could sit down on the floor and throw sugar at it. Not like my old form beside the Stanley 9 range, back home. And I thought that was modern.”

“You’ll be great company for us, Seamus. Christmas is quiet in New York, now that the family are all grown up,” ventured Eileen.
“Ah, sure Christmas is quiet everywhere.” Seamus said: “Only a time for remembering, and I’m not sure that’s such a healthy thing. Life has to go on. Now, how’s about an ould song again, Tom? Would you have a drop
of the craythur at all while I listen to it.”

“Oh, sure, I forgot. Won’t be a jiffy”, said Tom
“The man that made time made plenty of it. Go on, I’m parched”, Seamus replied.

Seamus had indeed quickly adapted to his new surroundings.
“Any news from home?” Eileen asked, as Tom left the lounge to get the drinks.
“Ah, the usual. Lots of deaths, a few marriages and little enough children nowadays, with the new form of family planning which says any more than two babies is not economical anymore. And of course the young ones are all building the nest first nowadays, before they manage to get the bird. Baw ways the country is going. But sure whatever keeps people happy is the important thing”, Seamus replied.
“You seem happy enough yourself, Seamus,” said Eileen.
“Too busy on the land for thinking otherwise”, said Seamus. “I keeps me head above water, just about. Short of nothing, if it’s little more than nothing itself I have. Farmers complaint, I suppose.” He laughed and went off with a verse of the song, ‘The Poor, Poor Farmer’.

Tom came back with the drinks and laid down the glasses on the table by the couch. Seamus and Eileen grabbed their glasses and Tom, glass in hand, toasted: “Merry Christmas”, and so the talk and the gossip and singing and drinking went on until the early hours.

In the days that followed the three of them hit the bars of New York where Seamus, fine tenor that he was, delighted the Americans and Irish Americans alike with his rebel songs, his tribal Irish jokes, his Fianna Fáil politics, which amounted to his assertion that the British were very fond of Ireland, for hadn’t they come here on a visit eight hundred
years before and were slow to depart from a good thing.

Seamus had success with romance too. There was a secretary from County Mayo, a policewoman from Tipperary and a young hotel receptionist from Limerick were virtually his constant companions throughout his Christmas sojourn in New York.
He even managed to get into a chat with the Governor of New York and told him a thing or two about budgeting, learned in the hard school of life on a small Irish farm.

The time with Seamus flew and Tom and Eileen laughed and sang like they had not thought it possible for them. It got so their phone was hopping with various sections of New York Society actually begging for them to send over Seamus to their parties. There were even job offers, including one from the New York Police Department which involved working with horses.
“You know I don’t think he’ll ever leave us”, Eileen remarked jokingly to Tom one night when Seamus was out on his “constituency duties”, as he called his visits to various parts of New York.

It was when he returned from one of these forays into the nightlife of the city that Tom popped the question.
“Seamus, would you ever consider selling out over there and coming over here? Sure, you have half of New York rootin’ for you“.

For the first time since his arrival in the States, Seamus, now ensconced on the couch with a bottle of whiskey in his hand, had a serious look at him.
“Are you mad? Sure I’d die of loneliness in no time.” replied Seamus.
“You are joking,” Eileen laughed.
“No, Eileen”, said Seamus. “For I hold that a man may leave the land, but the land will never leave him. I know it’s a struggle and I could strangle my bank-manager as soon as I’d choke a chicken, but, God, woman, it’s the struggle that counts. Them bog acres could break your heart, fighting against them and only holding your own. But it’s more than many can do”, Seamus continued.
“But you have nothing to show for it all, Seamus”, said Tom.
“Aye, little you remember about the land”, said Seamus. “Sure it’s me life blood as much as it was for Scarlett O’Hara in that film, “Gone with the Wind”. I’m married to it for better or for worse. Besides, the ‘Old Country’ is not in the best of health, and with no family commitments the least I can do is to stand my ground for the flag and do what little I can. I’m lucky I can do that.”

Then Seamus laughed: “But I’m after having a great ould craic of a holiday, thanks to ye both. And say nothing but I’ll be bringing a certain secretary from Mayo home with me- to manage my farm accounts, you might say.”
“You’re joking”, Tom laughed incredulously.
“Divil a bit”, said Seamus, “She proposed and I didn’t oppose, but proudly accepted. She’s a grand woman. A farmer’s daughter who knows the land and a great ould laugh into the bargain. Even without the ould jar down.”
“Honest to God, Seamus, but you’re the happiest man on God’s earth,” said Eileen.
Tom smiled, looked around his luxurious apartment, and thought of the ageing face that he had seen in the mirror the other day and the long hours of work in a dingy downtown office to keep up a lifestyle in a country not his own.
“Aye, Seamus”, he said, “That you are, the happiest man on earth.”

End

Tom Ryan, “Iona” Rahealty, Thurles, Co. Tipperary.

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