Some days are diamonds and some days are stones. Beginning on Friday, these past few days have been the most brilliant diamonds I can remember in a very long time.
It all started on Friday when, after demonstration was finished, the gang who prep and cook behind the scenes in the demo kitchen brought out a cake and began singing Happy Birthday. The whole room joined in, including me, and when they sang “…dear Shaaaaannon…” I think I projectile cried, stood up and blew out the candles. When I turned around to face the room and say thank you, I saw that Arden was snapping pix and beaming, pleased as punch. It was hard for me to not bawl; I was so moved by the thoughtful spectacle.
The best part was that Rory himself had made my cake. He’d done it as a demo earlier and said, “Who’s got a birthday coming up?” “Shannon,” was the answer. “Perfect," he said, "give it to her.” Swoon!
It was a perfect end to a perfect week and we were expecting Allen, Sweet Daddy, at some point in the early evening. The last I’d heard from him was that he was about to board his flight to Dublin at London’s Heathrow, at 11:30 am. It had rained all day long and I thought, “Well, he’s certainly arriving to classic Irish weather.” Finally, it was 6:30 and still no sign of him. In fairness, we’re like the last stop on the last road at the end of the earth for someone to have to get to. There’s no quick or easy way. I got spiffed up in anticipation of his arrival and the evening and waited.
Just when I was beginning to worry a little, Christina, one of our housemates said, “Arden, I think your dad is here.” So we both ran for the door and saw Allen walking the other way trying to find our place. Arden ran out in the cold rain, barefoot, to greet her Sweet Daddy. Hallelujah! We were so happy he’d arrived safely. And, looking quite like the country Irishman in his cap and raincoat. Road weary and pretty well wet with raindrops on his glasses, he was ready to be here. I was so happy to see him!
When he got to the door, I greeted him and Arden ran past me, down the two steps into our kitchen. When we turned to come into the kitchen ourselves, all of our housemates were lined up in a row, sort of like the staff in an English country manor do, to meet Allen. It was the cutest thing. After introductions were made, Arden grabbed the bottle of Jameson’s she’d gotten to welcome him and poured her daddy a glass. He was so happy to be here, warm and in the dry with a dram of Irish comfort in his hand!
Earlier in the week, Kate Fitzgerald, one of our classmates, had invited us over for drinks on Friday to celebrate my upcoming birthday and I was worried Allen would be so wrecked after a 24 hour, five-legged journey, that he wouldn’t feel much like partying. Super-trouper that he is, at 7:00, we headed toward their cottage in still more rain. Theirs is the newest cottage on the grounds and it’s so nice. They had the place all decorated and yummy appetizers and a bottle of bubbles! Slowly, some of our friends began arriving and Allen was so interested to meet each one and hear the story of how they came to be at Ballymaloe.
An hour or so later, Arden said, “Daddy’s really dragging. I think we should get y’all to your airbnb so he can settle in.” I jumped up, said my thank you’s to Kate and we headed for the door. Still raining outside, we walked the short distance back to our cottage. It was eerily quiet and when we came inside, the kitchen was pristine, which it almost never is. And, empty. I said, “Where is everyone?” Arden took me by the arm and said, “James wants to show you something in the den.” I wondered what on earth that might be and let myself be led. She opened the door and suddenly the room erupted with “SURPRISE!” There were 30 plus people in that cozy little room and it was decorated to the hilt with streamers, balloons, crepe paper, a disco ball even and, only in cooking school, a stream of paper piping bags hanging over head! Someone’s going to ace that part of the test!
I went from person to person, hugging everyone, simultaneously laughing and crying. I was so surprised and so happy. Miss Arden had planned the whole thing. Everyone was in the know and had kept their secret so well. Kate’s party was a ruse and yet, it was so lovely and so much fun that I was completely happy with that as my pre-birthday party.
Just last week, another classmate, Delaney, had said she dreamed of one day having a theme party called, Have A Ball where all the food is in ball shapes. When I got to her in the hug receiving line, she served me from the punch bowl, their specialty cocktail named “Shanarita” or “Shantini” with little cantaloupe balls in it! On the table, there were two kinds of lamb meatballs, a mozzarella ball, cheese-puff balls, watermelon balls and truffle balls. Her dream no longer, we were all having a ball, or many of them, in Allen’s case with the meatballs and I, the cheese balls.
Dear Sweet Daddy really hung in there and we partied until just after ten when he said, “I think I’m done.” So we packed up and headed for Ballymaloe House to our lovely accommodations for the weekend. Being there with him reminded me of all the beautiful places we’ve stayed in Europe through the years and made me feel like I was on vacation. It felt so nice. The next morning, I told him a month’s worth of stories over breakfast and tried by best to familiarize him with all the players in the school. God, I love good stories. Hearing them and having them to tell. I get that from Ooma.
We crammed a lot of living into this weekend and this is a birthday I’ll never forget. As children, we look forward to a birthday with anticipation and excitement. As adults, a birthday often is a time for reflection and renewal. I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting, anticipating this weekend, thinking of Ooma and all the memories we made and history we share and about living my life, going forward, without her. That’s where renewal comes in and what I’ve come to Ballymaloe, in part, to do…
As time is wont to do, it’s flown by too fast when you wish it wouldn’t. Sunday evening came and time to get ready for our dinner at Ballymaloe House. It was such fun getting dressed up and having a lovely evening to look forward to. When we arrived, it was dark and lights twinkled from inside, beckoning us. Stepping through the door, your eyes can't take it all in fast enough, this exquisite example of a bygone era. We were first shown into the drawing room which was elegant but warm and inviting. We settled into a cozy corner and sipped on Spanish Champagne until they came to take us to the dining room.
At times like these, I can't help but wonder what it was like when this was just their home and to grow up in all this easy grandeur. I always wish there were a tear in the fabric of time that I could peep through and behold.
They showed us to a table which was right by the fireplace and in due course, we made our way through the smörgåsbord that is their buffet. It was a feast fit for a king! As a birthday treat, Allen ordered a gorgeous bottle of Condrieu that we first had in Paris. It was all so delicious and we happily chatted the evening away. I was so happy. This birthday has far exceeded my expectations and I have Miss Arden and so many of our classmates, the school and Allen to thank. And, best of all, I sensed Ooma's spirit in both Arden and me all weekend. She was here with me after all. I feel so loved and my heart is full. ❤️
As the evening wound down, we talked of Allen’s departure tomorrow. Of all the places in the world you think you might be able to hide from the woes and cares of the world, Ireland might be near the top o’ the list. Don’t you agree? Not so fast. Hurricane Ophelia is heading our way. I mean, our way. Cork, apparently, is going to take it on the chin, as Ophelia makes landfall, coming in from the south. So, Allen’s flight might be cancelled. Come what may, he's heading to Dublin in the morning, to wait it out and get out as soon as he can.
Safe travels, Sweet Daddy. Until November. It's been an enchanted patch, like a spell of perfect weather. 😉🌬🌊