A Southern Voice

A Southern Voice

The first voice to caress my infant ears rolled with such lyrical beauty that I’m offended by other accents to this day. It soothed in its quicksilver fluidity, lacked hard edges, and whispered in promises so compelling it could turn the most resistant of souls into a willing adherent. I know now that sound travels queerly and can double back upon itself in time. I often hear the voice of my Southern mother when I least expect it; it comes to me more as reminder than recollection, and carries a way of being in the world along a template so firmly etched that its resonance is guiding and indelible.

For Complete Piece:

Claire Fullerton: A Southern Voice

The Journey

I’m partial to the west coast of Ireland for its myriad wonders, which appear in small towns that are hidden like gemstones in neat grids of logic separated by rambling, idle roads. There are worlds within worlds in these Irish small towns: history and lineage and myth and folklore; meaning so resonate and full of discovery the very act of rounding a corner can haunt a person to the bone marrow. I’m a firm believer that the way to the soul of a place is best found on foot; it’s easier to raise your antennae to the uncanny when your feet are grounded, and this is just what I was thinking as I navigated the sidewalk in Kinvara, down to the docks on the water’s edge. There across the bay, deep on the horizon, County Galway stretched in all its heavenly promise. The next day, we’d be driving our rented car the forty five minutes it takes to get to Galway City, but for now there was the lure of County Clare in the opposite direction. My friend and I had decided to make a day of it; we’d make our way slowly to the Cliffs of Moher, for no other reason than it seemed the thing to do, and we’d park the car and explore wherever the fancy struck, along the forty nine kilometer route it takes to get to what seems the edge of the known world.

In the town of Kinvara, life teemed around us in all its natural rhythm: pub doors opened to the early fall sunlight, children roamed the streets in navy blue school uniforms, in pairs and in packs. A man ahead walked two border collies off-leash; they tacked side to side, noses sniffing, rounding back to me for a pet. Up from the docks, as the sidewalk rode the incline, art galleries and shops with T-shirts in their glass fronts reading “I’m a Galway Hooker” beckoned in praise of the town’s claim to fame. In the village center café, two men played vocal one-upmanship in guttural accents that dripped soggy with Guinness. We’d parked the car earlier, across from Dunghaire Castle; we’d already gone a few rounds with our cameras as we stood in the driveway of the accessible fortress, rising from a knoll abutted by water so tranquil it took calisthenics to consider who thought what, when positioning it just so.

Through the burren, we might have been on the other side of the moon, for all its otherworldly weariness. Though I’d read much of what has been written of the area, I’d never seen it, and its gray desperation felt so inhospitable as to be hospitable, so repellant as to be attractive, so world without end, amen. In the carpark of Poulnabrone dolmen, a disheveled man stood bearded behind a card table selling his jewelry. Were it not for the distraction of the couple behind us, my friend and I would probably still be standing there listening to this proud Irishman wax erudite rhapsody on the dolmen’s history and why we had to have one of his handmade commemorative pieces for ourselves. Up the windswept tor, we took turns standing in front of the dolmen while the other took a picture, until the couple behind us snapped us together, freezing us in a time where I can still feel the wind in my hair, the rock beneath my feet, the magic in the air.

Down from the burren, on the road to Doolin, an unmarked tower called my name, and I mean this literally. Were my mother alive, God rest her, she’d tell you she named me after her mother, Claire Crossan, whose family hailed from County Clare. But what she wouldn’t tell you is why she nick-named me Doona, and my thought has always been she thought Claire was too unwieldy, until I reached a certain age. When pressed, which I did repeatedly, my mother only confessed to making up a baby rhyme with the name Doona, which somehow became my moniker. But my mother was a dyed in the wool American Southerner, which is a breed of cat not in the habit of explaining themselves, ever. So you can imagine the enlightenment and sense of inevitability that descended in a road-side shop later, after we’d stopped the car and traipsed the hillside, coastal property of that crowned tower, which loomed sentry behind a walled enclosure overlooking Doolin Point. There on an aluminum stand beside the cash register, postcards of Doonagore Castle rested at eye-level. My friend took one in hand and said, “You’re not going to believe this.” We turned over the uncanniness, all the way to Lisdoonvarna then into Doolin, where the road flowed to a gray-stone bridge over water, and signs on hand-painted easels announced which traditional musicians would be playing that night, in one of the pastel colored thatched pubs that stand sandwiched together like ducks in a row set in an Irish Disneyland. Walking down the street, there wasn’t a soul who didn’t make eye-contact and extend a “hi-ya,” for such is the way of it on Ireland’s western shore. One aproned woman swept the sidewalk in front of a restaurant and called out, “If you’re on your way to the Cliffs of Moher, you’d be wanting to get a move on. The wind’s rising now; you’ll be wanting to beat it.” “Forewarned is forearmed,” I said to my friend. We got back in the car and went on our way, but it wasn’t without its obstruction. On the side of the road, in front of a cream colored house, an elderly, yellow retriever lumbered perilously close to the traffic. It took a few blinks for me to register that it wore a long linked chain, tethered to a post too close to the road. I pulled the car in the resident driveway, assessed the problem and knocked on the house door. When no joy came, I called the dog to me and wrapped its leash around the front door, spied a water bowl on the front porch, found a yard hose, and filled the bowl with water.

It was late in the afternoon, by the time we reached the Cliffs of Moher. We climbed the steep, paved road from the carpark to the visitor’s center, took an obligatory circle around inside then out to O’Brien’s Tower, from which we gazed south and stood in awe-struck wonder, for nothing prepares you for the sheer scale of size, nor the towering majesty of this world’s natural wonder.

“I’m never getting over this,” my friend said. ‘I can’t believe I’m standing here.”

“I can’t either,” I said, “though it occurs to me today has been just as much about the journey as it has been the end.”

For more Irish Stories: http://www.clairefullerton.com
“Dancing Companion.”
 

An Irish Lagnaippe

In Louisiana, they use the phonetically pleasing word lagniappe to denote a little something extra. Typically, a lagniappe is a small gift given with a purchase to a customer, by way of compliment or for good measure as a way of saying thank you. I’ve been so enamored with this word that it’s found its way into my psyche and influenced my behavior, where it prompts me to go the extra mile, when in deep gratitude. And deep gratitude I have for those generous souls who have posted reviews, written me, and recommended my second novel, Dancing to an Irish Reel. Some have done as I suspected; they’ve written me to ask how much of the book is true, for I made no secret in sharing that I actually lived on the western coast of Ireland, where the book is set, and most readers know that writers pull from their own life to one degree or another.

I’m a fan of the first person essay. I consider it the art of brevity whose aspiration is to create a whole world around a case in point. I could wax loquacious on how the pursuit thrills me, how the challenge ignites the deep-seated, smoldering embers of why I write in the first place, which is to say I experience life as a witness and write to decipher its nuances in a manner that seeks to compare notes.

Sometimes life itself will hand you a lagniappe when you’re not looking. This was the case for me when I came across the Irish on-line community, The Wild Geese. There lies a compatible fraternity of like-minded souls, who can never get enough of their favorite subject, which is themselves. Proudly, I say, I am one of them; I am one of the island folk by lineage, and I flew into formation the second I found the flock. I brought much of who I am to this union: a writer, a shanachie, a child of Eire. I started writing the stories behind the stories that were my inspiration in the crafting of Dancing to an Irish Reel and as time stretched on, I realized I’d created my own lagniappe to give to those who read my book.

 

On my website http://www.clairefullerton.com/, there are three tabs on the homepage titled “Dancing Companion,” where a collection of my first person Irish essays can be found along with attended photographs.

 

Please accept them as my lagniappe!

 

 

 

 

 

Magic Moments with Pat Conroy

I had a few magic encounters that can only be described as “Pat moments” at the 2015 “Pat Conroy at 70” celebration” in Beaufort, South Carolina. And there I was a complete stranger to Pat, but by the end of the three day festival, you wouldn’t have thought this. Sometimes in life you just flat connect with someone through mysterious forces, and when you do, it feels something like recognition. I felt this way the first time I locked eyes with Pat Conroy, and although I was decidedly star-struck, he wasn’t having any of it.

I was late to the screening of “The Great Santini.” Most everyone was seated in the auditorium, and the film was set to begin any minute. I rushed into the scantily populated lobby of the USCB’s Center for the Arts, flustered and apologetic to the nice woman behind the table, who took my name and handed me my event tickets for the following two days. As I turned to head for the auditorium, there was Pat, wearing a red t-shirt, a big smile, and walking straight towards me. His face was aglow with child-like delight and his blue eyes beamed with the kind of enthusiasm you’d jump to upon spotting a friend. Now, mind you, I’d rushed to the conference all the way from California, and in that moment I had yet to find my bearings. I’d hoped at some point during the conference I’d be lucky enough to exchange a few words with Pat, get it off my chest how much his writing affects me, tell him that he’d singlehandedly shown me what is possible with the written word, and illustrate his impact upon me by saying if I were a musician, he’d be my Mick Jagger. I didn’t expect to walk through the door and find him there like a one man welcoming committee. In that destabilizing moment that caught me off-guard, I was so startled to see my literary hero in the flesh that my text book Southern manners flew out the window and speech completely failed me. So I did what anybody would do: I looked Pat Conroy straight in his Irish eyes and said, “I love you.” To which he threw back his head and laughed.

“I flew all the way from California to see you, “I gushed, and without skipping a beat, Pat said, “You’re crazy,” to which I replied, “I know.”

“My daughter lives in California, let me go get her,” Pat said, then he walked away and returned with his daughter, Megan. As Megan and I stood talking about California, Pat sauntered off then reappeared with his brother, Tim. I couldn’t tell you now if Tim wondered who I was or why Pat found me worthy of introduction, but all three Conroy’s stood friendly and smiling, as if they were legitimately thrilled to see me.

“Let me ask you something,” Pat said. He spoke haltingly, searchingly, as if he were thinking something through, though he gave me a look that shot straight through me as if willing the power of his steady gaze to sear something into me. “Can you remember this street address? I want you to come over to the house for a drink or something.”

“When?” I said. It was all I could think to ask.

“Sometime during all this,” he said, waving his hand. “Whenever there’s downtime,” he said, as if it’d be obvious, as if I’d know when there’d be a lull in the conference and could just mosey on over to find him lounging around.

“Oh, wait, they’re telling me it’s time to go in,” Pat said, “Let’s go.” I trailed behind Pat into the auditorium, and when the room rose to its feet in reverence at the sight of him, I ducked discretely out of the way and made for the auditorium’s back row, dumbfounded and lit by the fire of Pat’s personal attention.

Another of my “Pat moments” occurred while standing in line, holding my copy of “The Prince of Tides” in the creeping queue that snaked along in slow motion. Nobody seemed to mind that it took forever to reach Pat; we were all so animated to be in his jurisdiction, we didn’t begrudge a soul their moment in his sun. The air was charged with Pat fever. We were a chatting, laughing, fraternizing assembly linked by a warm inner knowing that we were all members of a secret society, waiting our turn for a moment in Pat Conroy’s sphere of luminosity. Eventually, the line progressed, and I got within clear sight of Pat. There were only three people ahead of me when I spied a regal, chestnut haired woman rounding the banquet table to stand beside him. She held a drink in her hand as she leaned down to say something, and I saw Pat rear back in blindsided astonishment at her appearance. His face flushed adolescent pink, there was glee in his smile and joy in his eyes, which cast around excitedly as if looking for someone to say something to, and I knew in that moment Pat Conroy was bursting with story. I looked around to see if anyone else was paying attention then leaned forward to say, “What is it, Pat?” and he spilled forth with, “You’re not going to believe this story!”

Never before have I been a more willing audience than I was as Pat launched into his story, which was a humorous take on unrequited love.

“Twenty five letters I wrote to this woman when I was in college, and not once, not once did she ever respond,” he shared, as the object of this story shook her head and protested. It was then I pulled out my camera. I ran into her much later, at the catered party the festival had on the last night of the weekend. Her name was Terry, and she felt moved to straighten me out with the facts.

“Already he could write better than anyone else, how in the world could I ever respond?” she insisted.

My Pat moments didn’t end there, nowhere near it. During what turned out to be a three-day love fest in honor of Pat Conroy, it seemed every time I turned around, he was there exuberant and smiling. We were friends now and he wanted my story; he wanted to know what I thought about the poetry panel, and he told me the panel discussions by the authors of “Story River Books” would be right up my alley. And they were, and it all was. Every moment of each day during the “Pat Conroy at 70” celebration was a gift that keeps on giving for many reasons, but mostly because of my magic moments with Pat.

I understand the USC Press and the USCB Center for the Arts will hold its first annual literary conference this October in honor of Pat Conroy, where his spirit, no doubt, will be hovering. To this I have one thing to say:

I’m looking forward.