Friday 23 August 2019

Making the most of a holiday without the children in New York

Living it up in Times Square, New York City on Saturday
Living it up in Times Square, New York City on Saturday

By david looby

BIG birthdays don't come along often and when they do involve your mother or father, the importance of making them cannot be overstated.

My mother's 70th birthday party had been in the making since January, with endless WhatsApp debates with my brothers and sisters about what food should be cooked and what venue would be fitting.

It was all set up that I would arrive in Syracuse, New York, where my family live, without the Little Fella and the Whirlwind Princess - the day before the party and surprise my mother by jumping out of a large box at a lake house we rented for a few days. The problem with organising any surprise is keeping a lid on it so the closer the day come to the party the more concerned I became that my Mam would find out. The day before - in a panicked and excited state, I accidentally WhatsApped a message to the family group and not to a special birthday party group double-checking that my brother was still on for picking me up in the airport, but luckily I caught the mistake in time and she didn't see it. Before shutting my eyes that night I thought of all the people I had told and wondered if they could be trusted with the secret.

I arrived in JFK complete with suitcase full of Barry's tea bags, real Irish chocolate bars, gifts and a sensible mix of long and short sleeve clothes. That evening, after my brother gave me a lift five hours north in a rented red Ford Mustang convertible, we arrived in darkness at the lake house. Playing a mandolin guitar I emerged from the box, which was marked fragile, singing a song and the emotional fireworks went off - spectacular!

The few days at the lake house were great, despite the best efforts of the Biblical swarm of bugs. Fitbit-less and smartphone-less, I got to totally switch off, enjoying swimming, eating rubbish, joking around with family and shopping in a mall the size of Enniscorthy. I missed the children badly every day, but was so busy I got on with my rare holiday without them. There was a TV but its main use was for the Wii, dancing along to the Just Dance game's Rasputin and Hey Ya songs with my 10-year-old niece. When we got back to my Mam's house in Syracuse it was Trump, Trump, Trump on the telly. Then OJ. Then an Australian woman who was gunned down by a cop. Turned it off, feeling queasy.

Syracuse is my home away from home, a place I have been going to since I arrived in heavy snow in the winter of 1978, one-year-old, courtesy of two flights, a bus and a helicopter put on for some passengers due to the severity of the weather. An Irish city, with numerous pubs bearing Irish names over their doors, Syracuse struggled for years as companies pulled out for low wage Mexico, but green shoots have been emerging and it was great to see whole blocks revived and new businesses open. Similar things are finally happening here also which is great.

The weather was in the 70s and 80s every day, (love the way the ultra positive Americans deal in big fahrenheit numbers to avoid minus in their weather forecasts). On the way home I stopped off in New York for four hours and had a typical mind blowing time, barely making it to my flight on time and then, frazzled I forgot where my car was in the long stay. A memorable week!

Wexford People