A Hero’s Farewell

Gillcrist

A Hero’s Farewell

One of my pleasures was to take a mug of hot, black coffee and sit in a corner of my hidden balcony at the seaside inn, watching the late September sun as it inched tentatively up out of the sea. The surf was thumping, reminding me of the constancy and cleansing power of the sea. The contemplative, morning moments, listening to the surf, mesmerized me. On that memorable morning however, the sea was gently murmuring; waiting.

As I sat surfing my own memories, a whispering of song wafting on the dawn breeze, caught my attention. The melody was floating up over the sand dunes to my aerie, interrupting my sunrise reverie. Turning to locate the source of the ancient song, I saw them in a family group, at the edge of the sea. The family stood close together, arms around each other, heads resting on broader shoulders. They were holding glinting, crystal ponies of amber liquid toward the Seville orange glow in the east as they sang their poignant song.

Then, the older man waded into the surf as though it was a wheat field and emptied a pitifully small urn of ashes, gathered at Ground Zero. Finally, at songs end, they let the toast pass their quivering lips, mixed with salty tears, in a final salute to their fallen hero.

 

 

The family had come to the inn the day before, arriving in three cars. They had a familiar look about them. One of the cars was an official City vehicle. The men wore ball caps with NYPD or NYFD shields. One of the old men wore heavy, ankle-high shoes, reminiscent of police footwear of another time. His eyes were the searching, inquiring eyes of a veteran police officer. Their hair, eyes, clothing and the weathered, fair skin marked them, as being from the British Isles. I knew them well, not as individuals, but from growing up in the same neighborhoods, parishes, schools and from the dancehalls of our youth in the Rockaways. We met on the brick path with a nod and a smiling “Good Day,” and the family walked to one of the secluded cottages on the beach.

I thought no more of it. They were simply taking advantage of the off-season rates at Montauk Point, enjoying the late September weather: those mellow, sunny days of autumn and the still warm ocean bathing. Later still, back in my aerie, I saw smoke rising from the chimney of their secluded cottage and noticed the family standing on the deck, looking intently out to sea, as though expecting a late arrival.

I assumed they were a family that had gathered as families do from time to time for christenings and weddings and wakes, to share memories and food and drink. I smiled inwardly, remembering my own family gatherings.

The ancient song hung in the air, tugging at my memory for a time, wafting through my mind elusively, like a distant train whistle on a foggy morning. It was an old tune, and like old memories, it resisted recovery for a time. Then, I remembered. It was a centuries old Gaelic song: Mo Ghile Mear, which means Our Hero. I remembered the powerful song and its’ origin in Gaelic history: a song about a man who gave all for his people.

After the farewell, the family stood quietly for a time, hands joined, their task completed. Then in unison, they turned toward the cottage to begin another, longer journey, having found what closure they could. The fine, white sand dragged at their shoes, as they moved reluctantly forward, leaving behind nothing, but fragile footprints and ebbing echoes.