Uncle Paddy came to visit us from Australia in 1977. I don’t recall if he brought us any gifts but I have to think he did. I know when he was leaving us that my mother gave him an Irish Linen Tablecloth to take back to his wife. I recall that it cost a lot of money at the time and it had small shamrocks woven into the fabric. It was a big deal.
Uncle Paddy had a very strange accent considering he was my Dad’s brother. He also had a tan to beat the band and he wore short sleeved shirts even on the coldest of days. He seemed to stay with us for weeks on end. He floated around the house taking photographs of us at every opportunity. It was a novelty at first but after two weeks of being constantly captured on film no matter what we happened to be doing it got to be tiresome and intrusive.
Uncle Paddy had six kids I think. I suppose he still has. He must be quite old by now. I don’t know because I never kept in touch with him. He used to talk about Sheilas and some other word he used for beer and how they often had Christmas dinner on the beach and how, because he showed us zillions of photographs, how his sons were all tall, blonde and surfer types.
I recall thinking Australia was at the end of the world. A place where they sent Irish convicts once upon a time because they didn’t know what else to do with them. I know Paddy wasn’t even close to being a convict. I am sure he was very respectable. I felt sorry for him though. Even with his tan and his big camera and his strange lingo, he was someone displaced. He had come back to Ireland to visit his family and the entire time it was as if he had become a tourist, a stranger in his own land. A sort of limbo-man. Someone with a lost identity or with a new one that didn’t quite fit him in the way an ill-fitting suit of clothes might hang off a frame. Clumsy and uncomfortable looking.
I never wanted to go to Australia. It just didn’t lure me, get the travel juices flowing. What is sad is that I know many neighbours here whose children have gone to Australia and more than likely may never come back. And that’s the truth.
I sometimes think about Paddy. I wonder what happened to all the photographs he took of us and if his wife still has the tablecloth my mother sent out to her, lovingly packaged up in brown paper. I wonder if he ever thinks about me, the clumsy adolescent who tried in vain to dodge his lens. To escape the eyes of someone hungry to connect with what he had long left behind.