The fish & chips that changed my life #SOL19 17/31

If I’d known that the moment was going to change my life, I might have paid more attention to the details. I was in Galway with 11 other high school teachers for a 5-week fellowship on W.B. Yeats and two of us had gone out for fish and chips. I don’t remember which chip shop we went to. The fish was firm, the fry glistened and the newspapers it came wrapped in were soon heavy with oil. You know, a standard Irish chip shop.

I’d left my boyfriend for the summer, off to learn everything I could about the poetry I loved. I had cried at the airport, but now, a few weeks in, I if I were honest with myself, well, I missed him very little. He had many strengths, but none of them were sitting around a table sharing food and passionately discussing poetry. Or, really, passionately discussing any of the things I loved. Still, he was a good man, solid and secure, and I knew he loved me. I knew he would be there when I returned and, since we were approaching 30 and our relationship was stable, I knew he would likely propose soon.

Earl and I must have been talking about this over fish and chips. I didn’t miss my boyfriend, exactly, but he was on my mind, especially since the only other single woman in my close circle of college friends had just announced her engagement. I was the only one left; I was next.

Earl, who loved music, poetry, literature and all things Irish, had white hair that rarely looked combed and a big personality that he rarely reigned in. I remember meandering talks with him as we walked from our dorms into Galway proper, sat in a pub or picked through the poetry that had moved us all across the ocean for the summer. Earl’s laughter drew everyone into the joke and his quick wit often had me choking back giggles. While those are my dominant memories of him, they are not the whole of Earl because by that point in our trip, we all knew that he had lost his daughter in an accident not many years before. His oversized love of Irish music, good beer and all things Yeats couldn’t completely mask this truth. Single, childless, not far from his daughter’s age, I had only the notion of the kind of scar that loss might leave. I knew part of him was hurting, but I also knew that being with Earl was enlivening.

That evening, over dinner, Earl put down his Guinness and paused. And this part of my memory isn’t fuzzy at all. “He has to make you laugh, Amanda. There’s no way you’ll make it if he doesn’t make you laugh.”

Our conversation continued. After we ate, we walked back to the dorm – or, more likely, we met up with others for a pint and maybe some dancing. I laughed a lot. I don’t need the concrete memories to know that I did. I laughed and talked and and read and thought for the whole five weeks. 

Though many of the details from that fellowship are fuzzy now, it changed me deeply. There are more stories I could tell from that trip, for sure, and someday I will. But this one is important because I broke up with my boyfriend – how could I not? – and have since married a man who fills my life with laughter and love. 

Thanks, Earl.

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20 thoughts on “The fish & chips that changed my life #SOL19 17/31

  1. You did r say it, but this is a love story, and it’s beautiful. Oh, I wish I had been on the Irish adventure. I want to k is the other stories from those five weeks. 🍀

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  2. WOW! What a small slice that ended up being LIFE CHANGING! How many of us sleep walk through life without taking that courageous step of self-reflection? Is this what I want? Am I living the life that fulfills me? Does he make me laugh? WHOA! I applaud your audacity, first for taking a trip that follows your heart and passion, and secondly for breaking it off with your boyfriend in order to open your heart to more fulfilling possibilities. Your happy ending is proof that courage doesn’t always roar, sometimes it just needs to honor our true selves.

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  3. You had my attention at “Fish and Chips”. Your post is beautiful and it sounded like you learned a lot from Earl (maybe even a little unexpected). I love how you connected it all in the final paragraph. My wife studied and lived in Galway. She came back to the States because her mother was sick and she never went back. I was grateful that she stayed because I met her and married her.:) She has MANY fond memories of Galway and it sounds like you do too. Thank you for sharing!

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  4. You never know what will strike a reader, and that is one of the reasons I like the comments on our SOL so much. The sentence that popped out at me was “I knew part of him was hurting, but I also knew that being with Earl was enlivening.” I found that very hopeful.

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  5. This is great. Everybody needs someone like Earl to cut to the core. I love turning points, and isn’t it the truth that we often don’t recognize their significance immediately…or know that we should be fixing the details in our minds. In my post today, I took out a line about why I love St Patrick’s Day, even though I’m not Irish. It sounded wrong in this particular post, but it is true: I love Irish writers. I had an amazing Irish lit class in college with a younger version of Earl, named George. Someday I’ll go to Ireland with my Irish wife…and we will definitely laugh!

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  6. My grandpa’s first name…my dad’s middle name…and because my little brother is named after both…his middle name too. I knew Earl was going to win your heart, as soon as I saw his name. And, just like all the Earls I know, I love that yours, too has “a big personality that he rarely reigned in.” Truly charming. People say opposites attract, but I truly feel that those shared passions are what keep things…well, passionate. And, what a beautiful backdrop to your love story!

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  7. This was truly lovely – a wonderful way to end my day. You crafted it perfectly- shifting from past to present and giving us an inside and outside perspective. This was a poignant character sketch:His oversized love of Irish music, good beer and all things Yeats couldn’t completely mask this truth. Single, childless, not far from his daughter’s age, I had only the notion of the kind of scar that loss might leave. I knew part of him was hurting, but I also knew that being with Earl was enlivening. And this a true life lesson – “He has to make you laugh, Amanda. There’s no way you’ll make it if he doesn’t make you laugh.” A toast to Earl on this St. Pat’s day — I hope you are laughing. Thank you for sharing this touching and meaningful moment with us

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  8. We all need faithful friends like Earl who tell us the plain truth. I love that you shared this particular bit of your life on March 17, the day of the Irish!

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  9. This was a wonderful story. You drew me in with the title.

    You have to laugh in life and if you find yourself with someone who has difficulty doing this chances are you will struggle right alone with them.

    You made an excellent choice by moving on. Now you can laugh.

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  10. I could imagine Earl with your description and was anticipating a sad ending. I just got home from a funeral. But it wasn’t sad at all. I really want to know more. Are you still friends with Earl? Does he know how much his advice influenced you?

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    1. We are still friends on FB – close enough to occasionally comment on each other’s posts. And he did not know about the power of that moment until I wrote this. I’ve been meaning to send him a physical thank you card, but I’ve never quite done it. Oddly – or maybe not – not only does he remember the conversation, he and his wife have talked about it over the years. It’s good to have an Earl or two in your life, I think.

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