Our house in Ireland was a typical terrace or row house: two rooms deep by three floors high. It was old. The walls were two feet thick and it had recently been remodeled to add a kitchen and bathroom (I didn't ask). We were right across the water from Cobh harbor (pronounced 'cove') where over 2.5 million emigrants embarked for a better place in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. I had a large ottoman snuggled into one of the window openings on the second floor. It fitted the space perfectly. I would sit in my little nook, have my morning coffee, write in my journal and watch the world go by. This is how I became aware of the daily activities of our neighbor, Mickey.
Each day, around mid-morning, Mickey would leave his house with a small plastic bag. He would slowly meander across the street, walk along the walls of the pier for a bit, then lean over and look across the water…gazing out to sea, as it were. (Mickey had been a fisherman.) When he stood back, the plastic bag was gone. Then he would saunter over to the public outhouse and disappear. About fifteen minutes later he would emerge and walk briskly back across the street to his house, morning chores complete. We never saw Mickey's wife, although we heard her on more than one occasion. We assume she ran a tight ship and did not allow certain activities in her immaculate house.
We only spoke to Mickey twice – not because he wasn't friendly, but because we couldn't understand him. We assumed he spoke Irish. Wrong, again! Apparently, the local speech in County Cork (pronounced 'cark') is considered totally unintelligible by Dublin standards. After learning this, we paid closer attention and realized that Mickey was, in fact speaking English. It was almost painful watching him make the effort to remember his grammar school lessons and form the words so we had a chance of understanding. In the end, we just avoided each other: Mickey because (I think) he felt he couldn't properly articulate his words; us because we felt that, somehow, we should be able to understand this kind old man but were never able to. We always smiled, waved and nodded like crazy at each other, though. In our own ways we were good neighbors.