Monday, August 22, 2011

About a Book - John Grogan's The Longest Trip Home

It was  "a long trip home" yesterday, starting in Emerald Isle at 7 a.m. with an hour-long cab ride, and then three not-so-consecutive flights from Jacksonville, North Carolina to Charlotte, North Carolina, to Washington, and finally (after delays due to thunderstorms), Albany, New York.  My daughter Katie was at the airport to pick me up, with Henry by her side.  I don't think I've seen anything sweeter in my entire life than that 3-year old's face beaming a huge smile when he saw me, and then his hands flew immediately up to his eyes, still smiling.  Katie said that meant "surprise!" though with him covering his own eyes, I don't know whether it was me or Henry who was expecting something!  I scooped him up and smooched all over his little face until he couldn't stand it, which was almost immediately.

My long travel day was almost welcome because it provided an extension to an amazing vacation and the opportunity to sink, completely, into the second book of the week, The Longest Trip Home, by John Grogan, author of Marley and Me.  My brother Michael had given it to me as a Christmas gift, and it sat next to my bed (along with my copy of The Help) until I finally could make time to read.  That time never came, so as I was franticially packing my vacation bag a week ago Saturday night -- after getting home from a wedding at almost 11 p.m.! -- for the next morning's flight outta here, I decided the books would travel with me.  I read The Help first.  Loved it.  Almost made me an usociable beach-house guest, but I played in the ocean and cooked alot so I made up for it.  I can't wait to see the movie.  As soon as my cab driver, Skinner (4 years running!) dropped me off at Arthur Ellis Airport in Jacsksonville for my return flight, I started reading The Longest Trip Home.  I was about 10 seconds into it when I realized I was reading something that connected me with an uncanny familiarity to the author, his parents, his siblings, and his life.  Perhaps this is why my brother Michael gave me this book - it was so much like our own lives, as if these were cousins of ours, with parents carved from the same stone as our own.  The biggest connection in this book, for me, are the Grogan parents who were blessed, as my parents were, with unquestioning faith.  I say "blessed" because, for so many of my generation, it doesn't come that easy.  We're less trusting, less likely to believe "just because," needing more proof for every big decision in our lives.  I envy that level of faith, and doubt that I will ever experience it, at least not the way both of my parents, and generations before them, did.  I understand when Grogan describes what his father Richard considered "a la carte Catholics," those who pick and choose which aspects of Catholicism to embrace and which to leave behind, something he found highly hypocritical (and something I find absolutely necessary).  It's that unquestioning faith of those generations of Irish Catholics, particularly, that allowed them to swallow their faith, whole kit and kaboodle, in a way that I just can't.  Though I intentionally steer clear, usually, of discussions regarding religion or politics, this memoir allowed me to examine my own feelings about growing up so Catholic, and the decades-long evolution to living an "a la carte" life now.  There are good reasons for that.  It is what it is, but is also, apparently, what "is" for a lot of other people who grew up in the sixties and seventies.  Reading this book was reminiscent of my own growing up, on so many levels, but especially in regard to parents and religion, almost like the Grogans and O'Farrells were living parallel lives!

I could go on and on and on about the wonderful storyteller that John Grogan is, but you probably already know that if you've read anything he's written, or seen Marley and Me.   I recommend his Web site:

Thank you John Grogan, for sharing your memories, and excavating mine.

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