When I was about six months old, my grandfather passed away. Growing up, my only connection to him was through a few precious photographs and endless stories about how incredible he was: he used to go on game shows to try to make extra money to support the family and once won a years supply of cornish game hens; he was an inventor and created blueprints for incredible inventions that were beyond his time; he could cut a tomato into slices so thin that they were almost like paper; he could make a gourmet dinner out of a few old tidbits of food left around the kitchen and you’d think he had cooked for the queen; he would write little love notes to my grandmother, and then cut up the paper so that each word was on a separate piece, put it in a little jar, and leave it for her to piece back together; and he was a poet who crafted the most beautiful poems about love, family, and his beloved Ireland, where he had been born in a little cottage in County Cork before moving to the United States as a young boy.
All of those stories I heard made me wish I had been able to know him. I felt a void not having him around and I wished that he was part of my life. When I would draw, or write, or build little contraptions my mom would tell me she could see Pop Pop in me (this may sound very Bobby Valentine “I invented the wrap” or Al Gore “I invented the Internet” but when I was about 8 years old I built the prototype for a bagel slicer, before bagel slicers existed. Inspired by fresh hot bagels every weekend on Long Island at my grandmother’s, I nailed together a few pieces of wood designed to hold a bagel so you could slice it straight down the middle with your knife and protect your hands while it was hot. My uncle still has it and uses it; shout out to my dad for buying his little girls toolboxes and containers of wood for Christmas along with our American Girls dolls and Barbie dream house). I could feel a connection to him through the activities we would have shared, but the void was still there. I dreamed that I could one day have a chance to meet my Pop Pop, because I knew he would have been one of the most important influences in my life.
I knew I couldn’t bring him back, but I could not give up on this crazy dream of having some sort of a connection with this amazing man who had impacted my life so greatly, even though he was gone. While living in England in 2011, I got in touch with some cousins from Ireland and found out that I still had family living in that very same cottage that had been in our family for generations. I planned a trip, determined to fulfill my dream of forging this connection with my grandfather, and off I went on a 9-day tour of Ireland that changed my life. My friend Lindsay met me in Dublin, and we traveled down to Cork City and then to the Southwest of Ireland. I drove (not too well, I might add) on the “wrong” side of the road, along the beautiful Beara Peninsula, amongst the greenest hills dotted with fluffy white sheep (it was lambing season, OMG you cannot imagine the cuteness overload), and at long last ended up at the cottage at the foot of Hungry Hill in Castletownbere.
That day, I stood in the room that my grandfather was born in. I felt his presence in that room, and felt a connection to him that I had never felt before. I looked out on the Beara Peninsula, on the view that he saw every day before he set sail for America in the early 1920s and never returned. It was one of the most beautiful sights I ever laid eyes on. I took the picture you see above, with Walt Disney’s famous quote, while standing in front of that cottage. That epic day, where I walked along a little stretch of Ireland that he once called home, was one of the best days of my life.
The point of this story is that whatever your dreams are, you can make them happen. No matter how impossible they might be. No matter how crazy they may seem. Even if your dream is to travel halfway around the world to attempt to forge a connection with someone who has passed away. No dream is too crazy, or too big, to achieve. What do you dream of? Finding a new job? Running a 5K? Losing the weight you’ve wanted to lose for years? Moving to a new city? Going back to school? Getting a promotion? Just being able to wake up and get out of bed without hitting the snooze button every day? No dream is too big or too small or too crazy. You just have to decide what you want, make a plan of action, and never second guess yourself. Whatever you want, you can achieve. As Walt Disney said, “If you can dream it, you can do it. Always remember that this whole thing was started with a dream and a mouse.” Sounds silly, doesn’t it? But look at what you can achieve with a crazy little dream.
My grandfather’s legacy, besides his 5 children and 7 grandchildren, includes a tradition of family reunions that he started in 1983. He wanted to carry on our family’s Irish heritage through a gathering of extended family. This year marks the 30th anniversary, and my sister Kathryn and I are planning it in his honor. My dream is that it’ll be a reunion he would be proud of, with lots of Irish folk songs, horseshoe games, family bonding, and of course, Guinness drinking. And that his legacy will keep living on inside of us who carry out his tradition.