If You Can Dream It, You Can Do It

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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.

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Courtney Wienslaw

My blog chronicles my 90-pound weight loss transformation and encourages people to live a healthy, happy, fit, and balanced lifestyle.

10 Comments
  1. Dear Courtney,
    What a great idea to start this dream with your desire to know your grandfather. I knew, admired and loved my dear, handsome, talented, intelligent, wise, and loving cousin Pal Madden. I have many memories of Pal visiting my home on Prospect Street and visiting Aunt Peg and Pal at 42-45 Bowne. I will share more of them with you later.
    I hope you have time to talk to Pat Murphy, Jeanne and me to find out much more about Pal. Love Billy

  2. Courtney,
    My earliest memories of Pal was when I was a little boy and he was in the Navy. Whenever he came home he would always come down to what we old timers refer to as Prospect Street to visit us, Aunt Chris and her family upstairs and Uncle Johnny and his family next door. He always came with wearing his uniform and looked so handsome. He would let me hold and put on his “cover” as Loretta and Colleen would call it. He also showed me how to fold it so it would come out looking just right.
    He would usually sit around the kitchen table and talk with my mother and father. Jeanne and I would hang around and listen but we were told that “children should be seen but not heard”.
    He was born in Ireland and had a lot in common with my father as I will tell you in another post from my attempt at a memoir “Dear Lily”.
    I remember that at times the talk was serious but most of it was humorous. They would all laugh a lot. Pal and my father would laugh softly but my mother had a great loud laugh. Pal and my father were great story tellers and there was no break in the conversation.
    Pal and my other cousins were heroes to me and I was afraid they wouldn’t come home because one of my cousins upstairs, Nish, was shot down over the Pacific soon after he completed boot camp.
    These were very happy memories in some very difficult times.
    Pal eventually inspired Loretta to enter the Navy and he was very proud of her accomplishments in the Navy. Loretta inspired Colleen who went to NROTC in Villanova and became an officer in the Nurse Corps.
    He was handsome, kind, thoughtful, very smart but the visits could never last long enough but I just knew he would come back the next time he was home.

  3. Hi Courtney,
    I know you ran what I believe is your first 10K yesterday. I must go back and read about it. I have some time to myself this weekend because Julie is in LA helping Billy, Ari, Lily and Ben with the new baby Scarlett Josephine Taylor to the family. So, I thought I would add something about your grandfather and my cousin Pal to my last thoughts.
    When Lily was a little girl I thought I should write a “book” to share some of the things I remembered about our family for her. I named it “Dear Lily”. I have written a lot but I have not finished it. I do intend to get back to in now that I have some time and am not teaching as much.
    Since Pal and Jeanne were the ones who started the family and now you are keeping it going some 30 years later I remembered something that Pal told me at that first reunion. I was sitting at a table with him and Daddy as well as your grandmother. I think your mother was sitting there too.
    Pal told me a story about something he remember from the days when Daddy was in the IRA and Pal was just a little boy on his way home from school.

    “I remember walking home from school. I was just a young lad. (Pal left home when he was 8 years old in 1923) I heard a group of soldiers coming down the road with fixed bayonets. They had just arrested two suspected IRA men. It was Uncle Bill and Uncle Danny.” Pal Madden told me that at the first family reunion. For that reunion, Pal wrote:

    The Heritage of the Taylor’s
    The heritage to which you are heir
    Began in Antiquity
    In that rugged corner of Southwest Cork
    Where the Caha’s meet the Sea.
    A millennium or more ago
    Is when it first began
    When the forbearers of the Taylor’s
    Founded the Sullivan clan
    It is a heritage of persistence
    And, of the will to win
    The Hallmark of pioneering women
    Of brave and stalwart men.

    The land on which they settled
    Was harsh as a land could be
    With mountains at its back
    Facing a wild and relentless sea
    They fought the land for a living,
    And the living for the land.
    Defending it – protecting it
    Against every raiding band
    They lived through feast and famine
    Through raids; through war and strife
    Because the land they had settled on
    Was more dear to them than life.

    Each subsequent generation,
    As did the ones before
    Held dear this bit of precious land
    Along the wild seas shore
    For with it came their heritage
    Not of victories, nor of defeats,
    Not of suffering, or persecutions,
    Of Great joys, nor daring feats
    But a heritage of brave women
    And their stalwart men
    A heritage of determined people
    With whom, you are kin.

    After the Black and Tan passed, Pal ran into the house at Boher to tell Mum, my grandmother, that the soldiers had just arrested Danny and Bill. Mum, who was baking Irish Soda bread, stopped and started saying the rosary. A while later Daddy came bouncing in the door. Mum said, “Where is Danny”? Daddy said that they let him go and kept Danny for further questioning. The funny part of that is that Uncle Danny had nothing to do with the “Trouble”. Daddy, however, was very involved in and a sworn IRA man. Mum said, “well, if they are that stupid, you may win yet. They did finally let Uncle Danny go and never caught on to Daddy’s involvement.
    Daddy’s story goes on in my writing but that was the only story Pal told me that night at the Ferncliff Hotel, in East Durham in June, 1983.
    I hope this fills in just a little more of the picture of your grandfather from my memory. Love, Billy

    1. Thank you so much for sharing, Billy. I remember reading that poem at the last reunion with Kathryn. He was such an amazing storyteller. Thank you for sharing! Your grandchildren are so blessed to have you in their lives!

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