Putting a Spring in Tommy’s Step

I’m sitting at my computer in Dublin today, working on papers for two different conferences. A video just appeared on my Facebook feed to brighten my day! My nephews Christopher and David are helping their little brother Tommy shore up his walking skills. Tommy took his first steps just about an hour after we left their house one week ago. Interestingly, Christopher did the same thing two years earlier–taking his first steps while we were in transit home.

The boys are clearly delighted with Tommy’s new accomplishment! Lucy sent me a copy of the video so I could share it with you:

The boys also wanted to say ‘Hi!”

Thanking Heaven for Gordon and Ms. Bessie

The late, great Gordon Chance with his daughter-in-law Shannon Chance.

The late, great Gordon Chance with his daughter-in-law Shannon Chance. (Photographed by Gordon’s son, Dave Chance, in 2008.)

Two people have been on my mind these past few days — Gordon Chance and Bessie Clark. They’ve both passed away but help keep the fire going in my heart.

Gordon was Dave’s dad, who we lost last May. He and Christina loved to visit Williamsburg, so I’ve included a photo of the two of us enjoying a sunny day in that colonial town during 2008. Gordon was skilled with his hands. He was the knowledgeable and hard-working father of seven kids and grandfather of five. I assure you: he is sorely missed.

Gordon’s passing was completely unexpected. He died of a heart attack at age 64. We had no opportunity to wrap things up or to say good-bye.

That is completely different from the case with the other person on my mind — our former next-door neighbor — Bessie Clark.

Ms. Bessie lived on the other side of us from Thom and Beth White. She passed away about five years ago, at the age of 88. For about two years, in around 2005 – 2006, I visited Bessie in her home every evening. Her kids appointed me to this job because they live far away (Maryland, DC, and California) and because Bessie wanted to stay in her own home but needed someone close by to keep an eye.

My visits with Ms. Bessie generally lasted 20-50 minutes. I enjoyed them because she told such fascinating stories. I learned about what it was like for a colored girl (Ms. Bessie’s preferred term) growing up in the American south in the aftermath of slavery.

Bessie was born in North Carolina. Remarkably for that day and time, her mother owned her own house and farm. Her mother sent both of her daughters to college — although Bessie stubbornly refused. After a week on campus, she boarded a bus back home. Bessie had no interest in studying more, even though she’d garnered A’s in school; what she came to love most in life was being a mom.

The late Bessie Clark with her neighbor Shannon Chance

The late Bessie Clark with her neighbor Shannon Chance

In the period I visited, Bessie was going though a very important phase of life. She was reminiscing and reviewing all that had happened. She was coming to terms with pent up frustrations and left over worries. She held nothing back. She told of days working retail and of dealing with a difficult husband who she (somehow) managed to love.

During my own life, I have spent a lot of time with older folks. Because I’d heard stories repeated over and over, I assumed I’d have the chance to hear her stories again. I fully intended to ask Ms. Bessie if I could make notes when repetition began.

But I heard her life tales only once. My “second chance” never came.

When Ms. Bessie had resolved everything to her satisfaction, her story telling stopped. She wanted just to sit and watch TV. When she started watching static, I had to say something. I called her kids to intervene.

It turned out that Ms. Bessie had developed a brain tumor. She had to be hospitalized, and she could no longer live on her own. She was unwilling to live that way and, with piece of mind and conviction that she was ready, she determined not to tell anyone when she contracted a bladder infection.

I wasn’t too surprised. She wins my superlative for “most stubborn.” She’d threaten as much in years prior. She just didn’t want to live away from her home.

A Christmas card from Sam (Bessie's son) and Barbara Clark.

A Christmas card from Sam (Bessie’s son) and Barbara Clark.

Bessie’s children asked me to speak at her funeral. As an outsider to her community, I thought I’d feel out-of-place. But the congregation, which filled the sanctuary, welcomed me with open arms.

The thing that struck me most about the day was how incredibly appreciative the entire congregation was of teachers. They mentioned and praised teachers and the role of education throughout the funeral and the meal that followed it. Not only did I feel welcome, I also felt special and appreciated. I was able to share Bessie’s sentiments about the importance of various people who were assembled there to celebrate her life.

In my experience, small things can spark powerful memories. What brought these memories of Bessie rushing forth was a text that arrived from Dave in early December. Bessie’s son and daughter-in-law had sent us a Christmas card.

The envelope itself was endearing. They way they addressed it — to Dr. and Mr. David Chance — reflects many of their values. To them, education and formality are important.

My life is better for knowing them and for having spent those years learning from Ms. Bessie.

So today, I smile to the Heavens, thankful to have known these two fabulous people. And thankful for the legacy they left behind for their families, the world, and me.

Meet Dave Jetson!

Callista Brien’s talk on Social Media for Engineers Ireland.

Meet George Jetson! (Image from the blog Dark Horizons).

Meet Dave Jetson!

His nephew David!

Luc, his sis!

Whoever though that we’d live the Jetson dream so soon in history?  Certainly not I!

A few weeks ago, at an event hosted by Engineers Ireland, Callista Brien discussed how social media is changing the way we think and act.  This was part of a seminar about project management.

And Callista was right.

FaceBook and FaceTime are amazing and they’re making my life richer.

Look how excited Lucy’s kids got when I rang in using FaceTime a couple days ago.

The Chance family keeps in touch with me via Facebook, iMessage, and the occasional FaceTime call.

And so, some days, life seems like a futuristic movie.

These tools keep Dave, Christina, Matthew and Lucy, David, Christopher, Tommy, Michael, Julia, Conner, and Evan Chance as central characters in my life, even when we’re far, far apart.

Dave with Lucy’s gang.

Awesome brothers!

“Aunt Shannon, I fell down!”

Turning Three

Three-year-old Evan and his momma, Julia.

Look what I’ve been missing back home.  My nephew Evan turned three years old!

Looks like I missed cupcakes, and chocolate, and loads of smiles.

Here’s to turning three, Evan!  I wish for you a world of fun.


Uncle Dave has been holding down the fort back in Virginia and spending plenty of time with the nephews we so dearly love. Here’s Dave with his Godson, David.

Dave and David

Today Dave also texted me photos of him with David’s brothers, Christopher and Tommy.

Dave and Christopher

Dave and Tommy

Tommy is growing up so fast.  Here’s a picture of me snuggling with him last winter. I really look forward to seeing all these boys at Christmas!

Shannon and Tommy, last winter.

My Family at the Cobblestone Pub

Mom with her cousin, Tom Mulligan (left) and Tim Bigelow (right) meeting at the Cobblestone Pub.

What a great send off!  Mom and her friends left for the airport at five o’clock this morning, so last night we decided to meet after my yoga class at the Cobblestone Pub.

You may recall from an earlier blog that the Cobblestone is considered the best place in Dublin to hear traditional Irish music.  We went there with Fulbright Amanda and her husband Jonathan, so they’d have a chance to play their instruments for an audience in Dublin.

A girl from last night’s yoga class said it would definitely not be a problem for me to go to the Pub in my exercise clothes. So I headed straight there–yoga mat and all.

When I arrived, Mom immediately introduced me to Tom Mulligan–a cousin of ours from Ballybunion in County Kerry–who she’d just met.  He had inquired about her visit Ireland and she said she’d been to County Kerry visiting Eilish and Con O’Hanlon.

Picture of the Cobblestone from the New York Times.

Loe and behold, Elish is Tom’s cousin.  I think he said his mom is the sister of my mom’s grandmother, but I haven’t been able to reconcile that math yet!  He seems so young.

Tom soon introduced me to his son, Thomas, who was working behind the bar.  And what a warm welcome we enjoyed!  Thomas was so complimentary about my Fulbright, and the fact that it’s in engineering.  Pretty soon, my smile was drawn ear to ear, my eyes were misty from hearing well-sung ballads, and my mom was hugging everyone in sight. Imagine! 😉

Tom is in the middle… doesn’t he look like Bill Clinton!?

Tom returned to playing, but when the musicians’ area started to get crowded, Tom packed up his flute and climbed behind the bar.

“Hum,” I thought, “wonder what that means?”  So I went to Googling the topic.  I discovered Tom’s the owner of the place!  Someone on Yelp had mentioned him by name and noted how incredibly nice he is.  (I’m in 100% agreement.)

Tom wanted to connect me with another Fulbright in the family, Siobhan. She taught Irish in the US.  To connect us, he dialed her up and soon handed me the phone.  Turns out, she’s the one who gave us an Irish lesson during the Fulbright orientation. I’d met her but not realized we were connected.  (I’d have never realized the connection to Tom without my huggy mom and her travel-ready neighbors.)

Tom’s son, Tomás, is working on a degree in  Irish politics and history at University College Dublin (UCD).  His dad completed a similar degree there 2006-2010… the same years I was in school at William and Mary. Tom had gone back to be a good example to his kids. It seems to have paid off!

Tomás wouldn’t even take money for my drinks last night. And, Tom gave Mom a copy of his CD to take home. Ain’t it grand to have a family!

You may also recall that it was my 2003 visit to the UCD campus that left me determined to become a Fulbright myself. And thanks to my mom’s positive example, I set to work on a PhD three years later. That helped it all come together.

So, all in all, it’s wonderful to find a place where everybody knows my name, and they seem so glad I came!  Who have thought I’d find my home in a pub?

Tom’s brother Neily is one of the world’s premier uilleann (elbow) pipers. I think he’ll be playing Thursday, October 25.  See you there?  For more information, you can like the Cobblestone on Facebook.

By the time I left last night, there’s been more than 14 different musicians chiming in. I can’t wait to return!