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Sitting by the Seine place holder

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Today I met Al Lilly

Today I met Al Lilly

 

Today I met Al Lilly. He says his last name is easy to remember because “it’s a sweet smelling flower.” Al goes out for a walk everyday when it isn’t frigid or snowing or raining. He has twelve grandchildren and sixteen great-grandchildren. He has a daughter who just turned seventy.

Al told me he came from Altoona and says “it’s a great place to be from but not to live in.” He was happy to leave. He was a welder by trade, a skill he picked up at the age of nine when he hung out at his uncle’s shop everyday after school. They didn’t have a welding mask small enough for a nine year old, but he loved it just the same. The mask he used would engulf nearly his whole torso, but he knew then that he was a welder and always would be.

He has lived in the Lehigh Valley and Jamestown, New York, and Florida. He and his wife came back to the Lehigh Valley at the behest of his children and grandchildren. You can recognize his house because it has “the tallest trees around.” That may not actually be true but who cares.

Al walks with a cane, but doesn’t need one. He had a little problem with a dog some years ago when he was out for his walk. The cane is “for protection” but he really does like friendly dogs. Along with the cane, Al always wears the same light blue leisure-suit-style jacket and wool newsboy cap. Large, thick glasses complete the look. “I’m actually legally blind” he says. With his five-foot-five stature and his cheery face, you cannot simply pass him by without stopping to talk. And he lights up telling the story of his life.

He is proud to announce that he is turning ninety-one this year. However, he is sad to say he lost his wife to cancer two years ago. They were together seventy years. He misses her.

I do not have a photograph of Al. It’s likely that I won’t. But this is my picture of Al.

Everyone has a story. They walk by us every day.

© Joseph M. Collins, 2018
The author/photographer (Joseph Collins Photography) reserves all reproduction rights, including the right to claim statutory copyright, for all images and writing. This work may not be photographed, sketched, painted, or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without the express, written consent of the author/photographer.

finding my grandfather

portugal wordpress shitThis time last year I was in Portugal looking for my grandfather. Allow me to explain. A widower at the time of his retirement William Joseph Walsh took to traveling. He would to Venice and Israel and Dubrovnik and Israel. The man from Hell’s Kitchen spent the last years of his life living among ex-pats from the U.K. and South Africa. He traveled to Italy and Israel, from Southampton to Tangiers and the Canary Islands.

Along his journeys he married Elizabeth who hailed from South of London. She was once a nurse during World War II and lived through the Blitz of London. Along the way they would befriend ex-pats from the U.K. and South Africa. Among their circle was said to be a countess from Norway and her philandering boyfriend. They settled south of Lisbon for the last years of his life. I never met my grandfather. He had been exploring the world my entire life. I was in second grade when he passed.

My mother named me for him. Later I would take the name William at my Catholic confirmation, tying my grandfather’s spirit to my own.
Through some quirk in thCouple Praca do Municipio Lisbon May 2016e British marriage paperwork my grandfather’s name changed to William Joseph Fox-Walsh, Fox being his mother’s maiden name. My grandfather passed away on May 12, 1975, and is buried in Palmela, Portugal, under the name William Fox-Walsh.

On May 12, 2016 I took the train from Lisbon to Palmela in search of my grandfather’s final resting place. Palmela is a part rural, part suburban town that apparently does not have many operating taxis near the train station. Frankly there is not much of anything near the train station except for roads heading into town. Clearly I was going to walk it.
Thanks to my Uncle Tom, historian of the Walsh side of my family, I had a general idea of the location of the cemetery. It was located in Palmela in the shadow of a 700 year old Moorish castle. I set out on my 2km walk from the station heading to a cemetery matching that description.

I arrived at the cemetery at lunch time and there was no staff to be found. The Palmela cemetery is small and municipally run. I wandered around looking at a lot of Portuguese names and not finding any Irish names. Thankfully, Mario, the head grave digger, arrived to help. He spoke little to no English. I had only a Portuguese phrase book in my
pocket to help. I only had to write the name “William Walsh” inside the book jacket and Mario brightened up. “William Fox-Walsh!” And he beckoned me to follow.Municipal Cemetery Palmela Portugal May 2016

When Mario,  said the name “William Fox-Walsh” out loud the breath was sucked out of my lungs. It was happening. I was there. He lead me along to a row and among the many Portuguese laid to rest was “William Fox-Walsh.” I was suddenly attending my grandfather’s funeral albeit 41 years late. I was washed over with joy and sadness and excitement and mourning and connection. My spirit truly is tied to his. He lived a good life and when the time was right he took to exploring the world. I have reached a time in my life when it is time to explore the world.

My grandfather’s grave site was among a few undergoing maintenance. Apparently they experienced a flood recently and piles of mud and dirt had pushed through. The marble top of the grave was pushed to the side to be cleaned. I scooped up a handful of dirt and dropped it into his grave. Mario asked for my name and I told him, “He is William Joseph. I am Joseph William.” My name is Joseph Matthew (William) Collins but I was more William than Matthew standing at his grave in a small town in Portugal 41 years later.

This October I am returning to Portugal to find the town he lived in. William Joseph Walsh was born in October 115 years ago.

Lisbon selfie 8x10-2© Joseph M. Collins, 2017
The author/photographer (Joseph Collins Photography) reserves all reproduction rights, including the right to claim statutory copyright, for all images and writing. This work may not be photographed, sketched, painted, or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without the express, written consent of the author/photographer.