This past week my wife Kathy and I released our brand new #1 NY Times Best-selling “Happy in a Hurry Cookbook," which is not only a wonderful assortment of delicious recipes, it’s also a collection of Doocy family stories from our 30+ years of marriage.
If you’re like me, you’ve been thinking about how much during the pandemic we all miss traveling, going somewhere, anywhere and that has had me remembering one of my favorite trips ever.
When my mom died, my parents had been planning on taking the trip of a lifetime to Hawaii. But my dad said he couldn’t go without her and never used the tickets.
Later that same year I asked my dad whether there was any other place on Earth he’d like to visit and after he said, “No,” I stunned myself by saying “I’ll pay,” sounding like a dot-com billionaire who’d bought Amazon at a nickel a share.
Eventually, he said, “Ireland. I’ve always wanted to go back to the old country,” and we started making plans to see where our family originated.
A couple of days later he called and said, “Phil wants to go, too, and you’re going to pay for him... right?”
My dad never asked for anything, and it would mean a lot to him. Besides, my uncle Phil, who was also my godfather, was a very prominent deacon in the Church, and if I took him on this trip of a lifetime, I’d wind up in the E-ZPass lane to eternal salvation. “Happy to pay for Phil,” I said.
I asked my dad whether there was any other place on Earth he’d like to visit and after he said, “No,” I stunned myself by saying “I’ll pay,” sounding like a dot-com billionaire who’d bought Amazon at a nickel a share.
It turned out that the best way for the three of us to travel to cover the most territory quickly was a bus tour. A month later, my father, uncle, and I hopped a red-eye from Newark to Shannon, and as we wandered off the overnight flight into the blinding blaze of an Irish sunrise, we found a luxury motor coach parked at the curb.
According to the brochure, this trip would include world-class cuisine and accommodations. But because it was based on double occupancy, dad and Phil would get the beds, and the person paying for their trip would spend the week on a rollaway bed.
During the days we drove hundreds of miles in a big circle around southern Ireland and visited places like the Blarney Castle and the Waterford crystal factory, whose slogan could be, “We make breakable stuff most people can’t afford.”
I’d made a reservation at Ireland’s National Library’s Genealogical Service, where people trace their Irish heritage. A librarian was waiting at the appointed time to finally connect all the dots from our ancestors.
“Mr. Doocys, it looks as if your family first settled in . . . oh . . .” She stopped in midsentence, as if she’d seen my mug shot the night before on “Ireland’s Most Wanted.”
She started again. “Mr. Doocys, it appears your family’s records . . . were destroyed in the fire.”
"It was in 1922, the Four Courts fire. Lots of families in the same predicament.”
I got the feeling she’d broken that same news to other families, because she paused only a beat and then she threw us a lifeline. “Of course the other possibility is that your name is misspelled.”
My dad spelled it out for her: D-o-o-c-y. “Oh, I know how you spell it, but sometimes the handwriting in the record books was hard to read, so the person writing up the file would make his best guess what it said. Many a name has changed through history because of bad penmanship.”
So either Ireland has no record of us or it’s a country of bad spellers.
"Just know, if you see an Irish name and it starts with the letter D, like Dewsy, Dancy, Dooley, or Deacy, there’s a relatively good chance you’re related,” she said. We left wondering who the hell we really were.
For the rest of the trip, every time we went into a restaurant or shop, my father would make his way to the payphone to examine the local phone book, looking for people who spelled their names just like us. There were a couple that were close, but they always had an extra letter or two. Then, on a factory tour on the fifth day, I heard, “Stephen, come here!” Dad had found four families in a row that spelled their names exactly like ours.
D O O C Y
The trip just paid for itself.
We’d come all this way looking for relatives, and he needed a trophy, and this was it. Looking over his shoulder to the right, then the left, he ripped the page out of the phone book and wadded it up in his pocket.
In later days he found more names and since the statute of limitations has expired I will now admit there was widespread phonebook vandalism during our visit to the Emerald Isle.
On the flight home, I leaned over to my dad and said, “That was fun, wasn’t it?”
He paused for a moment, “I felt like I was 30 all over again.”
At 30 he had been a traveling salesman, and I was ten. Every Saturday he’d call up the stairs, “Stephen, let’s go,” and I’d join him on a day-long sales call all across our part of Kansas.
For lunch, we’d stop at the closest cafe and order whatever the waitress said she’d have herself. Then, by midafternoon, after his sales calls, we’d wind up at Reilly’s gas station, shooting the breeze with friends and total strangers while nursing Dr. Peppers that always tasted best when they had half a bag of peanuts poured into the bottle, bobbing at the top of the neck.
Mom would be waiting with supper as we’d pull up at dark, having spent the entire day talking and laughing about nothing in particular.
I was my dad’s sidekick, just like that week in Ireland. It was the best week I ever had with my father.
Once home I wondered whether curious Irish people asked the local pub or shopkeeper, “Why’s your phone book missing the D pages?”
I knew exactly where those pages were: outside Abilene, Kansas, half a world away, in my dad’s top sock drawer, next to two unused tickets to Hawaii.
Used with permission of William Murrow, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. All rights reserved.