Today I fried my bread in butter in my frying pan for breakfast, my desire for cinnamon toast too strong. It was glorious. The fried bread triggered a sense memory, and I was brought back to the first time I had such tasty fried bread, which if my memory serves, was called simply a ‘fry’. Maybe the entire breakfast was the ‘fry’, as it probably had a fried egg and a fried sausage and the fried bread. To me, the fry was the dense bread fried in butter.
The fried bread was made by Bridie Kiernan in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and it was Christmas 1981. I was twenty years old, and away from home for my first Christmas. I had taken my first plane ride in September, alone, to Glasgow, Scotland, where I would be spending my junior year abroad studying Drama and English at Glasgow University.
I traveled by train and then ferry from Glasgow to Belfast. Letters had been exchanged creating the plans. I remember being frisked by soldiers in Northern Ireland when I disembarked from the ferry, the first time I experienced the unknown fear of being searched for safety in unfriendly conditions. This was not like driving across the Peace Bridge from Buffalo to Canada in the summer, carefree and passportless. I was met by Noel Kiernan, who I had not seen in six years, since the summer of 1975, when I was 14 and he was, I don’t remember exactly, 10 or 11, when he spent the summer with my family as part of the inaugural Belfast Summer Relief Program.
I spent two weeks with Noel and his family, and I was welcomed into their quintessentially Irish home with warmth and generosity. His Mom Bridie always cooked, and she was a good cook. She wore a dress and stockings everyday, and I picture her wearing aprons. She was sweet and giggly and charming, with a sense of humor that sparkled. In my memory she is always in blue. His Dad, Mr. Kiernan to me, gave me whiskey and cigarettes and Quality Street chocolates whether I wanted them or not and he ruled the room with the telly. He too made me laugh, in his cardigan sweater, tan, and his wry sense of humor that scared first, until the wit underneath was revealed. I got to meet Noel’s older brothers Eamonn and Jim and his older sister Alice. What a glorious time I had with Noel and his family.
The first night I climbed into bed on Merok Park in Belfast, a hot water bottle was between the sheets down at my feet. What the heck was that? It was very nice indeed.
Thank you Noel. Thank you Bridie. Your ‘fry’ lives on in my memory, conjured in Kenya, enjoyed through time all over again.