Well, that’s it then. I called Dad when I heard the news that Mom passed. I told him I wanted to come home and see him and my sisters, and what did he say? “We don’t have a daughter named Maggie. You must have the wrong number.” Click, he hung up on me. Some family, huh? So I guess I won’t be needing you anymore, Diary. I have a life now and a beautiful baby boy, and more than enough to keep me busy. Besides, looking through these pages hurts so very much.
So long from Dublin,
Quinn O’Neill stared at the journal entry dated December 1989. He’d been a year old when it was written, and in the time since, “M,” his mam, had given him four brothers and enough love to last a lifetime. It had to last a lifetime now that Mam, like his father, was gone from this earth.
With a weary sigh, Quinn leaned back against the closet door of his mam’s bedroom. He’d been sitting on the floor, going through the old leather trunk he’d found inside.
The trunk that held the secrets of Mam’s past.
Just an hour ago, he’d been sitting in the living room, studying his four brothers’ waiting expressions, the range of green to blue eyes. They’d gotten them all—Brady had Mam’s blue, Conor had Mamó’s green, even Dad’s brown went to Quinn and the twins—an assortment of the O’Neill Clan. In all their eyes, Quinn had seen grief mixed with indecision. Their mam hadn’t left instructions for after she was gone, yet as always his brothers looked to him for guidance.
The gravity of that weighed on him like ten pints of the black stuff.
First their dad had died of a heart attack two years ago, just months after the family restaurant, The Cranky Yankee, was severely damaged in a kitchen fire. Quinn had been twenty six at the time and still playing pro rugby, but once Dad died, Mam needed a new man of the house to help with the restaurant and his brothers, so Quinn had quit the team and stepped up.
Then, five days ago—Mam. Only fifty years old. Brain aneurysm. Now, their matriarch was gone. Only five of them left, and Quinn head of household. It had been a lot for him to take in.
He’d entered Mam’s bedroom hoping to find answers. Now he had them, and eventually he had to join his brothers and tell them what he’d learned.
Many bedtimes ago, Mam had lulled him to sleep with stories of a faraway place where the grapes turned to gold, but Quinn had always just assumed she was making the tales up. Now he knew it was a real place.
Rummaging through the trunk, he plucked one photo out. It was of young Maggie O’Neill, definitely before the O’Neill, wearing cornflower blue bell bottoms. She sat on the edge of a rickety bridge with her legs dangling over a narrow creek, holding onto the railing. In her hair were flower barrettes, and on her face was that same, cheeky smile he’d recognize anywhere.
“Hello, Mam,” he greeted her, smiling. It was amazing to see her looking so young.
On the back, she’d written, Forestville, 1980.
Forestville. That’s where Mam was from, only she’d never told them that because memories of her birthplace had brought her pain. No wonder given her father had disowned her after she’d met Grant O’Neill, Quinn’s father, broken her engagement to a local man named Ken Parker, and left Green Valley to make a home in Ireland. From that day forward, she’d had to leave her beloved family and home behind, as well as all her childhood dreams. In the diary, young Maggie had rambled on about either a flower shop, or a surf shop, or a bed-and-breakfast, and other big dreams. She said she didn’t care what she did for a career, as long as she was the best.
Quinn’s heart hurt, truly ached.
As long as he could remember, she and Dad had managed The Cranky Yankee. She’d done the accounting, paid the bills, and everything else that came with running the back office. A far cry from a surf or flower shop.
He picked up the photo of Mam and Dad as a young couple, touching heads at a pub, two frothy beers between them. On the back—our first date, Mulligan’s Tavern.
Quinn had heard of the place. Dad’s mate from college, Paul something, had left for America, and Dad and a few other friends visited him one summer to help him get Mulligan’s up and running. It was the only time Dad had been out of Ireland. Just that one summer in 1986 when he met Maggie. He always said he’d never forget it—she’d strolled right in and said she’d never had a Guinness but always wanted to try one, and no less than ten blokes burst off their stools to offer her one.
“She was a fine bit of stuff,” his dad had laughed.
Ten blokes. But she had chosen his dad, because he’d made her laugh like no man ever had before. Take that, old man Phillips.
It’d been the right decision. As much as Dad had loved the restaurant, he’d loved Mam far more, and they’d had a good relationship, one that had resulted in Quinn and his brothers. But Quinn couldn’t help but feel heaviness in his chest, like Mam had missed out on lost opportunities, like maybe she should’ve tried to talk things through with her old man. It made him wonder. Had he, and Dad, and his brothers been worth the pain of losing her other family?
Family is king.
That was what Mam had always said. Quinn couldn’t imagine leaving his family behind for anything in the world. They were everything to him.
He studied the remaining contents of the trunk: papers, more photos, some stuck together, a few pieces of jewelry, a dried-up flower at the bottom, and loads of folded-up letters, some still in their envelopes, some covered in blue or black ink. A fire ignited inside his chest, as he sifted through the photos at rapid speed—image after image of a small town, photo after photo of a place called Phillips Vineyard & Winery, of his mam posing before rows and rows of fields.
It would take a whole day for Quinn to browse through the entire box, which he fully intended to do. As his brothers watched the game, he snuck out unnoticed and carried the small trunk to his room. Only his middle brother Con watched him slide like a ghost through the living room all the way to the staircase. What’ve you got there? his eyes seemed to ask.
Nothing you need to know about, little brother. Not yet.
Once upstairs, Quinn could breathe again, and he entered his old room, sat on his made bed against his football pillow, and laid the journal open on his lap. He flipped back to the page he’d read earlier, the one that told him what he and his brothers had to do next.
November 1985. She still hadn’t met Dad, but Quinn could tell she wasn’t an innocent teen anymore from the words she’d chosen: “I don’t care what I do with this life, where the wind takes me, or how I spend it, as long as I love and love well. And when my time is over, I pray that the wind brings me home again to Green Valley.”
Quinn stared at the words as a spike of adrenaline rushed through him. “…the wind brings me home again to Green Valley…” When her time is over.
The words resonated with him. Before she’d died, Mam had sold The Crazy Yankee. She’d told Quinn and his brothers to follow their dreams, start a new life, find a new home where they could make their dreams come true. The only problem was—Quinn didn’t know what he wanted to do from here.
Rugby was always a possibility. After they’d sold the restaurant, Quinn’s old coach had reached out and encouraged him to rejoin the team. Only the more Quinn thought about it, the more rugby seemed better left in the past. Forget that he was two years older and out of practice—the idea of constantly traveling again didn’t appeal as much as it once had. In addition, though it’d been difficult leaving the team, doing so had opened his eyes to new possibilities, and for the first time in his life, Quinn had learned that he was actually good with other things besides sports, like running a business. Even as he’d tried to save The Crazy Yankee after his father’s death, he’d had fun imagining the kind of restaurant he’d open if given the opportunity.
Quinn sighed and ran a hand through his hair. No, he wasn’t sure what his future had in store. But right here, right now?
Quinn looked at the time on his phone and figured it was around ten in the morning in Forestville. With shaking hands, he searched for Phillips Vineyard & Winery in California and was surprised to see it was still a fully functional establishment. A quick read on Wikipedia told him that the proprietor was still Richard Phillips, who had two daughters, Beatriz and Suzanne Phillips. No mention of Maggie.
He knew he was crazy for even thinking it, but he had to know. Had to hear the man’s voice. He had a grandfather, for feck’s sake! And aunts! He probably had cousins too, lots of them. Did they even know he existed? It wasn’t right, the way they’d erased Maggie Phillips from history. And it wouldn’t be right for Quinn or his brothers to deny Mam her dearest wish to return to Green Valley upon her death.
Before he knew what he was doing, Quinn’s thumb pressed down on the link for the U.S. phone number, and after a brief silence and series of clicks, the line rang.
“Phillips Winery, how may I help you?” the female, thickly American accent answered the phone.
“Good evening, er…morning. May I speak with Richard Phillips, please?”
“Mr. Phillips doesn’t come in on Wednesdays, or most days, but I can connect you with his wife, Betsy. May I ask who’s calling?” the friendly voice said.
Betsy? Mam’s journal mentioned her mother’s passing, so Betsy must be his second wife. Maybe third, for all he knew. Didn’t matter. As long as he got through. “The name’s Quinn. Quinn O’Neill.”
“One moment, Mr. O’Neill.”
The line changed to swing music featuring Tony Bennett, and Quinn’s heart pumped excitement through his chest and brain. Suddenly, it felt wrong to be hoarding this moment all for himself. Even if he was the oldest, his brothers deserved to know they had more family. He scrambled to his feet and bolted out of his room, running down the stairs, and spilling into the living room like an escaped convict discovering sweet freedom.
His four brothers all stared at him like he was mad. “What’s gotten into you?” Con groaned. “You look like feckin’ Frankenstein.”
Quinn spun the journal and pointed to Maggie’s final wish. “I’ve got it. It’s here…”
“What’s here?” Con’s face twisted in confusion at the phone against Quinn’s ear. “Who you talking to?”
“We’re taking her back,” Quinn whispered, setting the journal down on the tea table.
“Back where? What you mean, Quinn?” Brady asked, giving him a cautious side-eye.
All five brothers craned over the journal to have a look while Tony Bennett crooned on in Quinn’s ear about diamond bracelets and Woolworths not selling something. “I mean we’re cremating her body,” he whispered. “It’s what she wanted. We’ll spread some ashes over Dad, but then the rest…we’re taking her back to America. To Green Valley, California.”
The twins, Sean and Riley, exchanged confused glances.
Brady and Con shook their heads at each other a moment before staring back at Quinn. “What in feck’s sake…?” Con muttered.
Finally, Tony Bennett’s voice was sharply cut off by an elderly woman’s charming, chirpy voice. “Hello?”
“Hullo. Is this Betsy?”
“Great.” Quinn smiled, pulled the phone away from his ear, and pressed the speakerphone button. “May I please speak to Richard Phillips? That is, if he has a moment to spare.”
The woman named Betsy’s perplexed voice swirled a few notches. “Well, yes, but…who may I ask is calling?”
Quinn scanned his brothers’ faces—his cheeky brothers who he’d always promised to take care of, no matter what. They’d lost everything here in Dublin—their parents, their family restaurant—Brady had even lost a child and then a wife. It was time for them to leave Ireland for a time. To try something else, see something new, just as Mam had said. More importantly, they could bring their mam back home.
A visit to America was in order, whether or not Richard Phillips accepted them.
He needed to see where his mam was born and raised. He needed to see where she’d sat and dangled her legs, the vineyard where she’d grown up. He needed to take it all in before deciding what to do with his life. It wouldn’t be right not to, now that he knew another half of his heritage existed.
Quinn took a deep breath and answered, “Tell him his O’Neill grandsons are calling. Maggie’s boys. All five of us.”