The Vase in the Ladies’ Toilet

It’s August again and in Italy that means “Tutti al mare” (Everybody to the sea)! While I’m not at the seaside, I am taking some time off. So, we return to Ireland in 1998, when I found myself working as a waitress in a little café in the popular tourist town of Kinvara. Nestled in a crook of Galway Bay in the West of Ireland, Kinvara is a place of megalithic tombs, holy wells, a 14th century castle, ancient cairns, Irish music, and weekly set-dancing. Out of my experience, I wrote the book “God is in Rosaleen’s Restaurant.” For the next few posts, I’ll be sharing passages from this book along with Rosaleen’s artwork.


Artwork by Roseleen Tanham,

Rosaleen’s Restaurant, 170 years ago, was a Temperance Hall, a place where Irish men and women (segregated into separate meetings) gathered to proclaim the evil of drink and to swear abstinence from its impurities.

Did the spirits of these early pioneers sit among the clientele as they drank their Merlot wine? I often tried to imagine them talking together. What would the hardy women of old in their heavily layered frocks have to say to their cigarette-smoking, scantily clad daughters? How might those ancestral mothers react to the uneaten spuds left on their children’s plates?

Jennys spiral

“Excuse me, can I speak to you in private?”

It was a busy night. All around customers were waiting for cutlery or drinks or the clearing of their dirty dishes. What could this man whose face was framed with a circle of white hair and beard want to discuss with me in private? Not to ask for my phone number I hoped!

We moved beyond the bedlam, and he leaned into my face and spoke in a deep whisper. “There’s a lovely vase with flowers in the ladies’ toilet,” he said, “and the lady who was with me at the table would like to buy it. You see, she collects these things. She loves vases. Would it be possible?”

“I’ll ask, but I don’t think it’s for sale,” I said. I asked, and it wasn’t.

Would this man walk into a ceramic shop and ask for an 8-oz. steak medium-done with potatoes and salad? How often do we search for what we love in the wrong place and become disappointed when we don’t find it?

Tea cup

“Can we eat here?” Seven local children clamored into the restaurant and fell into chairs around a table. “We’ll have seven chips. For here.”

“Anything to drink?” I asked.


“No, Cokes.”

“I don’t have enough money.”

“How much are the drinks?”

“We’ll have seven glasses of water.”

“No, I have money. I’ll have a Coke.”

“We’ll just pool our money.”

“I have € 5.”

“I want 7UP.”

“How much are the drinks again?”

“Look, we have enough.”

“We’ll take two Cokes.”

“Water is fine for me.”

And so it went. The final order came to two waters, four Cokes, and a 7UP. Fed by sugar and salt, the children were nearly twice as excited when it came time to pay the bill.

Can we learn as adults to gather that enthusiasm and energy whenever we’re faced with group decisions? To allow everyone the freedom to shout out his or her order, his or her needs? And in the end, pool our resources to satisfy every one of us?


It was so busy that night that I took their order and forgot to give it to the chef. When I remembered, they were gone.

Perhaps this is like praying to a favorite angel or saint. She hears our request but is so busy she forgets to give it to God. When she remembers, we’re gone.

Jennys spiral

“Is he a farmer?” the chef asked.

“How would I know?” Her question amused me. “Is there someway to know? Do you want me to ask?”

She was worried that a hungry farmer might not wait the fifteen minutes it takes to grill a steak. I wondered if the Irish can tell who a farmer is and how. By their hands, dress, ruddy complexion, accent, cap, jacket, or shoes?

The best I could do was to warn him of the wait.


Tea cup




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