I once bought Seamus Heaney a drink.
It was near the end of my shift and I was waiting for drinks I’d ordered, my cocktail tray at the ready. The odd name of the restaurant, “One Potato Two Potato” was annoyingly embroidered across the chest of the butcher apron I wore over black shirt and pants. It was not the worst waitressing get-up I’d ever worn and the pockets were perfect for order pads, pens and tips. Tips at this pub-style restaurant on Harvard Square helped pay for the apartment I shared with my sister a few blocks away. I was in-between things in my life, having just landed in Boston after a 4 month solo jaunt through Europe. I was still pining after Gerry Clancy who I’d met early in my travels, on my first day in Limerick. Thus, my brogue-alert was triggered by the man with a tweedy jacket and shock of messy, slightly greying hair at the bar, when he placed his order in a fine Irish accent.
“John, I want to buy that man’s drink,” I quietly said to the owner. I recognized the poet Seamus Heaney.
With Harvard right across the street, quite a few writers frequented this pub-style restaurant. One Potato Two Potato had unexceptional food but a long, wooden bar and unpretentious atmosphere. John Updike was a regular, usually sitting at a deuce, his back to the window. Once, he hurried back in after leaving, having forgotten his cap. He smiled and thanked me when I handed it to him but he seemed a shy guy, preferring not to be recognized or engaged.
On the other hand, Seamus Heaney seemed delighted by my offer and asked me to join him so he could buy me a drink in return. After my shift, I hung up my apron and climbed onto the bar stool next to him. What did young me talk about with Seamus Heaney? I can’t remember. I suspect my memory falters because he was a charming gentleman who asked questions. And so I talked. Perhaps I told him about my dysfunctional Irish family and the strange sad tale of my father’s journey back and forth as a baby and child. Did I tell him about my obsession with Gerry Clancy and the days spent mostly drunk at a thatched cottage in Clare? I cringe now to think. My recollection is vague but sweet of Seamus Heaney attentively listening to my searching, blathering, waitress-self, as if I were fascinating. Slainte, Seamus Heaney.