For St. Patrick's Day, a little story about my grandmother:
My grandmother liked America. She wasn't the kind of Irish who took the boat, then joined the local Hibernian club, tearfully sung Kevin Barry on Saturday nights, and sent money to Noraid.
She was more the kind of Irish who whispered Hail Mary in bed every night, picked fresh mint for her tea (until the neighbor's German Shepard peed on the bed and then my father had to rip it all out), and kept a Kennedy Family coffee table book on display. ("If he did what they say he did with those women, well... who could blame him? They were throwing themselves at him!")
And now that I've seen her father's farm, I can understand why. She traded stone floors for sheet linoleum, and she wasn't looking back -- because what was the point of that? Grammie wasn't a romantic. And she wasn't much for moaning and mooning around, thinking about what might have mean, could have been, should be? This what she'd say, "God is good."
Go play outside.
Anyway, I think she mellowed a little as she got older. It started to be cool to be Irish. Plus my grandfather was dead, so she didn't have to listen to him carrying on... And I came back from Ireland with news of the Cotters, and Crawfords, and Murrays, and Tuoys, and her little blond nephew Francis, she stood for him at his baptism just days before leaving, and now he's an old bachelor who chews raw garlic for his health, the last on the family farm, living alone and talking to his cows, and he's finally got a phone and a television! And you know what? They don't even save the hay anymore. They buy silage.
In her old age, I think she finally liked Ireland again. From a distance, of course. Or maybe she just appreciated her grandchildren's interest in it -- because she was all about the grandkids.
Inside her Cape Cod-style house on Brunswick Street in Hartford, sandwiched between two sets of Portuguese cousins, waiting for my father's lunch visit (every day for 30-plus years) she sat on a pink La-Z-Boy, with a Connemara blanket across her knees and Oprah on the television. Above her head, there were nearly a dozen 8 by 10, silver-framed portraits of her grandchildren.
She liked to sit there, sipping ginger ale and holding court like Rose Kennedy. ("Well, I think Bert's not a bad man, but he likes his drink. How will he ever find a wife if he's drunk in the bar every night of the week?" or "I hear your cousin Brian and that girl of his broke up. Well, good for him!")
(When my cousin Kerry and her husband Michael visited Grammie for the second year in a row, perching on the couch to tell her that they were expecting their second (and third) babies in as many years, she leaned back in the La-Z-Boy and exclaimed, "Again!?" And Michael said, "Well, Grammie, you had four children, didn't you?" And she said, "Not in one night, I didn't!")
So, I had high hopes when my hipster cousin Gerry came from Dublin. I thought she'd enjoy meeting the younger generation. (Gerry was her sister's grandson.) I called all of the cousins to meet on Brunswick Street. First we'd have Chips Ahoy and chit-chat, then we'd move on to my father's bar. I should have thought better.
"Are those earrings?" she asked.
"Yes, Auntie," he answered obediently, his ponytail bobbing.
"Well..." she began.
"Now Grammie," I interrupted. "A lot of the boys in Ireland have earrings these days. And just look at Brian's picture!" I said, pointing to the Wall of Fame. "Your own grandson has an earring in his high school graduation picture."
"He does not," she said flatly.
"Well, it's the style..." I soothed.
"Well! When I was in Ireland, the only things that had rings in their ears were the bonnets! The pigs! If this is the style now, then the only thing I have to say is, Ireland has gone straight to H-E-L-L!"
P.S., I've got a little note here from God. It says:
My friend Patrick has been bugging me for 40-plus years to pass on this message. (Between Ike Turner, Kim Jong-il and those Cabbage Patch demons, I've had other priorities, Pat!) Anyway, he says (and I'm trying to get it right...), "Unless you heathens stop messing with my lager, start tipping your barkeep, and learn the words to the songs, I'll release the snakes! Dia duit!"