Monday, March 17, 2008

The St. Patrick's Day Parade

Where are the floats? You have to like pipe bands. I don't. You have to think it's interesting to watch thousands of cops, firefighters, sanitation workers, Catholic school students, politicians, & Gaelic society members marching down the street. I don't. You have to enjoy the content of Irish-American culture. It doesn't do much for me. You have to applaud the guy singing rebel songs in a pub decorated with shamrock lights. I can't wait for the break when they turn the jukebox back on. If you're of partial Irish ancestry, you have to express an unusual pride in it. I can't say which attributes of my personality are "Irish." My temper? My bardic jeenyus? My inconsistent gift for blarney? That I like Killian's Red draft, which is brewed by Coors? I don't look Irish. My grandmother looked Irish. My godparents - older cousins - looked Irish. My genes are more related to the couple in American Gothic.

My family had very little overt Irishness about it. This despite the presence of an Irish-Catholic gramma on the premises until I was about 12 years old. Best I could tell, Nana had a barely-disguised contempt for most forms of Irish-American culture.

Yeah, Nana had some "lace curtain" pretensions (though nothing like Aunt Mary, a bank vice president). But she had grown up in an Irish neighborhood of Philly. She attended church in a predominantly Irish parish in Roselle NJ. Her friends were cranky Irish-American ladies like herself. I never saw her take a drink; maybe she kept a bottle in her bedroom.

I had a love/hate relationship with her, but after she died, I realized I had adored her & she was my "protector" in a family that had a few dysfunctions. If men seek out women like their mothers, Nana influenced me to skip over mine & go for the Catholic girls, most of them Irish-Catholics. I was finding middle-aged ones as recently as 2003.

Perhaps it was the maleness of Irish-American culture that put off Nana. Most Irish-American traditions are excuses for men to chase down whiskey with beer. The parades, speeches, & priestly blessings are merely preliminaries. The girls get sent off for dancing lessons, that strangely chaste Irish style of hopping up & down with hands rigidly held at sides, knees never more than one inch apart even during the kicks.

Nana was widowed when my dad was a teenager, & she took in & raised two orphaned nephews by herself. Dad threw it all overboard, the Catholicism & whatever remained of the Irishness. You'd insult him by calling him "lapsed." He was way beyond that.

A few years ago, I made internet contact with a woman I am certain is a distant cousin in England. Why am I certain? Her surname is the same as mine. She's from Liverpool Irish, like my paternal grandfather. She has a personality that makes the two possible familial connections feel more than coincidental. She expresses puzzlement at why Hillary & Barack are considered "liberals," since they wouldn't last five minutes at a Labour Party meeting before being booed off the podium as sell-outs. She's the cousin I never had during all those years I had to listen to Republican shit at holiday family gatherings.

My grandmother married into Liverpool Irish. Maybe it wasn't as big a deal as marrying an Italian in Philly back around 1918, but I figure the Liverpool Irish-Americans were somewhat less Irish in their culture than the Ireland Irish-Americans. They arrived here physically twice-removed, & several generations distant, from the Old Sod. Maybe that attracted Nana to Sam. She & her husband bought a nice house in suburban Roselle Park, in a neighborhood that had other Irish-Catholics who didn't make a big deal out of it. Assimilation.

My Irish-Catholic girlfriends had Irish names, several had strict Catholic upbringings, none suffered through an inculcation of Irish-American culture. They didn't have to explain Catholicism to me. Three of them were from my grandmother's church. I expressed no strong protestant opinions about raising kids Catholic because I had no intention of marrying the girls, despite whatever they, or their parents, were thinking at the time.

My longest relationship was with a woman who'd been raised in a variety of Eastern European Catholicism, which was out of my realm of experience & struck me as bleak. The Irish-American form wasn't too upbeat either, but it came with a sideshow of Celtic paganism, proudly displayed on St. Patrick's Day in the form of miniature men with green hats & shillelaghs. These devious little guys reside under the local hill with an assortment of bizarre, supernatural, pre-Christian creatures you're likely to see only when you've self-medicated with copious amounts of distilled beverages, & they're not above kidnapping your virginal daughters. You can look it up.

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I read an interesting commentary on the beautiful virginal heroines in fairy tales and their fate of bansihment into exile if that purity was called into question. If a girl remained virginal, that was proof positive that there was no incest occuring in the home; once she lost her virginity to a lover, her male family members could fall under suspicion and so she had to be bannished from the family. I wonder if those "leprechauns" caused Irish girls to suffer the same fate.
Your grandmother married a man descended from London. His father came over here from England in about 1835/6.
Timeline for that doesn't work for me. Figure Sam Rixon born around 1890 give or take & there could be a generation missing. But the author of this blog is a pseudonym & so the events & characters depicted may be imaginary.
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