Tuesday, March 16, 2010

I Blame My Mick Mother!

My classmates in grammar school knew me as that weird girl that wore green a lot, had an affinity to cats and was fiercely proud of being Irish. Over the years, the green gave way to black and the cats are of the LOL variety, but the Irish pride is still there.

Growing up, I was surrounded by shamrocks, belleek and statuettes of wee little men with gin blossomed cheeks clutching heaping pots of novelty sized coins of gold. February would start the countdown to my mom's favorite Holiday. She was raised in what was lovingly referred to as the Irish Ghetto of St. Paul - the corridor of Arch and Lyndon. It was an area of refugees and mafia types. This was the nexus that controlled St. Paul. The people that designed the twists and turns of our state capitals roads and put the street cars out of business came from here. It was also home to the Speakeasy's with their secret knocks, ample supplies of tommy guns and bathtub whiskey.

My own mother's history has some areas of gray (or muted green). There was a mob tie, but it was very loose. My grandfather was able to wriggle free by way of being an adoptee into the 'family', and a single father. His sweet little wife had passed after spending over a year in a tuberculosis asylum, leaving him to find an honest living to care for his daughter. He was working class Irish - beaten, poor and a bit of a drunk. Mom remembers a lot of her early childhood sitting at the local pub, hearing tales about the mother country accented with booming, thick brogues. She didn't mind, the stories came with shiny nickels and ice cold bottles of coke.

Though her people were poor, they were also very proud. As with every Irish family with the name Joyce in it's tree, there were rumors that we were related to James himself (even my own husband has gotten caught up in the hype - claiming he sees a resemblance). My mother was entrenched in tradition and each 'St. Patty's' would come with a celebratory brunch of soda bread and irish stew (though I'm not terribly sure how the ancient druids would feel about bright green beer). The bowler hat of buttons saying 'Kiss Me, I'm Irish' and 'It's a big day for wee folk' would be donned and off the adults would go for the famous St. Patrick's Day Parade and Guinness soaked debauch. Even the parade itself had family ties. My own cousin and former mayor (god bless him) was one of the founding fathers of the St. Paul St. Patrick's Day celebrations.

Former Mayor Tom Byrne passed in April of last year. This will be the first year that much of his family will be celebrating St. Pat's without him. Since that St. Patrick's Day in 1967, when Tom carried the shillelagh and led a merry group of revelers out of the Hilton hotel (now the Radisson) and down Kellogg Blvd to the St. Paul Hotel, the people of our state capitol have celebrated their heritage (or pretend heritage, if only for a day). Tom left other legacies: under his leadership, St. Paul became the first city in the nation to pass a human rights ordinance. He was one of the first to adopt a housing law, and when a group of angry residents staged a sit-in at his office in '68, he didn't get the authorities, he got them coffee and doughnuts and listened to their grievances. Even though I laugh about being a 'mafia granddaughter' and sing little ditties about being torn between my orange and my green, it's this part of the family that simply leaves me bursting with pride.

So tonight I dragged my step-daughter into my own traditions. Fabric paint and the appropriate shirt of green was acquired - custom made Irish T by Miss N. will make it's debut tomorrow. I wanted to give her just a little bit of what I had as a child. That strong sense of heritage, of belonging to a special group with a great history. As we painted, she was told the colorful family legacy of the Flaherty's, Barrett's, Joyce's and Byrne's - and dare I say, a good part of it was true.


Blogger Adoresixtyfour said...

A Happy St. Patrick's Day to you, Jonny & Ms. N. (a.k.a. my birthday twin)!

6:27 AM  
Blogger MissTrixi said...

Happy St. P D to you too! (that's P Diddy!).

Hope it's fun and safe and debaucherous!

7:18 AM  

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