Category Archives: Irishness

Memories 1, 2, 3

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My dad’s favorite joke: At a dance a guy with a wooden eye goes up to a gal with a hairlip and he asks her to dance. She goes, “oh, would I, would I,” and he goes, “hairlip, hairlip!” He’d tell that joke after a couple of scotch and sodas and just laugh and laugh. Oh, dad.

My youngest brother and sister, who were born eight months apart (Irish twins) had their own language that no one understood. They’d sometimes say the same word at the same time, and they’d go “jinx,” and then “you ate it.” And then laugh hysterically.

One time as a teenager I came home stoned and almost late for supper. This used to infuriate my father – he wouldn’t really know that I was stoned, just that I was late for dinner. So this time I was late and he goes, “You’re DOCKED!” And I go, “I AM NOT!” thinking he was saying that I was stoned. I didn’t realize that he was saying that I was grounded. The initial grounding went from two to three weeks, which I thought was extra punitive.

 

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I’m Crabby Today.

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I feel sorta like This Guy

And sort of vexed. No, nope, I don’t really know why. This is a Machinist Man sort of mood; the kind where there’s no rhyme or reason for it – it just is. I will get over myself, eventually. I’ve been watching cute dog viddies – dogs trying to be friends with cats. Stuff like that usually sets me right; but no, not today – I’ve still got the crankies.

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Oh no, she’s got her Irish up.

I had a great doctor check-up this morning – I’m very healthy! What, did I want for there to be something wrong? Geez! I was complaining to my very nice doctor, “Why do I need to come in here every 3 months – this is ridiculous!” And she goes, “Well, it’s been 7 months since you’ve been here.” I said, “Oh, well, ok, then.” And then she’d say stuff like, “Wow, you’ve lost 15 pounds! That’s great!” And I’d grumble, “Well don’t praise me, it’s nowhere near my goal!”

I know that if I take the dogs out to the dog park and get some fresh air (not sunshine – there’s been no sunshine for I don’t know how many days now – oh, there’s a clue there) I might get nudged out of this snarliness (is that a word?), but it’s way better than getting depressed. Is this progress for me? I don’t know, maybe? M’Man thinks it’s way, way healthier his way; that is, express stuff outwardly rather than inward and getting low down and blue. Taking all the problems in, feeling guilty and ashamed.

Maybe I’m learning. Hmmmm.

I really needed to do my roots tonight.

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But I’ll talk about my family a little bit instead. The Walsh-Hayes-Quigleys are depicted here. Michael James Walsh married my lovely grandmother, Anne Hayes. Anne came to the U.S. on her own at a young age (that was never clear to me – she could have been 16 – she could have been 19) from a tiny village, Cooga Doone, in Western Ireland. Her sister, Margaret Hayes, also came to the U.S., I’m not clear on her story, either – Walsh story-tellers (Devin!), please help me out here.

I loved my Auntie Margaret – she was a real character. She was a diabetic but had it “under control,” because “you want to know why, Patty Ann?” (I was “Patty Ann” in those days) “No, why Auntie Margaret? (Already knowing the answer because we’d had this conversation 60 times already.) “I carry a little packet of Lifesavers! Why do you think they call them Lifesavers?” Then we (my brother Michael and I) needed to do the obligatory chuckling at her wee funny. We didn’t mind – we thought she was great. She used to come and stay with us at my Nana Walsh’s little cabin in Northern New Jersey, named “Cooga Doone.” Auntie Margaret used to have half a ciggie and a glass of whiskey before she went to bed every night, although she “didn’t smoke or drink,” because “that stuff will kill you.” May she rest in peace.

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Anne Hayes Walsh & Margaret Hayes Quigley

But backing up a few decades, shortly after she had moved to the states, Margaret married Dennis Quigley and had a son, Dennis, who had the brightest red hair I’ve ever seen. I never met Dennis Quigley the first, as he passed away before I was born. We used to visit Auntie Margaret and Cousin Dennis at their apartment in Queens, and I always thought that was such a big adventure.

My dad’s dad, Michael J. Walsh, also died before I was born, unfortunately. He was what they called “Black Irish,” – a rather ambiguous reference to people of Irish descent/heritage who have black hair and darker features. It’s a term that’s actually not used much in Ireland. There’s a lot I don’t know about him; I’m not certain if he was born in Ireland or the U.S., what he did for a living, and even how he died exactly. I think he had a hard time with the bottle and his life. My dad, who was the oldest in the Walsh family, didn’t talk about his dad very much, and I think he harbored a lot of feelings of pain about him.

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Michael & Anne Walsh

Nana Walsh was a lovely woman and I just adored her with all my heart. She cooked and cleaned for the rectory in her church for as long as I can remember. She had four kids with Michael: my dad, Nancy, Jack, and Cookie (her nickname – her real name is Mary Eileen). They raised the kids in (mostly) North Arlington, New Jersey, and they all went to Queen of Peace Church. My brother Michael and I used to get to stay with Nana Walsh occasionally at her apartment (I used to think apartments were the greatest things when I was little.) She’d fix us nice cups of tea (of course) and we’d eat little butter cookies and try and get her parakeets to say stuff to us. 

I drink lots of nice cups of tea almost every day, and think about Nana Walsh with nearly every cup.

My Inner Dork

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So this is how I feel the majority of the time. I am Doofus Supreme. Don’t even look at me. I am a goofball.

Best Picture of Me, Ever.

But you know what? I look at this little girl with fondness and I guess I love her, finally. She’s kind of cute and she’s not dumb. Yes, she always feels like a dork, but she gets over it, and she, well, she is all kinds of ok, actually. Probably a little more than ok, a lot of the time. No, she rocks.

Big Sister

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I am about to start my Communications and Public Relations Internship at Big Brothers Big Sisters this week, and it got me to start thinking about my own match with my Little, Denver, who is now age 18.

I’d like to say that we did AMAZING and ADVENTUROUS things together, my Little and me, but we never really did anything on a Grand Scale. Our favorite thing to do was talking. And more talking. And a little more talking. It didn’t really matter where we were.

I met Denver when she was 8 years old. Our first “date” was a trip to the Walker Art Center with Denver’s older sister, Australia, and her new Big Sister (a double date.) I’d say it was awkward, to say the least. I can’t recall what the exhibit was called, but I think the art was sort of pretentious and, well you know, art being subjective and all of that, we didn’t really agree that it was art. One exhibit was a mop and a bucket. Denver cracked up at that one. We had lunch at the Walker and took Australia’s Big (I cannot remember her name) and the kids home. I don’t think Australia and her Big clicked, but Denver and I definitely did, and it began our long journey of Big and Little.

Our favorite Saturday or Sunday would go something like this: I’d pile my two big mutts, Egor and Iggy, into my Isuzu Trooper and swing by Denver’s house to pick her up. I always hung out at her house for a little bit and talked with Denver’s mom, who I really liked a lot. My dogs adored Denver (or Auntie Denver, as she became known to them.) We’d head over to the dog park out by the airport and let the dogs run loose and we’d just follow along, walking the whole length of the park, twice. When we’d go there in spring, the park would be really muddy, and I believe Denver wrecked a couple pairs of nice basketball shoes. Mom wasn’t very happy about that. me & denver

With the dogs then finally exhausted, tired and sometimes muddy, we’d load them up into the Trooper and head up 28th Avenue South to the Nokomis Beach Coffee Shop to get a bite to eat, and then stop by the used book store next door; sometimes finding a treasure to purchase, sometimes not. It was the looking that was fun.

That would be a typical “short” Saturday visit. If I didn’t have anything else going on, the longer version of the Denver-Patti Experience would be all of the above activities, and extend to going back to my house and cooking Italian food and sometimes making carrot bread.

And talking. And more talking.

Here is a memorable, solving-problems-of-the-world conversation we once had:

“Patti, why do white people act so strange and treat our family so bad sometimes?”

“Denver, I can’t answer on behalf of all ‘white people’ any more than you can answer for all African American people. I don’t have the answers, there’s still a lot of racism out there, and unfortunately you and your family sometimes experience it first-hand. But I don’t represent all white people. I don’t know why stupid racist people do what they do. They’re just ignorant.”

“Anyway, Patti, you’re not white, you’re Irish.”

“Oh yeah, that’s right!”

We had had a previous conversation about how the Irish were treated when they first immigrated to America, and that my Dad had experienced being called a “dirty mick” and other slurs on the Irish.

We had lots of other experiences like going to ValleyFair a couple of times, going to basketball games, festivals and other events, and of course BBBS events like picnics, cooking and yoga classes. Denver even came and did radio with me up at KFAI. We also did quite a few bike rides around Lake Harriet.

Denver’s all grown up now – she graduated from high school and is having her own adventures. When she started getting busy with her friends at age 16 and our “dates” started becoming fewer and farther between, she asked me if we were still going to be “sisters,” and I told her “yes, we’ll always be sisters.”

We haven’t talked in a while, but I’ll be catching up with her soon, hopefully.

Just like I do with my blood sisters.

Ok, I Won’t.

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Things unfold in the weirdest ways…one window slams and several doors open…or is it doors slamming and windows opening?  I can’t remember the saying at the moment. Ride that roller coaster, Red! Weeeeee! Ain’t it fun? I’m more about busting out windows – or, well, mostly about windexing them because most of the time they’re merely dirty. I just need to stay inside and glance outward. I come from scrappy Irish scrubber women stock — I might wear my heart on my sleeve, but then I roll up those sleeves and get back to work. There’s stuff to do.

Nana & Pop-pop

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nana&pop-pop2My Mom’s parents, Alice Murphy Kennedy and Robert Kennedy (yeah, I know) were a very big part of my rearing. We drove to their house in Harrison, New Jersey, every Sunday after mass to have dinner. Dinner, watch Disney, Ed Sullivan, drive back to Midland Park. Every single Sunday.

I adored my Nana Kennedy. She taught third grade in the Kearney School District, and I can remember being pretty little when she brought me into her class and I sat up on her desk like I was “show and tell.” Her kids fawned all over me, and I recall feeling pretty special.

Nana and Pop-pop had a special playroom right off of the kitchen – it was really tiny and I loved it – it had a toy chest and a little desk with crayons and construction paper. My brother Michael and I would spend hours in there while my Mom and Nana, and sometimes their next-door neighbor, Ta Baker, were gabbing in the kitchen, drinking cups of percolated coffee and smoking. Well, Ta didn’t smoke, but Mom smoked Tarringtons (I’d rather fight than switch,) and Nana smoked Salem menthols (Take a puff…it’s springtime.) Sometimes they’d have some coffeecake, or crumb-bums, as Nana used to call them. Mmmm, New Jersey, bakeries, crumb-bums. Heaven.

I think my sister Christine, who was about 9 months old, was crawling around in the playroom sometimes – she probably wasn’t being watched very well. We were busy coloring; I don’t think we were responsible for her…. And in the kitchen there was so much gossip to get caught up on, you know? Christine grew into one of the strongest, most self-reliant, independent women I’ve ever known, so maybe this baby neglect was useful in the long-run.

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“Son of a bitch, take the g.d. picture already!” “Bob, the kids….”

Pop-pop was a rather curmudgeonly character with coke-bottle glasses. He was an avid reader of history books, loved to golf, and was constantly puffing on a big, fat stogy. In his youth, he sang in a barbershop quartet. He was a terrible driver and cussed like a sailor. Despite his gruff exterior, he was a total creampuff and oh boy, when Christine was born, was he ever enamored with her! I’m sure he loved all of us, but was very taken with Christine – I think all grandparents have their special grandkids – not all of them show it like Pop-pop did. Like I said, total creampuff.

Fast forward to 1990-something. Nana and Pop-pop long gone. I was visiting my Mom and came across my Nana’s grey curly Llama coat that she wore for years – oh, it was so her. I took it out of the closet and put it on – it smelled like cigars – man, the floodgates opened. My Mom said go ahead and take it. I’ve had some work done on it – it was sort of falling apart. I’ve had it dry-cleaned I don’t know how many times, but I can’t get the cigar smell out. I’m not sure I want to.

I’ve Got the Conch

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“I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed anything like it,” my husband said.  “What do you mean?” I replied. “All six of you talk at the same time, you talk all over one another, and yet you seem to also acknowledge what you’re all saying – can it be that you’re actually listening to each other? That you’re really having a conversation?” “Well, yeah! What’s so strange about that?” “Sheesh, doesn’t every family do that?”

That was twenty six or so years ago, when my hubby first went to Detroit with me and met my mom and sibs for the first time – I think it was a Thanksgiving. It had never occurred to me that maybe I wasn’t the best listener in the universe. And I resented having it pointed out to me. But, there you have it. I talk too fast. I talk over people, I fill in their sentences because they’re not talking quickly enough for me, and of course I know what they’re about to say. Guilty, guilty, guilty.

So this is my quest, grasshopper. To slow down; hold my tongue and let people finish what they were going to say. I let them have the conch. I actually bite my tongue – you know, gently – I don’t draw blood or anything. It’s taken me years and years to perfect this method, but I think I’m getting there. Unless I’ve had too much coffee, then all bets are off.

Tea and Me

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I went quite insane yesterday when I saw that our big chain supermarket, Cub Foods, now carries Barry’s Irish Tea. It wasn’t very expensive, either. Previously I was ordering it online and anxiously awaiting for its arrival, or making a special trip to Kowalski’s and copping it at their premo prices.barrys

What is with us Irish types and the tea tradition? Is it some sort of recessive gene? We’re (and I’m using the collective “we” as in “we Irish Americans” blah blah blah I have Irish relatives still living over there on the old sod) pretty famous for our obsession with tea, proudly outdoing our British rivals.

I did a little cursory “GTS,” you know, Google That Shit (hey, that’s a real technical term), and came up with this item:

Graham Clifford of Independent.ie writes:

Since the early 1800s, it’s oiled the mechanics of our chatterbox nation. Having the cup of tea, which was first introduced to Ireland by the Anglo-Irish aristocracy, is not so much the desire for a hot tasty beverage as it is to take part in a social ritual.

Incredibly Ireland is the leading consumer of tea per capita on the planet. We consume 2.71kg – or 1,200 cups – each year.

When JFK visited his home place in New Ross in 1963, he was handed a cup of tea and in more recent years Mrs. Doyle banged a familiar drum on Father Ted, asking all in sundry if they’d have a cup – and not taking no for an answer. Some say it calms the nerves, others that it has medicinal properties. One thing everyone can agree on is that it’s accompanied millions of fireside chats through the years in Irish homes.

Ah yes, the medicinal properties – once my Uncle Jack took us out on Nana Walsh’s big wooden row boat when we were staying up at her lake cabin in Highland Lakes, New Jersey (the cabin was named Cooga Doon, after the village in Ireland where she grew up.) We stayed out on the lake all day, and I had no sun protection whatsoever. Redhead that I am, I was sunburned very severely by the end of the day. They placed me in a tub full of teabags and cool water – something about the tannic acid reducing the inflammation. I probably should have gone to the emergency room, but tea did the trick.

Growing up, we were given tea for upset stomachs, colds, flu, and just about any affliction. Tea made everything better.

It’s been rumored that used teabags placed on eyelids can help to reduce the redness and swelling from bad hangovers. Having never been hung over, I can’t attest to this. Tea doesn’t help to alleviate fibbing.

I find that the caffeine element in tea is different from coffee. I require coffee first thing in the morning – and I am very particular about the brand of coffee I drink now as well (Peets – I know, I’m like a caffeine snob.) But when I’m in that slumpy mode after 3:00 in the afternoon it’s got to be a nice cuppa tea. It seems to revive and calm nerves at the same time.

Is it just years of conditioning that makes me believe I feel better?

Who cares? I’ve got Barry’s. Time to put the kettle on.