This is my weekend. MY weekend. The glorified weekend of flag waving, chest-pounding, proud-standing, celebrations of my people. The Irish. All of us. All of you, on this day, St. Paddy’s Day.
I was surely, "born with mischief in my eyes, and fire in my veins" (Emish). I grew up amidst tales of the “troubles”. I learned about the role my grandfather, Thomas Long, né deLong, played in getting Ireland free, the south anyway. I learned about my great uncles and how they fought and struggled, and my grandmother’s journey to America, alone at fourteen, in 1928, six years after Michael Collins died, and the Irish Civil War began. These stories were discussed proudly and at times in hushed tones. Whiskey was raised, beer cans were popped, backs were slapped, or mothers consoled. The children were never protected from these talks, as we were from so many others.
Needless to say, my tribe is scattered around and about and it was very long ago and far away that I traveled with my clan. 90 miles south to be precise, on 5th Avenue up and down and all over Manhattan, that I was skinny legged and shouting, chanting, at the top of my 12 year old lungs “Get England Out of Ireland!” 8 cousins strong, without adult supervision, we were set free. A sight for sure. And each year after with different companions and different shouts, and laughs and then smiles, flirtations, and afterwards at McSorley’s or Rosie O’Grady’s or up and down Third Avenue singing rebel songs and pounding back beers.
With nary a tribe, and half a century under my belt, I’m feeling a little separate from the festivities. I made the sacred Irish Soda Bread, I’m not a fan of the pink boiled meat floating about with the pale green odorous leaves. So, what better to do than head north far from all festivities and go on an impromptu college visit with my son, the Gaelic named laddy? Off we go 6 hours north for a visit 1.5 hours in duration. We get there, pleased, grinning, hopeful. We walk around, impressed. Head into town, larger than expected, satisfied by our journey, we leave. We drive southeast another 3 hours toward our small cottage in the Adirondacks for a brief overnight check in. We decide half way through to stop in Lake Placid, enjoy dinner, do a little shopping, watch the ice skaters, the crowds teaming into the Olympic Arena for the CanAm games. Hockey! As we are driving past, I feel this tinge of wishing to be part of a tribe, festivities…. I am, however, happy with my Gaelic named co-pilot and content in our day.
We drive through these majestic Adirondack mountains and I can see, feel, the spirit of this man, my youngest son, beside me, as he longs to get back in and up them. He was also "born with mischief in his eyes and fire in his veins". His fire is more of a steady low burning flame. Reliable and calm. I can detect his adventurous desires, the memories of the climbs dancing before him. We have climbed 15 together. As we drive through in mid March, they are still snow covered. There is a starkness and a ruggedness that you don’t feel in the green lushness of summer. As we approach some of them from the distance, it feels like we are in Colorado, or Montana. They are huge, imposing and stretching long and far. There is a quiet, hushed tone about them. A pride in their stance. We are both, equally drawn to them and calmed in their sight, smug in our sense of mastery at conquering more than a few. Proud.
We travel onward toward the cottage. This cottage, simple, and sufficient in it’s features, offers basic comforts and an abundance of love and spirit and warmth. I imagine, not unlike the home of my grandmother, when she was a girl, or at least it’s intent. It too, was basic, and beautiful in its simplicity amidst the Connemara Mountains of Kenmare. Perhaps it was filled more with somber tones and hushed voices as my grandmother and her siblings suffered under the reign of British soldiers who seized their land and the farm that was generations owned by Sullivan’s. A clan, a tribe, many strong, helpless against the intrusion.
We get to the door, I fumble for the keys in the dark, the cold, ready to fall into the comfort that it is still standing. (I await the worst each time we get here.) I’m not so comfortable in my role as north country cottage owner. As I find the right key, I am instantly thrilled by the warmth, (I was certain the monitor would have been shut-off by a power outage). And just as quickly I am alerted by the sound of the waterfall that is surely gushing through, where? The bathtub left on? The toilet froze and cracked open? It’s coming from downstairs, the cellar. Suddenly the true Irish in me comes out. Fervor. My Murphy has arrived full on. Curses! The luck of the Irish is always wrapped in a bow and provided by Murphy’s law isn’t it #@!?! Whatever can go wrong, will! OH, for fecks sake, I knew I should have come up earlier to check!
My son, the curse-ed Gaelic named one, is now muttering about the heater that should have been left in the wet, dripping cellar. I am carrying on about the hundreds of dollars worth of electric pipe warmers that are already plugged in and meant to do the same trick, efficiently and appropriately! #@! He is trying to turn off water supply nozzles, numerous, throughout. He gets it down to a hissing spray as opposed to the gushing waterfall and goes on a hunt for duct tape, eyes rolling and annoyed. He knows better than to cross the Irish matriarch he’s been bless-ed with in this moment. I locate the source of the hiss, some odd nodule in the pipe from the main water line and hold it into place. We fix it for the night, all Murpheyed up and out and return to the comfort of the warm, glow of the cottage above sea level. He awaits my black Irish seething, or my mischief eyed snark. I just sigh. He has gained many skills working with a contractor over the past 2 years. I ask if this is something he can handle with tools and materials. He starts, “Ummm, NO” with a growing confidence I respect. He is happy that we have kept the Gerry Adam's peace treaty. No blood shed tonight.
It’s 8:30 but I retire for the night. I reflect, as I do, about the day. It was a good one. I remind myself that there are choices, and I choose the better one. I choose to focus on the good. The pipes in the cellar have grown from centuries of DIY’ers, Irish and otherwise, that had no rights to even attempt to hold these pipes in their pale and ruddy hands. Truly, centuries...at least two. Ethan Allen's brother lived across the street. No doubt his bastard brother, the feckless plumber. They descended from Brit's, what can I tell you? There are about 6 different lines coming in and out of elbow pipes and three way connections, copper, pvc, and black hose, random extensions all cluster-fecked together. These pipes are like some intestinal puzzle reaching 4 miles long inside of ten feet of cavernous mud and rock. It really has nothing to do with Murphy or Sullivan or MacNamara’s Band. They will be fixed, correctly, and the next time I come with Murph, Sully, or maybe a member of Mac or McNamara's band, with "the girls", or solo, I’ll have no troubles a’tall and my Irish eyes will be smiling.
The next morning, March 17, my day, the day of my people, I walk down to the brook and fetch a pail of water, much like my grandmother must have. I’ll use it to wash up and make some coffee. I’ll attempt to call a plumber before heading home, 3 and a half hours south. I’ll pray to Saint Patrick, and Saint Brigid, and Blessed Mary, Mother of God, in hopes that the Gaelic-named bless-ed son gets to go to the school he so desires and grows to become an engineer. Hopes and dreams my tribe could never before aspire to, a tribute to the hard-work and grit and determination of my people, my grandmother, single, working mother, born for certain with "mischief in her eyes and fire in her veins".
Later I’ll throw together a succulent stew steaming in Guinness for dinner. Proud and pleased and feeling the luck of the Irish.
Happy Saint Patrick's Day!
Happy Saint Patrick's Day!