|St. Patrick's Day was last week, and a rather strange day it was for me. It was the first time, in all my life, that I was aware of my Irish heritage.
Until this year, the identity of my maternal grandfather, except for his name, was unknown to me. John Tackaberry, might as well have never existed.
Discussion about him was strictly taboo. My mother and grandmother never mentioned him until I broke the barrier when I was a teenager, insisting I be told something about who he was and why he was a forbidden subject.
The story I got from my mother was told with blatant anger. According to her, her father had been a wealthy businessman in New Rochelle, New York. He had become involved in some investments and had lost all his money in a stock market crash at the turn of the century. The story continued with his unsuccessful attempts to earn enough money to support his family, followed by his suicide, which left my grandmother and her four children in debt. My grandmother became the housekeeper for a famous private detective in New York City and my mother became a milliner until she married my father at age 17.
I thought the story was fascinating - the stuff of which novels and movies were made. I could see, however, that it was a bitter memory, never to be brought back again. So, mum was the word for dear old granddad.
My family's background was never an important issue to me. My mother was always close to her mother's family, all the surviving 13 siblings and their children. I knew them only as occasionally visiting great aunts and uncles and second and third cousins. They all lived in Vermont, which was pretty far away. I was close to Mama's two sisters and my only first cousin from that family.
My father's family were all from Maine. I met an aunt and some great first cousins when I visited them when I was thirteen. His parents were dead when I was born and I never gave them much thought.
During the past two years, my father's grandson and my daughter-in-law's sister have been doing some extensive root digging around my family tree. They've been able to trace my father's French connection back a couple of centuries to Normandy, France, Acadian Canada, and Nova Scotia. It was interesting, especially the part about my father's mother's ancestor who escaped the British invasion of Acadia by running to hang out with the Miramishee Indians, and marrying one.
A lot was discovered about my family and my husband's. The only thing that I really wanted to know was the story of my mother's father. At last - he was found and the huge skeleton Mama kept in her closet, fell out at my feet. Was I surprised.
I must explain that during the 17 years I lived at home, my quiet and gentle mother became fairly vitriolic whenever the word "Irish" popped up. I always thought it was some sort of Welsh thing, since she was always so proud of being 100% Welsh. Imagine my surprise when records were found proving that my grandfather's parents had been born in Ireland and immigrated to the United States in the 1850's! Begosh and begorra.
More big surprises were dug up. My husband never knew that, while his father's parents were both born in Scotland, his mother's family were from Ireland. She had never told him.
St Patrick's Day was a pretty big deal when I was a kid. The big parade was just across the river in New York City. You were always supposed to wear green on March 17th, or face being pinched by schoolmates. Mama, of course, would have none of the wearin' of the green, so I always asked a classmate to bring me something - anything green I could pin on. Usually, I had to endure a lot of pinching, which didn't endear the Irish to me.
So, here I am, in 2004, living through my first St. Patrick's Day aware of the Irish blood flowing through my veins, mixing with the Welsh, French, and Native American. I've always felt a connection to the first three, but now I know why I've always loved old Irish music, Irish literature and theater, and cured many a cold with Irish whiskey.