by Gina Sestak
Everybody's Irish on St. Patrick's Day, or so they say, but some of us are just a bit more Irish than others. Myself, I might be more Irish if a few things happened to prevail:
I might be perceived as Irish if I wasn't such a feminist, in which case I would have started using my ex-husband's name when we got married and continued using it after the divorce. His name is Terry McNeeley, you see. Definitely Irish.
To go to the other end of the spectrum, I might be Irish if we were a matrilineal society. [For those of you who didn't learn kinship terminology in Anthropology class, "matrilineal" just means tracing descent through the female line.] My mother's mother's mother was an Irish lass named Eleanor Donovan, which would make me Irish, matrilineally speaking.
Unfortunately, I know almost nothing about Eleanor Donovan. She died before I was born and my half-Irish grandmother, her daughter, didn't speak of her -- at least, not to me. One can only wonder what went on in that family, although I suspect that taking my grandmother out of school in the fourth grade to help at home, then sending her to another state to live with relatives and get a job when she was 14 years old might have led to some estrangement.
I know that Eleanor Donovan was in America when she married Mathew Bader, a man of German descent. She gave birth to eight children, one of whom died in childhood after being dropped by a baby sitter. At least, that's what I've been told. My mother's family is full of tales of children who who were fatally injured in one way or another, and I never knew for sure which were true and which were (I hope) fictional cautionary tales. In addition to the little boy who was dropped, there were:
- the boy who ate watermelon rinds he found on a neighbor's back porch and got a stomach ache and died.
- the boy who wore his new shoes, even though they rubbed his feet and caused blisters, which got infected and killed him.
- the girl who caught her dress on fire with a sparkler and ran screaming through the alleyway between the houses -- she might have lived, had the hospital not left her near an open window during a rainstorm, which led to her getting wet and contracting pneumonia. She died.
- the boy who was cursed and was so fragile as an infant that he had to be carried around on a pillow. He would have died if a Gypsy neighbor hadn't removed the curse. [I never found out who had cursed him in the first place, but my grandmother described her neighbor removing the curse by bathing the baby in clear water, which grew cloudy with something white.]
See what I mean?
But today is a day for celebration, not for telling strange family stories. Or is it? That, too, is Irish.
So lift a green brew to toast the saint, and share your comments about odd Auntie Maura or weird Uncle Sean. I look forward to reading them.