My father was never canonized, but he did function in the capacity of usher at church every Sunday. Despite the fact that he was never sainted, or knighted for that matter, it was common knowledge within the halls of our Irish Catholic household that he exhibited great patience.
That virtue has not always been associated with the Celts, however according to his siblings my father had been a peaceful, forgiving boy who extended the benefit of the doubt and looked at the brighter side of life.
He would need all of these attributes.
The oldest of seven kids during the Great Depression, he served in India during World War II and returned to a United States that had just defeated the bad guys and was primed for the spoils of victory.
Enter Mae Sullivan. Wait. First, enter my mother Veronica Catherine. You see, she married my father in 1946 and he married her back that very same year. As was often the custom of the time along with her dowry came her mother. That’s your cue, Mae.
She was only going to live with my parents until she got settled. After all, the culture shock of departing her native Brooklyn for the Ohio frontier (rampaging Indians and all) might have had adverse affects. It would be all right.
Mae Sullivan was one of those stocky, kind of pudgy Irish women. She stood about 5’2″, lost her husband (a New York cop) at an early age, and was no stranger to work. She had opinions on every subject whether she had bothered to collect any data on the issue or not. She loved to mow the lawn at high noon and get into other people’s business. I once remember getting up one morning to answer nature’s call only to return moments later to a bed already made up for the day. Thanks, grandma.
From the time we were infants my sister Maureen and my brother Brian realized there were other people in the house besides our parents. There was Mae and, if you possess any imagination at all, there were all kinds of other wee folks running around.
“You can’t see them, but they’re right here in the room,” she would whisper. “There’s the little people and the wizards too. They won’t hurt good little boys and girls, now will they?”
That kind of talk scared the hell out of all three of us and, if the truth be known still gives me a bit of a chill. Saints and poets be preserved! It’s probably a blessing that Mae was a teetotaler or we may never have survived childhood.
Despite the inconvenience and the conflicts (the Irish sometimes disagree and often raise their voices to make a point) there were some advantages to having Mae Sullivan on the roster. No, she couldn’t cook but she always filled the freezer with ice cream and other treats. No, she didn’t help with homework, her paltry eighth grade education was a source of frustration to a woman who was highly capable and quite bright, in a sort of dull sense of the word. No, she didn’t create anything close to tranquillity in the household in fact her classic Irish temper fanned the fires of normal tensions that surfaced.
Children learn that all adults are not really adults. They are just little kids in big people’s bodies. They cannot be taken at face value or blamed for failures of personality. Mae had grown up in a matriarchal family stuck in the 19th Century.
Now it was 1955 and my parents had traveled to Montreal for a little rest and recuperation, leaving Mae to care for the kids. She was thorough. She was capable. She was protective. She was one leaf short of a full shamrock, a couple of spuds shy of an Irish stew.
It was during these baby-sitting adventures that Mae Sullivan felt compelled to teach us about our Irish heritage. She did not let her limited knowledge of history get in the way either. She knew the Irish were the one true chosen people and that the British could be blamed for everything from the potato famine to a plugged up toilet. The stories originated from impulse dotted with mispronounced words and curious summations.
My brother and sister believed everything she told them, but they have always been a bit gullible. I listened closely intent on stopping her monologue to argue a point or confront an obvious embellishment. She never admitted to a thing and threatened to stop the story if I didn’t shut up. She never bulldozed our input with references to an early bedtime because she desperately needed an audience. She never suggested that dessert would not be on the menu for fear that she might not get any either. (You can’t eat chocolate cake in front of toddlers, even if one of them was a little cynic just out of diapers).
My father was marginally amused by Mae’s ranting. He told friends that, sadly, she had been dropped on her head as a child. Then he told them that she had been a victim of an alien visit. We thought that was pretty innovative talk for the mid-50s. Her inability to operate a car, although seemingly inconvenient, was seen by my dad as a gift from some miraculous donor.
“The woman has successfully manipulated life so as to travel from childhood to senility without ever having been an adult,” he would say. Despite her intrusive eccentricity and his guarded annoyance they actually liked each other. At least we think they did.
One night while my parents were still in Canada, Mae told us about the banshee, which scared us more than The Boogie Man, King Kong, Red China, Vincent Price, Sister Stella (our grade school principal) and Rod Serling all put together. She swore she’d seen the banshee hovering above her own mother’s death bed.
It was a good story, although she borrowed heavily from primitive Catholicism, equating the banshee to heavenly visitors of a virtuous state, you know, like Mary, Joan of Arc, Grace Kelly…That wasn’t enough. Saint Patrick was a rabid Dodger fan who loved chocolate eclairs, and the wee people, not a bunch of Jewish shepherds, were in attendance at the nativity scene.
My grandmother went on to inform us that the savior never even set foot in Israel but that he was born in County Cork and was hung by the British after the Easter Rebellion of 1916. The Sinn Fein were the good guys, kind of like Boy Scouts with rifles and grenades. The Pope should be tolerated, she mused, even though he wasn’t Irish.
The leprechauns were not to be taken lightly, and people who worked hard on earth would be taken care of in a heaven that served oyster stew, diet Coke, and corned beef and cabbage every day for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Probably the most frightening account came during that parental pilgrimage to the Great North. Having grabbed hold of our small fry attention span with tales of dragons, Viking raiders, Saint Brendan, the Galway Races and Brian Boru she held tight.
“And did you know about the witches that take possession of the souls of infants?” she poked. “Mothers must watch their young, especially in the early days of life. Sometimes children go on for years not knowing that their souls have been stolen from them. Then…one sad day the child grows up and is not himself!”
“Not himself?” asked my sister. “How can someone not be himself. Who is he then?”
“We don’t know, but he’s not himself,” answered Mae getting somewhat agitated with the cross examination.
“He can’t be not himself,” said my brother.
“He is not himself, damn it,” stressed my grandmother, her round face growing red.
“Maybe he’s the man in the moon,” I offered, “or Oliver Cromwell!”
“Now that’s a strong possibility,” recanted Mae. “That could well be.”
I think I was her favorite.
“Nobody can be somebody else or he’s not the same person he started with,” snipped my sister defiantly. “Where did you get such a story? How can you scare us like that, grandma? Why would you expect anyone to believe it?”
“Because I said so,” responded Mae proudly, “and I’m your grandmother.
When my parents arrived home late that same night they found all four of us sound asleep in Mae Sullivan’s bed.
“Isn’t that cute,” my mother whispered. “They love their grandmother.”
Love her or hate her…At least that tough old lady might have a better chance keeping the bad fairies at bay.
Mae’s parents had come from County Waterford, on a boat across the Atlantic, abandoning Ireland because they were hungry. They traveled below since they did not possess funds for a more pleasant passage, coming into this country at Ellis Island. As of this morning, none of their descendants has forgotten that.
– Kevin Haley
Sounds Right But It’s Not
Hey chopper heads! The sound of some words can be defined by other words that mean something else altogether. Can you match the definition to the word that is associated by sound and elaborate nonsense?
|1. Capital S||a. Stalemate|
|2. Male escort||b. Shamrock|
|3. Wedding Day||c. Locomotion|
|4. Judge’s garb||d. Cereal|
|5. How Dali paints||e. Largess|
|6. Faint noise||f. Bombard|
|7. Lousy poet||g. Mandate|
|8. Ready hat||h. Lawsuit|
|9. Ex-spouse||i. Maritime|
|10. Fake Diamond||j. Handicap|
Answers: 1-e, 2-g, 3-i, 4-h, 5-d, 6-c, 7-f, 8-j, 9-a, 10-b.
The Games People Play
Each of the games listed on the left originated in a locale listed on the right. Can you put the right game with the right place on the planet? This is a little more difficult and cheating in the form of a little pointed research is acceptable.
|1. Awari||a. Israel|
|2. Hus||b. Ethiopia|
|3. Pachisi||c. Germany|
|4. Shove Ha’penny||d. India|
|5. Alquerque||e. Spain via Egypt|
|6. Go||f. Sumeria|
|7. Senet||g. West Africa|
|8. Chess||h. Japan|
|9. Shogi||i. Greece|
|10. Yote’||j. Surinam|
|11. Asalto||k. England|
|12. Caroms||l. China|
|13. Dice||m. Egypt|
|14. Dreidel||n. Zimbabwe|
|15. Knucklebones||o. India|
Answers 1-j, 2-n, 3-o, 4-k, 5-e, 6-l, 7-m, 8-d, 9-h, 10-g, 11-c, 12-b, 13-f, 14-a, 15-i.
Answers 1. Beggar, egg; 2. Coats, oats; 3. Windjammer, jam; 4. Breadth, bread; 5. Sobriety, Brie; 6. Sleek, leek; 7. Hammer, ham; 8. Appease, peas; 9. Spear, pear; 10. Dapple, apple; 11. Plumber, plum; 12. Scurry, curry. Now make up about 200 of these clues to spring on your friends. Don’t panic. It’s going to be a long winter.
(Continued from page 445)
many long tedious years later. To his friends Bonzo Stiltze had always thought he was Josephine Baker, even from the beginning he accepted, and some say reveled, in the fact that he was the sultry Black American dancer who had taken Paris by storm in the 30s. Films of the snaky moves and seductive trances common to Baker scattered his shabby flat. Song and dance routines were second nature to Stilze.
“It was fun to be Josephine,” said Stiltze, an undertaker by trade who lives with his mother in someone’s suburbs.
Then one day he woke up and realized that he was not Josephine Baker at all but rather Dianna Ross.
“After all these years it’s quite a relief to know the truth no matter how painful,” said Stilze in a television interview. “I’ve always liked Detroit and I can’t wait to meet the other Supremes.”
– Quartney Pettifogger