Thursday, March 17, 2011
I’m Irish. Everyone knows this about me. If you asked any one of my friends to describe me, they would probably use the word Irish. A lot of those friends are Irish. As a matter of fact, a lot of people are Irish so this doesn’t make me special. It’s like saying I have brown hair. My friends just happen to think I have realllllly brown hair.
My heritage was made known to me at a very early age. It’s a bit hard to miss the fact that everything in my house is green and you’d be hard pressed to find a room without an Irish flag or Gaelic blessing on the wall. We used to go as a family to Gaelic Park and Emerald Society events where we would have shamrocks and pots of gold painted on our faces. The South Side parade was the best, celebrating with the Daleys and watching all the adults laughing just a little too loud and trying to figure out why they seemed to be having so much more fun than us kids. My mother would make us outfits on St. Patrick’s Day, complete with green tights, and I would proudly march around school. At lunch, I pulled out my green sandwich, green apple, green milk, and the green cookies I had found that morning after I followed the leprechaun footprints leading me from my bed down to the kitchen table. I have very vivid memories of my grandmother singing me Irish lullabies. I remember the sound of her soothing voice and how she always sang with such joy that you would never have known that it was the 4000th time I had refused to go to go to sleep until I heard “My Wild Irish Rose”. She made an Irish soda bread that melted in your mouth. While my mother never sang me the lullabies after my grandmother passed away (this was agreed upon by both of us due to her “performance anxiety”) she still makes that same soda bread and it’s just as delectable. One year, our family was featured in the town paper for our traditional Irish meal which really wasn’t that difficult to pull off seeing as it consisted of just boiling everything in the house.
I’ve always wondered what would happen if one day someone told us that we had been wrong all along - there had been a big mistake on Ellis Island and we were, in fact, the Killackantonios. My brother, after all, is Vietnamese and it never really occurred to me until I was much older that “technically” he wasn’t Irish (at least not as far as we can tell). Yet he dons the same sense of pride in our name, the same celebration for the holiday, and the same joy for the heritage as all of us. There is no difference. So, what does being Irish, or any ethnicity for that matter, really mean?
As I got older and went off to college, being Irish became more about the drinking and expressing my pride became more about betting any guy in the bar that I could drink him under the table. So when my dad called me one day and asked me to participate in the St. Patrick’s Day Queen’s contest, I laughed it off. However, it’s always been pretty easy to talk me into doing anything where I get to be the center of attention. Throw into that a potential for a free trip to Ireland and loads of other prizes, it was a pretty easy sell. So a month later, I ventured to the city with my dear dad, preparing to walk around plumber’s hall for the next 8 hours with a good girl grin plastered on my face.
It had been a long day and the rounds of the contest were getting smaller and smaller but I was still hanging in there. It came to the part where we had a moment to speak to the judges. I sauntered over preparing to charm the pants off of them and was asked, “So what made you decide to do the contest?” Right before I started to answer with my canned response, I looked up in the crowd and saw my dad. Happy couldn’t even begin to describe the look I saw on his face. Through all my years of recitals and graduations and good report cards, I had never seen him look just so…happy. And for some reason it made me tear up. So I looked at the lady, holding back a little bit of a cry, and said,”I don’t know. I guess I just wanted to hang out with my dad.”
To me, being Irish means far more than the roots of our family tree that my parents have been tracing for years. More than the traditions in our home and similiarities of our freckles and green eyes. And yes, even more than getting to the bar at 9 am on St Paddy's Day to get plenty of hours of Guinness drinking in. It's a reminder of a time when my family was just together. It wasn't about obligation or giving gifts or celebrating someone's success but we were together and that was all that needed to be celebrated. And today I celebrate them and the Irish in all of us. Slainte!