The pants that arrived were the color of the green crayon in an eight-stick Crayola box: a very bright green of the sort used on flags and sports uniforms. Kelly green.
They weren’t what I was looking for, but St. Patrick’s Day was coming up when they arrived and they were certainly appropriate attire. And I am Irish.
Well, partly Irish, anyway. My grandmother’s grandfather was Florence McCarthy of County Cork. He followed his brother Dennis to the U.S. sometime in the 1850s.
I’m not sure if they came because of the potato famine or because they’d been active in Irish resistance to English rule. There’s a lot of family mythology on the subject, but I never got the whole story.
Great-great Granddaddy Florence is the most recent immigrant to the U.S. in my family. But while he came at a time when the Irish weren’t considered “white” – because they were Celts rather than Saxons – I don’t think the nasty anti-Irish bias of the 19th Century ever went very far in Texas. Anti-Catholic bias, yes, but Granddaddy Florence wasn’t a seriously religious man. He married into Baptists.
My grandmother adored her grandfather and, as a result, always identified herself as Irish even though she never even visited Ireland. When I was young, she was the only person I knew who never had a kind word for the English. She didn’t even like the Queen.
I was puzzled by this until my father told me a bit of her history. It seems that Granddaddy Florence was losing his sight in his later years and so moved in with his daughter (my great-grandmother Katie), who ran a hotel in West Texas. My grandmother, who was a teenager helping her mother run the hotel, used to read to her grandfather when they got the chance.
I imagine she read him the newspapers as well as books of Irish stories and other literature – he was an educated man who taught Latin and Greek before he went to work for the railroad. I have this image in my head of her reading him the news not long after Easter in 1916.
Once I figured that out, my grandmother’s attitudes began to make sense.
Of course, I’m not all that Irish. What I really am is Anglo American – or maybe just Anglo Texan. I’m using Anglo in the sense common in Texas and the rest of the U.S. southwest; that is, I mean “not Hispanic” more than I mean of British origin.
Though I think most of my ancestors did hail from the British Isles. The Grahams were likely Scots. The Moores, Smiths, and Coffees could have come from anywhere in the U.K. The Petermans, of course, were likely Dutch. Being a lazy sort, I’ve never traced anybody back; I’m relying on family stories here. All of them ended up on this continent before Granddaddy Florence though, most of them before the Revolution.
But it’s more fun to be Irish. Some years back, I got on a kick of Celtic history. Somehow I got to talking about all that when I visited Alex Lamb when he still lived in Cambridge, England. I identify as a Celt, I told him.
He looked at me. “Nonsense. You’re a Viking,” he said.
It was startling, but a look in the mirror made me realize there was some truth in his opinion. Though given what I know of family history, if I am Viking, then it is by way of Ireland and Scotland and England – all of which were subject to Viking predation a thousand years back.
The walls in York are there for a reason and one of the very old churches is St. Olaf’s.
Family stories of heritage are a lot of fun, though they may not be the best guide to what actually happened. But I have enough of my grandmother in me to be Irish on St. Patrick’s Day. So I wore the pants.
I’m not sure I’ll wear them again until Christmas, the only other season in which that color green is definitely in style.