A Tricoastal Woman: Green Pants

green pantsI ordered some pants online in a color called “moss green.” I was picturing a grayish green, a subdued color that would work with a lot of different shirts.

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.

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A Tricoastal Woman: Green Pants — 21 Comments

  1. What do you think about the various DNA testing services that purport to tell you your ethnic background?

    I rather enjoy series such as “Who do you think you are?” though I kind of wish they didn’t focus so strongly on celebrities.

    –V.

    • My mother’s side of the family is well documented back to forever (the earliest reliable baptismal record is some time in the 1300s). My father’s side of the family is a black box: my grandparents came over from Russia in the late 1800s, married in 1900, had eight kids. That’s it. The only reason I know the names of my grandfather’s parents is because they appeared on his death certificate.

      So I did a DNA test. And it yielded few surprises: Mom’s side: English, French, German, Scots, a smidge of Irish. The lone unexpected was a bit of Iberian peninsula, which might be Mom or Dad. And then there’s the 48% which is Russian/Eastern European Jewish. A monolith. I’m sure it’s accurate, but I was really really hoping for a little more granularity about the Russian Jewish side of the family, but… black box.

    • My sister told me she was doing one of those DNA tests, so I’ve been waiting for her results, which ought to be the same as mine. Though I’ve also been thinking of trying another one to see if we get different results.

      I’m curious to see if any of the family stories about Native American heritage are backed up by DNA.

      • I had been told there was at least one Native American forebear in my family, but hadn’t found record of it in my digging, and my DNA apparently does not bear up the family legend. Ah, well.

      • Well, when we traced back my family, the Quebec side, the story of the ancestor who married a local woman because there were no white women showed up — but we’re descended from his sister, not him. (And that was his first marriage, and childless; all his children came from a second marriage with a white woman.)

        However, up the Acadian branch of the family, there are a couple of women who, as far as records go, could have materialized from nothing on their wedding days. Usually a local. But — Acadia — too far back to be in the DNA still.

  2. Well, there’s no reason you can’t be both! The vikings frequently raided the Irish coast and many of the Irish towns along the irish east coast and south-east coast were viking settlements (Dublin, Wexford, Waterford, & Cork, for example): Dublin and Wexford town was actually founded by the vikings and even the towns that were not (e.g. Cork) owe their expansion to a Norse presence.

    • I know about the Viking raids. That’s what made it disconcerting at a time when I was caught up in Celtic history to think that some of my heritage might well come from the invaders and not the folks who were there first. Of course, this is all quite a few generations back!

  3. The Vikings settled along many coast, including Spain. So tall flaxen-haired people spring up all over. Also, your Smith could be a translation. My dad told us that he’d learned our family was Schmitz before coming over the Atlantic.

    • I had someone who knew a lot about Scottish history explain to me that someone who was, say, part of the Campbell clan, might have been known as Smith due to his craft. He was explaining that it was worth chasing down to see if you could find your clan. But I’m lazy and sorting Smiths is hard work.

      Likewise, sorting Moores. I understand the Moore side of my family came to Texas from Virginia, but I don’t know anything else. Lots of people came to Texas one step ahead of their creditors or the sheriff, so their beginnings tend to be a bit murky, especially if we go back before statehood.

      I don’t know anything about the Smiths before my great-great grandfather, who came to Texas to preach the gospel and then died, as I understand it. My grandmother traced the other side of her family some, but not the Smiths.

  4. I have cousins who are heavily into ancestor worship. I like to let them feel virtuous in ferreting out the names and places (one wrote her master’s thesis on a mutual great-great-great grandmother and how she ran the plantation in Alabama single-handedly during the War Between the States). With names and dates and locations I can gather stories when the mood hits me. Apparently the first recorded Radford fought for William the Conqueror and 1066 and was rewarded with estates in the English Midlands. Strange to have a Saxon name on the Norman side. That’s one story I’d like to investigate. Someday.

  5. If you wash those pants with a load of red or purple, or even indigio blue, they will soon be the color you thought you were ordering. 🙂

    • Yeah, it’s an old trick in painting – you neutralise colour intensity by adding the complementary colour. So yellow ochre is really just an orange with added blue, and burnt sienna is a purple with added yellow.

      • Wash them in hot, separately, first, to see what deliberate fading does for you. (Separately, so you don’t wind up with clothes with a Kelly green tinge.)

          • Cotton easily overdyes. Go to the five-and-dime or a drug store, or to Lacis in Oakland, and buy a packet of fabric dye. You can dye in a washing machine. To mute the green I’d run it with a packet of gray dye, that would make it kind of olive or khaki. Do half the packet, in the smallest quantity of water, with just the pants, for a short time — ten minutes or so. Reserve the rest of the packet for a second attempt if you don’t like the result.

  6. Those pants are considerably more close to the true color of most moss I’ve seen than the green that usually gets sold as “mossy.”

    • My sweetheart says they’re the color of the moss that comes out in Portland after a rain. But when someone says moss green, I always think of green tempered by Spanish moss (which isn’t really moss, but which is gray). I note that the picture of them now on the website is the bright green that they are, but the thumbnail color on there is the color I thought I was getting!