Friday, February 29, 2008


Regina Owens Lyons (raised in a small town)
was dining with prosperous son in a posh restaurant.
"George, there's a fire at that other table."

George, in a patronizing tone:
"Mom, that's OK. That's flambe."

"A fire in a napkin?"

Thursday, February 28, 2008

FROM KATIE HARRINGTON MAZER: (her mother's memorial to bro.Geo.Owens, at his death):

My First Memory of George, died April 18, 1987, By Ruth Owens Harrington

Beautiful golden curls. How mad everyone was when Jenny Craig (our live-in) or Regina? Had his hair cut.

George telling me there was no “santa” and our standing on the stairs unseen watching the family prepare for Xmas with “Santa” gifts. We never let on we knew-

I admired him so much - I followed him and his friends around (much to his dismay) and dared anybody to attack him. I was bigger and could lick any of those guys.

The downtown business men all were captivated by him and couldn’t spoil him enough. In those days, we had the freedom of the whole town and could call on anybody.

I will never forget the day when I was alone at the front of the house and saw a ragamuffin kid pulling a wagon with George in it, mortally hurt. He had jumped out of a barn loft and landed on his stomach. Those days they had no antibiotics and he lay close to death for days (maybe weeks.) ( I remember the house was darkened and the telephone muted). It was peritonitis. We think that was the cause initially of his kidney loss,

We were together in the same classroom - I in first grade- He in third.

One day he was absent - Sister said “where is George”, - I didn’t know– I could hardly get home fast enuff to tell mom, he didn’t go to school! Again I waited in the front yard to greet him when he got home. He got there on the back of a big flat dray (horse-pulled). I yelled, “Boy, are you going to get it”. When you misbehaved in school those days, you received double punishment- one at home and one (I mean a licking at school) the next morning. Old tender hearted Geo H looked at him and said, “Annie, (Mom) I think he has mumps - He better not go to school”. Boy, how lucky!! I was relieved too, I didn’t want anybody to put a finger to him.
from Dan: In Uncle George's last days, he got off a great example of BLACK Irish humor: "How good God is, to send us such pain that we're glad to die."

Thursday, February 14, 2008


From g.Walhovd:
If You Grew Up In Rural Wisconsin:

*You know how to polka, but never tried it sober.

*You know what knee-high by the Fourth of July means.

*You know it is traditional for the bride and groom to go bar hopping between the reception and wedding dance.

*You know the difference between 'Green' and 'Red' farm
machinery, and would fight with your friends on the playground over which was better!

*You buy Christmas presents at Fleet Farm or Farm and Fleet.

*You spent more on beer & liquor than you did on food at your wedding.

*You hear someone use the word 'oof-dah' and you don't break into uncontrollable laughter..

*You or someone you know was a 'Dairy Princess' at the county fair.

*You know that 'combine' is a noun.

*You let your older siblings talk you into putting your tongue on a steel post in the middle of winter.

*You think Lutheran and Catholic are THE major religions.

*You know that 'creek' rhymes with 'pick'.

*Football schedules, hunting season and harvest are all taken into consideration before wedding dates are set.

*A Friday night date is getting a six-pack and taking your
girlfriend shining for deer.
*Saturday you go to your local bowling alley.

*There was at least one, if not several, in your class who had to help milk cows in the morning. And/or smelled like it.

*You have driven your car on the lake.

*You can make sense of 'upnort' and 'baatree'.

*Every wedding dance you have ever been to has the hokey pokey and the chicken dance.

*Your definition of a small town is one that only has one bar.
*The local gas station sells live bait..

*At least twice a year some part of your home doubles as a meat processing plant.

*You think that the start of deer season is a national holiday.


In Korea, I interviewed hundreds of GIs back from all over the front, wounded or crazy—sending them back to front if they had completely recovered. I got a better picture of the war than those in combat, because I heard stories from all over the front. Perhaps the saddest story was this:

A young, rangy Appalachian farm-boy showed up, ready to return to the front. He had enlisted even before he finished HighSchool. He was so brave and skilled, they made him a sergeant on the front line.

He said, “You’ll notice that now I’m just a private.” (I hadn’t wanted to mention this.)

“We were going up an awful hill, with Chinese waiting for us at the top. We outnumbered them, so it wasn’t quite a death-trap.

“One guy was seized with terror. I drove him up the hill with the others. He dropped dead of a heart-attack. After the battle, I got reprimanded.
“But jeez, many others died that day; driving him forward was a small risk I felt I had to take.

"So I demanded that they break me back to Private; I was not going to take the extra responsibility if they wouldn’t back me up.”

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Tribune had a contest for this honor.

Opra, Bill Murray, and Mayor Daley were beat out by Sheriff Mike Sheahan
(cousin to Mary Wright Lyons).

They said there was some vote-tinkering, but that’s an authentic Chicago election.


from Jon Richards:

"Hallo, Mr. Sarkozy!This is Paddy down at the Harp Pub in County Clare, Ireland.
I want to inform you that we are officially declaring war on you!"

"Well, Paddy," Sarkozy replied, "How big is your army?"

"Right now," says Paddy, after a moment's calculation, "there is meself,
me cousin Sean, me next door neighbor Seamus, and the entire darts team
from the pub. That makes eight!"

"Well I have 100,000 men in my army.”

"Begoora!" says Paddy. "I'll have to ring you back."

Paddy calls again. "Mr. Sarkozy, the war is still on.
We now have some infantry equipment--
two combines, a bulldozer, and Murphy's farm tractor."

Sarkozy sighs, amused. "We have 6,000 tanks and 5,000 armored personnel carriers.
Also, I have increased my army to 150,000."

"Saints preserve us!" says Paddy. "I'll have to get back to you."

Paddy(next day). "Mr. Sarkozy, the war is still on! We are now airborne!
We've put 2 shotguns in Jackie McLaughlin's ultra-light --
and four boys from the Shamrock Bar have joined us!"

Sarkozy cleared his throat. "I have 100 bombers and 200 fighter planes.
My military bases are surrounded by
laser-guided, surface-to-air missile sites.
I have increased my army to 200,000!"

"Jesus, Mary and Joseph—I’ll call you back.”

Paddy.the next day: "Top o' the mornin', Mr. Sarkozy!
We’ve had to call off the war."

"Why the sudden change of heart?"

"Well," says Paddy, "we had a long chat over a few pints of Guinness,
and we decided there is no fookin' way we can feed 200,000 prisoners.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008


A friend attended a High-Church Anglican music conference.
The teacups were so expensive he didn’t dare touch one.

Unlike Roman abbesses, who are controlled by some cardinal,
Anglican abbesses are at the very top of their heaps.

An ancient abbess approached a young bishop.
“Bishop, I understand you oppose women priests.”
“Yes, Mother, I certainly do!”
“Well, the only thing your priests have that my nuns lack is a penis.
I’ve been attending Mass for over 80 years, and I’ve never seen one of thoseUsed in the liturgy.”

Monday, February 11, 2008

Ye Amadan!

A man said to MD, “I like Norwegians.”/”That’s a social problem, not a medical problem!”/ “No I want you to make me into a Norwegian.”/
“Forget it; that’s a tricky operation; I’d have to remove a good part of your brain.”

/”OK I can pay; I’ll find another MD.”/ “Wait..think it over for 2 weeks;
if you still want this, I’ll do it.”

Patient awoke from anaesthetic. Md:”I told you this was tricky; my scalpel slipped, I removed 90% of your brain!”

“Ah, ye Amadan! Ye Niver Did!”


from Jerry BAker, formerly of Cresco, Ia:

The late Jean Hall, believed that the "snakes" thatSt. Patrick drove out of Ireland were really a kind of cult with a serpent as its symbol. The "dragon ships" of the Vikings had that kind of symbol carved on their prows.

The famous battle of Clontarf, between the Irish and the Vikings, took place on April 23, 1014. It was both St. George's Day and Good Friday. St. George, a solar symbol, is noted as a slayer of dragons, a kind of serpents that may in this case represent cold weather.
The battle ended with the Vikings still in possession of the cities, and the Irish still in possession of the rural areas.

When King Aella of Northumberland captured the Viking Ragnar Lodbrok, he had him thrown into a snake pit.

Subject: St Pats

The reason the Irish celebrate St. Patrick's Day

The reason the Irish celebrate "St. Patrick's Day"
is because this is the day when St. Patrick drove
the Norwegians out of Ireland.

It seems that some centuries ago, many Norwegians
came to Ireland to escape the bitterness of the
Norwegian winter. Ireland was having a famine at the
time, and food was scarce. The Norwegians were
eating almost all the fish caught in the area,
leaving the Irish with nothing to eat but potatoes.
St. Patrick, taking matters into his own hands, as
most Irishmen do, decided the Norwegians had to go.

Secretly, he organized the Irish IRATRION (Irish
Republican Army to Rid Ireland of Norwegians). Irish
members of IRATRION passed a law in Ireland that
prohibited merchants from selling ice boxes or ice
to the Norwegians, in hopes that their fish would
spoil. This would force the Norwegians to flee to a
colder climate where their fish would keep.

Well, the fish spoiled, all right, but the
Norwegians, as every one knows today, thrive on
spoiled fish. So, faced with failure, the desparate
Irishmen sneaked into the Norwegian fish storage
caves in the dead of night and sprinkled the rotten
fish with lye, hoping to poison the Norwegian

But, as everyone knows, the Norwegians thought this
only added to the flavor of the fish, and they liked
it so much they decided to call it "lutefisk", which
is Norwegian for "lucious fish".

Matters became even worse for the Irishmen when the
Norwegians started taking over the Irish potato crop
and making something called "lefse". Poor St.
Patrick was at his wit's end, and finally on March
17th, he blew his top and told all the Norwegians to

So they all got in their boats and emigrated to Iowa,
Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, or the Dakotas ---- the only
other paradise on earth where smelly fish, old
potatoes and plenty of cold weather can be found in


This drunk guy knew the stairs creaked;
so he laddered up to 2d story bedroom.
In the morning he asked wife if she’d heard him.

“Yes, I heard the ladder & the window opening;
I prayed it WASN’T you!”

Sunday, February 10, 2008

The worse a sinner, the longer his purgatory.
“When they close down Purgatory
on Judgment Day, they’ll ask Uncle John
to put out the lights.”
About 3 obnoxious relatives: “Their room in Purgatory
has Hawaiian climate.
Their presence is suffering enough.”
A woman-driver was exasperated by traffic.
Her forceful mother said,
"Offer it up for the most abandoned soul."

"If you don't pipe down,
YOU'LL be the most abandoned soul,
right here on this corner."

Saturday, February 9, 2008


GUNS: 2 OF THE RYAN relatives faced off with guns at a southside tavern. Neither fired./ One relative was paid by one tavern to go to the tavern up the street. Then the first tavern would wait for patrons of the other one to file in./ One relative, a retired cop, an alcoholic, would wear his gun to family gatherings./

One relative went with his sisters to LasVegas.
Immediately he disappeared. As the sisters were in the returning plane, a cop car pulled up with this relative in handcuffs. He was freed and warned that he got away with it only because he was a former cop; he must never return to LasVegas.

He got on the plane, announcing,
“I want everyone here to make a perfect act of contrition !”
Then he vomited into his sister’s lap.

This was all quite a shock to Lyons, a boy from a small Iowa town.


Regina O. Lyons: One of the beautiful Owens women—Dad fell for her when she was 12, but waited. Oldest of 11--the mother said, “I did the work, Regina the worrying.” She suffered from generalized anxiety, looked for specific, finite dangers to explain her anxious feelings.

They had 7 children in 9 years. Gingy died at 11—they never recovered. (At her deathbed, Gingy said, “I see Jesus & Mary coming for me—why are you crying?”
Regina replied, “They’re not coming for me; I have every right to cry.”

Then they had 2 more !

Regina was a woman of unbelievable stamina.
She had a 2-acre garden, canned all the vegs for winter. She also did most of Dad’s office work, while he drank.
When she was 3d yr in college, her father lost all his wealth in land-collapse in 1925. She went to Kansas to teach. They thought ‘Owens’ was a Welsh-Protestant name.
She was about the same age as the Alta,Ks. seniors. They asked her, “Do nuns wear boxes on head to hide horns?” She said no, but then got thinking: “Why ELSE wear a box on your head?”

She took a train to another town for Sunday Mass. She started 1st graders dancing; Baptist preacher said, ‘They’ll want to dance later!”
She said, “They will anyway.”

She caught preacher’s daughter cheating, wouldn’t back down. Superintendent warned her, “We’ll have to move you; your landlady is threatening to kill you.” One year was enough.

Friday, February 8, 2008

I entered the army on the feast of OurLady of Mt. Carmel (I was spitelfully happy when the Vatican later abolished this fictional feast).
In basic training, I would have been tempted to suicide if not Catholic.

I encountered a sergeant who was a complete sociopath. When we practiced digging up landmines (with booby-traps underneath) I never succeeded without the booby-trap clicking. Then he made me run around, rifle overhead, shouting, “I’m dead—I’m dead!”

One good thing: after a long campout,we had to put our tent and stuff together quickly. He confiscated my bayonet (not quite quick enough); that meant that for the rest of Basic, I watched while the others did bayonet training.

RIFLE PRACTICE: The worse you did, the better score you got (they figured you wanted to be disqualified for Korea). I’d see the bullet plow up the ground, then see ‘bullseye’ marked.

I was already bald. When we lay down to fire, the metal helmet fell right down over my eyes—so I skewed it to one side. The awful sergeant screamed at me; I stood up, tried to explain—but he screamed again; so I lay down and fired blind—with more bullseyes.

I got the 2d highest medal. When I came home for leave, my father—a great shot himself—said,“I never thought they’d teach you to shoot! We’ll have to go hunting.” My parents couldn’t believe the corruption of the process. My mother said, “You must learn to accept honors gracefully!”
We were punished for sick-call. I got a terrible cellulitis in one swollen leg. I was told to load up all my gear (including bed), haul it all to supply room, then take a bus to hospital.

Horrified, they slapped me in bed for a month, dosed with antibiotics. The head nurse was a terrifying redhead. One farmboy, back from Korea, had his genitals shot off. (Army makes men, indeed! Landmines were designed to wound in that way.)
After dark, he’d weep; she held his hand.

After 3 weeks, I was allowed to walk around.
In the hall, I met a guy in bathrobe, with a guard on either side.
I recognized my sergeant.

He was restrained from lunging at me.
“That’s the som-a-bitch! That’s him! I told him to straighten his helmet.
He stood up and pointed his rifle right at me!”

Devout as I then was, my toes curled with pleasure to think I had pushed him over the edge into total madness.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Don't malfooster me

Speaking of Mavourning, Grandma (Genevieve) Wright frequently used the word "malfooster." The most common usage was, "Stop malfoostering that child!" My parents always wondered where she got the word but could not find it in any dictionary. In college, when I was reading Ulysses I came across the word "foos" and a footnote said it was probably a reference to "fooster," which is Irish for fussing, dawdling, or wasting time. We guessed she added the mal- prefix just to make it negative.

But the construction wasn't hers. I recently searched for malfooster on google and found this entry in Cassell's Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins :

Banjaxed, to be. An Irishism meaning 'banged about; smashed' and introduced into popular British speech by the broadcaster Terry Wogan in the early 1970s. Possibly from Dublin slang of the 1920's. When he wrote a book called Banjaxed(1979), Wogan supplied this definition of the verb: To hornswoggle, corpse, knacker, rasher, caramelize, malfooster, malavogue,powfagg, keelhaul, macerate, decimate, pulverize, make rawmeish of...

And I also found this definition at under an alternate spelling:

mallafoosther, mollafoosdar
// v. to give a beating (to someone) < F mal + Ir. f├║star. 'If you don't stop that messing I'll mallafoosther the both of you'.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Mary (Wright) Lyons and
Julie (Wright) Haverty.



A collegian, still half-drunk/hungover,
staggered into the confessional and passed out.

The priest hurried to revive him, said:
“You’re overdoing Lent.
I want you to quit fasting!”

Saturday, February 2, 2008

needs Phonics !

A little girl told her mother,
"My imaginary friend uses F-word."
"What IS f-word?"

Friday, February 1, 2008

Want to talk Irish? Repeat over and over, fast, these 4 words:

Mortal Sin

‘Horsehoof’ for an Irishman means ‘embellished story’—so no criticisms will be allowed here if some details have been modified in memory.

3-year-old Sean, just trained, was annoyed that his mother spent too much time on the phone, ignoring him. So he strode from the bathroom stark naked, announcing simply,
“I decided not to wipe.”
She got off the phone to modify that decision.

Hearing this story, I said, “Wow! He precociously displayed
2 of 3 components of a mortal sin—sufficient reflection
and full consent of the will !”
The mother said, “What? You think that wasn’t serious matter ?!”


He outlived 4 of his 11 children, and 3 of his dozens of grandchildren.
But he was always cheerful; went to Mass every morning.
But he wasn’t always saintly.

His first wife died; the children thought he’d spend his days baby-sitting.
Bob Lyons was in Chicago in the Navy.
On Wabash Street he saw a photo of Geo.H, with a strange woman !
Turned out he’d married her secretly.

She was very meek; but his new mother-in-law was a terror.
After a drive,she’d say, “You never take me anywhere.’
Also, “I’d like to see an atom-bomb land on your bald head.”
Served him right for shocking his children.

When I reached 21, the other factory-workers insisted
that I drink with them.
Coming home on streetcar, I got to Grampa’s corner,
got off just in time to vomit.. Later he said,
“Vomit on my lawn any time.What are relatives for?”

The Owenses had a super-strong musical streak.
We had to invite him at every visit to get his fiddle
from the car and play. He was awful.

One day I joined him in a big Rosary procession down Hennepin Avenue,
hundreds of people praying for collapse of Soviet (It worked!)
Afterward I asked why he didn’t introduce me to his friends:
“Who’d want to be known as grandfather to a bald-headed coot like you.”
He was sinfully vain.

Luckily he died before a grandson disgraced us all
as a right-wing(twice-elected) Governor.


Mary Lyons remembered a story from EdinburghSCOTSMAN
(recalling a clipping from 100 years ago:)

A really good police chorus
inexplicably failed to pacify
a starving crowd of Dubliners by singing,
“Come back to Erin, Mavouning, Mavourning!”
I got a few days leave. My mother decided we needed a family picture.
My father had no eyebrows (he picked them compulsively).

Mother said, “We can’t have you pictured this way; this may be the last picture of our whole family!” (I gulped.) So she took out some black shoe-polish and painted in GrouchoMarx brows on my father. (Years later, he still got angry if reminded.)

I shipped out of Seattle. They made us empty our duffle-bags, to make sure nobody was taking along an extra machine-gun. Unhappily, they found a brassiere in my bag; I suffered quite a bit. I figured there was just a mixup with the sister’s laundry.I called home the day before I shipped out, and my awful brother-in-law asked, “Did you find my extra present?” I snapped at him an obscenity, then realized Mother was on the phone also. I hung up immediately.

They also found in my bag 2 volumes of The Basic Works of Aquinas (I hoped I’d get so bored in Korea that I’d read them.) This time I wasn’t present, and they got ready to confiscate the books—but a friend said, “You can’t take away his spiritual reading!”/ The officer snapped, “Why can’t he read a pocket Bible like everyone else ?” But he left the books (I never got that bored.)

The last day we heard they weren’t giving any passes to get off the base. There were buses leaving for town all the time—what could they do to us—send us to Korea? We all went AWOL.

I said to my group: “Let’s stay away from the port; that’s where the MPs will be looking for us.Let’s go to a movie.” I was laughed to scorn.
We went to one bar where a fat, middle-aged woman pulled a rip-cord and stood naked: all strip and no tease. An older Eskimo woman, her face covered with sores, drank with us. She had an armful of books and assured us she was a college-girl.

I was standing on a corner, explaining drunkenly to another Catholic guy why, since he was in his second marriage, his child was illegitimate in the eyes of the Church. He began yelling, the MPs hauled us in; we spent the night in an awful drunk tank.

I called home that morning; my father told me that his cousin was chief of police in Seattle;
I said he shouldn’t brag about that.
We took off in a calm bay—wise-acre sailors showed a movie involving Betty Hutton weaving back and forth. Outside the bay, an awful storm, heaving seas. The whole ship was quickly covered with hot dogs.

My memory is 27 days on the winter Pacific (surely not!)
I vomited every meal I tried to eat. We were so intimidated I never even thought of sick call.
I’d have starved lying in 4th bunk up among 5, if others hadn’t brought me hard-boiled eggs.

After a few days, I could stagger to the deck, carrying my steel helmet as a precaution. A wise-ass sergeant said “Buddy, it’s all in your mind.” / “No, it’s all in the helmet.” I showed him.

A couple of GIs were interesting. We were told each day how far we were from Seattle and how far from Yokahama. This black guy said, “I don’t care about those distances. I want to know how far DOWN it is!”

This same guy shook his head when told we would miss Sunday by crossing the dateline. Sure enough, a terrible storm came up and we missed Monday instead. He nodded wisely and said,
“I done tol’ you—you don’t fuck wid de Lawd’s Day !”

Another fellow was one of a group of prominent scientists being shipped to Korea. He was 7th-DayAdventist: “I won’t do combat !”
We got to Yokahama, then transshipped to Inchon, Korea. I had a 3-profile for athsma and near-blindness, so I was to work behind the lines.
The Captain in the Classification/Assignment office said,
“You were a philosophy major; that means you like people!” I didn’t correct him; I got a job in that office interviewing GIs back from the front line (30 miles away) wounded or goofy. If they were well-healed, I had to send them back to the front-line.

One black guy said, “You can’t send me back; I’ve got a vision-problem !” / “Nothing shows on your record!”/ “I got a vision-problem; I can’t see that shit !”/ “You’ll sure never get out on psycho grounds; you’re eminently sane.”
I asked the Captain: “What will you do with the half-dozen top scientists in the casual area?”
/”OmiGod—a typo!” (Scientists’ MOS differed from infantrymen by only 2 digits.)

He called top HQ in Seoul. A sergeant there had a general in his control (don’t ask how.) He said, “Send them to the front lines to get them killed before the mistake is discovered.” My captain refused, so the sergeant said, “Assign them to me.”

The Adventist from the ship was made a combat medic—with a shorter life-span than infantrymen.

Our mail wasn’t censored, but it never crossed my mind to tell my family so they could tell a Congressman.

“War is a demented enterprise, with personnel and policies corresponding.”
(Most sensible people--like myself--are not very dedicated; most
heroically dedicated people--like bin Laden--are not sensible. Rarely do
you meet a person both heroic & sensible.)

Fifty years ago, in 1952-3, I was stationed at an army office in Inchon,
Korea (after Inchon was reconquered from the Chinese.) On a hill was the
'French Church'. The 8-foot statue of the Virgin-with-child in front was
shot up by bullets, with the Virgin's face missing and the Baby's head
blown off; the roof on the church was blown in.

Next to the church was an orphanage for little girls, run by a French
order, the Sisters of St.Paul of Chartres. This institution was actually
run by a stout Irish nun of that order from Belfast, Sister Philomena, in
her 50s, with a half-dozen Korean nuns assisting.

Before the Korean war, French nuns were in charge of the orphanage, with
Sister Philomena merely the music director at the church. These nuns had
been in Inchon since before the 1930's (Sister Philomena since 1934); they
were placed under house-arrest by the Japanese occupiers during WWII; they
nearly starved; then, when liberated, their metabolism was so improved
that they swelled up obesely when the Americans swamped them with food;
they had to be hospitalized to adjust finally.

THE KOREAN WAR: When the Communists took Inchon in 1950, they killed all
the French nuns. It just happened that Sister Philomena was on an errand
in Seoul that day; she was flown out by the Americans, and later returned,
assigned to run the orphanage--after Inchon was retaken by the Americans.

(Note that Philomena came back, even with the French nuns murdered, and
the Communist Armies only 30 miles away!)

"I really should find the burial places for those nuns; they count as
martyrs", Sister Philomena told me, " but I figure live orphans are more
important than the bones of martyrs." I got to know her right away,
fascinated by her brisk attitudes toward life. Here are my disjointed
memories of this woman.

There were about 50 orphans there, from new infants to 6-year-olds. The
infants were in cardboard boxes on the floor in the halls, sucking on
beer-bottles- with-nipples. There was a 'lazy-Susan' front door. The
whores would throw out the half-American babies into the streets; Good
Women wouldretrieve them and carry them up to the orphanage, where they
would place the baby in the 'lazy Susan', ring the doorbell and run. I was
there when the doorbell would ring and half-dead babies showed up.

A hospital ship in Inchon harbor treated wounded allied soldiers
helicoptered in from the Front Line, about 30 miles away. The hospital
personnel were forbidden to come ashore, because the air in Inchon was
infected with various diseases. (Typically, I was sick as a dog for my
first week in Inchon; since then I've been immune to almost all germs.)

(Korean farmers then used human excrement as fertilizer; it was picked up
by 'honey-buckets', for instance from GI toilets, then hauled out to the
country in 'honey-carts'. The smell was an awful 4th dimension of
experience that I never got used to.)

However, one doctor did get to know Sister Philomena, who arranged that
her agents in boats would pick up the rich garbage from the hospital ship
and sell it (to be fed to pigs or people) with the money going to the

This doctor got the idea of feeding the new babies on milk mixed with
outdated transfusion-blood from the hospital ship; this mixture had
almost-magic properties for reviving the discarded babies; she said he was
writing a research paper on the subject.

The Korean parish-priest at the 'French church' was jealous of the money
that went to the orphanage from GIs. When he heard of this baby-saving
strategem, he protested to Philomena that St.Paul had forbidden the
drinking of blood. She looked down at him and replied, "Yes, St. Paul said
a lot of dumb things about women, too!"That ended that.

They also tangled when she managed to get a few American officers to adopt
the more beautiful infants; he said that Canon Law forbade her to hand
Catholic infants over to Protestant parents. She said, "Right--but Canon
Law does not insist that I have these children baptized at all. If you
interfere with these adoptions, I'll wait to baptize the children until
they're older; then the young infants can be adopted by anyone." The
priest was reduced to fuming silence.

One of her adoptions made a story that ended up as a movie. She
temporarily housed a small boy rescued from the front line; he was
'adopted' by a whole Navy ship. In the end, a Navy doctor had to leave the
service to adopt the boy--who grew up to be an American doctor.

SENTIMENTAL? The captain in my office sneered at my admiration for this
nun. "Sheer sentiment!" he snapped, "Instead of caring for orphans, she
should be handing out condoms to the whores!" I said that she was about as
sentimental as a supply sergeant.

In fact, when I reported his remark to her, she said,"Sentimental! If I
gave in to sentiment, I'd drown these half-breeds, as indeed some of the
Korean nuns have suggested; only Catholic principles restrain me. No
Korean man will ever marry them; we are nuns raising whores. The French
take in their bastards; the Americans deny the whole problem."

I finally got the captain to visit the orphanage; he had never seen his
own new baby at home; he got one look at the babies in cardboard boxes,
burst into tears, and fled. "Emotional!", commented the nun later, "Those
emotional types never come back."

One day she told me, "When I see these Yanks marching to their ships to go
home, my eyes tear up. But when I think of the babies they've left me, my
eyes go dry."

She had read of the 'Bellevue' case, where orphans who got no cuddling
actually died just of the deprivation. So she and her overworked
assistants tried to find time to cuddle each child a little each day.

The older girls (up to age six or so) seemed normal; when any man showed
up, they ran to touch your hand or tug at your pants-leg. The nuns taught
them how to dance gracefully, so they could perform for visiting Yanks who
might contribute. (It occurred to me that such skills might help also in
their later unsavory careers.)

I never heard where the older girls went, or where boy-babies were sent (I
heard these were sent quickly to another orphanage somewhere.)
SHREWD PROVISION: Sister Philomena worked assiduously every possibility of
outside help. She got some army official to secure for her an army 'APO'
post-office address. That way, she was sure of mail reaching her--"When
mail is addressed to you in the Korean system, that just gives you a
'first-bid' privilege"--and also people in America could send her supplies
with cheap postage.

I gave her my mother's address, and soon Mom received a nice letter citing
certain pages in the Sears-Roebuck catalogue that specified exactly what
supplies she and her friends at home might send. (Some supplies were sent
to me to forward; when a box of heavy linoleum tiles arrived on top of
other soldiers' cookies, there was trouble.) Skimming through the Sears
catalogue, Philomena said, "I don't understand how middle-aged American
women can spend so much time standing around in their corsets."

[Part Two Follows ]

MY BAD DECISION: I decided to help her fund-raising by doing some off-key
PR work. Knowing the fascination U.S. Protestants then felt for sinful
nuns, I spread the word that she was really known as 'Hot Phil', and ran
guns which she cadged from American soldiers--she smoked cigarettes, and
showed a little leg.

This ploy worked: soon, many GIs and officers were trudging up the hill to
the orphanage out of curiosity; there they didn't meet 'Hot Phil', but
they met this interesting woman who served tea and cookies (to the
officers who were likely to make real contributions)--she herself drank
only the tea: "We don't eat between meals."

This PR work (and her own personality) brought in a lot of money; soon she
was able to build a big new orphanage which was finished just before I
left; I heard later that the orphanage in later years handled at least 400
orphans, with 33 nuns.

Indeed, the movie featured a tough 'Sister Philomena' who played poker
with the sailors; I figured that this legend was my doing. However, I
should have expected that such a bizarre story would eventually have some
unpredictable bad results.

As the money came in, the awful Korean government got interested, and a
functionary showed up to announce the orphanage would be taxed. Philomena
looked down at him, and said, "You tax this place and I hop a plane to
Belfast the next morning, leaving you with all these orphans." He backed

She didn't win every battle. Other 'orphanages' nearby complained that she
was getting all the lucrative garbage from the hospital ship--U.S.garbage
was incredibly rich!-- whereupon, of course, the ship commander heard
about this deal to his horror and ordered all the garbage to be thrown
into the sea. "Ordinarily, I would never wish spiritual misfortune on
anyone," she confided bitterly, "but I really resent those phony
orphanages who interfered, and that officer who took the easy road."

She and the Koreans didn't get along very well. "I've been here for 20
years, and they still won't admit I can speak the language!" she would
say, and then shout "EEDEWAH!" (COME HERE!) to some hapless child, in a
heavy Irish brogue.
TOUGH STANDARDS: She held the American army in genial contempt. "No
discipline", she remarked drily..she admired the Japanese army which ran
things efficiently until 1945 (even though they had half-starved the

For instance, the Japanese just rounded up any wild children in the
streets and sent them to a 'pound'; the parents could reclaim them;
otherwise they were raised with iron discipline.

The GIs on the other hand, would hand out food and candy to the kids in
the street--so the wild boys would not stay in any orphanage; they ran
away and then perished in the streets from malnutrition and the cold.
"These soldiers love the admiration they get from the children," she said,
"just like they'd get from dogs."

She thought the American Navy was foolish not to have a 'grog ration',
since the sailors showed up in Inchon obsessed with alcohol. "Over the
years, I saw the French sailors head right for the whorehouses; but the
Americans get so drunk so fast they often never get to the whorehouse;
they're piled like cordwood and loaded back on the ships."

"I hear that every Christmas all your sentries are drunk," she said.
"These GIs have apparently never heard about George Washington and the
Hessians! You're lucky I hate the Communists; I could tell them how to
take Inchon back. When I think that this army is all that stands between
me and the Communists-- I have my running shoes ready beneath my bed."
(After all, she had narrowly escaped once before.)
AFTER THE WAR: After 16 months I was able to leave Inchon and return home.
My family and I continued to send her supplies for a while. We didn't hear
from her, so we eventually lost interest. I heard from another ex-soldier
that, after the war, she had come through Boston, on a sort of triumphal
tour of all her fans there, and also to place five half-breed orphans
there for adoption. Then the story was that she returned to Inchon. (He
sent me her picture, which has an honored place on my wall.)
But around 1957 I was in Chartres to see the cathedral, and my eye fell on
a building labeled, in French and English, "Sisters of St.Paul de
Chartres: Motherhouse". I went right up and asked for a nun who spoke
English; I asked her whatever happened to Sister Philomena who ran the
Star of the Sea orphanage in Inchon, Korea.

"It was terrible," the nun replied with a grave face, "Some awful person
spread the rumour that she was a criminal, a gun-runner--after all her
good work there, she was expelled from the country!"

Receiving this fist in the belly, I staggered off, wallowing in shame and
guilt. I hadn't foreseen the intensity of American bigotry and Korean
resentment, which used my preposterous myth to eliminate her.

Indeed it was years before I could tell anyone this story. I didn't even
think to ask what happened to her later; I did find out much later that
she worked for years in America before she died.

Later I consoled myself that this way, Sister Philomena didn't die on the
job, but spent her last years in comfort. But she didn't return in
triumph. Not that the nuns believed the slander, nor her family, but
I plan now to send this shaming story to her Order, to clear her name
altogether. (Only the nuns of that Order never replied to my inquiry.)

I can only hope that, facing this final humiliation from my bungling,
Sister Philomena grew from a hero into a saint.
posted by daniel at 10:10 PM


In Depression years, Dad sold Insurance Policies, I sold magazine subscriptions.

One Thanksgiving, it looked like No Turkey.

Age 12, I sold some subscriptions, embezzled all the money temporarily, bought a turkey.

Dad embezzled temporarily, ALSO bought a turkey.

One turkey returned, 1 embezzlement avoided.