Friday, March 13, 2009


Many Irish families featured vivid mothers and sisters and dull fathers.
The mother often dominated the family by addicting them to her slave-like

Any talk of sex was out of place. An old aunt recalled that, as a spinster living at home, she once asked her father (the Senator) what ‘rape’ meant.
He forbade her to read any more newspapers. When she finally married, neither she nor her husband had any idea what to do—‘but we had great fun learning.’
A true Irishman doesn’t need adultery;respectable marriage is deliciously and mysterious fascinating enough—at least at first.

At age 4, I saw a robin’s nest in our apple tree and suggested to my older sister that we must come from eggs also. She hit me in the mouth; I noted that she had some kinky hatred of birds.

The Irish repressed talk of sex, but not of death, which was morbidly interesting.
Chicago Irish are quite different from Iowa Irish, but their attitude toward death was just as open. In my wife’s huge extended family, the ancients died at home.
But the younger people stood up to them. (Perhaps that’s why typical Americans now have to ship out their ancients; they’re unbearable because nobody can fight with them.) This one old matriarch was terrorizing the family in her last weeks.
Her daughter, mistress of the house, took her by the shoulder and said,
“You want to drag all of us into the grave with you. I’ll someday have to die alone.
Now you must die alone.”

Being raised thusly gave me roots—partle poisonous and neurotic roots, but still roots. I have a strong sense of being a single,substantial self—not necessarily one I approve of--in all my roles: a child in Iowa, a soldier-clerk in Korea, a factory worker, a monastic novice, a husband/father, and a college teacher.
Hearing students talk about doubting their identity, I figured they picked up that talk from sociologists. But maybe they just lacked strong community roots.

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