I’m kinda Irish. Actually, I’m half Irish, but it’s old Irish blood that runs through my veins. My paternal grandmother’s parents were born in Canada to Irish parents, and my paternal grandfather’s family were old American Irish from the South; so I’d like to think there’s still a “lilt of Irish laughter” in me. But on St. Patrick’s Day, everyone feels kinda Irish. It’s a happy day that celebrates the beauty of an old culture. Of course, we all know that St. Patrick wasn’t even Irish, but he has become the patron saint of the Emerald Isle for his missionary work nearly two millennia ago. Everyone wants to be an Irishman on St. Paddy’s Day. Well, there are some Irish folks that I want to be like everyday.
Every summer, my family went to the Russian River like a lot of San Francisco families did. One of those families was the Murphy’s. I knew Tom Murphy. He went to S.I. and was a year ahead of me. He always drove by the pier in his totally cool green boat and would wave. I liked how the deep green boat matched his red hair. Tom was a nice guy, a good guy, solid. I met his sister in my sophomore year at Mercy, she was a year behind me. Ann Marie – I can still remember clearly – was always laughing, smiling and telling jokes, happy. You couldn’t be in her presence long without cracking a smile and heaving a laugh. I didn’t know then that an illness ran in the family, a devastating illness to which both Tom, Ann Marie and other siblings would succumb. Surely, a mother’s hell.
Some years ago, I was reading the Irish Comics — the obituaries — and came across Mrs. Murphy’s obituary. The obituary writer summed up the character of this amazing woman. She was “a woman of faith, patience, endurance and grace, she faced head on the heavy onslaughts that nature threw against her and she stood up with courage and hope and without complaint.” What a eulogy, what a legacy! In the midst of my own troubles, none worthy to compare to her sorrows, I was encouraged, if she could endure “with courage and hope” all that she lived through, so could I. I was strengthened to go on “without complaint”. I am still working on that one. She exemplifies the kinda Irish I want to be like, and the kinda Christian I’d like to become.
I know some other Irish folks — the kinda Irish I want to look like. I first met the Carlins when I was a wee lassie, probably up at the River as well. Mr. Carlin was one of my dad’s oldest friends. I envied their twinkling blue eyes, beautiful wavy auburn hair and chronic joy. According to Mrs. Carlin, Mr. Carlin was a “hundred-percenter,” meaning both parents were all Irish. He reminded me of James Cagney – not “Public Enemy” Cagney or “Made it, Ma! Top of the world!” Cagney — but the charming “Yankee Doodle Dandy” Cagney. Decades ago, I spent a couple days with this family, one of my first outings alone. “American Pie” played non-stop on the radio Helen kept on all night. I took that habit home, much to the consternation of my sister. Helen and her sister walked me all around from West Portal to Stonestown. They reintroduced me to the City of my birth.
Often when I take the kids on a drive through the City, I drive by St. Cecilia’s. I tell them that’s where their grandfather went to school, and where he lived on 18th Avenue. I drive on Vicente, but can never remember which house was the Carlins. I hoped to see one of them in the front yard. No such Irish luck — well, not until a Sunday in 2013.
My daughter had a CYO game at St. Cecilia’s. She had gone ahead with a friend, and her sister and I were meeting her there. Impatient to get to the game on time and not wanting to get stuck turning left at Sloat, I drove straight and took West Portal to Vicente and happened to drive on the Carlin’s block. As I passed, I saw a figure stooped over the little garden in the front yard. It was Mr. Carlin. Yay!
“I’m gonna drop you off, I’ve got to visit someone.” I said to my older daughter and dumped her at the St. Cecilia’s parking lot, “I’ll be right back.” I was so excited to see Mr. Carlin. By the time I got there, he was no longer in the front yard, but the garage door was still open. I illegally parked across the street and skipped over to his open door. “Hello…, Mr. Carlin,” as I knocked on the door frame. He got up and was happy to visit. I wasn’t sure if he remembered me, but he remembered my father. I told him I had always wanted to stop by and say hello, but forgot which house was his. He said I was always welcome, told me the number and to come by again. After our little chat, I told him I beat him and had ten kids…then he remembered, “Yes, your dad told me about that.” His beautiful blue eyes still sparkled as he smiled. I hopped back in the car, very happy and went to the game.
No big deal, huh? That little visit blessed me so much. I had hoped for so long to say hello to this old family friend, and I got the opportunity. I’m sure he was as blessed as I was. Everyday we have opportunities to say hello to someone or smile at someone, even if it’s the Burger King guy who is just trying to get the order right. Those little things are blessings that we can be a part of. It doesn’t take much, folks, to lighten another’s load or warm another’s heart. “You’re only dancing on this earth for a short while.”
So this St. Patrick’s Day, I am gonna roast me a leg o’ lamb — I don’t do corned beef and cabbage, childhood trauma — listen to some Christy Moore and Ronan Tynan, and top it off by watching “The Quiet Man”. I will also remember the kinda Irish I admire, Mrs. Murphy and her strength of character, and Mr. and Mrs. Carlin and their smiling Irish eyes. Happy St. Patrick’s Day, folks!!