As we enter the period of solemn preparation – no not Lent, that started weeks ago – the week leading up to St. Patrick’s day, there’s a great piece in the New York Times by playwright John Patrick Shanley. The Darkness of an Irish Morning recalls the author’s trip to Ireland with his aging father to visit relatives and illustrates the dourness of their existence. They all talk at once in varying accents, few of which are understandable to the author, and fight like cats and dogs. As Shanley learns his long dead grandparents were the root of this darkness of spirit.
OVER the course of days, I asked for stories about my grandparents. You would think that when dealing with people who talked this much, getting information would be easy, but no. When the subject of my grandparents came up, a sudden circumspection would overcome the source. Tony would look vague. My father would become reticent. My cousins would claim to know nothing. Even my Aunt Mary, who talked like Proust wrote (that is, endlessly), even Mary had little to say.
( … )
When my grandmother was presented her first grandchild, my sister Kathleen, she tore the pretty bonnet the baby wore off her tiny head, declaring: “It’s too good for her!”
This brought to my mind a story about my own paternal grandmother, though Glaswegian, no less miserable – blame the Celts. (To be fair she and her two siblings were orphaned at a young age and came to Canada as part of the Home Children project in the early years of last century.) On one oft recounted occasion, upon his return from World War II, she was presented with an acquaintance of my father’s. Before the introduction could be made she brushed it off saying:
I know enough people already.