Updated at bottom
My maternal great grandparents were both born in Dublin. As was the case with many Irish at the time, not long after they married in the 1880s they emigrated to England. But of course the bloodline remains. I’ve come to the conclusion that this makes me a Leprechroon. Yep, not an octoroon, nor a quadroon, but a Leprechroon.
Like many of the men of his generation, my Montreal-born grandfather spent several years in France during the early part of the last century in the trenches of The Great War, however he did manage to find time to meet and marry my London-born grandmother. Following the war they set up home in Montreal, never to return to the UK. But the Anglo-Irish influence certainly seeped into subsequent generations.
Every year on March 17, or the Sunday before, St. Patrick’s Day was celebrated at my grandparents’ place with a huge meal. The table was awash in green and festooned with shamrock, I’m sure that if my grandfather had stayed still long enough he too would have been decked out in green decorations. Yet the meal itself was not what you might expect. No ‘traditional’ Irish fare – no corned beef and cabbage or soda bread – but good old English roast beef with all the trimmings. Aside from the ‘joint’ of beef, there were four or five vegetables, Yorkshire puddings, gravy and Lima beans. No amount of cholesterol was deemed too much.
Nor was attendance at the parade encouraged, no doubt due to my grandfather’s claim that ‘every drunk in the city will be there’. This comment, one of his extensive lexicon, he made whenever any suggestion was made to attend any event. I don’t know if it was his time in the trenches, but he was a terribly anxious man who always managed to find a way to see the potential disaster in any situation. However, as an adult watching the annual parade over the years I came to realize just how accurate he had in fact been.
Being an Irish Catholic family, superstition played a role in our lives. Not Friday the 13th or broken mirror fears, but certainly the tossing of spilled salt over a shoulder, and some less well known actions. If you went out of the house and noticed you had forgotten something, when you went back to get it you had to sit down. No dashing back in, grabbing your umbrella, and zipping out again. Uh uh, you had to actually sit down, often confirming the act by shouting ‘sitting’. No time was specified, but sitting was essential, no matter how much of a rush you were in.
If someone gave you a blade – a knife, scissors, garden shears – you had to give them a penny. An itchy palm indicated money was on the way, as did bubbles on the top of a cup of tea, assuming they were spooned up and consumed.
I don’t know if adhering to these had any lasting effect on us, but to this day I never, ever, ever count the number of cars in a funeral procession!
Update. Hearing the news of German band leader James Last’s passing this week reminded me of yet another family superstition. One should never put an open umbrella over one’s head while indoors. It is okay to open the umbrella and keep it to your side, or place it in a tub to dry, but never put it over your head.
A number of years ago James Last was involved with PBS fundraising. One of his concerts was shown – over and over again in fact – and viewers were asked to call and pledge money. As was his wont, Last spent much time interacting with the audience, turning his back to the musicians.
During one song members of the audience left their seats to march around the auditorium, many of them sporting umbrellas, some fashioned with bills to look like ducks. Oh dear I thought, this doesn’t augur well. And sure enough within a mere twenty years or so Last is dead.