Wednesday, March 17, 2010

St. Patrick's Day

Today is the day that is marked worldwide with green beer and unnaturally-colored other things in celebration of St. Patrick driving the snakes out of Ireland. It was not until I was in high school that I realized that Ireland does, indeed, have snakes. That the "snakes" St. Pat drove out of Ireland were the pagans. Oh. And in the times of the middle ages, "drove out" means evicted from traditional homelands or killed. Suddenly this is not such a happy holiday. But there's green beer, right?

St. Patrick taught the pagans about the holy trinity of father, son and holy spirit by using the shamrock's three leaves. I guess it was just dumb luck that the Celts already had the Celtic Cross as part of their symbolism. The Catholic Church simply adapted what was already there and used it to represent their god instead of the four directions of the earth and sky as the pagans had. Talk about appropriation of cultural stuff. You'll hear my lecture on druids and yule trees and the appropriation of those traditions in December.

So this is also the day that I was brought home to live with my family from my birth family. I was 8 months old. It was 1966. My birth mother was living with her six children (two other fathers) and she left to go find a better opportunity and then planned to come back and move the whole crew. I think it was Rhode Island where she went. Anyway, she did not leave us in adequate care, and the child welfare people came in and made ready to scoop the kids all off to foster care. Somebody knew somebody who knew my father's family, a call was made and he came and snatched me away home before the others were seized and split up.

I arrived wearing nothing but the diaper on my bottom and whatever clothes I had on me. My father turned me over to his sister and his parents and went out. It was St. Patrick's Day, after all. There was serious drinking to be done.

So my aunt watched me while Nana and Grandpa went shopping. They got a crib and a high chair, a baby spoon and cup and some bottles and 10 dozen diapers and some clothes and some jars of baby food, and the new washer and dryer arrived from Sears in the morning.

My aunt was in her first year of teaching, maybe. That or her student teaching year. She called her friends to come over and see the surprise she had. "We get to keep her" she told them.

Um, babies don't usually work that way, they cautioned. Well, this one's going to.

And through some minor subterfuge, class warfare and bullying, they did get to keep me. My father's family knew lawyers and were better educated than my mother's family, and were better educated. She did not know what her rights were with regards to me, and when my grandmother stood blocking the entrance to the door and said she needed a court order to see her daughter, my mother believed her and went away. Whatever legal advice she was able to get encouraged her not to fight my (marginally) more affluent, better educated, better connected father's family. My mother did not see me again until I was 29 and I went looking for her.

So St. Pat's is a time of weird emotions for me. There is the long-seated, cultural history of oppression of my Irish forbears by just about everybody who ever marched across that patch of green earth, and there is the clusterfuck that is my own personal history. At 8 months old, I was a pawn, or maybe a treasure, but either way, I was a thing, a possession, a not entirely pleasant (although not entirely unpleasant) bundle of needs. I was the first grandchild, which helped enormously in my new home, but I was the bastard child of the no-good eldest son and a low-class woman of loose morals. She was married, you see, but her husband ran off. Then she had two other children with another man, then he went to jail. Then my father came along and she had me.

In a small town, everyone knew my story, and I am sure it was a source of enormous shame for my grandmother. But I was the first grandchild, so I think I got a pass. Dad, however, did not.

But that is another story.

So today I feel ghosts. Ghosts of Ireland, ghosts of shame, ghosts of families lost, connections severed in infancy that were never able to fully mend in adulthood. I suppose if I think about it enough, it explains a lot of my current mental and emotional stuff as well as the stuff I have worked through in the past couple of decades. I've done a bunch of work, but some hurts leave scars that will only fade, but never disappear. Today is one of those days when those scars ache and burn. I am reminded of what was, what happened, and what a long tough road it has been.

Do not get me wrong. I know others who had longer and tougher roads than mine. I am not interested in pity, from myself or from anyone else. It's sort of like Veteran's day. Every soldier is a veteran. None of their experiences was good, but nobody compares who had it worse. They all just acknowledge each other. This is what today feels like for me. It is the day when I am most aware of the battles I went through.

But. I have much to be grateful for this morning.

The sun is shining, I am awake and almost ready to go to work. I have a truck that will take me there, and a body that will do what needs doing today. There is a corned beef dinner at my church at noontime, and I will go there and be among people who are happy and who care about me, and that is a wonderful feeling. I have been in much worse situations over the years. Where I am here and now is really quite wonderful.


Dusty said...

Wow...just wow Dawn. Helluva personal history sweet woman. I heart you!

I am just grateful I wake up every friggin morning.

judyhill39 said...

I read 3/18 before 3/17. I am moved, so very moved. Thank you fore sharing this history, it was very courageous.