Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Irish Heritage

"He would have told her - he would have said, it matters not if you are here or there, for I see you before me every moment. I see you in the light of the water, in the swaying of the young trees in the spring wind. I see you in the shadows of the great oaks, I hear your voice in the cry of the owl at night. You are the blood in my veins, and the beating of my heart. You are my first waking thought, and my last sigh before sleeping. You are - you are bone of my bone, and breath of my breath."

— Juliet Marillier, "Daughter of the Forest" (Setting: Ireland)

Growing up, our St. Patrick Day traditions were pretty basic in my household. There was the "pinching" rule if we didn't wear green. We usually had corned beef with boiled cabbage for supper. We always added either powder cheese or Velveeta on the top of the cabbage. The sliced cheese never really melted well onto the cabbage, but mostly just fell off. I loved it, nevertheless.
My mother bought me pins to go on my winter coat that would symbolize the holidays. Most were Avon pins with the perfume hidden inside, but the perfume was always used. I still have them, including the Irish mouse holding a clover bigger than itself saying, "Luck O' the Irish". (I actually considered digging it out today.)

I do have an Irish heritage, but I don't know anything about it except it comes from my Grandma Heck's side of the family. My aunt has been exploring that side of the family and I hope to learn more before we head back to Great Britain at the end of this year or early next year, with a possible stop in Ireland. It is strange to celebrate a heritage sometimes without any inkling of what it means except the blood is running through your veins.

The heritage that I do have knowledge about is quite simple, and quite rare for a Caucasian family where I grew up in the northern Red River Valley. My family is the only one that I know that doesn't have a speck of any Scandanavian in them. I am half German, and then the rest is French, English, Irish, and Scottish. Of each other those, I know or have inherited little. I did know what "oui oui" was in the elementary school, and how to pronounce it, when my teacher had no idea. I can eat sauerkraut without gagging and have enjoyed it even on pizza. I yearn for trees and rolling green hills. I have dug potatoes out of the ground with my hands. I have no stories of the "old country" for I barely had grandparents (the last passed away when I was 11) to ask these type of questions, mine being the age of my friend's great-grandparents.

My husband comes from a family where his mother and uncle were adopted. His father was from El Salvador and my husband never knew him or his father's family. His heritage is that of his grandmother who raised him, the rest just words on a piece of paper and the color of his skin. It makes me wonder, what will we teach our children? We have already fallen into the melting pot, it seems, with not much luck of pulling ourselves out.

So, this, makes me wonder about my own blood and my own stories. What are my ties to Ireland? Today, why am I sitting here wearing green and wearing my Celtic jewelry, listening to Irish songs, thinking of imported Irish cheese I have sitting in the fridge to use for supper? I don't drink a drop of alcohol, so surely, it is no excuse to drink. So why?

Growing up, I always wanted to travel and the top of my list was always going to England, Ireland, and Scotland. I don't know why, but it always seemed magical to me. There is such a mystical beauty in the photographs, especially those of standing stones and the vivid green, and then there is the myths and superstitions. Those places feel so otherworldly to me and I felt a deep connection to I can't truly explain. Even after visting Stonehenge, and climbing the legendary Tor in King Arthur legends, it has only grown. And there, I make sense to myself and it confirmed those feelings of connection.

As a product of the melting pot, I have the open sky to explore the world to decide where I will go. I can use the past as a compass, but won't be afraid to spin it to explore different cultures. That is what we will teach our children, and hope they find a connection somewhere in this world. In the meantime, they read them stories. Lots and lots of stories.

PHRASE: Beannachtai na Feile Padraig
PRONOUNCED: bann/ockt/tee nih fail/eh pawd/rig
MEANING: Happy Saint Patrick's Day


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