Roots

(I hereby pledge – despite this blog’s name – to keep the lawn references to an absolute minimum.  Having said that, I think “Roots” best describes a discussion of where one comes from … a sort of “from the ground up” perspective.  Apologies to Alex Haley!)

Product of lower-middle-to-middle class, blue-collar Irish-American parentage … More American than Irish in a time when most adults in my version of the ’60s and ’70s more readily identified themselves with their hyphenated semi-European ethnicity.  Fact is, they were probably the last generation that relied so heavily on hyphenated Americanism to describe who they were.  But back then in Philly, it was still easy to identify sections of the city as having been at one time predominantly German, Polish, Italian, etc.

Dad was a World War II vet and worked in a steel processing plant – not in one of those huge, imposing steel mills that dotted much of Pennsylvania, making steel from raw ores.  It was more a facility processing steel into finished industrial products (wire, sheet metal, washers, fasteners, etc.).  He worked very hard in a dirty, sweaty environment.  But despite working in a union shop, it often seemed he could barely keep our financial heads above water.  He was a strongly committed and active Roman Catholic, insisting on maintaining his tithe to The Church even when he had trouble making ends meet.  Dad had his faults, but being anything other than a good father wasn’t one of them. 

Mom was a mom, and solely a mom.  Nothing other than wife and homemaker was necessary in describing her.  She stayed at home.  She never held outside employment.  Didn’t have much of an outside life period.  Never even drove a car.  Relied on Dad for everything.  It was remarkable in a way you NEVER see today.  But in the end, it was extremely limiting to her sense of self outside the family.  I never really appreciated what she gave up until Dad passed away, and she was left with no way to do anything for herself.  But as a mom, she was always there.  We always had that presence in the house.  And I honestly can’t recall more than a day here or there when she wasn’t there for us.  It was a sacrifice that’s impossible for me to adequately put to words.

Both Mom and Dad came from HUGE families … the Irish-Catholic way!  It mattered not which side of the family was involved; extended family gatherings were incredibly loud and crowded affairs.  To a kid it was both intimidating and wondrous. Who were all these people?!?

Of course, my parents were also products of The Great Depression (These stories alone could shape a few posts here!) and World War II, which had to be extremely difficult circumstances for large families.  So I often wonder whether that was why – despite their standing as “good Irish-Catholics” – there was only me, my brother Patrick, and my sister Joanne.  But I sure do remember many references to “the rhythm method”!

There is so much more I could go into here … some other time perhaps.  But going only this far, serves my purposes for the moment.

One thought on “Roots

  1. Your folks were salt of the earth, with huge hearts, Mike. Sure do miss them. They did such a great job raising their 3 children.

    I think my favorite story about your large extended family that Pat tells involves the wake you all went to. I think it was for the cousin who died young. Maybe LRG will stop by and tell us that one.

    They were lots of aunts and uncles and maybe some cousins, too, I guess, at the wedding reception your parents threw for Pat and me at the house back in 1980. It was overwhelming for me, so many new faces and names. It’s all pretty much a blur. I do remember that there was some great Irish singing being done by Joe and his brothers in the basement. Wow, that was cool and a new experience for me! I think we have the picture of your dad singing that night.

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