Kiss Me, It’s Possible I’m a Wee Bit Irish….
Happy St. Patrick’s Day guys!
Tonight, I’ll be living it up in my favorite pair of sweat pants and a green Boston Red Sox t-shirt….with a four leaf clover on it….while I binge watch Grey’s Anatomy on Hulu.
The thing is, my days of drunken debauchery disappeared with the elasticity in my face and that’s quite all right. I’d much prefer a Shamrock Shake over a green beer anyway. Besides, I’m not entirely sure I’m Irish and it feels silly at this stage in my life to commandeer the holiday and use it as an excuse to act like an asshole.
When I say I’m not entirely sure I’m Irish, there’s a reason for that. Although, it’s not to say I have no clue about the matter of my ancestral DNA.
Growing up, I knew that I was German. I knew this because my paternal great-grandmother, who had grown up on a farm in Pennsylvania, once told me we were “Pennsylvania Dutch.”
Not really understanding what that meant, I asked my father. He explained that during WW2, it wasn’t exactly hip to say you were German. So my great-grandmother began referring to herself as “Pennsylvania Dutch” as a means of avoiding the stigma associated with Nazi Germany.
The Pennsylvania Dutch, more commonly known today as Amish, were among the earliest German speaking immigrants to Pennsylvania. They weren’t Dutch, they were largely German. Apparently, when they arrived in America, their pronunciation and use of the word “Deutsch” led others to believe they were saying they were “Dutch” and I guess they just went with it.
Forty-plus years after the war, if anyone said we were German, my great-grandmother would still quickly correct them and say, “We are Pennsylvania Dutch.”
I never got the impression that she was ashamed of our heritage. More that she wanted it to be clear that my family had been on PA soil long enough to no longer be directly associated with the politics of Germany during WW2. I later suspected this may have been a tactic also employed by her parents during WW1.
My mother’s side of the family also carries a fair amount of German blood, at least on my maternal grandfather’s side. This is based on what little I know from what I’ve been told over the years. My grandfather died shortly after I was born. He and my grandmother had been divorced since my mother and her siblings were kids and as far as I know, they’d been largely estranged from him.
While I was very close to my maternal grandmother, I don’t recall her ever talking much about her parents, or her lineage and I never thought to ask when she was still living. However, I was largely under the impression that she too was German.
Then, at some point in early 2,000, my mother became obsessed with Ancestry.com. She spent hours on a computer researching our family tree. Somewhere along the line, she discovered a connection to Ireland. For some reason, this Leprechaun sized nugget of knowledge superseded everything else she might have learned about our family heritage.
To hear her talk, one might assume our family had a deep and rich connection to the country….that I’d grown up eating Soda Bread and Corned Beef with Cabbage while my grandparents recounted stories of their upbringing around the Cliffs of Moher.
In reality, I only know that Soda Bread and Corned Beef with Cabbage are traditional Irish foods, because I just Googled, “Traditional Irish Foods.”
On the other hand, I’ve been eating Pork and Sauerkraut every New Year for as long as I can remember….a German tradition.
Yet, after her discovery, my mother’s house became filled with decor dedicated to our supposed motherland. Everywhere you turned there was a coffee table book full of images of Ireland’s countryside. She framed and hung an enormous map of the country. There were Celtic crosses, books of Irish Proverbs, CD’s of Celtic music and Riverdance video’s all over the place.
Her various online usernames and email addresses were things like, IrishWoman40 or IrishEyes57. She even began referring to herself with a fictitious Irish last name in her online communications.
She became an expert on Irish folklore and obscure traditions. She sought out Irish restaurants….where she never failed to make the awkward declaration, “we’re Irish” to the unimpressed, uninterested and not always Irish, waitstaff….and she constantly claimed random strangers would approach her and say, “You’re Irish aren’t you?” as though she emoted some kind of mystical Emerald aura.
This was not the first time my mother embellished or exaggerated something about herself. For as long as I could remember, she had been donning various disguises and pretending to be someone she wasn’t.
And while I’m not suggesting she shouldn’t have been proud of her heritage, I do think she was rather disproportionately proud. She spoke incessantly of Ireland, but very little about our family’s actual connection or experiences there.
I also think that she was doing a disservice to our family history by embracing only a very small fraction of our DNA….and most likely because she’d decided it was the most fashionable part.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to realize that perhaps I’m doing a bit of disservice to myself and my family as well, by not taking the time to understand my family lineage for myself. My son will likely want to know someday and I want to tell him the whole truth.
I recently ordered a DNA kit that is supposed to provide a breakdown of my ethnicity, if I send them a sample of my saliva. I’m curious and excited for the results….and if I’m more than 1% Irish….I’ll eat five pounds of Black Pudding.