Wednesday, March 30, 2005

An Aging Saga

Age is a funny thing, isn't it? On one side of the hill, we can hardly wait to be considered an "adult," and will try to appear older than our birth certificate claims. The years march on, along with life, and there is a point at which age becomes irrelevant. Our friendships are not always defined by age mates, but by shared interests, which can jump generations. We mark all those "significant" birthdays with black balloons, or in my case, a Red Hat. I have two coffee cups which pretty much summarize my whole attitude regarding age. One I purchased myself, which reads, "Age is an attitude." The other was given to me on my last "significant" birthday by a friend, and reads, "If things get better with age, then I must be approaching magnificent."

The scourge of my youth, perennially oily skin, has been my blessing in cronehood, holding off most wrinkles save the laugh lines, of which there are many. Genetics gave me a head of hair that has yet to be touched by coloring agents--unless you count that one horrific experience with "highlighting" in my 20s that left me looking somewhat like a woman with a skunk skin atop her head. Though I don't have the runner's lean muscle mass I once did, it could be a lot worse.

So, with these attitudes and blessings, age for me really is a relative matter. Not so for every member of my family, my mom.

Our understanding of the ages of our parents was thus: Dad was born in 1928, Mom in 1926, making her two years older than Dad when they married in 1951, shortly after Dad graduated from the University of Minnesota School of Engineering. This was the long held understanding of Dad, too.

Until a fateful day about nine years ago. I have a cousin, Diane, who never married. Instead, her gift to the extended family was exhaustive geneaological research which actually turned up an entire branch of Mom's family from her grandfather's first wife. Diane was visiting on this fateful day, at a time when my brother Fritz and his wife Sharon were expecting their third child. Diane had spread out the family tree she'd constructed, and Fritz and Sharon thought it would be fun to look for baby names among the branches. Fritz found his name on the tree and began working backward, but he didn't get very far when he exclaimed, "Hey, this thing's wrong!"

Diane couldn't imagine this to be true, as the database she'd used was one of the most respected tools in geneaological research.

"What do you mean, it's wrong? It can't be!"

Fritz traced back to our parents.

"Well, Mom's birthdate is wrong. It has her down as being born in 1924. It should be 1926."

The room fell silent and all eyes went toward Mom. Finally, she had to say something before the tension caused everyone to crack.

"It was bad enough being TWO years older than your father in 1951!"

The truth came out, almost fifty years after the fact. Dad's response?

"I want an annulment."

Mom's response?

"Can't! You're not Catholic!"

As the shock wore off, little bits of other stories became clear. There was one about Mom making arrangements with the clerk of court to get the marriage license without "worrying" about Dad. The clerk was a childhood friend and bent the rules. Things like that.

At a time when May-December romances seem the norm, Mom's fears seem ridiculous. I asked her if she had lived the lie long enough that she'd just plain forgotten the truth. She never really had.

I'm so glad there are folks like my cousin Diane who are interested in geneaological research. Look at the great stories such research can unearth, not to mention true stories, a family gem.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Father Son and Friends sets the pace of the night

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A bit of the Black Gold!

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A bit of the Blarney!

My grandmother was a Murphy before she married, thus making me at least a wee bit Irish. I have celebrated that fact my entire life, and returned to the old sod two years ago, taking it all in and experiencing a wee bit of familiarity. Celebrating County Cork's win in hurling during the Muenster games along with my pubmates. Oh yeah, and gaining the right to a bit of Blarney by leaning backwards to kiss the stone. I have the official license granting me the gift of gab, not that I needed it.

With this love of my Irish heritage, of course I'll be wanting to celebrate a bit on this side of the pond on March 17. Celebrate I do, in moderation, quaffing a few of my favorite brew, the Liffey water, Black Gold.....Guinness Stout! My husband and I celebrated a bit early this year, enjoying a ceilidh at the Celtic Inn in LaCrosse. Dee Martin is a very gracious hostess, opening her inn to all, offering Guinness, a wonderfully arranged spread of food, and entertainment with Father, Son and Friends in the intimate setting of her parlor. We meet with the "regulars" at this event, all recognizing each other from the previous year. I can't think of anything I'd rather do for St. Patrick's Day...toasting all things Irish in a cozy setting with like-minded folks. Nothing can really top this, can it?

Well, let's travel back in time to around 1975, in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul. I grew up in Minneapolis, but everyone knows the Irish community celebrates in St. Paul. On this particular St. Patrick's Day, my two good friends and I decided we should do a pub crawl, trying to hit as many of the Irish pubs as we could. We'd gone to O'Garas and O'Malleys, and decided to hit McCafferty's on Grand Avenue. When we arrived there, they were asking for a cover charge of five bucks. What? We were in college, we needed that money for beer! Still, the inside of the pub beckoned with music and hilarity and we paid the price.

Crowded in a comfortable sort of way, the Harp and Guinness flowed freely from the tap as we enjoyed an incredible, authentic Irish pub band. Really authentic. All the way from Ireland. Even if this had been our first stop, we wouldn't have moved on to another bar. It was traditional Irish music at a time when the closest thing Americans had heard was the Irish Rovers singing about a unicorn. Even after the last call was made, the band played on for all who wished to stay, and stay we did. After all these years, all I need is to close my eyes and I'm transported right back to McCaffertys and the music. It helps if I put on one of many CDs I now have in my collection.

You see, that band in 1975, at a pub on Grand Avenue in St. Paul, no longer there, still plays...worldwide to huge sell out crowds in big arenas and concert halls. Because I was given the gift to enjoy them in a small pub, for a cost of $5 and the pleasure of the after hours show, I just can't bring myself to go to a concert with Paddy Maloney and the Chieftains.

Yes, the Chieftains. And to think we complained about a five dollar cover. I don't think I will ever, in the rest of my entire life, ever enjoy a St. Pat's celebration as much.

Though Dee does put on a very close second at her inn!