Taunted by the secrecy and silence within the trauma, I returned to Ireland after I graduated from college and visited my Great Aunt Johanna on the ancestral farm. I decided to surprise her with no advance warning of my arrival. When she answered the door, her shock collapsed into flitting anger: “Why the hell didn’t you tell me you were coming, I would have killed a goose?!” We settled in for tea and sandwiches. My great aunt examined the photographs I’d brought from California, inquiring how close our family lived to Hollywood. Then, before I could pull out my notebook with the carefully crafted questions I’d hoped to ask, questions about our ancestors, the farm, and their traditions, Aunt Johanna blurted with visceral concern: “And who do you think it was that killed J.R.?” Dallas, the wildly popular, 1980s American television show had come to Mullagh, Ireland. And she wanted to know everything. I realized then I’d have to find the buried stories elsewhere. I started reading the Irish authors, James Joyce, WB Yeats, Oscar Wilde…looking for clues into that forlorn condition of “waiting.” Or as Seamus Deane writes, that “specifically Irish form of nostalgia…This nostalgia was consistently directed toward a past that was so deeply buried that it was not recoverable except for sentiment.” Yes, that sentiment. The faraway look in my grandmother’s eyes and in my father’s eyes, that sentiment courting me in the quest for my own identity. (more on the Audio Diary.)
That faraway and even dreamier place called Ireland was iconified within the lush surroundings of our local church, St. Hedwigs, in Los Alamitos. The parish lawns were textured like moist linen and lined by endless rows of roses…Sister Mary Ita, my fourth grade teacher, told me about her niece named Mary O’Connor, who lived in County Limavady in Northern Ireland. She arranged for Mary and me to become pen pals. I prized Mary’s letters filled with lovely Irish penmanship that arrived in the blue, tissue-thin envelopes marked aero mail. We were Irish girls living on opposite sides of the world! Such are the early images of an Irish-American childhood–and the rumblings of a quest for identity–as launched in suburban Southern California…I pictured Mary in a wet country perhaps not far from all the bombs in Belfast. (This was the late 1960s.) How do I tell her about our trips to Disneyland or our backyard pool parties complete with piñata…Prosperous California tipped to the future. We could settle upon nothing for nothing could settle for long. (More by listening in!)
Under the Shade of the “Leprechaun” Tree
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