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!)
I grew up on the border of Los Angeles and Orange Counties, not far from those celebrated spindles of the collective imagination: Hollywood and Disneyland. But by the age of six, the center of my imaginal world revolved around another dazzling spectacle–the apricot tree in my backyard and its spring blooms. In April, I’d gaze up to the branches of this beloved tree, waiting for the arrival of the minuscule green buds. Once spotting them, I’d run into our house and yelp: “The leprechauns are coming!” For me, something magical was simmering, a mystical transubstantiation. The budding “leprechauns” were tricksters, evoking my deep connection to the place I knew my ancestors came from, that fabled island called Ireland…..
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