Thursday, October 9, 2008

A Couple Of Ancestor Journal Entries....

I missed posting for a couple of days, so reading down:

October 7, 2008
They were a brave lot, my Folk. In some ways, brave to the point of Stupid. But I am proud of that, anyway. I have a little story to tell about today's ancestor, in the regard of being brave. Seems my father's family had a knack for being Irish at all the wrong times....Let me explain. My great-uncle, Francis Emmett Duffy, always called Emmett, was a rather large man in stature. His mother, through the years, has become famous within the family for often telling people, "I had thirteen children, and Emmett!" I suspect that might have made some kind of a difference to him throughout life, because from my father (who was born on his Uncle Emmett's birthday), I have always heard that Emmett was rather a quiet, gentle man, who collected bugs and butterflies, and who sang in a sweet, high tenor voice in church...But who, because of his great size, was seen as a threat by smaller, lesser men, and was always having to prove himself worthy of being the biggest man in whatever room it was. The incident of which I am thinking happened when Emmett was just 19, at a craic being held in one of the pubs in Lake Placid, the largest city close to where he lived in Saranac Lake, New York. There was a huge Italian population in Lake Placid, and most of the drinking establishments were owned and operated by members of Little Italy. So, since it wasn't home, the people who frequented the pub didn't know Emmett, and since it wasn't his customary Irish-American culture, he may have felt a bit out of place. And of course, with the drinking going on, someone got a wee bit into his cups, and decided Uncle Emmett needed to be brought down a peg or two. How dare he come in here flaunting his six foot six, and daring to only have a single whisky and not even get tipsy? Not to mention having about the best voice at the craic, so that a few Italian-American beauties were apparently eyeing him speculatively. So of course, there were words. I believe the way the story has come down through the family, the assailant came up to Emmett and said something akin to "Show me what you're made of, besides stretch, you stupid big lug" or words to that effect, and deliberately spilled a drink down the front of Emmet's shirt. Apparently Emmett realized that in a battle of wits he would be attacking an unarmed man, and ignored the insult. Instead, he simply turned around and bent over, across the bar, reaching for a towel. The bully pointed at him, laughing in mockery and saying, "So, you're running away from a fight, eh, coward?" And Uncle Emmett crooked his head back over his shoulder and said, "I am simply making it easier for you to Póg ma thoin, boyo." And, thinking he had saved his honor, Emmett turned back to the bar, only to be felled a moment later by a beer mug applied directly to the back of his head. Apparently he had chosen to insult, in an Italian bar, one of the few other persons inside the room who knew enough Irish to know he had just been invited to kiss Emmet's arse. So...Uncle Emmett's on the floor, bleeding from the head, and the man who clonked him one makes an abrupt exit. No one tries to help him. And he lies there for about half an hour, before he wakes up, shakes his head, stands up, gathers his dignity about him, and simply walks out the door. His cousin, Tommy Riley, had been in the bar with him, and saw him home, but apparently hadn't chosen to say anything to the bully or take any action to help Emmett. He told the story, though, to everyone who would listen. And the next week, Emmett went back to the same bar, and found a sign on the door (not unusual in those days) saying, "No Irish here. Drink somewhere else". So....history was made. And I think Emmett won, no matter how you look at it. Cheers, Uncle Emmett. Hope where you are they are a little less truculent, and the drink is better.

October 9, 2008

I am lighting candles today for another cultural ancestor. Her name is Frances Xavier Cabrini, and she is a saint of the Catholic Church, whose name is my middle name, making her my patron saint. She was an unique woman for her time. She was born in Italy in the mid-1800's. She was the first American citizen to be canonized by the Roman Catholic Church. In fact, I knew her as I was rowing up as "Mother Cabrini" because she was the founder of her own religious order. As a young woman she had wished to enter religious life, but she contracted smallpox when she was seventeen, and never fully recovered. When she tried to enter into the Daughters of the Sacred Heart, she was refused admission, even though she had potential in her, because of her frail health. She apparently was told, "You are called to establish another Institute that will bring new glory to the Heart of Jesus." She supported her parents until they died and helped the family on the farm. She and six other sisters that took religious vows with her ultimately founded the Institute of the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Mother Cabrini composed the rules and constitution of the order, and she continued as its superior-general until her death.

She lived in New York City where our family lore said that she met my grandmother, Mabel Fennelly, because Mother Cabrini was involved with charity to the poor, whom my grandmother also taught. she obtained the permission of Archbishop Michael Corrigan to found an orphanage, which is located in West Park, Ulster County, NY today and is known as Saint Cabrini Home, the first of 67 institutions she founded. She was naturalized as an American citizen in 1909 even though all her life she had to deal with the same prejudice against Italians that my grandparents encountered against the Irish....Maybe because of this, she is now the patron saint of immigrants. I was always taught that she was a person to admire and to pray to, because we shared the idea of being condemned for where we came from, and my Grandmother was certain that as long as I wore the St. Frances medal she had given me, I would never be harmed by anyone just because they "Hated the dirty Micks." So, today, I honor her, because she was a strong brave woman and because emulating her in my childhood has helped me to grow up the person I am.

And then there's today:

Dear Derek Bell, harper extraordinaire for the Irish band, The Chieftains, until his death in 2002. I had the privilege of meeting him several times, and was so honored that he ever remembered who I was, but he did....both times I spoke to him after the first time. His music was extraordinary, his singing and speaking voice both bespoke the bardic craft handed down through his heritage, and I do believe he was a good and gentle and loving man the world will always sorely miss. In any case, I miss knowing he is in the world. Slainte, Derek, and may wherever you are be a place where the harp is welcome.

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