I grew up on the south side, in a suburb of Chicago. I was actually born in Indiana but moved to our small Dutch heritage town for my formative years. We lived two blocks from the Catholic church which we attended and its attached grade school which we also attended. I wore a uniform for many years and while I cannot say I am a Catholic today, I grew up in a Catholic heritage. My sister and I were not really accepted that easily into the neighborhood and school. Our older siblings were in the nearby public high school and far removed from the Catholic way of teaching, having put their time in, in Indiana.
I don't know why but our parents had plopped us smack into an Irish Catholic neighborhood. I think they liked the houses and ours was built to suit. We had one of the smallest families. Not every other family was Irish, there were plenty of other "outsiders" but we were school age and while everyone was mostly kind, we knew we were different, either we were or they were.
The big families seemed to always stick together and rarely let anyone in to their inner circles. We did have block parties in the early days and my parents were a bit older and unaccustomed to this party style.
I remember one party all the women put their shoes in a big pile and and all the men chose a shoe and the owner, whoever the lady was, danced with the man.
The whole area had been an immigrant truck farm work area in the late 1800's. People came from Indiana to work the truck farms and some of those people were my heritage, Hungarian. (Austro Hungarian Empire) I think that is why my father knew of this place, now with burgeoning suburban growth and new homes at a fair price. That is probably how we ended up there.
We all managed to get along, but the kids from the really big families lived and played a bit different from us. We read books, played the organ and piano, and traveled with our parents, among other things. They played Kick the Can and Red Rover, which was a lot of fun when they let us join in. The kids across the street, there were 14 of them, had a dad who was a union worker. He brought home a stove box filled with shoes once, and that is where the kids found what fit them. Their house was neat and clean and their furniture was always someone else's cast off, always tasteful and like new. I remember one Sunday they were cooking up some food and somehow I was there with them. I was allowed one sausage, they shared what they had.
When I think of about that family now I understand so much more. I understand how it got so big. At the time, with so many family in that neighborhood of big numbers, I thought there was something really different that we did not have so many kids. In fact, I petitioned my mother for a little brother, but she did not comply. Sad as that was, I understood so much more later. With literally 100 kids in a one block area, and a church and school so close you could throw a snowball and hit a nun, my life was a Catholic life.
Interesting, we always had houseguests, and there were two English girls that particularly stand out. They were friends for many years, each having a different stretch with our family for many years. They were work friends of my oldest sister. They came to us for holidays. First it was Brenda for about ten years or so and then Joan for about the same number when Brenda married and moved out of state.
I used to love to hear stories about WWII and the bombing of London from Brenda. One was about how she got a lone jingle bell stuck in her nose as a little girl during the Blitz. Her grandfather wheeled her through the darkened bombed out streets to the nearest hospital to get it pulled out. Can you imagine?
I, being an avid reader, and a lover of castles, Brenda once bought me a book all about them. It was a kind of research book and very adult, even as I got older I found it difficult to read, but as I aged I appreciated it more and more. There were so many in ruins.
Rocket forward to my wedding. Our rehearsal dinner was at a place called Hackney's. These places are all Irish motif and the food is a variety but they are mostly known for their hamburgers. There are several in the Chicago area. Inside they usually have something to honor the Irish fighters of the time of Irish Civil War the beginning of "the Troubles".
Rocket forward again to my time where I live now. When I worked as Director of Development for a non profit that served developmentally disabled children, I used to eat out sometimes when I had a long night of event or board meeting ahead of me. I liked to go to a place call the Claddagh because it was very much constructed like an old Irish pub. There were a few of these pubs around and I liked the separate rooms they had where you could sit with just a few people around and it would be sometimes filled with books. I would ask the waitress to bring me something to have a look at while I ate as I would be alone. Once she brought a book on castles of Ireland. Mostly pictures, with bits of history about each place.
It was there I learned about why so many were in ruins.
They had been burned long before "the Troubles" but during the Irish Civil War most likely or before that even. Many homes were destroyed by the British at that time and the Irish Republican Army burned the castles of those given land and title by the British for voting and acting on their behalf; sometimes long before and during the struggle for Irish independence.
I grew up with kids whose kids later did a lot of Irish Dancing. I was told the reason Irish dancers do not move from the waist up. I was told that they were forbidden to dance by the British and when they came by the roads, they stood behind their halved open cottage doors and windows dancing in defiance from the waist down where they would not be seen. While that story has been going around for years, it turns out to be a legend.
As a person who was always interested in WWII, it took me a while to understand why the Irish might have helped some of the Germans with spying and such. Some recognized the English as their enemy.
Going through my life with reddish blond hair that turned dark auburn, milk white skin and green eyes, with a name like Sheila, I could always understand why people would mistake me for being Irish. As years have passed, I have taken the time to reflect on so many of the things that I did not know, that we were not taught in history classes. How selective our history learning and sharing has really been! I think I might have understood more about the neighbor kids if I had know more about them as Irish Americans. I know about "the Troubles" now, but certainly not enough.
I will have the opportunity to learn more I think. My son is in love with an Irish - German American girl. She is the second generation as I am of my family. She has red hair, milk white skin and green eyes. Her mother shares my name. She is a gift. Her beloved grandfather was from Sligo, Ireland.
May we always be open to understanding and learn the history we have not been taught.
Timeline of the Troubles can be found here:
A link about Sligo:
- Knocknarea mountain is 6 km west of Sligo on the Cuil Irra peninsula. It is just over 300m and can be climbed in 20 to 40 minutes. The summit offers a magnificent panorama of the indented coast and holds a massive cairn, which is reputed to be the grave of the ancient Celtic warrior Queen Maedbh (pronounced May-v). the cairn is estimated to weigh 40,000 tons; it has never been excavated.
Copyright 2012 by SheilaTGTG55