Here’s a short excerpt from my memoir that I read at The Union Square Round Table show last night. Cover by Katie McCarthy
“I barely remember the old country. I was so wee when we left. The Emerald Isle to me is just a collage of brightly colored frescoes and grape vines lazily winding up the sides of our neighborhood pueblos. I was just under a year old when my folks loaded us up on a steamship, to make that long six month journey across the Pacific Ocean. I remember the salty sea air hanging about us as we sang our celtic songs and the wind blowing the sound of a promise. A promise called …America.
We arrived, as many Irish immigrants before us, in Boston, Massachusetts. Lured here because Massachusetts sounds like the Gaelic phrase “Mo sheacht mbeannacht ort!” meaning “my seven blessings to you.” We settled in the Irish area of Boston known as Newton Upper Falls. There were only two types of people in Newton Upper Falls, either you were Irish or you were suspicious. No one was more Irish or more suspicious than my father Kilkenny Crean.
Pop wouldn’t eat French bread or play Chinese checkers. He refused to touch calzones because he said they were pizzas with something to hide. He refused to go to Chinese laundromats, but also believed no one could dry clean like the Chinese. Refusing to pay for inferior work, his dry clean only suits had to be washed in the machine. This caused them to shrink and so by the time I was ten I’d seen as many pairs of suit pants succumb to my father’s arse as he kneeled down to pay his respects at the wake of a seemingly endless string of aunts, uncles and cousins I couldn’t remember.
When my brother Donegal, the oldest of our brood of 14, started dating Lucrezia Parmiggiano the prettiest girl in Our Lady of Perpetual Disappointment School, we knew it was only a matter of time before pops found out. She was pretty, but even more that that she was Italian, as Italian as they come, and believe me, they can come pretty Italian. Pops didn’t allow for mixing. He hated Indian people the most for having the gall to mix our beloved potatoes with rice in the same dish. “One starch is enough!” he used to holler at the top of his lungs. Not that he was against starch, as time would tell he loved starch a hell of a lot more than not dying of diabetes.
Our ma was born Tipperary Wicklow, her father owned what was once one of the most profitable shalalie shops in County Louth. However by the time Tipperary was born, handmade shalalies had gone out of fashion for more reliable machine made synthetic shalalies. She was married to Kilkenny Crean at the tender age of 13 and he would be one of the only two men she ever loved. The other, as is the case with many Catholic women, was Pope John Paul II. Some Irish women also loved Jesus, but not our Ma. She found him too preachy and didn’t care for his wild hair and unshaven face. My mother had eight male children and never really took a shine to any of us either. She had a strong distrust of men and that was in no way more obvious than in her reception of the man we’ve come to know as Pope Bennedict the 16th, of course when we met him, he was just Joey Ratz. After Pops passed, money became tight and she had to rent out a room to make ends meet. Joey Ratz was a drifter a gambler and Civil War buff. He’s also the man who taught me how to box, and introduced me to the woman who would become my wife.”