God invented whiskey to keep the Irish from ruling the world.
—Traditional Irish saying, on the menu of Three Birds Tavern
Sure and begorrah, last Saturday was St. Patrick’s Day, so Jeanne and I put on something green, skipped our usual whiskey sour, and went out for a bit of corned beef & cabbage and a glass of Jameson’s, just the two of us. We’re getting old, but when we were young St. Patrick’s was seldom quiet.
Jeanne and I were children during the Great Depression, I in Brooklyn, Jeanne in what we kids called Noo Joisey. We think our generally frugal habits stem from that time, but our memories from the ‘30s and ‘40s tend to be vivid. Both sides of my German-Irish (Meinke-McDonald) family immigrated to Brooklyn via Ellis Island in the 1890s. (Jeanne’s ancestors, from England and/or Wales, seem to have arrived much earlier; it’s a mystery, but close enough to enjoy St. Patrick’s Day.) My mother’s maiden name was Kathleen McDonald, and her mother Kathryn had several sisters whom I remember fondly. In those days families tended to cluster together — and not just at holidays — with the women being the stable figures, always outnumbering the men. They often gathered together to talk and play cards, sometimes listening to the Dodgers games, which would attract my young self to sit with them. This poem grew out of those days, and the sad and funny stories I heard about those troubled and troubling men, and their indomitable women. Sláinte!
I’ve liked to drink since I was ten:
a sip of whiskey in the den
with Grandma and her sisters who
played pinochle and games of Clue
killing time without their men
From County Cork and Monaghan
their husbands sailed and worked and then
soon and sooner off they flew:
they liked to drink
Grandma loved me hard so when
she saw the trouble I was in
she hugged me till my face went blue
but gave me no advice: She knew
She said a prayer I said Amen
We liked to drink