St. Paddy’s Day has always been a queer holiday for me. My home town was a textile mill town along the Delaware river. The Irish settled there as migrant workers first. They held all of the law enforcement jobs, both municipal and rail road, they worked the rail road and in the big spinning mill owned by State Senator Grundy. That is until the wave of Italian migrants came along and took most of the laborer jobs in the textile mills. Thus began the great Italian and Irish divide in town.
While both were Roman Catholics, they had separate churches. Appropriately enough, the old ornate Irish Catholic Church and elementary school, St. Mark’s, were in the newer section of town, what once was the edge – where all the Italians settled; and thus the Italians built their Italian Catholic Church and elementary school, St. Ann’s, in the oldest section of town, where are the Irish lived. This section was called the Kettle, and when a block or two of old warehousing fell into disrepair, the town raised the buildings and the Church purchased the space. Thus started the great animosity between the Irish and Italians .
My mother tells stories of the boys walking to Church on Saturday mornings for confession, and on the return trip back to their respective neighborhoods, getting into fist-fights with each other. She laughs like she has a sour taste in her mouth, about how both Italians and Irish alike had just confessed all their sins and not and hour later are fighting each other, why, because somebody was in the wrong neighborhood. She also tells stories of her brothers and cousins threatening Italian boys who even though about asking her out on a second date!
The fighting continues today in sleepy little Bristol Boro; they Italians put up a bronze statue of Columbus, so within six months, up goes a Celtic Cross, and now, not to be out done, there are memorials to the underground railroad (of which Bristol was part of the network) and a Puerto Rican Day Parade! Town council meetings, if not unanimous, usually divide along Irish and Italian councilmen, as everyone is a democrat.
Why I’ve always found this a queer day, is that my red-headed, freckled mother grew-up in the Kettle, she is extremely proud of her Irish heritage, and always pushed it on me and my sisters. My problem with it was that my father is very German! My last name is German, both of his parents are of German decent; and my mother’s father is Alsace French – i.e. mostly German, but with a French last name.
The point being that while there was a special day for the Irish in school to chirp about, and every other holiday was a shared christian one, or one of the few Jewish holidays we got, I always wanted to be German on March 17th, or any other day, but that wasn’t allowed. My fellow classmates only remembered that the German’s lost both world wars, and the was all there was to being German.
Needless to say, we did go to many of the fine German restaurants in the area, we were introduced to scrapple and strudel and apple pie by my paternal grandparents. I still find Italian food blah, and Irish food, well, just boil everything and there you have it.
Happy St. Paddy’s day. Now go get yourself a good German beer and sausage!