Saturday, October 24, 2009

These are my people



These are my people. I hope you were not expecting something more grand. Looking a little like ten miles of bad road here but they are something spectacular. Not just because they are the ones I was born into, but because they are loyalists and purists, trustworthy inheritors of a close-guarded tradition. Father, brothers, cousins, husband, and friends.

This picture was taken 47 years into a Thanksgiving tradition established by my Dad and a handful of his high school buddies in the town park on the top of the hill above where they grew up in our hometown, Katonah, New York. This is four generations of Irish Catholic New Yorkers, which became family over a Thanksgiving morning touch football game borne into life as an agreement of four young men in front of a locker bank in a school called St. Mary's of the Assumption right there at the bottom of that same hill.

This Thanksgiving Day, it will be fifty years that we have met there, at 10 am, without having once discussed it amongst ourselves during the year. This year there will be television crews from the New York City news stations; not all that uncommon, various media outlets turned up unexpectedly at every other milestone as well. Seems the part that fascinates people is that this is the only day each year we all see one another in most cases and that we fly from all over the world to be there. That, and that it never occurred to us to do something else, I guess. We still look at those cameras with bewilderment; I mean, there is no corporate sponsorships, no real lines on the field.

But, if you grew up in this town and had names like Coughlin, O'Brien, Muller, Helmes, Keating, Marcato, Repp or Fitzgerald, then you'll be there at 10 am. Even the girls. We are welcome to play. Only we don't. At various times they have, and eventually stopped. But the boys, they play. Through life-threatening hangovers (the night before Thanksgiving is the biggest night of the year in our little burg), broken extremities, and vicious colds they have stood with their breath hanging frostily in front of them, snow drifting past them, and hands ever-moving to fend off the cold. Covered in mud. Drenched in rain. With heartache in their lives, and joy. Holding their bundled babies in shots with girls with big bouffants, and smiling with a huge brood of blond Irish teenagers and the girl with the bouffant-come-bob behind those six burly boys. Holding small dogs, and handing around the cell talking to my Husband from the Persian Gulf when he had gone to the war. Cradling the Pat Coughlin Memorial Trophy - that was my Dad. 47 years into the game, he became the first to leave the field for keeps.

Most days, if you ask me about my family, I will tell you about this game. When I think about the kind of clan we came from, it is always the first thought. There were no other girls in the extended family; this - you know - is my dance card at weddings. But they clean up nicely. You will have to take my word for it, considering.

I grew up in a small metro town; the sort where, when the dog took off and went down by the town flag pole to roll around in the grass, the patrol car just stopped, pushed the back door open for Blue, whistled, and drove him back to our house. The kind of town where the fire whistle still calls volunteers to man an engine and makes it known noon has arrived.

When the noon whistle blows down the hill on Thanksgiving day, you can hear it clear as your Mama calling you for dinner on a still summer night. All the eyes on the field will rise, and those right hands will extend. Until next year.

Then we all drop into Jimmy's, our local watering hole. My Dad had his first beer there when it was called Tighe's, so did Chris and I, thirty years on from then. The first (and last) drink I pitched at a lecherous beast, and my first marriage proposal at the age of 22: Right there. You could say we are attached to the place though, from appearances, I would be hard pressed to justify it. Just the romance of our genes, perhaps. The juke only plays my Daddy's music and some CCR. Fortunate Son. That is the music of my people.

My girlfriends from way back and I are not running game in town anymore; All grown up now, but once a year we still take our places in the middle seats. Timmy tends bar; he graduated with us. I think he is only there that one day a year now too. But he would not miss it, if he did, we would only have to go by his parent's place and ask about him. No sense in staying home.

Sometimes people just take their places, and could not get out of them if they tried for wanting to. My Husband told me this week, in a time of upheaval and difficulty for us, "I'll be there. I will always be there." One way or another, true to the family behind me on the day he took that vow, he has been.

I thought to myself it was good of him, though I know we've no other way. We know no other thing.

My Dad's family: Lace curtain Irish kids from a gracious town in old New York. Meant to play. In all weather. For our Dads. For ourselves. For all the reasons we give thanks on that field holding hands each year. Thanks that we all made it back, thanks that we have this.

Thanks to a very good God, that you all are mine.

This year you can be one of us via satellite. Can you imagine? Don't be surprised by the bewildered expressions.






21 comments:

little augury said...

CC- this is beautiful. I see you hold the same things dear, not surprising, family is all. Your growing up town sounds much like mine was, is- except with a Southern Gothic bent. Thank you for telling this story- I will be thinking about you on that day. GT

Blue said...

Thank you for one of the most moving and humane accounts of a life and a family. I read it this morning over breakfast and am so pleased I did. Again, thank you.

little augury said...

I second that Blue, it made for the most sweet cup of coffee. I am sitting here now thinking of how to steal the Blushing away to do something at LA- she is the Busy Blushing- with beaucoup brawn & brain.

View The World - Travel said...

What a beautiful story and how lucky you are to have such a tradition. Growing up, my family was large and close. Thanksgiving was a celebration of 15 grandchildren, 10 aunts and uncles. But when my grandparents left this world, the family let petty differences enter into the mix. Now, those 15 grandchildren have our own families and we each rely on memories to satisfy old traditions. You should rejoice that your tradition has endured.

Boo said...

Once again you speak the words none of us can express. You touch my heart.

LPC said...

What a wonderful story. For some reason I imagine Dennis Leary playing your dad, or else the cast of Rescue Me playing your football game. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving this year.

JBM said...

A story with rich with clues as to who and what creates a gorgeous creature like you. I love that you are a swank fashion godess and a mud and tough boys girl too. The best mix of everything He should could put in a girl.

You are at the top of the web magazine blog game. One of the best I have read. A perch we would all hope to reach but without talent like yours it is a futile pursuit.

Let us know what the air is like up there it must be a heady way to walk around all day.

shelly said...

Waiting for my first cup of espresso to steam...hardly awake yet...
Beautifully written, I have alligator tears.

tintin said...

Now that's story telling from the heart. I'll take family over center pieces any day. By the way, what is a center piece?

ADG said...

One of the best things I've ever read. Really lovely.

The-Countrypolitan said...

There is no place like "home" and the traditions that are shared by friends and family. Thank you for sharing yours...

DMC said...

Loved your post "Don't Spare the Horses" earlier this week, but I think this one is even better. What a wonderful tribute! I'm early, I know, but Happy Thanksgiving!

Nick Kersting said...

Great Post. I wondered why Josh always talked about it, now I see the importance off it all. How do we watch it from satellite?

JMW said...

Wonderful post! You draw a very vivid picture in your writing. I come from the same type of brood - Irish-Catholic, although with a Southern twist. There's a big family in our town that has the same Thanksgiving day tradition in a local park.

terpstation said...

Boo is wise . . . there is no place like home. Are we all together again yet? I am tapping as hard as I can . . .

Karena said...

Our past is so much of the makeup of who we are. I am French/ German and we have a very strong work ethic, and most of our family group use both sides of their brain.....from business and then back to artistry.

chris said...

This is a beautiful tribute to our father's memory and the importance of family and traditions

The Countess of Nassau County said...

I wanna hug this post.

thepreppyprincess said...

What a lovely, lovely post, sitting back and taking time to read it and then re-read little bits and pieces definitely made the afternoon sweeter.

Thank you for sharing of yourself and your family,
tp

Anonymous said...

There are moments, in life, that when reviewed by memory become keepsakes. They have a way of becoming precious just because they occurred, because they were, in fact, the times of our lives. Your heartfelt renderings, your beautiful voice draws us in, bids us sit awhile, have a cup of tea as you spin your magic stories of past and present glories. Together they were kids, learned to drive together,went off to war together, were in each others weddings, slapped each others backs as babys' came and grew. Each year a new addition, a sad departure, some trouble shared, some joy cheered. That blessed game kept u all in touch in California, Arazonia, New Mexico, England, Germany, God knows where. They are those kids again, playing with their kids filling in the ranks. Bless you, BH for your lovely gift of storytelling. LOve, Mom

Click Clack Mom said...

What a beautiful story!! I really enjoyed reading about this great tradition.

Thank you so much for sharing.

XOXO,

Amy