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.