When Irish Eyes are Smiling

In the lilt of Irish laughter, you can hear the angels sing.
 
It’s been twenty-two years since I’ve heard your laugh.
 

dadThe big one. The booming outrageous laugh. The one that started deep in your chest and ricocheted off the back of your tongue and seemed to ride every available sound wave, filling a space. That one. I miss it. Every now and then I think I hear it. Faint and lingering. Distant. Haunting.
 
It’s been two hundred and sixty-four months since I’ve heard your laugh.
 
Your silent laugh, when you laughed so hard no sound could escape. You would sit there, shaking and turning colors. Strangers thought you were in distress. Remember when they stopped “Shear Madness” because someone in the cast thought you were having a heart attack? We had to explain – because you couldn’t pull your shit together – that you were just thoroughly enjoying the show and to please continue.
 
It’s been one thousand one hundred and forty-eight weeks since I’ve heard your voice.
 
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Christmas Memories – The Perfect Tree

I love Christmas! Love! It hasn’t been a life-long love affair. For a little while, in the middle, I was kind of over it. But it’s back now baby! The funny part is, I don’t even care if I get anything. I love the giving. Paying attention and giving the perfect gift. The unexpected. The one they didn’t think anyone paid attention to. That gift. Priceless.

As a child, Christmas was magical. Dad loved Christmas. And he did Christmas like everything else with a style all his own! Or, the tackier the better. He had a lot of great qualities, taste was not one of them. Being colorblind factored into it certainly but it was more than that, it was his absolute inability to edit. Every idea, according to Dad, was a good one and needed to be accommodated. Some how. Somewhere.

You have no idea how much garland, fishing wire, and tinsel were lost to Dad’s quest for Christmas decorating perfection.

First things first.

The Tree. Not just any tree. The Perfect Tree. A Scotch Pine. Oh, the tree, couldn’t be any Scotch Pine. It had to be the biggest, the fullest, the christmas-treeiest of all trees on the lot. He would not tolerate bare spots or other disfigurements. This was Christmas. This was the centerpiece of his decorating madness. The crowning glory of his vision.

I don’t think Dad ever paid full price for a tree. Hell, I’m not sure he paid any price for a tree, ever. People gave stuff to him cause he was a nice guy. He was always the first to offer help and would stay there, at the lot, carrying trees to cars, tying them to rooftops, just helping out a busy guy. For an hour of his time, doing what he loved – shooting the breeze – he would come home with a tree. Dad was smart. He did his shopping, picked out his tree, and brought it up to pay. Then, he would start with the chit-chat and the helping. And when it was time to go, he’d go to pay, and tree-guy was like “nope, we’re good. Merry Christmas.” It was a true talent.

He would drive up Sheridan Street, tree tied to the roof of whatever car he was currently driving, the sisters all excited. Waiting. Anticipating. Dad would park and unload the tree. It would be monstrous. The tallest tree we had ever seen. It towered over everything near it. That folks, that is when the fun would start. Getting it in the house. No easy feat when you purchase a fifteen foot tree for a home with nine foot ceilings!

Wrestling the tree into the house to gauge it’s true height, Dad would then start with the “trimming”. Usually 3-4 feet before the tree could be safely placed in the stand and slid into the box bay in the living room. We would be admonished to leave it alone. Decorating would take place the following day.

The tree trimming doesn’t stand out in my memory. Most vivid, to me, is the wrestling and the chopping. Taming the tree into the confines of the living room and the box bay. I remember some cussing as bulbs blew out and wires tangled. As we all got older, the trees got bigger. One year he cut so much off the top of the tree, we had two trees. One for the living room and one for the playroom.

But the tree was just the beginning of the decorating on-slaught. The true decorations were yet to come.

Stay tuned for the next installment of Christmas memories. Wherein Jim bends wire hangers to his will and another family legend is born.

Attitude Adjustment in 3… 2…

God grant me the serenity

to accept the things I cannot change;

courage to change the things I can;

and widsom to know the difference.

That, for those not in the know, is “The Serenity Prayer”. And, yes I know I spelled wisdom wrong. It’s an inside joke for the sisters.

My first experience with it was when Dad joined AA. He had it in his wallet, he had it engraved in lucite, he had it memorized. He clung to it. It was his lifeline and his salvation.

I heard him refer to it often in the 11 years of sobriety he attained before he died. Which one is it Blondie, he would ask, do we change it or accept it? Change it, I would reply, no matter what. That was my answer. Even the color of the sky? Of course. He would laugh and say no, it wasn’t possible. I’d tell him to put on a pair of sunglasses – sky color changed. Suck on that Big Jim!

My most vivid memory of the prayer is saying it over his casket at his funeral. Mom asked if anyone wanted to speak and, me being me, said yes. What I was going to say, well I wasn’t sure about that. As I stood at the podium on that cold March morning, in front of family and friends, it seemed so right; so appropriate. I remember asking all present to say it with me, if they knew it.

I remember my aunt, Marie, not knowing the prayer. She scolded me after for not telling her about it so she could learn it. Sorry, Marie! I remember another aunt, Mary, scolding me for using the “alcoholics” prayer as she called it. Her I ignored since well, she annoyed me. It was important to Dad and if his sister couldn’t see that, arguing with her wasn’t going to change her mind. Nothing ever did.

I have no physical copy of the poem these days but it’s written on my soul. It’s my personal attitude adjustment. See I’m an optimist, well really more of a realist with a positive attitude. I don’t wish for things to get better. If I’m unhappy with something, I change it. If I can’t change it, I deal with it. If I can’t deal with it – well, let’s just say I haven’t run up against anything I can’t deal with. Yet.

I forget every so often that I have an amazing life. I certainly don’t have everything, not even close. But I have what matters: family, friends, and work (both professional and volunteer). What else do you need. Oh, right.

The widsom to know the difference.

The apple never falls far from the tree, part two

This is Part 2. For Part 1, click here.

mikey

Mikey

We lost Dad almost 20 years ago. This story is not about that but it recalls something that happened that day. A moment between a mother and her son, a legendary family story, and Dad maybe getting a little even in the end.

Mikey was five and Tracey’s youngest son. He spent that February day running around and playing with his brother and cousins. Not paying attention to all the tears and drama that consumed the adults.

Eveyone was at the house. All the sisters. Their kids. Spouses and significant others. Aunts, uncles, cousins and neighbors streamed in and out all day. Phone calls made and answered. At one point, Tracey and Mom went up to Mom’s room for a little while. Eventually Mikey noticed his Mom was missing.

Where’s my Mom? She’s upstairs with Grammy, she’ll be done soon. Do you need anything?

I don’t feel good. My nose is stuffy; it hurts. He was looked over and told he was fine. The grown-ups around him figuring he was just trying to get his mom to come downstairs.

Off he goes to play. Not for long.

Again. My nose is stuffy. I don’t feel good. I want my Mom. He was looked over, again, and told he was fine. That his Mom was busy with Grammy and would be down soon. Well Tracey and Grammy eventually came down and at some point he mentions to his Mom that he doesn’t feel good.

And then, that’s when it really gets going. After quizzing him about what was wrong, Tracey did what any mother would do, she looked up his nose. She thought she could see something but, to be certain, asked other people to look up her child’s nose. All the other parents thought that this was a normal request; I however, not yet attuned to the idiotic things that parent do, passed. What, boogers are gross.

Everyone agreed – Mikey had something up his nose. The question was what and how to remove it. Speculation abounded and it was generally assumed to be a cocoa puff. Discussions are had regarding the best way to break up the cocoa puff. Ed, Laura’s boyfriend, is trying to see if he can get Mikey to blow as hard as he can to dislodge it.

Mikey, by now regretting ever mentioning that something was wrong, kept looking around as if he wished the floor would open up and swallow him. His mother, getting more annoyed as he refused to tell her what is lodged in his nose, is now threating him with a trip to the hospital where the doctors will give him all sorts of needles and worse.

Finally, Mikey gives a mighty blow. The object shoots from his nose. The offending projectile is found and an intense debate about what the hard oval mass is ensues.

That’s when we hear him. Mikey. Shaken and small. Five-year-old Mikey. Standing there, staring up at his mother. His mother, who is in no mood, and says:

“Maybe it’s a pussy willow”

A pussy willow. Mikey, at school several days prior, had gotten a pussy willow bud lodged in his nose and was too afraid to tell anyone.

In those four little words, I saw my Dad reflected in my sister’s face. I like to think that Dad, soaring high in the universe, paused briefly in the folly of his new adventure, and laughed. His deep, rumbling, belly laugh, the one without sound. The one that made his whole body shake. Yeah. His Irish eyes shining with sheer delight at his tiny little Tracey and her toilet-clogging-self.

A Sassy, Foul-Mouthed Brunette: The Girl That Slayed The Giant

WARNING: STRONG LANGUAGE AHEAD

andrea(If you’re new to the blog, I suggest you first read How 5 Little Girls Briefly Slayed the Giant.)

Andrea. I think about her often. I hope she’s happy; she deserves it more than any person I have known.

Andrea lived at the New England Home for Little Wanderers. Aunt Maryanne (one of the 13 permanent residents of Sheridan Street) worked there, cleaning up after the residents and staff. I always assumed it was an orphanage but all of the Little Wanderer residents went home on the weekends.

All except Andrea.

Andrea was a ward of the state. She had been in and out of foster care and, finally, had been permanently removed from her parent’s care after their umpteenth time of causing her actual, physical harm. I think the last straw was when her mother tried to drown her in the bathtub. Apparently beating and burning a child with cigarettes are not sufficiently cruel enough acts to warrant being removed from parental care.

Andrea, having no where to go on weekends bounced between the professional staff until she found a home on Sheridan Street. She spent every weekend and holiday with us, a fragile patch in our quilt of crazy. When she was introduced into our lives she was broken, in body and spirit. She was practically feral. She didn’t know how to use utensils, or clean herself, or anything really.

She was 6 years old, looked 10, and swore like a sailor.

It seemed to take no time for her to acclimate to the rhythm of life on Sheridan Street. She was wanted and she was loved and after a time she seemed to realize that and she relaxed. A little. With Andrea you had one simple thing to remember or you would set off a firestorm of cussing that would curl your ears.

Never, ever, try to take her food. Ever. Seriously. NEV-ER. Especially if that food was pizza.

Andrea loved Maryanne (her primary caretaker at home), Aunt Barbara (my mom), all the various kids and guests. But her special, all consuming love was reserved for one person: Uncle Jimmy. Or Papa Smurf as she would call him, laughingly. A completely appropriate nickname coined for him by Deb’s friend Robin, for at that time in his life, he looked, well, like Papa Smurf.

Dad treated everyone equal. Prince or pauper, you were good people until your actions proved otherwise. He treated Andrea like all the other kids, to him she was a kid no matter what lie in her past, and he treated her like he treated the rest — and tough luck if she didn’t like it. When she didn’t, she let him know in the most vocal, invective-filled way imaginable.

An Andrea rant was a thing of stunning simplicity. It consisted mainly of saying “fuck you” as loudly and creatively as possible. For example: fuck you, Uncle Jimmy, fuck, fuck, fuck, you. Uncle Jimmy. You fuck, fuck, fuck you. From a six year old. They’re legendary in our family and all it takes is one FU Uncle Jimmy to make all the sisters dissolve into laughter.

She would stand there red and angry; immovable; sputtering and growling (really, she would growl, grrr; low in her throat). There she was, not crying, chin up, shaking with rage, staring the giant in the face and telling him to go fuck himself. And Uncle Jimmy, the original red-faced sputterer, what did he do? Well, he looked right at her and laughed. A deep, rumbling, silent laugh that would have his whole body shaking. And that, THAT, would infuriate her and spur her to ever greater heights of fuck youing.

I was 17 when Andrea left us. She was adopted by a family that had experience dealing with children like her. Experience, the state decided, our crazy home did not possess. The family that taught her about love and family and fun and Christmas. Yeah Us. We weren’t a suitable family for Andrea. Us, the ones who taught her to share, and be social, and laugh, and be patient. Why? We didn’t meet state guidelines. We were also told that for her transition to be successful all ties would have to be cut; we never saw her again.

I remember the day she left. She was wearing Dad’s ridiculously large cowboy hat and carrying her favorite stuffed animal. I remember her waving from the car and the car pulling away.

In the action of her leaving, it was in that moment, that I thought Dad had finally met his match. A sassy, foul-mouthed brunette with an appetite for pizza and Papa Smurf. The battered and broken little girl who looked him in his eye and gave him hell, Her. She left him standing in his front yard, smaller than I had ever seen him.

Trying hard to hide his tears.

Joan of Arc, a re-enactment of an historic event by children

Behind the house was our backyard. Our yard was bordered by another yard, one that belonged to the Butler’s on Forbes Street. I loved going to the Butler’s. Not just because we had fun but because the house held another fascination for me. It was the house my father grew up in. Cool, right. I would try to image him as a little boy, running through the house, playing and raising hell.

Jim was one of ten kids, and the youngest boy. From all accounts, he was a handfull! He loved telling stories and was a very charming and engaging storyteller (loads of blarney in him, that’s for sure). One of his favorite stories to tell was the story of Joan of Arc. Or, more precisely, how he and a few of his siblings decided to re-enact the story of Joan of Arc. Not the whole story, mind you. Only the part where Joan was burned at the stake.

He enlisted the youngest of the Mulvey clan – Chrissy (or Lovey as she was called) to play the part of Joan. With “Joan” secured to a post in the basement… Oh, did I not to tell you that they would be re-enacting the burning of Joan of Arc inside, my bad.

So we have “Joan”, secured to the post, patiently waiting while they build the base for the fire. Before lighting the fire they post a sentry outside the basement door, in the hallway off the kitchen. I think it may have been Clare.

Clare, when asked what she was doing, replied “nothing”. Paul, recently back from the Army, didn’t really believe Clare. He moves her aside, descends the basement stairs, and ascertains that he has a situation on his hands.

He finds: a small fire being fed by a crazy-eyed Joe, “Joan”, still tied to the post, yelling to make the fire bigger, and Jimmy running around the basement yelling “insults” at “Joan”.

Paul trying to douse the fire before it reaches “Joan”, is being thwarted by a crazy-eyed Joe who keeps tossing scraps of paper and debris on the fire. Nearby “Joan”, still tied to the post, continues to yell that the fire isn’t big enough and that Paul should mind his business and leave them alone. Jimmy continues to run, screaming, around the basement, adding to the chaos.

Paul finally succeeds in dousing the fire, unties “Joan”, and cleans up the mess. He calmly walks up two flights of stairs to his room, packs his recently unpacked bags, and leaves. According to Dad, the family didn’t hear from him for two years.

And that my friends, is the story of Joan of Arc, Mulvey Style. A story told expressively by Jim Mulvey, ringleader, and retold by me, his daughter. There was nothing historically accurate about the re-enactment, but you must admit, it’s a hellava good story. As I’m typing this, I can hear his booming voice, I can see the laughter in his eyes, I can see the boy he must have been — raising hell and having a great time.

It’s times like now that I miss him most. I miss his wit and his charm but I think I miss his laugh most of all.

How 5 Little Girls Briefly Slayed the Giant

Jim had girls. Five in all: Debbie, Patty, Tracey, Barbara (that’s me), and Laura. The older four happened quickly — only 3-1/2 years separate Debbie and me; Laura was born a couple of years later. It was a cruel trick played on him by the universe. He didn’t know what to do with us, he didn’t know how to discipline us, and he sure as hell didn’t know how to relate to us.

He did his best to avoid having to discipline us when we were young. He wouldn’t hit us because we were girls. Jim had only one rule, no crying – ever! If you did something, you took your punishment like a man. Even if you were a five-year-old girl.

I’m sure it was quite a sight. Jim was not a small man. Physically he wasn’t incredibly tall but he was broad, and big, and damn, could he holler! Thunderous. His voice could peel paint. And when directed at you, you had to stand there and take it – like a man; a five-year-old-girl-man. There was no bending down to your level for a conversation and a gentle readjust. There was just Jim. Getting louder, and redder, and madder.

The four who weren’t in trouble would close ranks on the condemned sister. She would be out in front. Alone. Chin up. Looking straight ahead. Taking it like a man; a five-year-old girl-man. The remaining four would stand directly behind, two on each side. Chin up, looking straight ahead, crying like only little girls can. Heaving, snotty, sobbing, silent crying. Four little girls, protecting one of their own.

It didn’t take long for the crying to have the desired result. Jim giving up with a “Jesus Christ, Mul” (to my mom), you discipline them, I can’t take all the damn crying.

There were instances when we all got in trouble at the same time. They didn’t happen often but they did happen. The most memorable of these had five little girls lined up, shoulder-to-shoulder, chins up, looking straight ahead. Taking it like men; five little-girl-men. Luckily for us, just as Jim was really winding up his tirade – bellowing and sputtering – it happened! His top teeth shot out of his head and dropped – plop – on the floor between us. Much to his credit, he leaned over, picked his teeth up, and walked away. What little was left of his dignity preserved in that small action. And the sisters, well we had the grace to wait until he was out of ear shot to fall, laughing, to the floor.

I’d like to say that Jim met his match in those 5 little girls, but he hadn’t. That would have to wait a few more years. I was a teenager then; Jim’s bellowing didn’t bother me. If he wanted my attention, he grounded me and took away my phone privledges. That’s how you punish a teenage girl that likes to talk!

Sisters, you know who I’m talking about – a sassy, foul-mouthed brunette (no, not you Patrice).  So, shhh, don’t spoil it for the others.

To read about the mystery brunette, click here.