Today is St. Patrick’s Day.
I never think much about my Irishness. My parents were not the “kiss me I’m Irish” types, though they were both very proud of their immigrant grandparents, and from them learned of the ugly anti-Irish sentiments when they first got off the boat. In the 1850s and ’60s New York–Ellis Island–and Irish men were, more often than not, conscripted immediately into the Union Infantry, where they became mostly cannon fodder.
When people would remark to my father about being Irish, he would pointedly tell them he was an American. My father’s cultural identity was thoroughly middle-American. He was a WWII vet who invaded Okinawa. On days like this, I think of my father’s continuing sacrifices in this life; for family, for country. He was always serving some purpose besides his own, he and my mother.
The minute I draw an ace of spades, the piece becomes immediately about him. It has been twelve years since my dad died and his ghosts, fear and sense of duty, still have an active purchase on my own psyche.
HBO started broadcasting its new series, “The Pacific,” this weekend. While driving back from Austin, Texas, I and my corner-man, Stosh made it a point to stop at a Hampton Inn, which always has HBO, to watch the first show. Hampton Inns are a little better than most of the road hotels and you pay a little more but it’s worth it. One night, twenty-two years ago, I woke up in a Red-Roof Inn to find a guy pissing on my bed. The door was wide open and this guy was for-real sleep-walking or, in my case, sleep-pissing. One swat in the head and he woke up demanding to know why I was in his room. Eventually it got straightened out and the guy was, to say the least, penitent.
I watched the first episode of “The Pacific” with some trepidation. My dad never discussed the War with me until the very end of his life, and even then not in great detail. Suffice to say it had a lasting effect on him. Every time a flashbulb went off, every time a car backfired, every time there were sudden bursts of light, I think my father revisited that dinky, ashen island full of heat, dirt, flies and death.
I take every opportunity to tell my kids of my father’s service to his country; that 60 years ago he and three million other 19-year olds saved the world. I remind them that their Irish great-great-grandmother made passage here when Abraham Lincoln was still President. I tell them that the Irish use language better than anyone else on the planet, with the exception of Latin writers–that’s a tie.
I came back from Austin sick as a dog. . . Z-pack, liquids, green tea, and a couple of days off. . . I just worked enough to finish this one. The swans are like beautiful and fatal ghosts of death for me, black flowers floating on an icy and mortal sea.