My grandmother on my mother’s side was born as Madeleine Tate. You can’t get much more Irish than being a Tate. She was also an orphan along with her sister Florence, but those facts I didn’t learn until much later in my life.
My fondest memory of Grandma was her chasing my brothers, my sister and I around the house with a fly swatter just to get us wound up. We would run through the living room and into the kitchen, then through the kitchen down to the hallway where the doors to the three bedrooms and bathroom were located, and then back into the living room. It was a big circle and Grandma never seemed to be able to catch us. I also remember us all laughing and getting out of breath from the chase.
Those were innocent and happy times, back in the middle to late 1950’s. We lived in a three bedroom, one bathroom single floor house with a full basement and a full attic. Outside, we had a small front lawn just big enough to play pitch and catch and a large back yard that was mostly a huge vegetable garden.
Let’s get back to my grandmother. She married a Dutchman named Charles VanHeusen. Grandpa was the stable influence in my mother’s family. He never got angry or out of sorts, and he always had a joke or saying to fit any situation. My favorite was “Apple pie without some cheese is like a kiss without a squeeze.” It was probably my favorite because of how much I loved my mother’s apple pie. But guess what? My mother didn’t learn how to bake a pie from my grandmother. I never saw grandma cook anything. The joke was that she was probably the only person who couldn’t boil water without burning it.
Grandma and Grandpa came over to our house almost every Saturday night. After we were put to bed, they would play pinochle with my parents. Grandma would have a glass of two of her favorite Thunderbird wine and my parents would have a gin martini. That was their entertainment for the week.
As my brothers, my sister, and I grew older and the house grew smaller, we stopped the chasing around the house, but we always looked forward to the Saturday visits. The older grandma got, the whiter her hair became. Eventually, her hair was completely silver white and it stood out from her head like a halo. The hair, the Irish nose and the smile are about all I have left when I picture her in my mind’s eye.
So there you have a little history about the one-quarter Irish blood running through my veins. You also know of the-one quarter dutch ancestry. From my father’s side I get my English and Scottish heritage. I am a true Celtic blend. But on St. Patrick’s day, I like to think back to my grandmother and her Irish nose and her high spirited Irish temperament.
Happy St. Patrick’s day, everyone.