Saturday, March 16, 2013

Smoke in the Alley

When I was growing up I heard about my family from Ireland. They were from the South of Ire, the part that was free from the UK. It was some crazy math like 26 plus 4 equals one. Meanwhile I had never been to Ireland and as an American it really didn't matter to me. But from what I heard my grandmother Blanche Haggarty Brucker was all about being Irish.

Her family had come over from a ticket they won on the sweepstakes and she was a pistol. My great grandmother smoked like a fish, drank like a chimney, and loved to gamble. She had a picture of the Pope as soon as you walked into her home and it was no question, she was a Catholic. She was not about Ulster, the Protestant North. She obeyed the Vatican. Meanwhile as an American who has studied religion extensively one favors the Virgin Mother the other not so much. It's really a lot of BS over one small difference but nonetheless they think it's big. Apparently she prayed to all the saints too which in my opinion seems like going through a bunch of operators before getting to the big man. But it was her life and it was the way she did things.

Once my great grandmother saw a woman on St. Patrick's Day who was wearing orange and she got into a fist fight with her. I had to give it to the woman, she did not take it lying down. You did not mess with my great grams.

During the end of her life her smoking in particular was bringing her down to her knees. The doctor told her she had to smoke less. But she was not hearing of stopping. Despite the doctor telling her to stop smoking she kept on. It wasnt about being self-destructive or being stupid, she just didn't respect the doctor. No one ever told my grandmother how. She was the child of immigrants, grew up in a rough part of town, and married a steel worker and had seven kids. She wasn't about to let some doctor run her life.

My grams thought she was slick and she would open the window when she smoked. She thought no one would know. But my grandfather would come into the room and say, "Blanche, are you smoking?"

My grands knew she was going to catch serious heat if she was caught. So she said, "No Bill, there was a fire in the alley."

Apparently there was a fire in the alley several times a day every day. My great grandfather always believed her. Maybe he didn't but just knew better than to fight with her. Either way, she continued to smoke and there continued to be fires in the alley until she eventually died.

I never met my grandmother. But they always said I had her sideways smile, the Irish smile. It used to drive my mother crazy when she would photograph me as a kid. As I got older, one evening, I was watching an Edgar Bergen TV Special and everyone couldn't do ventriloquism but I could. My parents glanced at each other. My mother grudgingly said to my dad, "Bill, it's your grandmother's smile. It's finally paying off."

I know my grandmother died before my time. But aside from the smile I know I am her great granddaughter in many ways. I am not afraid of a fight and never took anything lying down. In an industry littered with men who want to see me stupid and women who hate me because I am prettier and funnier than they are, I do things my own way. They don't know how I always run across the goal line beating them all as I don't follow their rules but play by my own each time. Those rules are hard work and no fear. The Irish don't have the luck of the Irish simply because they are Divinely Blessed, but rather they get knocked down, get up, and keep on going. That is the luck of the Irish, fearlessness in the face of the flame. That is why I don't follow the rules. I don't listen. And when I say there is a fire in the alley it rules in my favor.

Happy St. Patrick's Day Great Grams. Have a cigarette and gin on me. And no worries, you can smoke as much as you want in heaven.
I Came, I Saw, I Sang: Memoirs of a Singing Telegram Delivery Girl
Paperback available on Amazon and 877-Buy-Book
E-Book available on Kindle and Nook
Audiobook available on itunes and Audible this Spring
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