DC Comics rebooted your favorite superheroes last month with “the new 52” series, giving fresh coats of paint and new story lines to the likes of Superman and Wonder Woman. It reminded me how much I loved reading about the origins of those characters as a kid and how fascinated I was with the pain that drove the likes of billionaire Bruce Wayne to strike fear in criminals’ hearts by dressing like a giant bat.
There were some events over the last few weeks that made me reflect on my own origins. The first was a series of interviews that the New York University Glucksman Ireland House conducted with my parents and myself as part of their Oral History Collection.
The Ireland House is doing the Lord’s work preserving the histories of authors, clergy, bricklayers, and everyone in between with this series. Hearing my parents’ stories told in their own words was an indescribable thrill and provides my family with an oral history of our own that will be passed down to subsequent generations.
I heard the origin of my family in their recount. The sadness of watching the farm in the review mirror as my grandparents drove them to Shannon Airport soon faded in the face of a new world’s bright promise and modern accouterments. In this sharing, I can see the origins of my own sense of adventure that has me take on things that scare me in the face of growth–like writing the personal column you’re reading now. I heard the origins of my sly sense of humor in my father’s response to the question as to the degree of credit he gives his friend for introducing him to my mother at a wedding. “Yerra, there are days I blame him as well,” he says. The good-natured laughter between dad and his missus that immediately followed that joke provides an origin to the easy nature between my wife and I.
I hear the origins of the keen writer’s eye for observation and detail in listening to mom’s gentle whispers in my father’s ear throughout the interview as she corrects his occasional lapses in facts.
The interviewer peppers me with questions during our session and it brings back memories and introduces new observations long buried or never realized. I’m reminded of the envelopes of waitressing tips my mother put under the blotter of the dining room table; one was labelled “trip to Ireland” and another one might say “poles” as she funded a telephone line off the main road and through the narrow boreen to her mother’s house. In that memory I see the origins of my own obsession with saving for retirement and keeping debt levels low in a house full of ravenous teenage consumerism.
With a trip to Ireland last week, I can see the origins of what made me the person I am today with my own two eyes. It hit me during a bittersweet visit that had me stare into the faraway gaze of my maternal grandmother’s sister, Peggy. We both giggle spontaneously as she walks through the door of the pub and I smile broadly at our mutual tendency of approaching each social situation with the enthusiasm of a tickled toddler. Her mind has faded after almost nine decades, yet I can still see the origins of my own mischievous spark in the eye as she is about to assemble a good yarn while stirring her tea.
The origins of my sharp tongue and quick wit abound when my dad’s family gathers at my book signing in Tuam. When David Burke, the editor of The Tuam Herald turns and asks my 81 year old bachelor uncle where his wife was, he shakes his head. “Well, the girleen hasn’t been born yet and her mother’s dead,” came the instant reply.
I lean over the head stone of my paternal grandmother’s grave and I can’t tell if the wind rustles the dry leaves or if that was her voice whispering, “nice piece in the Herald about the book–aren’t ye the humble one? And peddling the book in the church parking lot after Mass was a grand gesture altogether.” I make the sign of the cross and laugh to myself. No mystery where my tendency to get the last word comes from! Having your say when you’re six feet under is indeed a miracle, yet I expect nothing less from Brigid Farragher.
I am grateful that my family origins have so many amazing people that never wore a mask or cape but are superheroes nonetheless.