I'll Know It When I See It: A Daughter's Search For Home In Ireland

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As a young girl, Alice Carey realized that "home" can mean different things. The only child of poor Irish immigrants, her isolated childhood in a cold-water flat in Queens is transformed when her mother becomes the maid to legendary Broadway producer Jean Dalrymple. In Miss Dalrymple's Upper East Side townhouse, young Alice absorbs with delight a sophisticated theatrical culture that includes encounters with such notables as Jed Harris and Marilyn Monroe. Then, a visit to Ireland with her mother thrusts the girl ...
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Overview

As a young girl, Alice Carey realized that "home" can mean different things. The only child of poor Irish immigrants, her isolated childhood in a cold-water flat in Queens is transformed when her mother becomes the maid to legendary Broadway producer Jean Dalrymple. In Miss Dalrymple's Upper East Side townhouse, young Alice absorbs with delight a sophisticated theatrical culture that includes encounters with such notables as Jed Harris and Marilyn Monroe. Then, a visit to Ireland with her mother thrusts the girl into another novel culture, one that simultaneously enchants and traumatizes her.

When Alice returns to Ireland as an adult, she and her husband serendipitously find and fall in love with a ruined Georgian farmhouse. As they begin to convert the stables into a livable cottage, Alice unearths buried memories of a childhood played out in wildly divergent homes. I'll Know It When I See It is the witty and rueful examination of her struggles to make sense of-and peace with-her recollections of a bittersweet past. It is a book certain to appeal to anyone who's ever loved, lost, and reclaimed a home of their own.

About the Author:
Alice Carey, a former substitute schoolteacher and musical theater performer, has written for a variety of publications. She divides her time between New York City and West Cork, Ireland. This is her first book.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
While ostensibly the story of an Irish-American woman's return to the rural country of her forebears, Carey intercuts the story of choosing and restoring a Georgian-Irish "ruin" with her difficult childhood and adolescence in Astoria, Queens, with her sporadically violent janitor father and overworked mother. Yet Carey's childhood is turned around in the early 1960s when her mother begins work as a maid to Broadway producer Jean Dalrymple, and Carey is taken under the wings of Dalrymple's theater people, including famed director Jed Harris. She tells anecdotes of life with the producer's office boys (the "lads") and her renovation ("we were greeted by the Seven Dwarves of Restoration: Happy, Reluctant, Fearful, Suspicious, Wary, Hopeful, and Doubtful") in a marvelous high-low, wryly camp admixture that is as winning as it seems unique, even when telling of a disastrous childhood visist "home" to Ireland (and her pedophilic-priest uncle's wiles). If Carey only sketches out huge swaths of her life her years as a young actress in Greenwich Village and Fire Island's Cherry Grove, her husband's role at GMHC and the full toll that AIDS has taken on their lives, her battle with eosinophil myalgia, the renovations of "the Big House" as opposed to the stables they begin with one looks forward to further installments in this Irish-American partial reverse migration. The book ends with Carey's mother's inglorious death (echoed in Princess Diana's) and the christening of the stables as "Never Faileth." Carey upholds that credo beautifully here. (Feb.) Forecast: While Carey did not quite endure the same trials and tribulations as the brothers McCourt, her idiom and her New York story are firmly in that tradition but on Carey's own terms. The book embraces a variety of demographics and subgenres (feminist, gay and lesbian, New York-philic, emigrant, children of abuse, coming of age) effortlessly, and should cross over to excellent sales. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Publishers Weekly
While ostensibly the story of an Irish-American woman's return to the rural country of her forebears, Carey intercuts the story of choosing and restoring a Georgian-Irish "ruin" with her difficult childhood and adolescence in Astoria, Queens, with her sporadically violent janitor father and overworked mother. Yet Carey's childhood is turned around in the early 1960s when her mother begins work as a maid to Broadway producer Jean Dalrymple, and Carey is taken under the wings of Dalrymple's theater people, including famed director Jed Harris. She tells anecdotes of life with the producer's office boys (the "lads") and her renovation ("we were greeted by the Seven Dwarves of Restoration: Happy, Reluctant, Fearful, Suspicious, Wary, Hopeful, and Doubtful") in a marvelous high-low, wryly camp admixture that is as winning as it seems unique, even when telling of a disastrous childhood visist "home" to Ireland (and her pedophilic-priest uncle's wiles). If Carey only sketches out huge swaths of her life her years as a young actress in Greenwich Village and Fire Island's Cherry Grove, her husband's role at GMHC and the full toll that AIDS has taken on their lives, her battle with eosinophil myalgia, the renovations of "the Big House" as opposed to the stables they begin with one looks forward to further installments in this Irish-American partial reverse migration. The book ends with Carey's mother's inglorious death (echoed in Princess Diana's) and the christening of the stables as "Never Faileth." Carey upholds that credo beautifully here. (Feb.) Forecast: While Carey did not quite endure the same trials and tribulations as the brothers McCourt, her idiom and her New York story are firmly in that tradition but on Carey's own terms. The book embraces a variety of demographics and subgenres (feminist, gay and lesbian, New York-philic, emigrant, children of abuse, coming of age) effortlessly, and should cross over to excellent sales. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
In this poignant literary debut about searching for a place to call home, Carey alternates between two disparate worlds: New York City, where she spent her girlhood, and County Cork in Ireland, where she and her husband bought and began to restore a 19th-century Georgian farmhouse in 1995. Admitting that as a teenager she never understood the appeal of Ireland and never empathized with her Irish American mother's need to go "home," Carey meditates on what having a home means for her today and writes painstakingly about her personal transformation, her never-ending need to belong, and her struggle for a sense of peace. Readers cannot help but appreciate her frankness she selflessly reveals many intimate details of her life, especially regarding the years she spent in New York City's Greenwich Village as a musical theater performer and gay rights activist and will also wonder about their own search for home. Carey's insightful musings will surely find readership in many public libraries. Highly recommended. Sheila Devaney, Univ. of Georgia Libs., Athens Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Carey's debut is at once an Irish home-reconstruction comedy, a requiem for Fire Island friends, and a treasury of Broadway gossip, all for the love of Mammie.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780609609842
  • Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 2/1/1902
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 5.80 (w) x 7.86 (h) x 1.01 (d)

Meet the Author

Alice Carey, a former substitute schoolteacher and musical theater performer, has written for a variety of publications. She divides her time between New York City and West Cork, Ireland. This is her first book.
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Read an Excerpt

I will arise and go now

There is nothing so scary yet enticing to a young girl as a fairy tale where another girl is kept captive in a tower until she is rescued. And once upon a time, there was nothing more scary and enticing to me than to know my picture was held captive in a room with the spirits of the dead.

Mammie and I have come back to Ireland for a visit. It's taken us a week to get here on the RMS Mauretania.

"O Alice M'rie," she says over and over, "we're going Home."

Everybody says it. No one can say boo in Ireland without sticking "Home" in somewhere. They imbue it with meaning. Home . . . and they lower the voice as if they are saying God.

O Alice, ye're finally Home.

It's good to be Home.

Everyone at Home is looking forward to ye.

. . . and ye've brought Alice M'rie Home with ye.

It is the early sixties. Aer Lingus is flying across the Atlantic in green planes. The Beatles are getting popular. JFK is President. And Mammie has finally saved up enough money in a Christmas club to take me, her twelve-year-old daughter, Home. She is going to show me off to what's left of her family in County Kerry.

"O Alice M'rie," she's been saying for years, "we must save some more so we can go Home next year."

Home . . . It should mean something good to me, but it doesn't. It means something good to Mammie.

Home: You would think she'd be sick of the word. In New York Mammie couldn't wait to run out the door of the place we called home, away from Carey, as we called my father. Home. The way Mammie goes on, you'd think we were going to visit one of those old castles pictured onpostcards.

The car stops at a brand-new two-story bungalow on the side of the road. The view is pretty; the house is not. Home. Is this what we saved and saved to see? Smack up against the house is what Mammie must be thinking about when she says Home. Next to the new house is the old thatched cottage where Alice Slattery, my mother, was born.

It's taken us all day to get here, and now that we're here, everyone stands around the kitchen with their coats on. There's Mammie's two brothers, Father Bob, the priest, and David, the farmer. There's Dave's wife, Mary Falvey--never referred to as just Mary, or Mrs. Slattery, but always Mary Falvey--and their two sons, D.D. and Robert, my cousins. Mary Falvey's just paid me a compliment that's music to Mammie's ears.

"O Alice M'rie," she said, "ye don't sound like a Yank. Ye sound just like yer mother."

A turf fire fails to combat the damp. The kettle is on the hob and small glasses of whiskey are being passed around. Mammie is the center of attention.

"O Alice, ye've come Home," they say, grabbing her hands as if she were a bishop.

Mammie's home is plain. It's neither painted nor heated. It has no books. No TV. No magazines. A few scraggly geraniums sit in a window. On a kitchen shelf a radio and a portrait of the Sacred Heart vie for attention. The kitchen serves as living room and scullery. The floor is cement. They do all their living here. I've been warned we'll have to use chamber pots, since there's no bathroom. Brack the sheepdog wanders around, and a little pregnant cat looks like she'll not live to nurse her kittens.

Mammie, Father Bob, and Dave are laughing away.

. . . and who else is coming Home this summer?

She misses Home, that one.

Nothing's changed at Home.

It's an early summer evening and I'm rambling about. This will be my home for the next month and I'm stuck. Stuck! No walking out to the corner newsstand to check up on the latest magazines in this place. And get rid of those thoughts of castles and fairies. This is modern Ireland. Make the best of it. Offer it up. Mammie is happy and I will be, too.

I traipse from one bedroom to another. They're all alike. Bed and a light, bed and a light. At least Mammie and I have the room with the view and a table. Downstairs the doors are all ajar, except for the room next to the front door. Not one for leaving stones unturned, I open it.

Crack it gently. Slip in. Can't let them hear me in the kitchen. Light from a single window casts a feeble glow on a formal room whose decor doesn't match the rest of the house. Taking up most of the space is a large dining table covered by a linen cloth. Atop that is an empty crystal fruit bowl. Around the perimeter are a few pieces of upholstered furniture smack up against the wall, a dresser crammed with what looks to be the good china and a sideboard covered with pictures.

The pictures, old black-and-whites called snaps, catch my eye. Scattered throughout them are holy cards: one side with a picture of Mother Mary, the other a passport-sized photo of a person.

I go from woman to man to child to priest to nun, as though the people in the pictures are calling out to me. Then it hits me. All these people are dead. They must be dead, for they're all wearing clothes from other eras. Do I know any of them? I must know some of them. Some of them look like me. That woman with a bun on her head and a very big nose must be Mammie's mother. The man in a cap leaning against a rick of hay, her father. There's her sister, Mollie, the nun, whose name Mammie always prefaces with "O poor" because Mollie died of leukemia. Then I saw them. Pushed to the rear were pictures of Mammie and me.

Studio portraits taken the day of my First Communion and Confirmation. And snaps. There's Mammie and me standing in the street before we went into Manhattan to see My Fair Lady. (I used to think to myself that I could die happy, now that I had finally seen My Fair Lady.) There's Mammie and me sitting on the front stoop of our flat in Queens. There's Mammie and me all dolled up on our way to Mass. There are no pictures of Carey.

I know I am trespassing but I don't care. I'm half blind from the dark and terrified the Slatterys will come in and find me. Yet the power of these pictures holds me in that room. The only piece of decorative art is a large, framed lithograph called The Three Blind Children at the Holy Well, presiding over the sideboard.

Depicted are three little girls in rags and tatters, dipping their hands into an old stone well, and smiling up to heaven with beatific, closed-eyed smiles. It's fabulous. It's spooky. I can't take my eyes off it. It fits in with all the gory fairy tales I love, the ones where girls are blinded or maimed until they are redeemed, like The Little Mermaid. But what is especially wonderful about The Three Blind Children at the Holy Well is that Mammie's and my pictures are propped up there underneath it.

"Alice M'rie, where are ye? Come in for the tea." Trembling with excitement, I head back to the kitchen. They haven't even missed me.

I tell not a soul. It's my secret as well as my ignorance. I don't know why we've been lumped in there with the dead, but I love that we are. I can't wait for my daily peek. When they go out for the cows, I go in for a look. There are the girls and there am I, all joined together in a lovely, creepy alliance.

After a week of subterfuge, I know I have to try to wheedle the why out of Mammie. We'd be lying in bed at night and she'd ask, she'd always ask, "Well then, Alice M'rie, what do ye think of Home?"

"Oh, it's great it is. It's so different. So nice and quiet."

When I finally broach it, I doubt she suspects a thing. "Mammie, ye know that room, that room that's closed down there by the door? Do they not use it at all?"

I've picked the right time for my question, for Mammie is so involved with the Duchess of Windsor's book The Heart Has Its Reasons, she barely looks up.

"O Alice M'rie, ye best not be going in there at all. There'll be time enough for that our last night, when we'll have dinner in there."

"But why is it closed up?"

"It's for wakes. They call it the West Room. Long ago they used to say that when people died, their souls headed west so they could live with the fairies and always stay young. That's what they said. And I don't know if it's true at all. It's a pisherogue. But they do put pictures of people who died in there, so they can look down from heaven and pray for us."

That's all Mammie says. She doesn't say why we are there. Nor do I ask.

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 5, 2002

    Mother and daughter re-united

    Beyond the magic of returning to Ireland to fine and restore a stone farmhouse, this is the tale of a daughter finding her mother again, long after the mother's tragic death. The writing is lyrical and the search for the mother in memories that flood back is terribly moving. I did 'laugh and cry' at the same time. There's a universal truth about mothers and daughters here. Highly recommend it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 21, 2002

    A Great Read... Really 2 books in one...

    I found this book to be a great read. It tells of life on the Emerald Isle and on Broadway. Ms. Carey does a nice job weaving the 2 together. I hope she continues to update her fans with more books on life in Ireland and a another book on broadway in the 50's & 60's. These would be great presents for 2003. Thanks Ms. Carey!!!

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