Motherland: Writings by Irish American Women about Mothers and Daughtersby Caledonia Kearns
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The writings in this collection, fiction and nonfiction, are written from the perspectives of Irish American mothers and daughters.From Angela's Ashes to Riverdance, Irish literature and art are capturing the American imagination as never before. Ireland's literary legacy has taken root in American soil, and this dazzling anthology captures the spirit of this Celtic renaissance.
Motherland presents a poignant collection of Irish American women's writings about the mother-daughter bond in all its variety: sometimes a source of strength and solace, sometimes of sorrow and resentment, but always and everywhere central to the author's identity.
Acclaimed anthologist Caledonia Kearns has collected more than twenty pieces of fiction and nonfiction to create a rich tapestry of emotion, humor, and truth, featuring the work of contemporary writers, such as Anna Quindlen, Mary Gordon, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Mary Cantwell, Martha Manning, Rosemary Mahoney, Susan Minot, and Maureen Howard, along with voices from past eras like Margaret Sanger, Mother Jones, and M.F.K. Fisher.
This book speaks directly to the hearts of every mother and daughter. Irish or not, readers will find treasures to cherish, wisdom to live by, and words that sing with the spirit of the Celtic soul. It's a wonderful gift for St. Patrick's Day, Mother's Day, or any occasion when eloquence is the order of the day.
Author Biography: Caledonia Kearns is the editor of Cabbage and Bones: An Anthology of Irish American Women's Fiction. A graduate of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, she lives with her husband and daughter in Brooklyn, New York.
--Ilse Heidmann, San Marcos, TX
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- 5.00(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.69(d)
Read an Excerpt
Carolyn Curtin Alessio
Until I was twelve, I considered my mother an ethnic renegade. She'd repudiated her Irish-immigrant parents in a single, flagrant act, by marrying a young engineer by the name of Sergio Antonio Alessio. My pride in my mother's daring was great, and for years, when I signed my full name, I often paused, considering all the Irish surnames I might have had if my mother had complied with tradition and added to Curtin, her maiden name, a last name that might have begun and not ended with O.
In assuming my mother's heroism, however, I overlooked several key factors which suggested that perhaps my parents were not such an unlikely match: both were the children of European immigrants (my mother's parents hailed from County Limerick, my father's parents from Bassano del Grappa in Northern Italy); both were avid readers and had put themselves through college, and both were practicing Roman Catholics. But in my irrepressible ability to romanticize, I reveled in the improbability of their union. At Sunday Mass, when the priest spoke in his sermon of "mixed" marriages ironically, he meant Catholic and Protestant I privately substituted Irish and Italian. Even looking in the mirror took on a sort of mystique: though I have my father's dark eyes and ability to tan, my face has always been so freckled as to resemble an experiment in pointillism.
I learned many Irish customs and habits from my mother's mother, Mary O'Connor Curtin. Though it seemed incongruous to me, my mother's family had not renounced her for her marital defection: perhaps they viewed it as an inevitable dilution of the gene pool,or yet another trial in the family's narrative. In any event, I often wound up with my mother in Grandma Curtin's dim kitchen, in a Depression-era bungalow in a predominantly Irish neighborhood on the West Side of Chicago.
Sipping tea from Beleek china dotted with pale shamrocks, we'd listen to scratchy recordings of Irish tenor John McCormick, or sometimes, the more modern Clancy Brothers who cavorted and sang such whimsical numbers as "The Boys Won't Leave the Girls Alone." In that house on Massasoit Street, my grandmother read us obituaries from the Tribune (focusing on the deceased with Irish names), smoked, and imparted folk beliefs. For example, she told us that a bird lingering on the roof of one's house foretold certain death. And always, my grandmother told stories from the Old Country, a place that she always called "back home," though she'd left it at age sixteen to come to the States, where she took a job as a live-in nanny for a wealthy German family.
Hardship and hyperbole were mainstays in my grandmother's tales. In one story that she repeated often, her mother broke her leg while working the family's farm. There were seven children then, a baby on the way, and a husband who wasn't always reliable. At this point in the story, my grandmother would pause and purse her lips, as though considering the pathos of the situation for the first time. Cigarette smoke rose up around her in tiny, gray cyclones. I would try to imagine my grandmother's family home, her ailing mother, her youngest sister Bridie, who later would die in my grandmother's arms. All I could summon up, though, was the damp Chicago kitchen in which we sat, sipping tea and listening. "But the Bonesetter came," my grandmother would say, leaning forward, "the Bonesetter came and fixed Ma's leg."
We were never certain who the Bonesetter was a combination chiropractor and orthopedist, or even some kind of Celtic shaman. My grandmother took it for granted that we would understand the power of such a person. Further, she seemed to believe that answering petty inquiries about his profession might somehow weaken the Bonesetter's storied capabilities. Years later, I would read of a bonesetter in Ulysses, an old lady's "medicineman," but somehow I could not connect this definition with the semimythical hero of my grandmother's tales.
Despite the Bonesetter's ability to mitigate suffering, the majority of my grandmother's tales took on a maudlin twist, evolving into tales of misplaced love and longing, of dissipation and the failure to combat the cruelty of the surrounding world. Children, like her infant sister, died of quick, feverish illnesses; women over forty married out of desperation and bore children who were "never quite right." These tragedies were not confined to Ireland, however, but seemed to follow the immigrants to the States, where middle-aged men would keel over from heart attacks in pubs, priests would begin to spit up blood while saying a funeral mass, young women would spend their earnings on war bonds, only to receive word that their fiances and their brothers had died overseas.
It would be years before I would read Joyce, Yeats, Frank O'Connor and Flannery O'Connor, but I learned early from my grandmother's heartbreaking stories a sense of Irishness that I would later translate however illogically into my own sense of complicity in the disappointing of God. As a child, however, I knew only that I experienced a curious mixture of yearning and relief when my grandmother would finish her stories for the day, and bid us "Safe Home" as she waved from the front porch, a cigarette still burning in her hand.
Predictably, it was my grandmother, not my mother, who told me about my mother's prophetic dream. One night during the late fifties in the Chicago house, my mother was awakened by a dream. A pleading, raspy voice was calling "Ma" again and again. Startled awake, my mother awoke her own mother, who assured her that nothing was wrong. The next morning, they received word from Ireland that Brigit McNamara O'Connor, my mother's grandmother, had passed away during the night.
What People are Saying About This
Irish Americans are just beginning to create a distinct literature and Irish American women are carving out their own territory. You'll need many copies of this book as presents for men!
Meet the Author
Caledonia Kearns is the editor of Cabbage and Bones: An Anthology of Irish American Women's Fiction. A graduate of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, she lives with her husband and daughter in Brooklyn, New York.
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