In honor of my Irish heritage this St. Patrick’s Day, I’m wearing a little round pin with my maternal grandfather’s picture on it. He gave this pin to his sweetheart, the woman I knew as Grandma, to mark their engagement until they could afford a ring. Before I got married, Grandma Bess gave me both the pin and the ring, which was by then too fragile to be worn. With her permission, I had the diamond taken out and made into a pendant I wore on my own wedding day. My family is not awash in heirlooms, so I treasure these pieces.
All I know of this grandfather is what I’ve been told by my mom and other relatives, as he died several years before I was born. In the photo on the pin, he looks rather fierce. I wondered at that when I first saw it, because all the other pictures I’d seen of him looked rather friendlier. It turns out that this was a portrait done of him when he played football at school. Because of the way the photo was cropped to fit on the pin, you have to look closely to see the football connection– yes, there’s a certain cut to the jersey he’s got on, and a tilt to the shoulders that looks like he’s crouched in a three-point stance. I know that after he graduated, he opened a drugstore and later worked as a chemist at a brewery, but I don’t have a good sense of who he was as a person. I don’t feel as bad about that as I do about not getting to know my grandmother better– she was right there in front of me a lot of the time but I didn’t take advantage of that.
One of the things I could have asked Grandma Bess about is whether she would have pushed for me to be given an Irish name if I’d been born a day later than I was. My mom says she was glad I arrived on the 16th instead of the 17th because she thinks her family would have exerted a lot of pressure on her to call me Patricia if I were a St. Patrick’s Day baby. She wanted a Karen and she got a Karen, but who knows if I’d hung out in the womb another 24 hours.
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