daily preciousness

Thursday, February 13, 2003

american dream

Brendon O'Brady, was a dirt-digger -- or a peat digger, to be precise.

He was my great-great-great-great-grandfather on my Dad's (very Irish) side.

Brendon dug turf, near the River MacLeen. He waded, hip-deep in the sloshy lowland peat bogs, day after day.

By night, he led the lads in pub songs of valiant heroes and great battles.

He fell in love with Kathleen Behan, raven-haired, whip-snap sharp.

She loved to read stories late into the night, though most women back then could neither read nor write.

She preferred stories about heroes rescuing fair maidens, but tolerated Brendon's tales of valiant heroes and great battles.

They would do in a pinch.

And there was pinching going on in the cozy nooks of the public houses, during their stolen moments.

By the River Macleen they would steal away, holding hands and spending all day.

Kathleen was the daughter of the wealthy lord of the county Caven.

He was a stern, sour man who had a birthmark on his face that flared up whenever he was mad. He often was.

The Lord didn't approve of Brendon -- didn't want Kathleen to marry a man so lowly.

But Kathleen had different plans. And the scheming began.

One night, Brendon put a ladder up to her window.

One climbed up, two climbed down. By the light of the moon, her raven tresses shone.

She carried with her a single item. It was a blue wedding dress, worn by her mother and her mother's mother.

(She wouldn't run away with Brendon to live in sin -- this was Catholic Ireland, after all!)

In her father's stable, they mounted the fastest horses and fled.

When her father rose at first light, he saw Kathleen had taken flight.

He clutched his birthmark and made a vow,

"They may run, but I will catch them, somehow."

When he got to the stable, all his horses were gone, so he ran by foot.

But by the time he got to Dublin, they'd already wed.

They were a curious sight, I'm sure. Brendon wore the turf-stained clothes of a peasant. Kathleen was immaculate in her blue dress and her long black hair.

They got tickets for the next ship to America.

But the wedding ceremony had allowed her father time to catch up with them.

At the dockyard, the ship was leaving just as

Lord Behan arrived. He didn't catch them. So he caught them with a promise.

With his birthmark glowing scarlet, he cried,

"If you leave, you understand, you'll be dead to me and dead to Ireland."

Kathleen wept, falling into Brendon's strong arms. He stroked her hair and promised, despite her father's threats,

"One day, one day, Kathleen, we'll see our families, and the River Macleen."

The passage was difficult. Brendon grew despondent as Kathleen grew green.

A terrible storm engulfed the ship.

In the height of the squall, Brendon was washed overboard.

But before he knew what was happening, another wave came and washed him right back.

Before long, Kathleen recovered from her illness and her color returned. Brendon's spirits brightened.

Soon he was telling stories and leading the lads in drinking songs and telling tales of valiant heroes and great battles.

Kathleen joined him. And when she drank, what a mouth she had on her!

So loudly did she laugh, so fiercely was she a swearer,

the captain declared her an honorary mariner.

The captain threatened to throw her overboard at one point.

Brendon laughed at this and offered to lend him a hand. "She'll probably wash back up like I did," he joked.

"The ocean would love the likes of me, but I reckon it knows well enough to spit you out, Brendon O'Brady," she countered.


Their ship arrived in New Orleans harbor on July 4th, 1???.

They moved to north Louisiana. Brendon farmed and built a small cabin in the rolling hills of Winnfield, Louisiana.

(They reminded him of the hills around the peat bogs back home.)

Soon a son was born. They named him Brendon Behan Brady.

When the Civil War broke out, the new father went to fight for the Union.

Their Parish hadn't seceded from the Union, you see. It was one of the only parts of the South not to.

Kathleen and her son wanted a flag to fly above their home, to show support for Brendon.

But flags were scarce and there was little cloth to be found.

They took a cotton sack and made the white portions of the flag.

They dyed other portions of the cloth red with Indian berries.

But blue cloth proved impossible to find.

Kathleen couldn't imagine any other way, so she took out her wedding dress -- one of her only possessions from home.

With tears swelling in her eyes, she cut out the blue background for the white stars.

Her son cut down a sapling tree, and the Irish family flew an American flag above their little home.

Miraculously, Brendon came back from the war unscathed.

Brendon taught his son the songs of his youth and the stories of valiant heroes and great battles.

He worked his land but often swore

that he'd return to the land they'd left long before.

They prospered. And after many years, they eventually earned enough money to travel back to Ireland,

for he and Kathleen longed for their son to see and be seen

by their families, and the River MacLeen.

Ireland was not dead to them, but Kathleen's father was.

They rested flowers atop her father's grave, red ones, as bright as his birthmark.

They joined old friends at the pub, and, for a change, told brand new tales…

And, of course, tales of valiant heroes and great battles

But this time, they happened to be true… and they were set in a land called America.


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