I’m planning to cook my tractional St. Patrick’s Day feast today. I’ll be making corned beef with cabbage and potatoes. I may even include a loaf of Irish soda bread or a reasonable facsimile. It’s something I’ve done for years now because it’s fun to be Irish.
I used to believe that I was only playing at being Irish until I discovered that my great grandmother was Marion Rourke, a woman of mystery who gave birth to my grandfather and then died three days later. I know nothing about her and never thought to ask my grandfather if he knew anything that might shed light on who she was. All I know is that Grandpa named his daughter after the mother that he never knew. He wrote her name in a bible he gave to my mother, but rarely mentioned her in his story telling.
Marion is lost in the records of history. I have never found any reference pointing to her existence, and yet the fact that my grandfather was very much alive speaks to her importance in my family. With a moniker like Rourke, she was surely of Irish decent. In fact, my grandfather often spoke of himself as being Scots Irish, a bow to his father whose name was Mack and to the mother he would only know for a brief time.
Marion has haunted me from the time that I first heard of her. I long to know more about her if only to discover more about myself. I had never thought of being a descendant of the Irish but I have always had an affinity for the Emerald Isles and its people. I like knowing that I have a bit of Irish in my DNA. I don’t have to play at celebrating St. Patrick now that I know that I am one of the many Americans with Irish roots.
I find it interesting that even St. Patrick is as mysterious as my great grandmother, Marion. There is only spotty proof that such a person ever existed, let alone chased all of the snakes out of Ireland. Maybe he was real or maybe he was just a creation drawn from many different holy men. Whatever the case, he’s part of my tradition and the namesake for my youngest brother.
I often think of Marion. I wonder how she felt when she held her baby boy, William, in her arms. I think of how tragic it must of been when she suffered to the point of death knowing that she would not live to see her son grow into a man. I find myself wanting to know what had happened during that birth that caused her demise. I can only imagine how she may have looked based only on the appearance of my grandfather. Did she have his pale skin dotted with freckles? What color was her hair, her eyes? Who were her parents. Was the grandmother who raised my Grandpa her mother? Why is there no mention of her in any of the records I have found?
I won’t be wearing green today because I truly look sick in that color regardless of the shade. Instead I’ll deck out my table with a green cloth and placemats that feature shamrocks. I’ll ask Alexa to play some Irish music and I’ll celebrate my heritage with my daughter and my grandsons. I’ll give a toast to Marion Rourke and tell my family the tiny bit that I know of her.
My guess is that Marion was quite poor. Perhaps she and her family had not been in the United States for very long. Maybe she had even come here alone. She married James Mack who moved around so much that he too is never mentioned in census records. Perhaps the two of them lived in a rural area. I doubt that she had any assistance in giving birth. Any problems that arose would have gone unanswered. She would quietly die and become a cipher in the annals of history like so many souls who have traveled for a time on this earth. Her story, or lack of it, was quite usual for the times.
Few of us find princes and potentates in our lineage. The United States has been a refuge for immigrants seeking better lives from its beginnings. Sadly many of those who came here continued to struggle. It was only in later generations that things sometimes turned around. We see that pattern even today with new immigrants seeking asylum from their troubles. They often remain as nameless and faceless as Marion, only to be discovered by a great grandchild farther down the line. Our stories are all linked together in the saga of humankind.
Today is for celebrating and thanking Marion for bringing my family to life. I think she would smile if she were able to see what she created. We are a happy lot who have taken full advantage of the opportunities that were handed down to us. We’re a little bit Irish because of her and quite grateful to her for the gift of life that she gave to us. Have a Happy St. Patrick’s Day wherever you are and if you get a chance lift a cup to Marion who will never be forgotten again.