SOPHIA - 14
(Synopsis: A little boy and girl want to know about the roots of St.
Patrick’s Day, but they don’t know that G-Ma Lori was Terrorized by the
Irish all her life when she lived in a little town dominated by Irish.
G-Ma learns a lesson in Vigilance from her Irish grandchildren about
respecting rather than tormenting those who Terrorize you. She
realizes how “lucky” she is that her grandchildren are Leprechauns, and,
the power a four-leafed clover can have in her life.)
SHAMROCK OF VIGILANCE
“G-Ma, I don’t get it. Are the little Irish
people my Daddy Joe tells me about lepers like in the stories from the
Bible? Aren’t they sick yet or have they been to the doctor?” My
five-year-old grandson’s brow furled. His Irish eyes weren’t dancing an
Irish Jig--they were darkened with concern as we walked home from his
He was thinking too hard again, a genetic
habit inherited from both his parents, scholars who worry about the world
and do everything in their power to make a difference. I braced myself.
Very soon he would demand answers to all the questions buzzing about in
his precocious head and want them answered on the spot.
“Hey, my little Irishman, I think you are
mixing up apples and oranges.”
“G-Ma!!! Matt’s not talking about apples
and oranges. You are being silly.” Sarah, Matt’s three-year-old sister,
asserted herself, proving once again, at her whim, she wasn’t going to be
left out of any conversation.
“Sarah, I know what G-Ma means, Matt
chided. “She’s not talking about apples and oranges. She’s letting me
know my question was about two different things. And I think she’s about
to tell me what’s so different. Am I right, G-Ma?”
“You are so right, Matt.” I took a deep
breath. I always felt uncomfortable giving answers to Matt since he held
them as gospel, so I always thought through the answer carefully. “The
lepers in the Bible stories are people who are sick and often the story is
that Jesus performs a miracle and makes them better. Jesus is the doctor
in this case but the medicine he uses is a little bit of mercy as well as
a lot of powerful TLC – tender loving care. The lepers, as well as those
who see or witness the miracle, need faith and acceptance. Jesus is
usually teaching us a lesson when he performs such miracles.”
“Yes, G-Ma, I know about
Jesus and miracles, but how can the little Irish people not
be sick – but are so happy – and are dancing and stuff like
I smiled. I loved it when the kids twisted
words around. It revealed their eagerness to learn, their ability to hear
things in ways adults often misunderstood. “Your Daddy means the
Leprechauns, Matt. They are little elf-like men in Irish Folklore – Irish
story telling. Usually they are wrinkled and old, but I’ve seen pictures
and heard stories about younger ones too.”
“I’m Irish, G-Ma. So are Matt, Daddy, Uncle
Marty, Nana and Grampa Joe. Mommy says only her smile is Irish. Are you
Irish, G-Ma? Is G-Pa?” Sarah’s questions sang like an Irish lullaby,
sweet, soft, yet the words tinkled as clear as a mountain stream…flowing
with the fresh eagerness of water rich from a glacier, pure and innocent,
hungry to travel through life and create rivers of wonderment.
“What about Auntie E? She has an Irish name
like my middle one. Why…”
“Sarah, give it a rest, please,” Matt
interjected. “I want to know more about the Leprechauns”. Matt was
getting--as he puts I--‘ants in his pants’.
“Well, let’s see if
I can recall more about them. Leprechaun comes from the
Old Irish word Luchorpan, meaning wee one. They are about
2 feet tall (I approximated with my hands for my audience) and
often dress like a fairytale shoemaker with a cocked hat and
a leather apron. When I was little, I learned from the
many Irish stories told around St.
Patrick’s Day, that they make shoes and can be found by the
sound of their shoemakers’ hammers. They possess a hidden
pot of gold and if they are caught, they will reveal the whereabouts
of the treasure. The captor, the one who finds the Leprechaun,
must keep his eyes on them every second. If the captor’s
eyes leave the Leprechaun (and he often tricks them into looking
away), the Leprechaun vanishes and all hopes of finding the
treasure are lost. Oftentimes the gold is at the end of
In telling the Irish tale, I was reminded of
all the painful falderal associated with St. Patrick’s Day many years ago
when I attended a parochial school. At least a month before the actual
day, the entire school learned and practiced Irish songs and dances. Most
of the kids in the school had some Irish in their blood, and if not, they
pretended to be Irish.
My family was a noted exception. I wasn’t Irish, but English and
German. My mother
was also teased as a child because she was not Irish.
In retaliation to her own alienation, she thought it great fun to
encourage my two brothers and I to dress up in orange instead of green on
St. Pat’s Day. We suffered through a lot of pinches (no green warranted a
pinch or two) but it seemed worth it at the time to boast our
Living here in New York City I practice tolerance because the Irish
rule the town, especially on St. Pat’s Day. I knew if Matt and Sarah were
not Irish, they most certainly wouldn’t be terrorized as I was because New
York is far more cosmopolitan than the town of 1,500 I came from. I
respectfully continued my recall of Irish customs and folklore, minus the
tales of my childhood angst.
“So, tell me my little Irish lad and lass,
who is St. Patrick anyway”? I decided to see just how ‘Irish’ my little
ones were and if they could answer my ‘Irish quiz’.
“St. Patrick is the Saint for Ireland,
G-Ma. But, you know he wasn’t born there. I know the pirates took him
from his home and that’s how he got to Ireland. He chased all the snakes
out of Ireland, G-Ma. Did you know that”?
Matt took my hand as we entered the apartment
and directed Sarah who held my other hand and me over to the couch. I
knew then we were in for a lengthy discussion about the Irish, their
customs or any other topic Matt threw out. Knowing St. Patrick’s Day was
fast approaching, I had retrieved pertinent information relating to the
celebrated Holiday (especially here in New York City) from the Internet.
I was ready for my ‘little Irishman’.
“I do know about the snakes that St. Patrick
chased out of Ireland, Matt.
There are several stories but my favorite is the
one that he beat a drum so loudly and for such a long time, all the snakes
fled into the sea and drowned. It’s kind of a neat story since the snake
was a revered pagan symbol.” I paused and hoped my little ones could
follow my storytelling. “Perhaps the snakes could be those who didn’t
want to do what St. Patrick wanted them to do and so he drove them out of
Ireland, or he converted or changed the pagans to want-to-be Christians.”
Matt didn’t flinch, but Sarah did.
“What’s pag-ism, G-Ma”? Sweet Sarah’s hand
nestled into mine as she forcefully directed my face to hers with her
small but strong hands so I would look into her chocolate question marks.
“Paganism is an irreligious belief, Sarah.
So a pagan is not a Christian, Jew or Muslim. Paganism developed for
thousands of years. It isn’t just a nature religion but a natural
religion. There are many forms of paganism and a lot are descended from
Celtic origins.” I was preparing myself for interruptions since Matt and
sometimes Sarah would hear key words and either want to question them or
add to them.
“Celtic?” Matt jumped in. “Irish are
Celts, G-Ma. Sarah and I are Celtic. Daddy Joe told us we were.” Matt
grabbed his sister’s arm and chanted “Celtic! Celtic! Celtic!”
“Cel-tic, Cel-tic, Cel-tic” sweetly chimed
Apparently, my little ones needed immediate
exercise or a snack, or my tale was boring them. They hopped off the couch
and zoomed around the small living room several times. Then Matt got
tummy down on the rug and started to move forward thrusting his tongue in
and out of his mouth.
“Come on, Sarah, let’s be snakes.” He
slithered out onto the kitchen floor where it was easier to vermiculate.
“I’m a snake, a green one, an Irish one and
‘no legs’ is my name,” Sarah sang the words from her colorful
imagination. “Let’s watch for the Leprechauns and find the pot of gold.
They won’t be guarding for snakes,” she wisely suggested to her eager
“Good idea, Scary Saryyy,” Matt teased.
“I’m Sarahhhhhh, Matt. Not Scary Saryyy.”
Sarah indignantly stood up and in her big girl way, fingered her long hair
away from her eyes and face. “Humpfff,” she added hands on her hips for
“Okay, Okay, G-Ma’s ready to continue. I’ll
pour some juice for you two snakes and we’ll get back to St. Patrick.”
I thought of how St. Patrick was a Sentinel
of Vigilance for Ireland ridding the country of opposition (the snakes) to
how he helped establish Catholicism in that country. He was a busy man.
“I read that Macewyn Succat, St. Patrick’s
real name, was kidnapped at the age of 16 from his homeland in Scotland or
Roman Britain by pirates,” I said. “He was sold into slavery in Ireland
like you told us, Matt. He worked as a shepherd and was a very spiritual
and good person. He found strength in his faith and escaped to France.
There he became a priest and later a bishop. He changed his name to
Patrick after he became a priest. When he was about 60 years old, he
traveled to Ireland to spread the Christian word.”
“Wow, G-Pa is almost the same age, G-Ma.
Were they born in the same year?” Matt eyeballed me mischievously knowing
I would respond.
“Oh, you little Leprechaun, Matt. St.
Patrick was born in the 300’s and G-Pa and I in the 1900’s.” I continued.
“St. Patrick made a lot of friends and that helped him win converts (i.e.
change people’s religious beliefs). He traveled throughout Ireland and
established monasteries, school and churches. Your Daddy, Joe is
especially thankful for the Irish monasteries because they kept the
literary world safe for many years during times when people liked to burn
books. St. Patrick’s mission in Ireland lasted for thirty years. He died
on March 17. That’s the day we celebrate as St. Patrick’s Day ever
“I know something he taught,” Matt proudly
interjected. “Ms. MacMahon said he used the Irish shamrock to explain the
three parts of the Trinity – the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Irish,
that’s like us, know the shamrock is special. We are s’posed to wear one
on St. Patrick’s Day. It has one stem and three leaves. She also told us
that if we find a four-leafclover that we’d be double lucky. Let’s look
for some when the grass grows in the back yard. Can we G-Ma?”
“You bet, Matt. We’ll ask your Daddy and
Mommy to help too.” I was relieved he didn’t dwell on the subject of the
Trinity any more than he did. The shamrock approach is a lot easier to
comprehend. I thought of how the shamrock might represent a flower of
vigilance. Its three flowers would be reminders of Conviction, Courage
and Action. The stem itself would be a sentinel of vigilance. If I
considered it a Sentinel of Vigilance, I just might wear a shamrock for
the first time in my life on St. Patrick’s Day. I giggled to myself. No
more terror for me on St. Patrick’s Day. Perhaps others would realize the
importance too. Maybe shamrocks could be the symbol of Vigilance, and if
everyone wore them, violence would be stemmed. But then I thought of the
violence in Ireland, and wondered if shamrocks might cause more violence,
more terrorism. I continued.
“In America, St. Patrick’s Day is a time to
wear green” I said. “The first American celebration was in Boston,
Massachusetts in 1737. That’s almost 300 years ago. Many cities hold
parades. Your city of New York has the largest parade in the whole United
States. G-Pa and I went last year and saw so many Irish bands, kilts,
bagpipes it was almost too long for us. But, since G-Pa has a kilt, one
from Scotland, we compared the plaids and enjoyed the music.”
“G-Pa wore his kilt or skirt to my school
last year, right, G-Ma.” Matt, pulled up his pants in an attempt to make
a kilt out of them.”
“G-Pa is a girl…G-Pa is a girl…” warbled
Sarah. She rolled off the couch onto the floor to help Matt adjust his
“Oh, you two, that’s a bunch of malarkey, you
know.” I knew the word might be familiar to them, or to Matt, whose word
recall is enviable.
“G-Ma, YOU are malarkey and now you have to
kiss the blarney stone to be better. Mommy and Daddy kissed that rock
when they were in Ireland. Did you know that”?
“Yes, my little Irishman, I do remember
that.” In my preparation for St. Patrick’s Day, I read that the Blarney
Stone is a stone set in the wall of the Blarney Castle tower in the
village of Blarney. Kissing the stone is supposed to bring the kisser the
gift of persuasive eloquence (blarney). Thousands of tourists a year
visit the castle as did Matt’s and Sarah’s parents. The stone isn’t easy
to kiss. It’s located between the main castle wall and the parapet.
Kissers have to lie on their back and bend backward and downward.
I laughed as Matt danced around in his
make-believe kilt. “One story about the stone is that an old woman cast a
spell on it to reward a king who saved her from drowning. Kissing the
stone while under the spell gave the king the ability to speak
“My mommy says my Daddy has a ‘gift of
gab’ and he didn’t even have to kiss the Blarney Stone.” Matt puffed his
small chest like a strutting rooster. “She says I have it too. What
does she mean, G-Ma?”
Matt’s eyes, blue as the Sea of Aran, clouded over
at the thought his mother meant he and his dad shared a terrible genetic
defect. Little Sarah sidled over to Matt and clasped his hand to comfort
“’Tis himself,” she said in a motherly
tone. I smiled. “’Tis herself,” Matt replied impishly. I loved the
way they said the Irish glib for “I am!” They were, two distinct little
entities, as all children are, special to themselves and others.
“Matt, ‘the gift of gab’ to most people is a
special gift. It means you and your Daddy have the innate ability to talk
to people. And to talk in such a way to endear yourselves to them as well
as communicate with them. It’s not easy for your G-Ma to speak out and
articulate (talk well and easily) so I envy yours and your Daddy’s
ability.” I reached out and scooped him into my arms and gave him a proud
“G-Pa talks all the time, G-Ma. Does he
‘gab’ like Matt and Daddy? Does he have ‘the gift’?”
“Yes, sweet one. G-Pa has ‘the gift of
gab’. I don’t have the gift. I’ve always had trouble talking to
others. I’m not comfortable. But I have other special gifts. I have
the gift of Matt and Sarah. You two make me smile today and everyday.
And…” I paused, “you make me want to talk”. Maybe…hmmmm…maybe you’re
Leprechauns!” I scooped ‘herself’ into my arms along with ‘himself’ and
they returned my smile and great hug.
“We’re Leprechauns,” they sang. “We have
a pot of gold. And, you have to watch us, G-Ma, and not look away, or
we’ll disappear and you’ll never find us.”
With that, they dashed to hide, their elfish selves giggling and
laughing. They were little Leprechauns, special elves that made my days
as lucky as a four-leafed clover.
As I watched them I decided St. Patrick’s
Day 2002 will be a celebration of my Irish grandchildren, not a time to
recall my intimidation by the Irish as a child. I decided I would no
longer be terrorized by exclusion.
If I had learned anything about the art of Vigilance, I knew it
took Courage and Conviction and Action to overcome Fear, Intimidation and
Complacency. By “acting as if” I were Irish, I could enjoy the Holiday
and spread cheer not fear to my grandchildren. My job was to help Matt
and Sarah feel proud of their ancestry, not bemoan it as I had for over
five centuries. Yes, I thought, I’ll wear a shamrock—my symbol
of saluting the Sentinels of Vigilance who taught me how to face St.
Patrick’s Day with pride.
Plus, of course, I’d have two little
Leprechauns to guide me through the day. They were my pot of gold!
May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
Go To Sophia 15--Here
Comes Peter Cottontail