Instead of writing about my lineage and the clan on the deliriously crazy, Irish McBreen side, I thought I would focus on my mother's side of the family.
I would like to drill-down even further and describe a typical Thanksgiving Day spent at my grandmother's Civil War era home.
Yes, I said Civil War era.
We arrived around 11:00 a.m. Smells emanating from the tiny, worn kitchen were quite a mix. The largest bird available, taking up the entire space of the pocket-sized oven was the cause of much fuss.
The old lady loved to baste, and boss. A four foot eleven octogenarian with less-than-drill-sergeant-like qualities, but possessing an amazing ability to command quiet respect. Orders were obeyed, for there was work to be done. Grandma Walsh was in charge.
This was the house where my mother grew up, as one of nine children.
A seasoned old house, built to last, and almost bunker-like in solidity. Sturdy construction with substantial walls of large stone, crafted in a bygone era. Imposing and large from the outside, tiny and timeworn inside.
This is also the place where I spent many days, weekends and holidays. We always came here for Thanksgiving. I remember the enclosed porch and the coal shed. The deserted upstairs bedrooms inhabited by ghosts of Baltimore's past, I was convinced of that.
The venerable stone building was on Clipper Road, in an aged part of Baltimore City. It honestly felt like the land that time forgot, with the rows of 120-year-old homes, the stone walls and the old London Fog factory just down the way. A lost world in the middle of the city.
My mother's mom was a woman who grew up poor, never had a driver's license and lost her husband — the grandfather I never knew — when my mother was a young teenager.
I'll always remember her quiet, but sturdy presence.
As my aunts, uncles and cousins arrived the atmosphere became more jovial. The crack of beer tabs, the squeaky oven door, my uncle's jokes and the old boss at the helm.
Before dinner there was much commotion and traffic between the pint-sized kitchen and the living room, where my uncle Jim always used to fall sound asleep beside the age-old coal-fired stove, in a room that often seemed to exceed 80-degrees fahrenheit. We always needed more coal and my job often involved a coal bucket. This was the early 1980s, but it often felt like another place and time.
Dinner would commence at 2:00 p.m. sharp, but the show began shortly after.
My aunt loved to do one thing in particular, I kid you not. Take that old carcass to the back yard, with scraps aplenty. The cats would soon descend upon it. I was often amazed at how many there were. Undomesticated mousers coming out of the woodwork it seemed, tearing the cooked bird to shreds and in the end leaving nothing but a few thin bones.
This piranha-like crush of felines was a sight to behold, and my mom was always embarrassed. Although for a kid, this was the ultimate spectator sport, an event which happened just one time every November.
With Irish-American traditions of Jameson, more Jameson and plenty of jokes and singing, this soon became a very happy place. More uncles, aunts and cousins arrived after dinner and into the evening.
As a kid I remember my uncle Pat's guitar playing. His baritone, his strumming, and all the singing along.
I think back to being relegated to the kid's table, on the cold, enclosed porch.
I treasure the homemade noodles that eventually became a tradition at my house.
I recall the cats, my sleeping uncle, the coal, and the sauna-like living room.
The haunted upstairs I always had to dare myself to check out.
The squash of family in the tight kitchen, which felt kind of special and overwhelming to an only kid.
But most of all, I'll remember my kind, old grandmother and the house she inhabited. This was her special time and those late November days of the past will forever be etched in my memory.
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