Saturday, March 17, 2012

An Irish Hungarian that got left behind

The Irish Hungarian (left) and associate, circa 1973
The following is a short bit from The Irish Hungarian Guide to the Domestic Arts that ended up on the cutting room floor. In it, I bemoan growing up Irish--but not Catholic--in a predominately Irish Catholic neighborhood on Cleveland's West Side in the 1970's

* * *

The most injurious and unfair insult I fielded on account of my nearly pagan blood came during the spring months of my sixth, seventh and eighth years when each of my Catholic girlfriends was treated to a mysterious rite. With it came a grand party (to which I was never invited) complete with gifts and cake and a special dress. "First Communion" dresses were always fluffy with lace. I'd peer out of the living room window on those gentle Saturday mornings over a soggy bowl of Count Chocula, watching the little Catholic girls twirling in cartwheels across the green green lawns in their perfect white dresses.

They had bevies of brothers who laughed loud and wore jerseys emblazoned with the words "Notre Dame" along with a cartoon Irishman posed in fisticuffs. They had swarms of sisters who wept over boyfriends and prayer cards. My one sibling brooded over Bob Dylan and was the object of bullies' sneers.

The Shaughnessys had a dewy-eyed Virgin statue in their backyard whose hands were forever upraised. I had a smoky-eyed nude woman called Playmate that lived in my father's nightstand and was replaced every month. Patty and Bridgette and Mary ate fish on Fridays while I sat cross-legged in front of the black-and-white television in my parent's bedroom watching reruns of Love American Style. The Gallagher's' living room featured an oil painting of an androgynous man named Jesus who would love them no matter what.

"Don't worry," Mrs. Gallagher assured me despite the note of condescension in her voice, "Jesus loves you too."

Every Catholic household had an odorless oppressive guilt about it that I never understood. Whenever I crossed one of their thresholds, it was as if I was awaiting some unseen judgment that would deem me bad or good. Hence, to hear that Jesus loved me evoked a private sigh of relief. The feeling lasted as long as it took for Mrs. Gallagher to stub out her Kool, tap a fresh one from the pack and say, "Jesus died for your sins." Confusion bloomed. Sins? Me?

Since the tender age of eleven, I did have one way to sin all by myself that was worth risking whatever this Jesus guy had to dish out. I told myself that he couldn't possibly know anything about what I did alone. And wasn't he already dead?

Nonetheless, I worried.

* * *

As the readership has probably surmised, I eventually stopped worrying.


alphadog said...

If everything that got left on the cutting room floor is as good as what made the cut, and that example certainly is, maybe you have a good start on Volume II.
Started your book last evening, picked it up when I woke and finished it. Pretty good stuff Erin O'Brien. Happy St. Patrick's Day.

Kirk said...

Hmm...You're Irish and Hungarian, two Catholic countries, yet that's written from the outside looking in. Is it that your parents weren't very religious, that they fell away from the Church? I'm asking because that's pretty much my situation, chock full of Catholic roots (Polish, Slovak, Irish, and Hungarian) but not raised, or even christianed, a Catholic. Not that I was raised an athiest. It was sort of a churchless, generic Christianity in which I was brought up. Every now and then growing up I would envy my more devout Catholic neighbors and schoolmates (and they almost always were Catholic, this being Cleveland), but no more. I'm comfortable with my agnosticism. Or least I'm willing to tolerate it until God comes down and tells me which religion is the right religion, and no more guessing games.

Erin O'Brien said...

Thanks, Alph.

KirK, "Churchless" is a pretty good description. We just weren't religious people.

Bill said...

OK. I guess it wouldn't be appropriate to say anything about Obama worship.

Anonymous said...

I am a member of a 12-step fellowship which has a profound and important spiritual component.

Many individuals, especially those new to the fellowship, express difficulty or doubt with the spiritual aspect of our program.

Some of these individuals had no religious upbringing or were otherwise atheist or agnostics.

Of those individuals who came from a religious upbringing but are/were alienated from the God of their understanding, I have encountered a large percentage who had fallen away from the Catholic Church. I make this statement from either the content and context of their comments, or from actual conversation.

I would be interested in hearing anyone's comments.


Bill said...

They didn't fall away, anon, they ran away. But, when hard times arrive, they do remember how to make the cross and recite a few hail Mary's. When I was a kid, I loved those Catholic girls who wore their school uniforms with real short skirts.

Erin O'Brien said...

Hello God Squad.

Anonymous said...

"Bill"-someone makes a serious inquiry, and you come up with a couple of platitudes and a leering comment.


Erin O'Brien said...

Anon, pay no attention to Bill. He hasn't had his nap.

Since you've so graciously visited these pages twice, I will muse a bit on religion.

I have always been outside of it. This will sound sort of silly, but on the occasions when I've listened to sermons, I'm usually thinking, yeah, that's the way it's supposed to be, that's the way I try to be while wondering why so very few people actually adhere to the teachings they so enthusiastically "amen."

Forgiving, or just not hating a person who is doing everything in their power to hurt you is hard. Yet I've seen droves of "religious" peeps hate freely for far less than that.

Truly spiritual people are rare and hard to find. They don't espouse their spirituality or wave around a Bible.

Guess that's enough of that. Thanks for dropping in and commenting. Good luck with your journey. Oh, and get a copy of The Irish Hungarian. You'll like the corn chowder recipe.

John Venlet said...

Truly spiritual people are rare and hard to find. They don't espouse their spirituality or wave around a Bible.

Sound insight, Erin.

Joe said...

Weird, true life: just as I read about your "sibling listening to Bob Dylan" some Dylan kicked on my iPod.

Could this be a miracle of Mary's-face-on-a-taco proportions or just a coincidence?

Erin O'Brien said...

Dunno, Joe, but now I want a taco.

Bill said...

I wouldn't have been patitudenal or leering If I'd know Anon was serious

Anonymous said...


I'm a southerner with a significant history with the 12 step fellowship. While I don't doubt catholicism presents unique issues to its parishoners I will also say that in "The Bible Belt" there is also a significant "falling away" phenomenon of Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians, etc. of 12 steppers I have known from those traditions. t's not a simple issue but one important factor is the puritan shame and guilt heaped on persons who have substance issues or relationship issues perceived as deriving from "sin." ("Jesus loves you but in the final analysis you're a depraved sack of shit.") Where I live in Tennessee there is a particularly virulent form of this in The Church of Christ. I recently had an encounter with a couple whose son was running for a coubty political office. His 90 year old grandmother was gracious enough to appear in a campaign photo which was published in one of the local papers. Her OWN FAMILY shamed her and said she had placed the affairs of man before the affairs of god, She was hospitalized with a heart attack and is slowly recovering. While she had existing cardiovascular disease it was obvious to everyone that knew her that the anxiety evoked bu the shaming had precipitated her illness. When I hear these stories this is what I want to do:
“They disrobed between parked cars and were running around chanting prayers to Jesus"...
Naked dancing women still hospitalized, await charges in Upper Darby...Daily Times. Delaware County PA. 3/17/2012.


Mike Lawless said...

I wish I ran on batteries....

Anonymous said...

Religion is what you put in it or take from it, it's not really a mystery, people are people and for the most part say one thing, do another and think a third. I think it mostly goes into the search for an answer when there is no answer. My main memory of religion is sitting on a pick nick table in Korea talking religion over a bottle of JD with a military priest. His view, was without religion we won't have most of our wars. I told him I was a reformed Mormon and the just said, have another drink because no one really knows the truth. On the flip side, he was a great guy.
James Old Guy

WV - Porno stud from the third dynasty of Egypt.

Anonymous said...

I would like to thank you all for your thoughtful responses...

Myself, I didn't have any religious upbringing aside from being stuffed on a bus to vacation bible school so Mom could get a little extra sleep. All I remember aside from the smell of the bus (smell is an evocative sense, isn't it?) was the baptist dude yelling at the kids for laughing at his trick hand fan. (the kind that separates when it is waved).
I came to God as an adult after a lifetime of being, at best, a scoffer. I came in because of the birth of my first child, and a difficult delivery which made me fear for my wife. I was fortunate because I've found a very caring congregation and a very non-judgemental denomination.

Perhaps these decisions should always be left until adulthood and maturity(well, at least adulthood-I'm still working on the maturity every day)
Thanks again.

philbilly said...

Both appear to be stock grocery getter versions. However, there was a Duster into which a 340 cubic inch engine was crammed, and of course the legendary Olds 442. Both were wickedly fast, and as disc brakes were then an expensive option, many versions were sold with severely inadequate brakes.

Having been confirmed in 1967, I was never so nearer my God to Thee than when along for a joyride, the
8-track blaring Credence, suddenly the red-hot smoking brake linings went into full fade on Big Creek Parkway and we were all braced for an impact that somehow never came.

Jesus loves me, this I know, for I now have ceramic pads and cross-drilled rotors, Amen.

Anonymous said...

philbilly has risen. get naked and praise jesus.


alphadog said...

May your springtime in Tennessee be as wondrous as the one I'm having in your old home state. Best thing is, I'm off to Yankeeland next week so I get to do springtime twice this year.

Anonymous said...


Many Thanks.

We have had a very early spring here and it's quite beautiful. There is still some anxiety among those who are most connected to the land that a late freeze could cause substantial damage.
Enjoy Yankeeland. Watch out for the Canadians.(...and their Geese.)


Anonymous said...

"The Vatican has ordered the bishop of Cleveland to reopen 13 closed churches."
Catholics eye Cleveland closures for national precedent

Impossible to escape the gaze of the Pope. If you're still lurking-Hi Pope.


CGuy said...

Yeah I can relate to this, altho my Catholic neighborhood was in Cinci and not Cleveland.... same deal w/ First Communion. Every other kid got a bike for the occasion. I already had my heathen ride, so I didn't care. Love the book, thanks for the outtake!

Al The Retired Army Guy said...

I go to two churches, religiously (pardon the pun) every Sunday, depending on how I feel.....

One is our Lady of the Blessed Pillow.

The other is Saint Mattress.

And yes, I'm going to hell for that bit.


The Twisted Tine said...

Today, while the three of us where out on a walk around Downtown Knoxville after having enjoyed what I'd call a toasted cheese burrito, some hummus and some beers from a Mediterranean cafe, we stopped to sit on a bench and watch a marimba player have at it on the central square.

Meanwhile, Cannon, aged five, was running around with a fistful of leaves, tossing them in the various man made ponds and streams, all the while honking his manhood furiously with the other hand. He does this sometimes, unaware of it, I think... we try to remind him to not squeeze himself in public.

So I turn to Stephanie and I say, "You know, that boy is going to be a furious masturbator in a few years." And she nods in agreement.

It was a good Sunday.