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  • "Jesus, Mary, and Joe!" said Catherine. She poured me a glass of whiskey. It was 10am.

    Her husband, Tommy, sat smiling nearby wearing a New York Yankees hat. He didn't say much. We were distant cousins, Tommy and I, connected by an unknown ancestor some 3 or 4 generations back. Looking at his face was like looking at old photographs of my uncles: the old-Irish-guy face. I see that face in the mirror now.

    I was searching for the place where my grandmother lived before she came to America. It was a village named Liscat. Catherine and Tommy drove me over to a field, plowed under for cattle grazing. It was the family estate 150 years ago. "There used to be stones there", said Catherine.

    Catherine told me about the Fenian uprisings, and families who had to run away from the soldiers. Tommy told me about how his father came to America, but returned home to Ireland a few years later. Not all of the Irish took to the New World.

    I had a story, too. Kate Brennan arrived in America when Ellis Island was new. At her new school, the nuns asked her to speak some words in Irish, and the other children laughed, so she never spoke those words again. She lost a brother first, then her mother, and then her father to tuberculosis. She was an orphan at 16 and would lose two more brothers and a sister in the next few years. She survived, had 10 children of her own, and the last of those children was a boy named after the prize fighter Jack Dempsey. He was my father.

    Kate died before I was born but I think about her a lot, and about her parents who came across the ocean so that their children would have a better life. I'm still trying to make this story have a happy ending.
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