We had corned beef with cabbage with red potatoes and a couple of neighbors over to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day this past week — wearing something green was required — and Irish coffee (with the obligatory Irish whiskey) and green key lime pie served for dessert.
I’m no different from many Americans, especially in the South, those of us with Irish backgrounds that celebrate their Irish — “Kiss me I’m Irish” — heritage on St. Patrick’s Day. My paternal great-great grandfather McCann was an Irish immigrant who came here from Ireland during the great potato famine in the mid-1800s. He settled in Solon, Ohio, sired a daughter (my paternal great-grandmother Ella McCann Leonard) who bore my grandmother Mary Leonard Fetzer who bore my father Robert Fetzer who sired me.
Am I the only one that imagines all the possible events in history that could have prevented me from being here? My great-great grandfather McCann’s attempts at immigration to America might have failed, or he might have died of famine like so many of his countrymen (during the famine, approximately 1 million people died and a million more emigrated from Ireland, causing the Island’s population to fall by between 20 and 25 percent), or his ship could have gone down during the dangerous mid-1800s transit from Europe to America.
Ella Leonard McCann might have never been born or might have never met her future husband Frank Leonard (my great-grandfather) or she could have died before she bore my grandmother Mary during childbirth — death of mothers common back then — with Mary’s older brothers and sisters.
Or Ella’s daughter, my grandmother Mary Leonard, might not have ever met my grandfather Joseph. Joseph’s grandfather (my paternal great-great grandfather Joseph Fetzer who emigrated from Germany) was struck and killed by an “ABC” (Akron-Bedford-Cleveland) “Motor” (a streetcar) on Thursday, May 25, 1899 in Warrensville, Ohio while driving a horse-drawn wagon.
Multiple generations knew each other back then. Generations were less separated. My great-great grandfather’s great-grandson Joseph Fetzer — my grandfather — could have been with his great-grandfather riding in that wagon and could have been killed, too. But he wasn’t with his great-grandfather so he lived to grow up and marry my grandmother Mary and sire my father, Robert who endured the Great Depression and, serving in the Army Air Corps during WWII, survived flying in B-17s and transiting the Pacific during and after WWII to marry my mother Alice and sire me.
My mom’s father, Theophil (Americanized to “Ted” when he arrived in the United States) might never have emigrated from Germany in 1925 (leaving his parents and brothers and sisters behind — his brothers remaining in Germany to fight for their “German Fatherland” in WWII — my grandfather Ted an American citizen supporting his adopted nation during WWII and against his own brothers). My grandfather Ted refused Hitler’s order to return to Germany. As the winds of war were blowing across Europe, Hitler put out an edict in the 1940s that all “good” Germans who emigrated to the U.S. were to return to the Fatherland.
And just before America entered WWII, my maternal grandparents Ted and Margaret might not have moved next door to my father’s parents in Bedford, Ohio, allowing my father Robert to meet my mother Alice. Then they stuck together through eight years of war and college before being married.
Serendipity displayed at its best.
And I survived being a stupid kid doing stupid, risky, boy kinds of things (like almost burning our house down when I was a child and launching golf balls into the forest, mortar-like, from an iron pipe using cherry bombs as a propellant) and survived U.S. Navy flight training and other risky Marine Corps military training and operations during nearly three decades as a Marine.
So here I am in 2018, 170-some years after my great-great-grandfather McCann emigrated from Ireland, somehow, living on 2018’s St. Patrick’s Day to celebrate my Irish heritage with corned beef and cabbage and a toast to shamrocks and Leprechauns and, come what may, alive — against all odds — to offer an Irish Prayer to you.
“May God give you, for every storm a rainbow, for every tear a smile, for every care a promise and a blessing in each trial. For every problem life sends, a faithful friend to share, for every sigh a sweet song and an answer for each prayer.”
And I try to maintain at all times an “attitude of gratitude” for those who preceded me — scrimping and persevering and surviving — so I could be here to offer a toast to St. Patrick and the Irish blood flowing through my veins.
Barry Fetzer is a columnist for the Havelock News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.