Bryan had dropped a bombshell on Sandy so he thought it only appropriate that he start with his great grandfather Francis’ death, even though his was the second picture from the left in the frame. “See that second picture? The guy in the Navy uniform? That was my great grandfather Francis and he died at Pearl Harbor when my grandfather wasn’t quite two. They never met.”
“Oh. That’s so sad,” Sandy said with real concern in her voice as she walked closer to the pictures and studied them with greater scrutiny.
“You think that’s bad? It gets worse,” Bryan replied. “Of those four men and me I’m the only one who grew up with his father around, all four of them died before their kids were three. Not a single one of those guys ever had a chance to know their kids and except for maybe Anthony there, they never knew their dads.”
“Anthony? Which one is he?” Sandy asked.
“First one, the oldest picture. That’s from 1919, I’ll start with him,” Bryan responded. “I had a little over twenty two years to get to know my parents; ten times as long as the next closest. Of course, they all had moms that lived to a ripe old age so I guess I traded even, huh?”
“That’s the craziest thing I ever heard. Tell me about them,” she asked, adding, “If that’s okay I mean?”
“No. It’s fine. As I said, I never knew any of them except my dad, Patrick. Dad had a stepfather, Ray, after he was seven and he has, had? I have an aunt and uncle, his half-brother and sister that are still alive.”
Sandy screwed up her face and asked, “How do you know all this about your umpteen grandfathers?”
“My dad’s stepfather, Ray, was pretty insistent that Dad had access to blood family. He would include the Tiernan clan whenever possible and about the time I started high school Dad became obsessed with his genealogy and did some research. Not real far back, but back before they left County Cork and came over to the new sod; early 1800’s. He had access to his great grandmother until she died when he was 12 and he was still communicating with his grandma until 2008 when she died. I remember when Little Nana Karleen passed away because it was my senior year and I’d just turned 18 and I was away on a school trip out in California and when Mom and Dad called me I didn’t know if I should come home or not and they said no, stay and have fun. I stayed, but I didn’t have much fun. That was the first person, first loved one, that I remember dying and I took it pretty hard,” Bryan said.
“It doesn’t get any easier with frequency, does it?” Sandy asked.
“No, it sure doesn’t,” Bryan said. “Anyway, apparently it’s a Tiernan thing since my grandmother and grandfather,” he added air quotes to ‘grandfather,’ “are still alive. They all were very supportive after the accident but none of them live near me so what could they really do? My grandpa and grandma asked me to move in with them in Shibboleth but I declined. They’re good people, I just, I don’t know, didn’t want to be the orphaned grandson living with his eighty something year old grands out in the middle of nowhere? My Grampa Ray is a cool guy; I’m afraid he’s going to go next.”
“How old is he?”
“I don’t know, I can check Dad’s notes if you want. I know he served in Korea. Eighty something, that’s for sure. Dad has a book with all this information written down and a lot of history about the Irish Uprising following World War One, and the Chicago race riot of 1919 and Pearl Harbor. He used to bore the shit out of me trying to make me listen to his stories and telling me how he found something through on-line archives and stuff. I wasn’t interested then but now I wish I’d paid more attention.”
“Story of our lives is not paying enough attention to the story of our lives, huh?”
“Your mom’s folks? Anybody close?” Sandy asked.
“Yes and no. Her people are from out east, that’s why I thought it was interesting when you said you lived in Connecticut for a while; she has people there. We get along great, I love to spend time with them but I grew up here and I kind of felt like going to the right coast would be raising a white flag; surrendering- you know? I stayed; it was really, really, tough. We communicate through email and sometimes snail mail. Maybe I’ll visit them this summer. I haven’t seen any of Mom’s side since the funerals.”
“Yes,” she said, stroking his arm, “I do know. It’s tough either way. Whether we’re surrounded by people we know or isolated within ourselves the pain just smothers us, doesn’t it?”
“Drowns, smothers; same thing? I always feel like I’m drowning when it gets really bad because I can’t hardly breathe, my chest gets tight and every motion and decision is slow and difficult. Wow, we are really having a good time here, aren’t we!?” he said with a laugh.
“It’s lovely, actually. Other than my therapist I haven’t told anyone about this, about how I feel. Doctor Dave has helped me quite a bit. I appreciate having someone to share with who isn’t a therapist and who I can talk honestly to without being in a support group. Support groups are great but sometimes they just drive me insane! Tell me about the people in your pictures. Your dad and grandfathers.”
“Well, you know how Dad died and if I start talking about him and Mom I’ll start slobbering and we could be here all day so we’ll save them for another time, okay? The oldest picture is my double great grandfather, Anthony Tiernan, and that was taken in Chicago. He and my great, great grandmother Margaret had emigrated to the U.S. from Ireland following The War to End All Wars and they’d stopped in Chicago so he could earn some money before joining his two brothers, or a brother and a sister? I don’t remember, I’ll have to look it up. But anyway, they were living in Chicago with plans to eventually move to Iowa but he never made it.
“He was from the old sod, still had a brogue as the story goes, and even though he was well educated getting a job for the Irish wasn’t easy, even as late as post World War One. Tony had joined the British Imperial Army early on, like right away in 1914, and fought the Germans. Ireland was really under the heel of England then and there was a lot of turmoil as to whether Irishmen should help England fight the Germans; one of those any enemy of my enemy is a friend of mine things, you know?”
“Yes, I do. Still goes on with countries, people, families: Sad and stupid.”
“At least. So he joins up, survives trench warfare, comes back to an Ireland in even greater turmoil than he left it. Sein Fein and the black and tans and all that shit, same IRA versus the Oranges crap that U2 sings about in ‘Sunday, Bloody, Sunday’ but 50 years earlier. Anyway, it was hell for returning soldiers and to make matters worse good old Anthony had fallen for a girl named Margaret Townsend, a thoroughly British girl named Margaret Townsend. Death threats, no job, they decide America is the place to be so they set out for Iowa where Anthony has two siblings- pretty sure they were both brothers but I’d have to look it up and it really doesn’t matter right now, does it?”
Sandy smiled and shook her head, “No, probably not,” she acceded.
“On their way to Iowa and Tony decides to take a job in the Chicago stockyards until he can earn a little cash. They’re living in the south side of Chi town, it’s a very hot summer, European immigrants are competing for jobs with blacks from The South who have gone north in search of a better life and my great, great finds himself again in the middle of the us versus them crisis but this time he doesn’t make it through the battle. Huge race riot went on for like a week and he got caught in the middle. Wrong place, wrong time and he gets clobbered over the head and killed. Sad, sad, sad.”
“My God, that’s terrible. What did his wife do? What was her name? Margaret?”
“Well, she packed up her little baby Francis and moved down with her brothers in law about 75 miles south west of here. Oh! And lest I forget! She brought my great grandfather Francis, the one who die at Pearl Harbor? –with her. He was six weeks old when his dad was killed.”
“I don’t know if I want to know anymore; this is terrible!”
“Margaret never remarried and there was supposed to be some scuttle about her living with the brothers for a while and was that Kosher but God knows what went on. Francis married Karleen Kleckner, a gal whose family had moved to the U.S. from Switzerland, the great grandmother I mentioned earlier, just before he enlisted in the Navy as a flight mechanic. Somebody had told him the Navy was the safest branch of service, he loved airplanes and getting a job in 1939 was still a tough proposition. Their son Hugh was born later that same year and Francis didn’t spend much time with his boy. He headed west the first of October, 1940 and never saw his wife or son again. The joke is that Margaret got pregnant on the boat coming from over from England and Karleen got pregnant on her wedding night, so watch out for those Tiernan boys, we’ll knock you up fast!” a nervous laugh accompanied his shrug.
Sandy smiled back and said, “I’ll bear that in mind, if it ever comes to that.”
Bryan blushed visibly and said, “Mom and Dad were married almost five years before I was born, so maybe it’s not true anymore.”
“I bet your parents had things at their disposal that were a bit more effective in preventing unplanned pregnancy than your fore fathers here did,” she answered with a wink.
“Any-way. Where was I? Karleen married a guy named Jeff Kaminski. They had three kids, great aunts and uncles, moved to Florida when Jeff retired and he died less than a year later at age sixty six. Never put off till tomorrow that which can be fun today, huh?”
“I guess. So do you keep in touch with them at all?”
“No. Not even a little. My grandma Mary probably does Christmas cards but I don’t even do that.”
“Mary? Did she marry Francis’ and Karleen’s son?” Picking up the picture she said, “He’s in uniform, too. What’d you say his name was?”
“Hugh. He married Mary Sullivan, my grandmother, and when she widowed she eventually married Ray Primrose, my grandfather. Step, really of course, but he’s all I ever knew from Dad’s side.”
“And they’re both alive? Where’d you say they are? Florida?”
“No, that was my great grandma. Ray and Mary live in Shibboleth. Ray had two kids from a previous and then he and Grandma had two more so they’re my closest relatives on my dad’s side. The two more that is. Uncle Justin and Aunt Kelsey aren’t even related to me, they’re just Ray’s kids from his first marriage. They’re nice, I like them.”
“How did Hugh die?”
“More Chicago shit, but this time the other side of the law. Hugh went to Chicago to be a big city cop and got pushed down a flight of stairs. There was some stink about Grandma Mary getting his pension for a while but it was eventually ruled to be in the line of duty so she collected. For God’s sake don’t ever ask her about it unless you have a day to kill!” he said with a smile and wink.
“And then of course your folks and the car acc- car crash,” she corrected herself before saying accident, apparently remembering how explosively Bryan had responded to that word before.
“Yep. Whole lotta’ dead folks, huh?”
“Yes, very sad,” she said walking over and wrapping her arms around him. “You just be careful, okay? Your dad made it to what, two, three times what his dad did? Maybe you can double Patrick’s life span if you’re careful. And speaking of careful wasn’t I supposed to take you and your wheel to Morgantowne so you could get it fixed and replace that helmet? I think we’d better get moving!”
“Oh, yeah! Sorry! What time is it? Do you have time to do that still?” he asked.
“Absolutely, but I may need to leave you there. You can ride home right? Once you have your new helmet?”
“Do it all the time. You ready? Need a bathroom or anything?”
“Nope, I’m good.”
“Cool,” Bryan said as he grabbed his wheel. “Let’s go!” And with that they headed back to the ugly, rancid world outside pausing only long enough to secure the double locks on his little sanctuary.