Tuesday, March 17, 2009

May the Road Rise to Meet You

Grammy’s recipe for Irish soda bread, as dictated to my Aunt Kitty, calls for a stick of butter the size of an egg, and “almost” a cup of sugar. Reading that recipe, which my cousin Karen Ketchup posted for us on our extended family’s facebook page yesterday, I can hear the whisper of Grammy’s brogue as she smiles around the words.

My mom was the 7th of Grammy and Grampy’s 13 children, who all lived in a house in Brookline, Mass. That house was a treasure trove. It famously had just one bathroom, but that’s not what made it special to me. It was the kitchen table, where Grammy would feed us warm tea thick with sugar; or the scary cellar steps you had to brave to reach Grampy’s old accordion and risk a stand off with a potentially girl-eating cat. It was the framed portraits of the 13 kids hung on the living room wall, which we could take down to investigate the older photos buried behind the ones that were displayed. It was being assigned the best room for sleeping - the one that adjoined Grammy’s - so we could fall asleep to the sound of her hushed Hail Marys when she said the rosary back and forth with us. It was walking to the candy store and the playground with cousins, and the wisteria that seemed to swallow the front porch whole.

So yeah, we’re Irish. And for us, St. Patrick’s Day was a big deal. Long before green beer passed these virgin lips, we were getting jiggy with it.

I went to the St. Patrick’s day parade and festival with my little brood on Saturday, so the Irish has been brewing in me for a couple of days now, and Monday’s e-mail and facebook exchanges with the family are making me all nostalgic.

It started with mom:

I just made an Irish bread! Uncle Tom sent his recipe last year, so I decided to try it. Boyoboy, did that bring back memories of my mom making her Irish bread, especially the raisins part, we'd be swiping them as she'd be trying to add them to the batter, lol. It smells berry good around here. I also bought some corned beef and cole slaw and rye bread and pickles for tomorrow - no cabbage for this Irish woman.... love mom

Then, Julie alerted us to the banter on the facebook page, which is a really cool outlet where our generation… the 66 children of those first 13… have been reconnecting as of late:

Karen A: 2:53pm
I'm getting out Ireland photos, music, maps, flags and Grammy's soda bread recipe so Chris can share St. Pat's Day with his preschool class tomorrow!·

Meghan B: 2:56pm
I love it!! We all have the same recipe for the Irish bread; I bet a ton of Flatleys are making it this week. :)

Timothy M: 3:04pm
Someone at my work brings in Irish Soda Bread made in their family bathtub -- is this normal? please advise ...

Julie C: 3:45pm
oooh I'll make it too! Recipe handy? Will you post it on the Descendant's site for us?

Julie C: 3:49pm
wait -what? bathtub? that is not normal. And anyway, our Grammy's house only had one bathroom. For a family of 15. She'd have never had the bathroom available long enough to swing it. and also, that's gross.

Karen: 4:36pm
Yeah, never heard of making the soda bread in the bathtub - and I'm even married to a 1st gen. Irishman! I will post Grammy's recipe that came to me via my mom and Aunt Moni...

Karen A: 5:00pm
Okay, I posted the recipes at the Flatley descendants page. I had 2 - one that my mom always kept on a recipe card and one that I got from Aunt Moni one day when I was curious about Grammy's version and needed more exact measurements. It's interesting to see the differences in the 2 recipes! Happy St. Patrick's Day to all my fabulous Flatley cousins!
oooooggggg, feeling the pressure to drop my plans for tomorrow's blog post. Sisters, mother - got a second to share a st pat's memory or two?

Well, mostly I think of Irish tunes cranking, mom having made or bought some class of treat & hearing stories about Grammy & Grampy. I do the same for my kids- just bought them "I'm Irish" socks, shamrock light up necklaces for the boys & a hair scrunchy for corey & green shamrock cookies. I love St patricks day! (then Jane said: Sent from my iPhone, and then I disowned her)

I don't remember what we used to eat for dinner, but I remember we decorated for St. Patrick's Day (Mom used to let me do it) (because I was the biggest geek) then dancing and jigging all the night long to The Happy Sounds of Ireland LP.

Correct me if I'm wrong, Mom, but didn't Grammy's recipe say "shortening the size of an egg". Put that in your blog and smoke it, Jacquie.

I LOVE that you kids stole your mom's raisins, Mom.

When I asked Ellie for more details about the decorations, simply to verify or negate my oft deluded childhood memories, she said:

I remember cutting out green tissue paper into ovals for placemats, and green carnations. I can't remember any "permanent" decorations.

okay good, just wanted to be sure I was not re-inventing my childhood memories. I do that sometimes. Are you sure the tissue paper wasn't cut into shamrocks? Ovals are so uninspired.

I'm totally sure. As was the red tissue paper on valentine's day. I'll go with anything you say, though.

Cooked cabbage is truly repulsivo. But lately I've kept a head of purple cabbage in my veggie drawer, and I slice several slices off for our salad every night. I love it. It's so crunchy and sweet and pretty, and has all sorts of good things in it for your personal person. Or so I'm told.

who is Timothy M?

No earthly. But he does weird things in his tub.

She did say that Ellie, and her flour measurement was " a sifter full of flour". St. Patrick's Day was a big day at 52 Kendall - dad would pull out the accordion and he would even have a beer - he could make that squeeze box sing. I don't think corned beef and cabbage was the order of the day, but I could be wrong. love mom

Were all 13 of Grammy’s kids born at home?

No, grammy had her first few babies in the hospital when they lived in Chestnut Hill. In those days, your hospital stay after childbirth was 2 weeks - you could dangle your legs after 7 days! Can you imagine?? She said no thanks and had most of the rest of us at home - can you imagine?? xox mom

Mom (who is not on facebook, no grown ups allowed):
um, someone tell Karen, and her mother Kitty, that grammy never put carroway seeds in any Irish bread that I ever ate...... xo mom

I don’t know how one manages to have a family without e-mail. I love our daily banter, it cracks me up. My only complaint is that they always have these great conversations in the godforsaken early morning hours, so that by the time I get up and online like a normal West Coast person, they’ve all run away. I told them I feel like the teacher who walks into the classroom and everyone shuts up.

I did not start out intending to display all of our e-mail, but I really liked it. I had to weed out lots of minutiae about girl scout cookies, brackets, and the thing that was really on all of our minds yesterday. Memories bring comfort when you’re facing something scary. Especially when those memories solidify the bonds of a strong family, every member of whom will be okay. Every member of whom heard the whisper of Grammy’s Hail Marys last night.

Grammy's Irish Soda Bread

Shortening the size of an egg
A large egg
Almost a cup of sugar
Heaping teaspoon baking powder
A sifter full of flour

Beat shortening and sugar, salt, baking powder and egg. Add flour and milk alternately until the batter is thick. Add 2 handfuls of raisins. Bake at 375 for 20 minutes, and then at 300 for 10 minutes


Me, You, or Ellie said...

Ach, Jacquie. Beautiful. And I'm not talking about my comments about cabbage; I'm talking about your comments about our family. Thank you.

I'll be thinking about Grammy all the day today.


Anonymous said...

I love it, Jacq. Sorry I missed last night's e-mail exchange. I think about our Irish mother so much on St. Patrick's Day! Love all the Facebook Flatley exchanges, and listening to Irish music is making me smile.

Happy St. Patrick's Day!
MB xoxo

Me, You, or Ellie said...

Oh, and Jacquie, I think the photo of Grammy and Grampy was taken at Mom and Dad's wedding.


Anonymous said...

Ach is right Jacquie, a beautiful tribute to your Irish grammy. mom

Anonymous said...

Gorgeous stuff, my SoCal Irish storytelling cousin...our nightly prayers with our boys are being sent your family's way.
Oh, the caraway seed part came from Aunt Moni's version and the butter part (instead of shortening) came from a conversation between my mom and Grammy on one of her Livermore visits. Thanks for getting the original version down!
You are all so blessed to have such strong sister love.

Anonymous said...

Couple other things:
Timothy M. is my friend from college!

Grammy was one of my inspirations for having all my babies either at home or at a birth center with nurse-midwives...I figured I didn't inherit the birthing hips for nothin'

My kids all steal the raisins too.

Meg Butler said...

I love this, Jacquie!! It's funny how so many of us have EXTREMELY similar memories of this day, even if the traditions took place years apart. Grammy definitely lives on in her kids, grandkids and GREAT grandkids. :)

Me, You, or Ellie said...

Great post, Jacquie! How cool that you and your kin are staying so connected -- gotta love technology (at least when it works).

I negleceted to comment until now. I just couldn't get over the fact that your grammy had 13 kids. 13!!! It left me, uh, well....uh,......speechless.


Shelbs said...


This post meant a lot to me...I never met Grammy and I am constantly asking my mom to tell me more about her. You're all so lucky to have these memories with her!

Luckily I think Grammy was such a force that so much of her has lived on in her children and grandchildren. My mom says she used to sing a lot, (i.e. hymns or little songs she made up) and I find myself singing to myself as I cook, clean, etc and it makes me think I have at least a little bit in common with our Grammy.

Love to you and all the Coreys,

Sarah Butler :)