Why Me? Why Write? Why Now? Why Not?

The Me is Doug Curran…Douglas M Curran…Douglas Metcalf Curran. Douglas is Celtic for “dweller by the dark stream”. Curran in Gaelic means “little spear”. And Metcalf? Scottish for “I met a calf”? Hey I don’t know! I don't have all the answers. I'm still trying to get the questions right. At least I seem to be a spear fisher by some dirty water. Or maybe I'm a Druid. And that Curran thing may not even be as Irish as my Irish American wife, Colleen Fitzsimmons, hoped it was when she married me. Ok, I might be a Viking. It's like this. I was reading this book, The Lion Of Ireland, see, and the author, Morgan Llewellyn, recounts a last battle between Brian Boru and the Viking invader king, to regain Irish dominance again throughout the island and kick the fureners out. The Viking king's name? Olaf Cuaran? Cuaran? Curran? I'm a Viking now, so I am? And a descendent of one of those marauding and murderous pillagers and plunderers? I've never pillaged a thing in my life...well, maybe a book or two from somebody. I'm really just a gentle giant who loves books and music. Ok, I bought a sword recently, but only as a wall decoration to enhance my Irish family history coat of arms! Honest! Viking, Schmiking, so rest my Irish soul! Or my wife will have my old bald Irish head!

March 18, 2010

Getting My Irish Up ...

Spent the evening watching PBS and it's fund raiser all about Ireland, hosted by Patty Duke and Nick Clooney. So much nostalgia with American Irish heritage in song and dance and historical highlights of former Irish/American actors and their music. The show was written by Malachy McCourt, brother of Frank McCourt, now deceased, who wrote that powerful and poignant book, "Angela's Ashes", a tribute to his Irish mother and her enduring spirit with their poverty. I couldn't finish it, it was so haunting and tragic, about his growing up in Ireland's terrible impoverishment, so gritty and gosh awful. But Colleen and I enjoyed the PBS show anyway, talking about our Irishness and how we've tried to integrate it all into the fabric of our marriage and family. So here goes another related reminiscence, while the potato soup is still hot...

"Now that I’m older and “wiser”, I have a lot more questions than answers. Like what does it mean to wish someone a Happy St Patrick’s Day? Have some luck of the Irish? Cheat your fate, defy your destiny, win the lottery anyway? How about find a four-leaf clover? Where did that get all its power, if the three-leaf one is supposed to represent the Holy Trinity? What’s that fourth clover leaf all about? Who’s that supposed to be? St Patty himself? Would make a great story - The Fourth Clover Leaf. Or now there’s that salacious innuendo, to get lucky? Hey, get married, then get lucky! So many unwitting people wear that t-shirt without even knowing it's intended naughty reference. So clean up your act, citizens!

"I didn’t really get into the Irish celebrations or even realize my surname Curran was Irish until I met herself, Colleen Fitzsimmons. I was singing with The Lettermen in 1969, and she was singing as Dave and Colleen in Amarillo, TX. (Dave Webber is a sportscaster at WOW-TV in Omaha). I came through town while doing some shows in the area, and stayed at the Holiday Inn where she was singing. Some of the road crew invited her over to our lounge table to hit on her, but she only had eyes for me – and my sautéed mushrooms. Who would eat that stuff? The grill was closed and that’s all they had, ok?

"And because she was a good Catholic girl and I a returned Mormon missionary, we sat and talked religion all night. And 40 years and 8 kids later, the rest is history. But much of her identity was all wrapped up with her being raised a Midwestern Irish Catholic Democrat, with the Irish being at least as dominant as the others. And when she reminded me that I was Irish, I began my love affair with the auld sod - had even written a masters thesis on James Stephens, a Celtic Renaissance poet/writer from Dublin who was only 4’8” and extolled little things – an unwitting prelude I think to meeting my Irish Colleen.

"So within weeks after that first encounter and courting long distance, Colleen and I were sharing children’s names, since we were already talking about families and the “M” word - yeah, I know, pretty cheesy, but I was 27 and she 25, a Mormon and a Catholic with big family ideas. But interestingly, one of my favorite girl names had always been “Colleen” which means literally "Irish girl" - and she didn’t mind “Doug” that much either. But we really had a lot of kid’s names in common and with Quinn being one of our favorites, we chose it for our first child when he was born a year after were married, which was six weeks after we met. Huh?

"We ultimately wound up with Irish/Celtic names for all our kids including Megan, Shane, Erin, Shannon, Caitilin, Sean and Conn (named for an old Irish king, Conn of the Hundred Battles) And little did we know that Quinn and Conn were actually root cognates, or derived from the same name – as were Shane and Sean. It was fate then? And all our girls I wanted to have "Colleen" as their middle names, much to my wife's chagrin - but I couldn't pass up the symbolism.

"And marrying Colleen meant we would thenceforth and forever celebrate St Patrick’s Day as a day of veneration of our Irish ancestors and roots, though there was a secret German and Scotsman in there somewhere we don’t mention much. And we would henceforth also be known as those Irish weirdos down the street, always flaunting their green stuff – no not that green stuff – just anything green we could stick up or hang or display to show our pride. But as Kermit said once, “It’s not that easy being green”. Not everyone was as into it as we were, but we nevertheless abandoned all pretenses and humbly showed our Irish pride, a true Celtic contradiction in terms.

"St Pat’s Day usually began with Colleen demonstrating how the Leprecauns must have been in the house, because as she stirred the morning oatmeal, that little drop of green food coloring she put in the bottom of the pan made the porridge magically turn a shamrock color and thus began the fantasy. “Lucky Charms” was a favorite cereal too. Later in the day, our little brass bowl we bought from Pier I that said “Made in India” became our pot of gold, filled with gold-wrapped chocolate coins, and was hidden in the yard or in the house for the kids to find and fight over. We even called the weatherman and asked for a rainbow to hide it under – which is another reason we have no faith in those guys.

"And what would March 17 be like without a little Riverdance (my Michael Flatley imitation sucks), and watch 'Darby O’Gill and the Little People' for the kids, and then maybe watch 'Angela’s Ashes' or 'The Field' for some good old adult Irish angst. Of course, we loved the funny 'Waking Ned Devine', the tear-jerker 'Evelyn' and the joyful 'Dancing At Lughnasa' - and so many others being made in Ireland, including a new one, 'The War of the Buttons'. All of this would follow one of Colleen’s wonderful potato soups in green bread bowls, even corned beef and cabbage, with a few “arsh” potatoes. She visits her brother Tom in Ireland now and again in the summers, who married a former nun, Catherine McKenna, when he was 36 and she 38 – they retired to Ireland to raise their four amazing kids, but have since returned to the new sod and are at present enduring big bad winters in Bismarck ND.

"Our son Quinn was also an LDS missionary in Ireland for two years, which has galled this good Catholic uncle Tom who says he baptized Quinn Catholic as a baby, unbeknownst to us or him – and then there Quinn was in Ireland, preaching to his own. Oh the tangled web we weave! On his first day in Dublin, Quinn took the phone book and found pages and pages of Currans and Fitzsimmons, and decided he was in the right place. There was even a market chain there called Super Quinn, and he felt honored for the namesake. On slow days, he even invented a game with Guinness Stout beer lids he'd find on the street, little cork mini frizbee's he'd manipulate between his fingers called Guinno-Friz. He and his comp even created major tournaments with this pasttime. Missionary work must have been really slow.

"So we are obviously a very sick family and have had to have hours of counseling just to address this Irish obsession – until we realized it was everyone else who was missing out and were just jealous because we were Irish and they weren’t! Nah na na nah nah! But the only little hitch we have found in all this Irishness is that maybe we aren’t as Irish as we thought! First of all, the name Curran seems pretty legitimate, going back to that Conn of the Hundred Battles I mentioned. But Fitzsimmons? I’ve got to whisper here because there’s a lot of sensitivity on my wife’s part, and she can really get her Irish up. You see, Fitzsimmons is likely a Norman name that came up from northern France as Fils Simons, or illegitimate son of Simon. Yeah, so we don’t really talk about it.

"But then I also have to admit something about the name Curran. I was reading a book called The Lion of Ireland, by Morgan Llewellyn, about how a great king of one of Ireland’s divided provinces, Brian Boru, helped unite the other kings against the Viking invasion of the 10th Century, when they made Dublin their Viking capitol. Those marauders were quite a violent group of gents, probably all bi-polar and not taking their meds, who plundered and pillaged and raped and sacked and got brain damage from eating too many rotten potatoes. No wonder there was a famine! But Brian died fighting the Viking king in the last battle that finally drove them out – well at least down the street. And what was that Viking king’s name? Olaf Cuaran. What? Cuaran? Curran? I’m a Viking, am I now? See Colleen, you got me back!

"No, the Vikings did not leave Ireland entirely and for sure their DNA was all over the map. And no, red hair is not Irish, it’s Viking too. My 6-ft tall sister-in-law, Kathleen, is a flaming gorgeous redheaded proof! My wife’s other brothers and sisters are tall strawberry blondes. She’s the only dark-haired one. I have three daughters who are 6 ft tall and one 5’10” – and sons all 6-2 to 6’6” – alas no redheads however, except maybe a hint from Conn and some red highlights in Quinn as a toddler. The original Irish were darker and smaller, probably more the size of guys like Mickey Rooney and Gene Kelly.

"Oh yeah, I found out that Gene’s middle name was Curran and wrote him a letter to probe a family connection. His terse post-carded reply just said “Thanks for the note. Up the Irish!” So much for the Curran connection. I think he was fed up with the IRA conflicts between north and south at the time. Well, there’s always more I could say – but I’ll let it be for now, unless my wife comes along while I’m typing this, then you’ll never hear the end of her blarney! Yeah, I’ll have to get over there someday just so I can kiss that blarney stone and learn to keep up with her jabber…uh, gab… from her gob. Colleen, you know I'm kidding, right? Right? Put down that frying pan and kiss me, I'm Irish! Colleen? Colleen? She can really get her Irish up."

March 13, 2010

Pizza Consciousness and Family Tradition..

Last Friday night was another in a long line of Curran pizza nights, nothing special, just one of thousands we've had for about 30 years or so. We always get two, for ourselves and whoever might drop by anymore, though we can count on the kids who still live with us off and on. It all started in Hawaii, when we tried to have a family night each Friday consisting of pizza and a video. Pizza was pretty outrageous for our family of eight kids and Hawaii living was so expensive anyway; but that's where our tradition started. And each Friday night since, we've been having pizza, with a very few exceptions. But what kind of pizza is the question.

After we moved to Utah, and not having much money most of the time we've been here, we've tried all kinds of pizza, depending on how much money we had. And videos? Well, forget that after a while because as the kids grew, it became increasingly hard to find one video everyone liked, let alone find one that was decent enough to show in a family setting at home. So videos went out the window. We turned to tv watching of any sort we could all agree on while eating whatever pizza we could decide upon too. You had to have something to watch while eating pizza, eh? And usually it was all gone before much watching took place. And of course, we've kept the soda pop industry alive with all the drink we've washed it all down with.

For many years, we had to do the frozen kind from Smiths or Albertsons. Usually it was Totinos, little teeny pizzas we could buy cheap and in bulk so each person could actually have his own. When that got old fast, it might have been Red Baron or some such cardboard crusty kind to try to make up for the real deal. We even discovered we could almost make our own brand, something close to real, using toasted French bread with spaghetti sauces first, then pepperoni and mozzarella cheese we cut ourselves, until cheese started coming out in bags already shaved. We burned too many of those kind under the broiler though before we finally got the timing of ingredients and heat in balance. So many smoky memories.

We eventually discovered a mom and pop pizza shop in south Provo which made its own pizzas with fantastic dough which came ready to cook. We would on special occasion drive all the way down from Orem and buy a few and treasure them all the way back. That became an obsolete option however, once we discovered that Papa Murphy's new chain did the same thing and was only a few blocks away. And when we tired of that, we could order from a new Papa John's that took over from the Taco Time that went our of business right down our street. And they had litle green chilis and garlic butter with theirs! Of course, I've always preferred Pizza Hut's crust over the years, and have even tried a Dominoes of two, once they finally got their act together and made something worth eating.

But I question why we made some pizza compromises with these new chains. Take Papa John's for instance. When it first came out, I envisioned Papa John as some wizened old Italian pizza master finally bringing his recipe from the old country so we Americans could appreciate real authentic pizza. I never questioned why his name was John and not Giovanni. His real name is John Schnatter or something very un-Italian and he's about 30 years old. He doesn't deserve the title "Papa" at his age, let alone try to convince us he's Italian and could know anything about pizza making!

And what about Papa Murphy's? When was the last time you saw an Irishman making pizza? I mean hey, I'm Irish myself, but when did the Irish come up with pizza? Maybe if it had corned beef and cabbage on it, yes, but no, I'm sorry, pizza and Paddy don't mix in my book. Yet I got suckered in by it because it offered oven-ready pizza I could bake myself and it also had a great taste. And Pizza Hut? Huts are for jungles or tropical islands, aren't they, but not pizza! And a karaoke bar called Pizza Doc's? Take two pizzas and call me in the morning? I don't think so. But now there are big dine-in pizza places, exorbitant and pricey, just because someone brings it to you. Does that make it better? Without the box?

I remember when I made up a name for a pizza place called "Eatsa Pizza", just for the rhyme of it, envisioning my own place someday. And then to my amazement, saw a place open up in Orem a few years ago with the same name, a cheap pizza buffet with salad and fast food pizza, and I could care less whether it was Italian or not - but just cheap! But it went out of business after only a year or two. Probably lost too much money and people just didn't support it for some reason. I don't know, I'm feeling a little ambivalent about pizza, though I keep ordering it from these aforementioned chains, without thinking anymore, just by tradition.

My mind goes back to one of my first pizza memories in Falls Church, Virginia where we were living with our youngest two, Quinn and Megan. We took them out to eat once at a place that advertised Sicilian pizza. We didn't know what that was, but were intrigued, hoping it wasn't a cover for some Mafia business. We found out it was a deep dish pan pizza, smothered with tons of mozzarella, no pepperoni or anything else, just cheese! It was delicious! They brought us six huge squares of pizza, of which I ate two, Colleen ate two, and the kids ate one each. We were stuffed. As the waiter came over to the table, we thanked him and told him how great it was. He only said, "Are you ready for the other half?" What??? Now that was pizza heaven to the maximus and we took it home, thanking the pizza gods all the way for an unforgettable feast of leftovers!