Biff America: An ethnic doubleheader (column)
It was an ethnic doubleheader, a Jewish wedding and an Irish Festival; a perfect example of what is right and unique about this country. Both events took place on the same day and less than ten miles apart.
A few summers ago I was in Boston to celebrate the marriage of my friend Morgan.
Morgan grew up a few doors down from me. My mother used to warn me about her.
She was Jewish, sophisticated, and well developed for her age. My mum assumed all non-Catholic girls were “fast.” Since the Parochial school girls I knew at the time were “stationary,” “fast” sounded really good.
Morgan was eighteen months younger than I, and several years more mature. We’ve been life long confidants.
Though we never really dated, Morgan was very sympathetic when it came to the curiosity of an awkward teenager — for that I was grateful. Through the years and miles, we’ve remained close.
This might sound like typecasting, but Jewish women clean up well. I’ve been to countless gentile weddings and I seldom look twice at the groom’s sixty-five year old mother. Most Irish ladies of that age, look, well … like mothers. But a classy older Jewish woman, dressed to the nines, with just the right amount of makeup and perfume, sporting a dress that cost more than my truck, makes the thought of growing old less frightening.
Flying two thousand miles to attend the wedding of a woman who I grew up playing doctor with, didn’t appeal to my wife, so I attended the event stag. Morgan obligingly seated me with Mary Marie Powers. Mary grew up in the same town as Morgan and I. Her father owns several dry-cleaning shops and she runs them all. She is a divorced mother of two, an avid Red Sox fan, drinks whiskey neat and considers “micro brews” beer for midgets.
It was a typical Jewish wedding, with great food, music and tradition. The bride and groom stepped on a wine glass (better to break a glass, than the wedding vows) we all yelled Mozzeltoff. The newlyweds were carried shoulder-high around the room in chairs, and the universal language of all faiths was spoken: “open bar.”
Watching a petite Morgan being carted around the room over the groomsmen’s heads, Mary observed. “I swear to Gawd I better lose some weight or marry a Catholic. If those guys tried to pick me up like that, I’d cripple ‘em.”
We ate, drank, danced and celebrated. The finale included me dancing cheek-to-cheek with Morgan’s great-aunt while Mary screamed, “Hey you two, get a room, why don’t ya!”
It was a great day, but time to head home. I was almost to my rental car, when I heard Mary screech to a stop in her Corvette and yell, “Hey skinny butt, ya want to hit a real party?”
The Gaelic Festival is a yearly event where many of Boston’s Irish community drink Guinness, celebrate their heritage and history and, drink Guinness. It was much like Morgan’s wedding, with the exception, that the food was worse, the music better. I will admit both Mary and I felt relieved to be back amongst our own kind. Though we enjoyed Morgan’s family and friends, we needed a dose of Irish mirth and Catholic guilt.
We strolled by stalls selling Irish crafts, visited the beer booths (when in Rome) and killed time until the entertainment began.
Irish step dancing has been recently made famous by Michael Flately of “River Dance” fame. But long before that, it has been taught to young boys and girls in Y.MC.A.s and dance academies all over Boston. It is a high energy, kinetic, traditional Irish dance, looking like a combination of American clogging and kick boxing.
The performances were divided by the age of the dancers, the older girls going first.
A Fenian instructor with an Irish lilt explained the number and would introduce the dancers. With various degree of proficiency, the little girls would then perform. The dancers were almost all distinctly Irish with red, black, or strawberry blonde hair, peaches and cream complexions with names like Kelly, Sheehan and Flanigan.
The last, and youngest, group was between the ages of four and six from the town of Norwood, a mid-sized Irish enclave just south of Boston. When the young ladies filed onto the stage, something was odd. Between two little Irish dolls with red hair and green eyes was a porcelain-skinned Asian girl.
The instructor introduced the dancers, they were, Martha Parnell, Maureen O’Rourk, and Erin Choy. Mary observed, “Looks like we have some tofu in with the corned beef and cabbage.”
The dance was no better or worse than what we’d already witnessed. But now it represented what makes America great, the freedom to celebrate, not only who you are, but who you choose to be.
I spent that night at my brother’s house before flying back the next day. When I arrived, I told him in detail, about the Jewish wedding and the Irish festival with the Asian dancer. My big brother listened to my story and said, “They are a proud and wonderful people.” I wasn’t sure to whom he was referring, the Irish, Jews or Asians, but it dawned on me he meant “Americans” so I answered, “Yes, we are”……….
Jeffrey Bergeron, under the alias of Biff America, can be read in several newspapers and magazines. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Biff’s new book “Mind, Body and Soul. The Backcountry Years” is available at backcountrymagazine.com/store
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