While reading Jack Beatty’s terrific biography of Boston Mayor James Michael Curley, The Rascal King, The Life and Times of James Michael Curley – An Epic of Urban Politics and Irish America, I came upon this quote from William V. Shannon, who was known in the early part of the 20th century for having written a monumental sociological analysis of the Irish in America.
”Supreme egotism and utter seriousness are necessary for the greatest accomplishment, and these the Irish find hard to sustain; at some point, the instinct to see life in a comic light becomes irresistible, and ambition falls before it.”
The instinct to see life in a comic light becomes irresistible… Speaking for myself, sometimes I feel like the venerable Mr. Shannon has me pinned down like a moth to a corkboard.
My Italian grandmother grew up in the fabled multi-ethnic neighborhood of Boston called the West End (which disappeared in the urban renewal projects of the 1950’s). She married a neighbor who was an Irishman, much to her father’s consternation. Her father, a one-legged self-made man who worked his way up from a shoe-shine box to owning a tenement, used to refer to my Irish grandfather as “The Statue”, presumably because he thought he stood around all day doing nothing… It wasn’t true, and it wasn't fair, but that’s how the tough old Neapolitan saw it.
My beloved grandmother was always challenging us to be better. When she passed away from pancreatic cancer in her late eighties, I remember the last thing she ever said to me. She rolled over, fixed me with her gaze, pointed her wizened old finger at me and said “procrastinator!” What a send-off, but you were right, Nan. I’m working on it. God Bless you. :-)