Wednesday, March 21, 2012

St. Patrick's Day 1965

This might be the year nothing would change that had not already changed.
Bobby spent the day with Christina. Or, more accurately, she spent the day
with Melindra and him. Christina was not Irish, but Sicilian; Jones
was her first husband’s name. Through her Bobby met Tony,
who took over on piano when Dave wanted to spend the night with Rose.
Melindra suggested fishing for salmon at Westport–
hire a boat, rent poles, bait and tackle, then fish the Pacific
for salmon on St. Patrick’s Day. Melindra caught two, the others zero.

Christina and Bobby found where the engine didn’t drown them out
and she talked about Henrietta and Danny and their Irish tempers.
Christina said, Henrietta sang at the New Congress, but also downtown,
where she was treated her like a celebrity, her voice was so fine.
Henrietta was a tall Irish redhead with a repertoire
that let her go on all night without repeating a song.
I was already working at the New Congress when they married.
After you were born she fought him for telling her to stay home more.
Danny let his own Irish temper take over when Henrietta rebelled.
About then he started giving up on her and spending time with me.
I was a fool for him. He kept telling me he wanted you to live
with me and him. I let him talk me into going to Reno to marry
without him divorcing Henrietta. I became your mother’s double.
Danny even introduced me as your mother, though Henrietta was
too well known by then and no one took him to be serious. Bobby asked,
Couldn’t you have married someone who didn’t gamble for a living?
Seattle was full of handsome men. She said, Beautiful women too.
Bobby countered, You don’t marry a man knowing he’s already husband
to the fiercest Irish lass in the city if you know the odds.
Christina smiled: I knew the odds, Bobby, I cleaned up in Reno.
Bobby asked: Where was I? thinking: Why don’t I remember?
Christina said: Henrietta farmed you out to your Grandma Murphy.
Danny told her I would be a better mother than Henrietta.
She agreed, to my surprise: My daughter’s too wild to be a mother.
But she was, Danny said. She brought me into the world,
how could she let me go? Christina couldn’t say. Before Danny,
she and Henrietta, who was like an older sister, were pals.
But Christina couldn’t say why she was the way she was:
Dope, maybe. She drank a lot to cool down. The prospect
of nothing and no one holding her back; who knows?

Christina turned her attention to the big one
Melindra was bringing to the boat, paying out line,
reeling it in, letting the line out again, working with the big fish an hour,
and Bobby scooped it up and out of the sea with the net, watched it flop
its life away on the floor of the boat, while the skipper turned around
toward land and accelerated to get back by dark.

At the Black and Tan, Bobby checked with the guy he’d hired
to share the work behind the bar, then yelled Erin go bragh!
and the blacks who felt solidarity with the Irish returned
the cry heartily, but changing the words to Be with us, brother!
Bobby recalled Cathleen insisted the poor hated the Irish,
saying they came here to take the jobs away. One St. Patrick’s Day,
Bobby went to mass with her to hear their favorite Irish priest
declare the Irish and other poor people had too much in common
to fight each other any longer. For such words he was loved.
A tape of Black and Tan Fantasy was beginning to play.

Bobby closed the door on the lush Ellington orchestral sound.
After depositing Melindra’s catch on ice at her house,
they drove to the New Congress for dinner, grilled salmon
with Pinot Noir. They let the music wash over them.
Later, still sitting between Melindra and Christina,
Bobby requested the Sanchez and Company version of Danny Boy
and was summoned to the microphone because he knew the words;
and Rose led the welcoming applause.

(17 March 2012)

copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander

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