I love hearing folk's mobius tales. Why they wear a certain prayer or give a special quotation to someone they care about. I'd like to share with you why I wear the Lord's Prayer in Gaelic. It's in honor of my Irish heritage but it is also a special tribute to my father, Thomas Patrick McGrane III, a second generation Irish American, whose grandfather hailed from County Roscommon in Ireland. It goes a bit beyond our Irish blood - read further for the full tale!
My father was a man of many passions. We shared several in common - a love of books and words, a passion for classical music, and a devotion to our Irish heritage. He was stationed in an army base in Greenland during the Korean war and read a Webster's unabridged dictionary from cover to cover in his off duty hours, listening to classical music records as the cold winds howled outside his wintry barracks.
Two of our shared loves came together one year, when my sister and I took Irish Gaelic language lessons with our Dad. Gaelic is not an easy language to learn and it is a world apart from the French, Spanish or Latin I learned in school. For one, a word of twenty letters could be spoken as one syllable. For another, there are differences in dialect and accent by region, county, or town. The Irish are a lot like their American counterparts and like to "slag" or "make fun" of anyone from another area. There are 32 counties in Ireland and they each have a unique personality, much as our states do.
We mustered along and learned the basics. My sister and I had a crush on the teacher, a man with a thick mane of black curly hair and vibrant blue eyes. In his non Gaelic teaching life he was a farrier by trade, a shoer of horses. How wildly romantic! We all looked forward to our evenings of Gaelic in a tiny, aging colonial house on the local community college campus.
The word in Gaelic for "indeed" is "muise", pronounced "musha." On occasion when our teacher would spout a long string of Gaelic at us, purposefully way over our heads, my father would nod with a twinkle in his eyes and say sagely, "Musha." And the whole class would break out in laughter.
Our teacher Greg would talk about the Irish storytellers, the seanachies. These were the keepers of the legends and stories of the community and they have always been revered and well respected in the Irish culture. They kept the stories alive and told them with a theatrical flair that held audiences spell bound. Our father inherited this Gaelic talent; his sense of humor and his story telling abilities are some of the things we miss most about him.
Years later when our father passed on, we struggled with our loss by writing his obituary. We poured our hearts into it and described him as a seanachie and what that meant to our friends and family. The childhood adventures he shared of the neighborhood kids in Newark's Ironbound district in the 30's and 40's, his army stories of remote Greenland, his crazy tales of working in New York and meeting all sorts of characters.
As it happens, the monsignor of the local church who presided at Dad's wake and his funeral, was from Ireland. He'd never met dad but at his service he talked like he knew him from our own storytelling of his life. Perhaps we inherited a little bit of the old man's gift!
The monsignor kindly suggested that he read the Lord's Prayer in Gaelic at the funeral mass. We loved the idea and told him to please do so. As I knelt in grief at the mass, the priest began the words in Gaelic and fresh tears welled in my eyes again: Ar nAthair ata ar neamh.......
Behind me I could hear some family friends whispering to each other -
"What is he saying?!"
"I don't know... I can't make it out."
"I think he's speaking in tongues...."
At that a laugh broke from my throat, which I quickly stifled. Oh how my father would have roared in laughter at that! It was his parting gift to me and I will remember it forever, that unexpected glint of humor at a somber occasion, when I needed it most.
If you have a mobius tale to tell that you would like to share, please send it to me! I'd love to hear it.