From what I’ve seen of all Irish families they’re very similar to mine. They have huge fights and get over them very quickly or never. They have family legends that, no matter how unlikely, are defended like a farmer’s daughter by the farmer. And Irish families all seem to put great stock in teasing, jokes, and games!
I remember when I was young there was a game called “Time Bomb.” It was simply a plastic ball with a “fuse” sticking out at the top. The directions for the game were simple. You got a group of people together, sat in a circle, wound up the bomb, and passed it around until it “exploded” (a rather anti-climactic sound as I recall). That’s the way the game was supposed to be played.
Of course in my family things went a little differently. Sure, we played the game per the rules the first time. And we were all bored beyond words before the darned bomb went off! We agreed that the game had all the fun and excitement of slowly sinking to the bottom of the ocean. I thought the bomb would go back in the box and I’d never see it again. I should have known better.
The day we opened the game happened to be Thanksgiving. That meant that my brothers, their wives and kids, my parents, my sister, and I were all there. My brothers were almost all old enough to be my father(s) being 24, 23, 21, and 12 years older. My nephews were more the proper age for brothers. And the most playful of my brothers was Georgie. He was the one who was 12 years older.
Shortly after stopping the game everyone got busy doing something else. And poor Mama decided to go to the bathroom. There was no lock on our bathroom door. If the door was shut, you knocked. If someone opened it without knocking, you hollered.
So there Mama was, knickers around her knees, enjoying a brief spell of peace and quiet when suddenly the door opened about a foot. She was about to yell that she was already occupying the room when….tick…tick…tick… The bomb rolled slowly across the floor coming to rest at her feet.
Now Mama was a sensible woman. She was a mother and a grandmother. She wasn’t about to let something like a toy bomb disturb her! She quickly leapt from the toilet and, snatching the bomb up tossed it right back out the door. Then she went quietly back and sat down, secure in her victory over stealth weaponry.
Her quick response caught Georgie by surprise. He’d expected to hear some sputtering and maybe a quiet scream followed by the explosion. He was waiting in the hall just outside the bathroom door. And he paid the ultimate price. The bomb exploded at his feet taking him out of the game he’d created.
For years after that day anyone in the family was at risk of hearing tick…tick…tick whether they were in the shower, in bed, or quietly doing some chore. And I have to say that our way of playing Time Bomb was far more exciting and fun than the way the manufacturer suggested.
Georgie was also the one who came up with a game that required no equipment at all. He called it “Run Mama Down the Stairs.” The entire game was played this way:
You grabbed Mama by the elbows from behind. You ran her down the basement stairs. You went back up the stairs laughing like Renfield in the asylum. If you had the energy you could play again as soon as Mama made her way back up the stairs. If you could get behind her again, that is.
My family teased each other constantly. Everything about you, your habits, right down to your name were fair game. I’m Elizabeth so, of course, I was called Lizardbreath.
When I was little my parents called me (and if you repeat this I’ll find you!) Betsy. Mama used to say, “Betsy dammit!” In fact she used to say that a lot! My brothers shortened this to just “Dammit” and used it as my name. Even after I had my own kids they’d use it. To this day I turn around if I’m in public and someone hollers “DAMMIT!”
My aunt (Mama’s sister) used to come alone for visits every couple of years. Living in different states was hard on those sisters. And when Mary did come to visit Mama would buy a six pack of beer, fancy cheese, and crackers. They’d sit up late, sip their beer in Mama’s glasses with the gold rims, eat their crackers, and catch up on family news.
One year when Mary was due Mama took us with her to the store to buy the late-night goodies. And my sister, who clearly cared nothing for her own life, waited until Mama picked up the six-pack. In a performance worthy of an Oscar, my sister pleaded loudly, “Oh, please Mama! Not again tonight!” The beauty of it was that Mama couldn’t even strangle her with all those sympathetic witnesses watching.
I watched my cousins’ families carefully to see if they were as strange as mine. They were. And when the extended family got together it was a free-for-all of practical jokes, teasing, and games made up on the spot.
I loved growing up in a family that made everything fun. And I’ve carried on the tradition with my own family. My sons may disagree but I think we had a great time when I’d grab them in the middle of a store, holler “Everybody Mambo!” while trying to force them to dance.
Of course they got even one day at our local market. And that’s a story in itself! Let’s just say it involved the words “Nudie magazine day” and that I don’t frequent that particular grocery store any more.