A good family. Irish and Polish. A family will never fall apart because we aren’t built that way. We’re built to endure.
On both sides of the line, we survived by digging up potatoes and maintaining a perpetual and healthy mistrust of authority. We don’t ask for chapters in history books. We know who we are and we carry it with us because that’s enough.
Our Irish grandparents were firefighters and soldiers. Our families worked for every goddamn thing they owned. Strong Irish, brewed from dark tea leaves and steeped overnight. You’d call us bitter if we weren’t served warm or with all the milk and honey your little heart desires.
Grandpa wouldn’t like it if you forgot the Polish. The only people physically and mentally incapable of pitying themselves. People who shrug at oppression, the rib-sticking heartache they don’t bother to show because it tastes better when tucked inside a pierogi. The word is stalwart. It’s the secret ingredient in kielbasa.
Our ancestors gave us sturdy bones and backs. We see it every time we look in the mirror. Good posture to hold up our end of the bargain. Broad shoulders to carry the load. Big feet that keep us steady. Thick legs that don’t even fit in jeans. Strong.
We don’t whine. We suck it up. We eat our vegetables. We don’t care if it’s a little moldy or undercooked, we’ll eat it anyway. (OK, my parents won’t eat it, but Jillian and I will.) We don’t get sick, haven’t been sick in years.
We don’t know our own limits. We keep going and going and going. We stretch. We grow. We don’t break. No matter what you throw at us, we don’t break.
We fix things. We fix things before we call a handyman. We fix things that we have no business fixing. We fix things because we break them. We wear them out. We are imperfect and careless and human, but we always make right.
We don’t tolerate stupidity. In fact, we don’t tolerate much. We roll our eyes and make comments under our breath. We tell you what we’re thinking because mystery and uncertainty are overrated. We play it honestly because sugar-coating is bad for your teeth.
We yell. We yell from the stands Dig, baby, dig! and Use your arms! until you break the record for most hits in a season or the 800m run. We yell through the house because it is more efficient than walking up next to you to ask Where are the paper towels? If you walked past our house on a spring night with windows open, you’d assume hell broke loose, but that’s just our way of agreeing. Loudly. Because what’s the point of being on Earth if no one else knows you are here?
We fight. We disagree constantly. We get adamant. We say things we don’t mean. We hurt each other. We are stupid and wrathful and mean. We are human. Definitely human. And for that, and all the terrible things we said, we are sorry.
We laugh too loud. We get shushed and kicked out of bars. We shake our fists in the air and spit in disgust. We vow never to go back because if you don’t accept us, we don’t need you. We don’t need much of anyone. We have each other and that’s done just fine till now, thank you very much.
We think litigation is for cowards or the uncreative. We think that problems are solvable, and when they prove otherwise, vengeance is possible. We clean up our messes. We take responsibility and give credit. We do what we say we’re going to do. We are true to our word.
We don’t wear enough khakis to pose for a family photo. Besides, we believe in real moments. We don’t need a photographer to tell us to smile. We live at the beach.
And we live for the beach. We don’t complain about sand. We like it when the surf is rough. We love the sun. And because we are more stubborn than Irish (though if you think those aren’t the same thing, then maybe you should ask the English), we don’t burn. We glow.
We ignore gender roles because they are stupid, but we use proper grammar because it matters. We believe spelling counts. We shun the passive voice. We reduce fractions and simplify equations. We care about principles even when it’s inconvenient. Have you met my dad? Then you already know. Especially when it’s inconvenient.
We pay no mind to convention. We don’t care if it’s never been done. We are a mix of confident and reckless, bordering on idiotic. But we’re willing to take our chances. We’ve lost and failed, but we’ve always been able to pick up the pieces (except when my mom threw that Jetsons diorama into the dining room because Jillian and I were fighting. That was a lost cause.).
We shop clearance racks. We shop at TJ Maxx. We shop clearance racks at TJ Maxx. We cut our sleeves off and wear hand-me-downs. We wear navy with black because we felt like it. We are comfortably underdressed, but it has never been so prêt-à-porter.
We buy comfortable furniture and don’t mind that the house looks like people live here. Because people live here. I mean truly live here. We forget to use coasters. We put our feet on the coffee table. We decorate for Christmas. We don’t always take our shoes off.
We don’t golf. We eat adventurously. We would rather spend time than money.
We don’t worry because worrying makes everything worse. Worrying doesn’t help anyone. Worrying is boring. Worrying sucks the life out of things that are fun. We don’t talk every night because we are busy living. We know we can always call on each other, and yeah, maybe we take that for granted. But that’s the only thing we take for granted because we’re grateful for so much.
We don’t ask for favors. We hate asking for help, but it’s always there if we need it. We are proud but not stupid. We don’t care who cries on whose shoulder. We aren’t keeping score.
We support each other, but we don’t protect each other. There’s a difference, you know? Because life happens no matter what you do. You can’t stop it. So we let things happen. We make mistakes. We figure it out. Sometimes alone and sometimes together. But we always figure it out because we have to. It’s in our blood. It’s who we are.
We struggle and overcome because we have strong backs and bones. My family is built to last.