Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Sundays in Irish Grove

Back in the mid 1880's, a bunch of Irish immigrants descended upon this innocent corner of the world and altered it forever. It's hard to imagine what the area was like before they arrived, but they settled in and established a small historical community that is now lovingly referred to as Irish Grove. My ancestors, the Flynn's, were a part of that group. Now the Flynn's have a fairly decent reputation in the immediate vicinity, mostly known as a fun-loving, hard working and hospitable crowd. And while that is by most accounts pretty accurate, we certainly have our faults, not the least of which are our loud, booming (deafening, really) voices, our competitiveness, and our over-sized egos.

Irish Grove can't be found on a map, even though many people call it home. But the community is literally split between two or three local towns, which at second thought seemed strange. So the other day I googled Irish Grove, and found that it is located in Rock Run Township. Aha, Rock Run Township. Wait a second....Rock Run Township? Like my little guy Armando likes to say when he receives an unacceptable answer to a question, "Huh?"

Anyway, unlike Rock Run, Irish Grove does exist, and the proof lies in the puddin', or in this case in the heart of the countryside: St. Patrick's Irish Grove Catholic Church.

I was raised in this church, and, like most diligent Catholic children, hated getting up for Mass on Sunday mornings. My parents would let us sleep just late enough to 1) fool us into thinking we weren’t going that day, and 2) ensure that there was insufficient time to primp and curl and properly prepare for the eye candy, oops, I mean soul food at church. Sorry, Lord.

But attending Mass at Irish Grove had its benefits, too, one of which is mentioned above. The second was the coffee and donuts served in the basement after church. And the third was running around the cemetery after Mass, climbing onto and jumping from one headstone to another, as my parents would laugh and commune with the other parishioners, many of whom are extended family.

Because we Flynn’s like to talk a lot, we were undoubtedly always the last people to leave for home. When the last stragglers finally said their good-byes, and conversation was no longer an option, my dad would walk around the cemetery with us and point out tombstones where an ancestor, “good old so-and-so”, lies. And he would tell us what he remembered about him or her, and how we were related to them. He’d say, “He’s your Grandpa’s first cousin, on his mother’s side,” in a slow, cadenced way that made me think he was practicing for his own benefit, lest he forget his family history (the mother of all sins).

I’m still a member of Irish Grove Catholic Church, and I’m also still pretty lazy about Sunday Mass. But when I do go, I make sure my kids get an opportunity to jump on those headstones as I chat with the parishioners making their way to their cars. I then attempt to relay those familiar old family connections to them (lest I commit that unspeakable atrocity against my kin) and usually fail to remember most of the details. All the while, my husband Marcel is patiently waiting for me to finally stop talking. And with his natural-born Panamanian sense of propriety, he is properly horrified at how wrong it is to let our kids jump and stomp on someone’s final resting place. I give him my best harrumph, and tell him that not only is it right, it’s tradition, for goodness sakes. And I’d just bet those hard-working, fun-loving old Irish men and women lying beneath that sacred ground are all the happier for it.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Are you a Farmer?

I've always admired farmers, and I enjoy being in their company. Obviously no two farmers are exactly alike, but the ones I know do share quite a few common characteristics. Namely, they're hard-working, stubborn, straight-forward, a bit crusty, and they love a good tall-tale, especially when it's related to yield, horsepower, or cattle-rustling abilities.

Farmers have that comfortable way of laying their heavy arm across your shoulder and asking, "How ya doing, dear?" They're not afraid to tell you you're full of blarney, and they don't care if it pisses you off when they do. They are who they are, take it or leave it. It's my second year of managing the farm, and I feel like a phony when I tell someone I am a farmer.

Just this morning, I hauled the end piece of a grain auger screw to be re-flighted at a welding shop 40 miles away. (Translation: a man will weld and straighten out the rusted corkscrew that pushes grain up a long metal tube and into a semi truck or grain wagon.) The shop was located inside the machine shed on a pretty, but obviously tired old farm.

When I arrived in my mini-van, shuffled into the shop in my slip-on Minnetonka sandals with sunbursts on top (not exactly farmerwear), and sweetly asked for Mr. Klontz, the men all paused, looked slowly at one another, and said nothing. Talk about awkward. A few very painful seconds later, a hefty, white-bearded man stepped in front of me, looked at me sternly, and said, "Why? Does he owe you money?" I looked at the other men, and then back at Whitebeard, and nervously chuckled as I said, "No, of course not." Everyone laughed and Whitebeard made some comment about just being careful.

As I took the auger screw out of my mini-van's trunk, and asked him if he could re-flight it, he looked at me sideways and asked, I must say, a little incredulously, "Are you a farmer?" I paused and thought to myself, well, am I? And then I thought of all my farmer friends, so sure of themselves, tough, and experienced. I can't imagine ever living up to their examples, even though I am pretty stubborn, can be crusty if necessary, and I'd like to think I'm a hard worker. "I am now," I told Whitebeard. "I just became manager of the family farm last year, and I'm still pretty green." It's a simplified answer, of course, not entirely true, but not entirely false either. (Hmmn, would that be a tall tale?) "Well," Whitebeard said, as he leaned in close, "I take my hat off to ya."

I can think of no sweeter praise from a fellow farmer.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Flynn's Irish Grove Acres

Flynn's Irish Grove Acres is a lot like your average family farm. We've got the generational thing going on, my being 4th generation Flynn to live and work this land. It's idyllic, in that Northern Illinois rolling hills sort of way. And it's been sporting crops of corn and beans since, well, I guess since the Flynn's bought this place, back in the early 1900's.

Irish Grove is special, though, because it has been the backdrop to the Flynn family drama that makes us who we are. This farm provides us with a sense of place and belonging, a rare gift in today’s world. It absorbs our frustrations and anger, usually involving a pitchfork and cow manure. It is our refuge in time of sorrow, with more pitchforks and manure. (Pitchforks and manure are the solutions to many problems here in Irish Grove.) But most importantly, Irish Grove is the origin of our overall happiness and joy. Our ‘little bit o’ blarney’ was born here in Irish Grove, home of our ancestors, our children, and most importantly, our dreams.

Read on, meet the many colorful characters that abound, be they human or beast, see if you can figure out which is which, and laugh with us at the every day trials and tribulations of life on the farm.