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Vol. 17 No. 36 - June 21, 2017


Irish wakes

My grandmother had 10 children.

The oldest daughter was my aunt Kathleen, uncle George's little sister.

Everyone called her Kay except uncle George who insisted on calling her Kathleen just to get under her skin.

Kathleen married my uncle Bill Bailey. They had a son called Bill, which made father and son Big Bill and Little Bill.

You could tell that Kay and Big Bill loved each other. They were always singing and dancing and teasing and joking. They laughed a lot, and they made us all laugh.

Kay made great corned beef and cabbage. The cabbage gave Bill gas in the worst way, every time, and almost right away.

When we were little kids, we would sit at Kay's table for corned beef and cabbage and be at the edges of our seats waiting for the cabbage and Bill to get started.

Eventually Bill would pop a little gas, and Kay would swipe at him with her dish cloth.

"Bill Bailey shame on you."

Big Bill would give us a sad and contrite look, and then he would wink and let a little gas pop again. He would flip his face to eyes-wide surprise, and Kay would whack him with her towel.

"Bill Bailey you stop that."

We little guys would all be chuckling to falling off our seats.

Bill would be sad and quiet for a dramatic minute, and then he would let out a long ripper, and Kay would whack him and cuss him and the meal would erupt in a bedlam of laughter with Bill's winking and gassing and Kay's whacking him with her towel.

Corned beef and cabbage at Kay and Big Bill's was the happiest of times.

And then one day Kay was gone.

It was the day I learned what an aneurism was.

We were all in shock at the sudden loss.

The funeral mass filled the church and the wake overflowed the house through all the rooms and out into the yard.

The wake was Irish. The sinks and counters were filled with rum and beer.

The tables bent under the weight of hams and roasts and turkeys and pies.

Everyone ate and drank and drank some more.

As per our family's custom, young and old took turns telling Kathleen stories, and our grief was lightened with the stories and the rum.

The day turned toward dusk, and Big Bill sat down at the piano in the parlor.

He played the piano, and he sang, in his big, broken-hearted baritone...

"Won't you let me take you home again, Kathleen."

And as he played and sang the tears poured down his cheeks, and we all cried together.

I still cannot tell of Big Bill singing to Kathleen without brimming with tears at the telling.

I tell of it now because the time for wakes has come to me again.

We have all just lost Rex Hagen.

Rex was a great Islander with a great and generous heart.

Since his arrival in the early 50s he contributed hundreds of thousands to our charities.

Rex also made us laugh and he laughed with us.

We will miss him.

There are tears to be shed.

Let us know what you think, post a comment.

AMISUN ~ The Island's Award-Winning Newspaper