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Carlow County - Ireland Genealogical Projects (IGP TM)

Jim Fitzpatrick


'Of All the Men I've Ever Loved'

Jim Fitzpatrick
Jim with the Irish Volunteers fighting for Michael Collins during the Irish Civil War of 1922.

A man’s voice on the radio was crooning about all the girls he’d loved before. It triggered me to think of all the men who were important in my life. There were 12 in all, in the four countries in which I have lived. Seven were Irish, two French, one Canadian, and two Americans. Of all the men I loved before, memories of Jim Fitzpatrick, an Irishman, still remain above the rest.

He fought in the trenches in Belgium and France in World War One, and fought man-to-man again during Ireland’s civil war in 1922. He worked as the foreman in the goods’ department of the Railway, in the Bagenalstown Station, between Waterford and Dublin. Every day, I’d swing on the green iron gate, watching to see the cap of his navy uniform come bobbing along the hedge, and I’d run to meet him. His huge hand would swallow mine, and I’d have to gallop beside him to keep up. A tall, jovial man, bushy eyebrows arched above his dancing blue eyes, and he was always enveloped in a lovely sweet smell of tobacco. His favorite spot was sitting under the lilac tree, smoking his pipe, reading the sports’ page, and watching me play.

He was married to my grandmother’s sister, Aunt Christina, who was an invalid in a wheelchair. My mother had left my father, who had a drinking problem and was abusive. The day I was dressed to be sent to the orphanage, Jim picked me up off the floor and said, “We’ll take her, won’t we Christina. We’ll give her a home.” And she answered, “Yes, we will, we’ll manage somehow.” They couldn’t bear for me to grow up in an institution. Without any legal transactions, I became Vonnie Fitzpatrick, and he became my Daddy Jim. He was 50 years old, and I was two, the only child in the house. A bundle of energy. As I grew, I heard people say, I was a handful. Wild as a March hare. Daddy Jim would smile and say, “Ah sure, she’s only a child. She brings a bit of life into the house. She’s a character alright! She’s growing up grand.”

He taught me how to plant flowers, grow vegetables, and dig potatoes for our dinner. When our ducks Daisy and Doreen laid eggs, we’d search for them, aqua and exquisite, and bring them home in his cap. He did all the cooking, and on Sundays, he made scones, and I pressed them into circles with my little Bo Peep cup. They were so light and airy, people raved about them. When it lashed rain, he’d take me to school on the bar of his bike, the two of us wrapped in his big black rain coat. He’d help me with my sums at night, while polishing my shoes. And, I’ll never, ever, forget the day he brought me home the collie pup in his overcoat pocket.

I still have the love post cards he sent to Aunt Christina from the trenches of France and Belgium during World War One. I have their wedding photograph, the gold cufflinks he wore on their wedding day, his birth certificate, and two photographs of him in the Irish rebels’ uniform. The photographs are in a prominent place on my mantelpiece.

Most of all, I’ve endless memories of how his face would get soft, and his eyebrows would shoot up. He’d bend down to look in my eyes and say, “Well, what have ya been up ta taday? Who’s goin’ ta come rappin’ at the door tellin’ me stories?” the years when I really was a handful.

He was the only Dad I ever knew. It was lovely to feel I could do no wrong; and to have been adored. It’s been 48 years since he died. Of all the men I’ve loved before, he’s the one who’s memory truly lasted. And, when I make scones, they’re so light and airy, people always want "his" recipe.

Daddy Jim died of cancer in 1957, two months before my seventeenth birthday. Before I’d a chance to thank him for all he did for me. Before he knew that I turned out grand, just as he expected.

*This essay was previously published in the Celtic Heritage Magazine, NS, Canada, and The Buffalo News.

Published here by kind permission of Veronica Breen Hogle

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