When I entered the University of Notre Dame in 1965, the first thing I had to do was make some close friends. Notre Dame has no social fraternities and in 1965 no women. So one had to fish around your residence halls and classes to find some friends with mutual interests.
During the initial period, I kept hearing strange tales of how the guys from Queens, New York, were an odd bunch. Coming from Pittsburgh, I was Irish-American with 12 years of Catholic school behind me. However, our suburban school had Irish, Italian, German, Polish, and French families. There was no special Irish clique.
Well, at Notre Dame, I began making friends and I latched on to Bobby O'Mara From Elmhurst, New York, who had my same major. Later on in our relationship, Bobby moved off-campus, and within a few months his landlord kicked him out. He immediately approached me to see if he could sleep on my couch until semester's end. After a little arm-twisting, I convinced my two real roommates that Bobby wouldn't cause any trouble and in four weeks he would find a new place They grudgingly assented, despite his eccentric reputation. He was obsessed with General George Armstrong Custer and had read every book in the library about the cavalry hero.
After he moved in one evening when we were alone, I asked Bobby to explain the Elmhurst Irish.
He immediately began illustrating this with his parents' courtship. His father, Chris, was a tall good-looking Irishman, who resembled Tyrone Power. Strangers walked up to him on the street and said, "Hey kid, are you related to that movie star, Tyrone Power?" Chris would state no but each compliment jolted his ego up a notch.
Finally, by chance, Chris met a really beautiful red-haired Irish girl named Maureen, and he began dating her. In 1940's tradition, they went ice skating, and walking while looking deep into each other's eyes. Finally, Chris was overwhelmed and asked Maureen to marry him.
"You'll have to get my family's approval, Chris." Maureen replied. "But if everything is OK, I'd love to marry you." They set up a date for Chris to meet her family.
A few weeks later, Chris bounded up the steps with Maureen, and she opened up the door, revealing her parents sitting on the couch listening to the radio. Her father was reading the box scores for the Dodgers' last game from a newspaper.The middle-aged man glanced from his paper, stood up and shook Chris' hand. "We know why you're here, but you'll have to talk to Granny first. She's in the kitchen. Maureen, show Chris where Granny is and come out and wait here."
Chris found himself ushered into a small room with a stove and a lace-covered table. Sitting behind the table was a very thin elderly lady with a large book in front of her. Granny immediately made introductions in an Irish accent as thick as swath of peat.
After Maureen left, Granny said to Chris, "I'm going to need the surname of your parents and grandparents -- including your grandmother's maiden name. Let's start with O'Mara, and go from there. She thumbed through the book to O'Mara and muttered, "That's a good start."
Chris provided Granny with each of the other surnames from his family. Each time, Granny turned the book to the family page and read about each name, nodding and smiling at each name.
Finally, she said, "Chris you come from good Irish stock. No soupers, I hope?"
Chris shook his head no!
"Well, I think you're ready to join our family now!"
* Names are changed for some people.