Have you seen any of those ‘Who do you think you are’ sort of programmes on the telly. You know the ones; some semi famous person, delves into their ancestry only to discover they carry the bloodline of some famous general, Emily Pankhurst, the Wright brothers or at the very least, Marie Curie.
Isn’t it interesting that they never find that they were related to the first nut job to ride on a bus? Some looper talking in a loud voice, while the person beside them wondered; is he talking to me? Only to discover that when they eventually summed up the courage to look at the crazy person, he started slapping his own forehead and then they knew, it was the odd bus-person’s imaginary friend that was sending them over the edge, and no – he wasn’t talking to them. Or that the most interesting thing about their great grandmother, was that she liked to collect stamps…that she dedicated her life to her collection and that when she died, she only had a total of seven stamps to her name.
Some people are fascinated with their ancestry, me… not so much. There have been interesting theories regarding my predecessors, more rumours if you ask me, some with good stories attached, some quite boring, but I like to imagine the patchwork quilt of my origins with a little more flavour if you will.
My father’s side is simple. The Power name came through with the Norman invasions of Ireland in the 12th century, and the origin of the name itself, hints at how wonderful my noble ancestors might have been… (See – I’m already doing it, looking to bask in some imagined, reflected glory.) Its origin comes from the French word for poor ‘povre’ which comes from the Latin ‘pauper.’ It was based on a voluntary vow of poverty rather than involuntary destitution; hence, we were basically kind auld souls, who gave to the poor and probably still have a free pass into heaven because we were so lovely. That’s what I take from it anyway, if you feel different, your ancestors were probably begrudgers and it’s in the genes so you can keep your opinions to yourself, thank you very much.
We will say no more about them as I’ve clearly established to my own satisfaction, that we were (and of course still are) wonderfully kind, gracious and giving people, who looked after the poor and the needy. Line drawn…now on to the other side of the family.
My mother’s bunch, well… their history is a mixed bag of what seems to indicate on one hand, a certain level of affluence and poshness and on the other …well let’s just say going back a few generations, one side married better than the other. To be fair, they are the fun side of the family, the side that brought me up and had the biggest impact on my life. But you see there is a niggling question …
Now I’m Irish, born and bred, through to the bone. But, you mightn’t necessarily, pick me out of a line out as being Irish. I’m the quickest man alive to get a tan and retain it, which is tantamount to being a foreigner around here. I get a tan if I go out in the rain. My sallow skin is something I inherited from my mother, so I always suspected it came through on her side of the family.
I did hear stories, few of which are true and most of which I have embellished – because hey! – That’s just more fun – and one of them involves my … now let me try and get this right – my great, great grandfather. We’re heading back to 19th century Ireland now at this stage, back to when Ireland was well and truly a part of the British Empire. Despite our constant uprisings and shouts of “get out the feck you English fecker,” and a million rebel songs 55 verses long, many Irishmen took the Kings shilling and fought for the empire around the globe. Indeed isn’t fighting one of the things we are supposed to be famous for…
Anyhow… my great grandfather fought with the British at Gallipoli, or so I am unreliably informed and his father, my great, great grandfather, was part of a military contingent in India. Now this is where my version, the scraps I’ve picked up, and my natural inclination as a writer to tell a ‘good story,’ might blur the lines a little bit.
So he was serving in India, let’s say for the sake of a good story that he was high ranking, as that serves my lust to be pompous, and that his beautiful wife was left alone for long periods of time, in the torrid heat of the Indian summer. Now given that one of the rumours is that a somewhat less than pale skinned, freckly, ginger, scaldy lookin’ Irish child returned with them from their last trip to India, I’m going to run this version by you…
Lonely, bored and for some reason that is quite inexplicable, but in my head nonetheless, bearing the accent of a southern belle – my great, great grandmother sat on her veranda, day after day, struggling with the foreign land she was expected to call home. Separated from friends and family, with a husband abandoning her for duty, she would fan herself to avoid fainting beneath the hot Bengali sun and sip tea until noon, while the punkawallah sat quietly in the corner, zombie like, operating the large overhead fan by pulley. He was deaf of course, as all good punkawallahs would be, to avoid the danger of him overhearing conversations of a private or delicate nature.
Her chaiwallah I imagine to be a kindly, ever smiling young boy, who would be always available, a silent almost ninja like presence, ready with a cup of perfect tea for when she needed it most. Once the sun had crossed the yardarm and purely for medicinal purposes, she might have sipped on a cool gin and tonic – or three. It was for the quinine that she pursued this course of action don’t you know, and to keep her medicinal tipple cool, ice would be carried up from the ice house in great blocks and broken up in the kitchen, by the ginwallah. Carrying the heavy Ice block, was a startlingly handsome young Indian boy, all of twenty years of age. He had a strong frame, striking brown eyes and a smile the illuminated all that were fortunate enough to fall under its spell.
She would watch him carry the ice and as he passed her each day, she couldn’t help but notice the curve of his back, the line of his neck, his muscular torso and his youthful athleticism. She might have perhaps given a nod to the punkawallah to speed up the fan for indeed in such moments; she may have felt a little flush. Perhaps it was for such moments that I imagined my Irish great, great grandmother far away from Ireland, having an accent more at home in the American south, as for some reason I can feel she might have softly whispered something along the lines of,
“Why – I do declare.”
There may have been some heaving of bosoms, a flirtatious glance or two, and a strong desire to loosen one’s corsets, but in my mind one thing would have led to another, lonely, frustrated, perhaps driven crazy by the heat and the mosquitos, whatever the feck – cue the opening bars to Barry White’s “Let’s get it on” and we can all see where I’m going with this one. No need for me to paint the picture really is there? After all this is my great, great granny we’re talking about!
Now before you get too excited there could be lots of other reasons for my ease of tanning. There used to be blonde in my hair and some of the Scandies, despite their northern origins, tan quite well. Coastal towns on the Eastern seaboard of Ireland were of course, overrun by Vikings until Brian Boru kicked their arses in 1014. There could be a good story in there? There is always the Norman angle I began with and sure those French lads take a tan, or maybe somewhere down the line I had a convict in the gene pool. Now that would be just as cool. Sentenced to deportation to Van Diemen’s Land for stealing a pig, he thought he’d never see his homeland again, only for his son to return a generation (or 2 perhaps) later, to reclaim the land once taken from his father/grandfather. There might even be a duel involved.
Whatever… the romantic in me is going for the Indian icewallah in the hay barn after a couple of gins too many and a very understanding husband. (I won’t say dopey – I prefer to see him as a forgiving soul) There would have been cover ups a plenty and a lot of “no… sure everyone knows that in the heat of India, babies get tanned even inside their mother’s bellies” type of Blarney when they got home.
It’s a toughie I tell you, trying to decide on my favourite. I’d hate to check it out for real and discover I’m descended from a bloke whose sole achievement in life, was coming seventh in the annual courgette growing contest – and that he had a rosette confirming this to be the case – which he kept in pride of place – above the mantelpiece – beside a picture of the Sacred Heart and his empty milk bottle collection. That’d never do…Oh no, no, no, no, no…
Haven’t read a Max Power book yet? I think it’s time to pick one up.
Max Power’s books include, Darkly Wood, Darkly Wood II The woman who never wore shoes, Larry Flynn, Bad Blood and Little Big Boy
You can find more details about Max Power’s books here : –
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