Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Sunday, January 31, 2021


 Openers:  I think it is time the American public had answers to some of the questions which have been posed continually, first over the radio by Bing Crosby and currently by Petula Clark in the movie version of Finian's Rainbow.  Such as how things are in Glocca Morra.

I can only assume the reason nobody has attempted to answer this question before is that it has not been addressed in the proper quarter.  Mr. Cosby and Miss Clark first ask a bird from Londonderry, which is 250 miles away from Glocca Morra as the crow flies; they then interrogate a River Shannon breeze, which is still nearly a hundred miles off course.  Glocca Morra is a remote spot in Kerry and one can only assume that if the writer of the song ever traveled there he fell into the hands of an unusually unsrupulous cab driver.  However, I have made the journey on your account, taking only my wife, family, car, baggage and the advance on this book, and here is a situational reort from your Man in Glocca Morra.

--Walter Bryan, The Improbable Irish (1969)

The author goes on to report that he did not see a willow tree weeping there, nor did he spy a lassie with a twinkling eye come passing by.  On the plus side, that little brook is still leaping there. On the whole "there are very things in Glash na Gloragh [Glocca Morra]. nbnut what are there seem in reasonably good condition considering nthey have been lying out in the rain so long."

And so begins a long and entertaining discourse on all things Ireland:  its history, culture, geography, lore, and its wonderfully fascinating people.  Through anecdotes, legends, personal accounts, historic documents, and some well-chosen, groan-worthy puns, the author brings all the sly wit, fierce independence, tragic backstory, and glorious ideosyncracies of a marvelous people who did as much or more than any other race to carry the world to its present state.  From spreading learning from the middle ages, and becoming a major business partner with the world to lending its statesmen, scientists, inventors, and literary genius across the globe and exporting an undying culture, we get all the whys, wherefores, and hows of this great but tiny land and its oft-times contridictory people.

Of course it no wonder that this is such a delightful book because behind the name "Walter Bryan" lie the inventive mind of the great Walt Willis (1919-1999).  Willis was an active Irish science fiction fan who produced two essential fanzines, Slant and Hyphen,  as well as contributing to many of the popular American fanzines.  He was the author of two essential works of fan fiction:  The Enchanted Duplicator (written with Bob Shaw) and The Harp Stateside.  Unlike many of his other Irish colleagues, such as Shaw, James White, and John Berry, Willis did not publish much professinal fiction; his one professionally published story, "Dissolute Diplomat," co-authored with Shaw, appeared in If''s January 1960 issue, and Willis' name was removed from the story when it appeared in one of Shaw's short story collections.

For his work in Fandom, Willis won a 1958 Hugo Award and shared a 2004 Retro-Hugo Award with White.  Willis was also nominated as Best Fan Writer Hugo once, best Fanzine Hugo twice, and best Retro-Fanzine twice.  Science fiction fans pooled their money and sponsored Willis's trip to the 1952 World Science Fiction Convention in Chicago as a special guest -- this began the annual TransAltlatic Fan Fund.  Willis was also fan Guest of Honor at the 1992 Worldcon in Orlando. 

The Improbable Irish was Walt Willis' only professionaly published book.  It was published in hardcover by Taplinger and in paperback by Ace, both in 1969.  It appears not to have been reprinted and it never was published on Willis' side of the pond.

The book is well worth seeking out for its marvelous prose, its witty subject material, and as an example of how well Willis could write.

Ancestry:  As far as I can tell, I am one quarter English, one quarter French, one quarter Irish, and one quarter Yankee.  The Irish comes from my other's father, a flaming redhead named Bernard Francis Ford, who died when my mother was seven.  I know little about him and nothing about his family history, so my childhood was a bit bereft on all things Irish.  Kitty is part Irish and part Scottish, the Irish coming from her grandfather who born in County Cork in someplace called "Ballypardoo-part-of-Ballypardee" (spelling approximate).  We tried to find it on a map of Ireland and were unsuccessful -- perhaps the little village was actually on the legendary island of Hy Brasil or further apart as a neighbor of Shangra-la.  The story has it that Kit's grandfather and two brothers had to leave Ireland quickly for some unspecified (perhaps illegal) reason.  One fled to Canada, one to Australia, and Kitty's grandfather to America where he commenced to making shoes.  Kitty's family name was Keane (pronounced "Kane" -- the final "e" negated the first "e," you see); in Australia, because they don't know how to speak English there, it's pronounced "Kine.").  It is from Kitty's side of the family that I learned that Irish Alzheimer's is when you forget everything but the grudge.

Kitty's mother was of very imaginative Scottish ancestry.  (Kitty learned to recognize most tartans before she was ten.)  Her mother claimed to be a direct relation to Robert the Bruce and a relation in some twisted form to Jesse James.  She also claimed to have part American Indian blood.  Much of what she said could be taken with a grain of salt.  What can be verified is that she was of the clan MacDonald of the Isles.  Kitty had an Aunt Sadie who never saw a piece of underwear she wouldn't tat a lace fringe to.  The Irish may never forget a grudge, but they couldn't hold a candle to the Scots.  Sadie, being a MacDonald, refused to have Campbell's soup in the house.  (Those scrurrilous Campbells slew the MacDonalds under a flag of truce, you see.  Sadie probably forgot that the MacDonalds mave have well have done the same first.)  Sadie also refused to talk to Kitty's father directly even though he was right in front of her.  ("Eileen, would you ask your husband if he would like more coffee?")  Kitty's father, in addition to being Irish, had the more important disgrace of being Catholic, you see.

Bless the Irish and bless the Scots and bless all those who make life so interesting.

Irish Sayings:

  • The Irish do not want anyone to wish them well; they want everyone to wish their enemies ill.
  • When Irish eyes are smiling, watch your step.
  • A life making mistakes is not only more honourable, but more useful than a life doing nothing at all.
  • Irish diplomacy is the art of telling a man to go to hell so that he looks forward to making the trip.
  • You've got to do your own growing, no matter how tall your grandfather was.
  • Drink is the curse of the land.  It makes you fights your neighbor.  It makes you shoot at your landlord and miss him.
  • The problem with some people is when they aren't drunk, they're sober.
  • Every man is socialble until a cow invades his garden.
  • You never plough a field by turning it over in your mind.
  • A man's got to do what a man's got to do.  Women must do what he can't.
  • Forgetting a debt doesn't mean it's paid.
  • A face without freckles is like a sky without stars.
  • Wisdom is the comb given to a man after he has lost his hair.
  • God is good but never dance in a small boat.
  • I love summer in Ireland.  It's my favorite day of the year.
  • Forgive your enemies but don't forget their names.'s quote about Gaelic signs in Ireland that was mentioned in The Improbable Irish: "If Oifig an Phuist doesn't mean Gentlemen, I did a very silly thing in the post office this morning." -- Chalres Harris

O Happy Day!:  Today is National Dark Chocolate Day.  Want to celebrate?  Asking for a friend.

An Even Happier Day:  Today is the 156th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln signing the Thirteenth Amendment.  That's the one that eliminated slavery and involuntary servitude, except as pubishment for a crime.  

Lncoln had previously issued the Emancipation Proclaimation on January 1, 1863, which freed slaves in Confederate controlled areas.  On January 31, 1865, Congress passed the Thirteenth Amendment and Lincln signed it the following day.  The amendment was ratifed by 27 of the then 39 states by December 6, 1865 and went into law on December 18.  Lincoln's Emancipation Proclaimation had previousy ended slavery in all states except Kentucky and Delaware and now it was abolished there, also.

Ah, if it were only that easy...The vestiges of slavery are still with us today with racial and economic inequality and with the white supremacy movement.  It's been a long century and a half, but I can but hope that sooner or later we can become the country it promises to be.

Groundhogs:  Tomorrow is their day.  The groundhog (Marmonta monax), also known as the woodchuck, is one of fourteen members of the marmot family and is a member of the squirrel family (Sciuridia) within the order Rodentia.  The groundhog is basically considered to be a ground squirrel and can be destructive to gardens and farmlands.  Gowing up on a small New England farm our half Newfoundland/half St. Bernard dog Polly was hell on wheels to groundhogs; often we'd wake jup to find groundhog bits scattered all over the lawn.  This talent held Polly in awe by other farmers in the area ("She's worth her weight in groundhogs.").  Otherwise, Polly was the sweetest, gentlest animal you would ever meet.  Of course, if you were a groundhog, all bets were off.

A groundhog can weigh up to 13 pounds and typically is about 20 ibches long with a short, seven-inch tail.  They are common in Eastern and Central United States and through Canada, reaching Alaska.  They usually live along the forest edge near meadows, fields, and streams.they dig deep burrows and are wizards at hibernating, perhaps giving rise to the legend that they wake up February 2.  Since February 2 is smack-dab in the winter, it's natural to assume they will return to hibernating.  That bit about seeing its shadow is just some Pennsyval Dutch superstition that has been propagated by the good folks in Punxsutawney and elsewhere.

The groundhogs natural predators include, wolves, foxes, dogs (shoutout to Polly!), coyotes, lynx, and bobcats, as well as some birds of prey and snakes.  These critters lnow what they are doing because the goundhog is considered by those in the know to be mighty good eating, not that I am going to join those gourmets any time soon or later.

Fashion:  Are you female?  Do you have a two-inch waistline?  Are you talented with needle and thread and scissors?  Do you want to be in the height of retro fashion?  I'm here to answer your needs.  Well, not me, actually, but W. H. Goldsberry is.

Here is his Voice of Fashion, Volume XII, Number 46, Winter 1987 issue, containing instruction to make your own au courant clothing -- street costumes, afternoon dresses for women and misses, also girl's "accordeon" plaited dresses and boy's Eaton jacket and blouse waistsets.  You can also make school dresses and women's and misses' toilets (they don't mean what I thought they meant).  So many options, so many fashion ideas -- cloaks, evening dresses, trilby drawers, chemises, lounging boggles the mind.

Be the first in your neiborhood to reach back to the glory days of 1897!

A Remarkable Woman:  From the wonderfully twisted mind of Sam Gross:

Florida Man:
  • Florida Man Keith Morris Smith, Jr., 29, of Clay County, is wanted for violating the terms of his release.  Smith had been arrested in December 2019 for, among other things, having sex with a person aged 12 to 16.  Smith cut his ankle monitor and is now missing.  What puts him into the special Florida Man category is that he has started a GoFundMe campaign to raise $2000 to flee the country.
  • Dade City Florida Man Keith William Nicolleta, 48, faces up to 20 years in federal rpison for laundering more the $1.9 million in Covid relief funds.  He bought a 2020 Mercedes and a 2020 Ford F-250 pickup, as well as jewelry and had a swimming pool installed in his home.  He also bought a lot of trouble.
  • Tampa Florida Man Darius Jondi Edwards, 42, can't let a good thing go.  Already on federal supervised release for counterfeiting, Edwards was caught passing phoney money, possessing partial completed counterfiet money, and being in the possesion of computer media used to make countefeit federal reserve notes.  He faces up to another 20 years in prison.  One commenter on the news story said that he probably put Harriet Tubman's image on the fifty dollar bill.
  • Florida Man Joshua Colon, 31, of Polk County, who was recently named "Paramedic of the Year" has been arrsted for stealing Covid-19 vaccine meant for first responders.  Florida, you see.
  • 63-year-old Bobby Scott of Volusia County had been missing for over a week and is presumed dead.  Scott's husband reporteed the man missing when he did not come home.  Florida Man Michael Harris, 20, has been arrested for the murder.  Scott met Harris on an on-line dating app and agreed to meet him.  Since then  Scott has no left any financial record.  Harris was arrested in the possession of Scott's vehicle, which he said Scott had lent to him.  Scott's body remains to be found.
  • Florida Woman Gina Bashea, of Lee County, was caught on a recording during a highly racist and expletive-filled rant.  Bashear was upset about a truck being parked in the road, where two men were unloading sheets of metal onto a pallet.  Bashear later told NBC2 newsman Gage Goulding that she was a racist.  "It doesn't matter if I said it 100 times in thirty seconds.  There's nothing illegal about saying it...Do I have reaons to be racist?  Absolutely I do...I don't care who's upset.  I don't cre that I'm called a racist."  The vistims said they had never experienced such extreme racism before.  So, for one Florida woman, she did not come a long way, baby.

Here Comes Some Good Stuff:
  • Wood grown from plant cells in a lab could cut down on deforestation
  • Community pulls together so 94-year-old World War II vet can go home
  • Former white supremicist store and KKK meeting place is being turned onto a community center to promote healing
  • Startup builds 3 huge indoor farms in Appalachia coal, helping to turn coal country into an agricultural zone
  • Man regains sight and sees his family for the first time after becoming the first person to receive an artifiial cornea
  • Bernie Sanders memes and mittens have now raised over $1.8 million for charity

Today's Poem:
Winter Trees

All the complicated details
of the attiring and
the disattiring are completed!
A liquid moon
moves gently among
the long branches.
Thus having prepared their  buds
against a sure winter
the wise trees
stand sleeping in the cold.

-- William Carlos Williams

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