It’s Saint Patrick’s Day! Be sure to wear green, or get pinched. Eat green-tinted food. Say “Top o’ the morning to you!” (Actually, an Irish woman once told me no one in Ireland says that; seems it is something of a foreign invention.) Go out tonight, have a few drinks with friends, enjoy Irish food, have a good time, and enjoy all things Irish.
There is nothing wrong with all of the above. Everyone deserves to have a little fun from time to time.
But in the midst of all of this fun, take a moment to consider what “all things Irish” includes.
It includes “An Gorta Mor”—The Great Hunger of 1845-1852, when potato blight swept across Ireland, destroying a staple of Irish diet. One million Irish men, women, and children died of starvation and disease, and another two million emigrated from Ireland. It was an unprecedented disaster for those times, worsened by greed and political bungling. There were many people and organizations who tried to help, but sometimes help is little more than a drop in a bucket.
Among those who sent aid in 1847 was a people who only 16 years before were uprooted from their own homes and marched across a wilderness to an unknown, hostile land. Hundreds, if not thousands, of men, women, and children died during their portion of the Trail of Tears in America.
At a tribal gathering in Indian Territory the Choctaws learned of The Great Hunger and the dying in Ireland. Remembering what they experienced, the Choctaws dug into their pockets and gathered $170.00 to send to a relief society in Memphis for the Irish. The $170.00 was a drop in the bucket but it was a gift from the heart, from one devastated people to another.
It was a gift that was never forgotten.
In the generations since, the Irish and the Choctaws have maintained a private and governmental relationship. Choctaws have walked in famine memorial walks held in Ireland, and Irish have walked in Trail of Tears memorial walks in America.
In 1995 Mary Robinson, President of Ireland (1990-1997), visited the Choctaw Nation to say thank you. In 1996, during an exchange of toasts with President Bill Clinton, she recalled the Choctaw and Irish connection:
“…The connection with the Choctaw people goes back to just over 150 years ago – the worst year of the great potato famine, 1847. It had begun in 1845, and the potato crop failed. It failed again in 1846. And in 1847, that was the worst year of starvation and emigration. And the Choctaw people who had been displaced from their tribal lands learned about this people far away on an island that were starving and destitute. And they raised $173.00 and sent it for the relief of the Irish famine victims. And that has never been forgotten in Ireland.
“And I must say, it was for me a special moment just over a year ago to go to Oklahoma and to specifically thank and pay that tribute to the Choctaw people for the connection that they had made with the people of Ireland…” (Gifts of Speech – Mary Robinson)
I cannot explain it, but I feel a special pride about the Choctaw and Irish connection. When I lived in Colorado Springs, a good friend of Irish descent and I used to meet for beer and dinner on Saint Patrick’s Day. When I moved to Las Vegas, we stayed in touch, especially sending greetings on Saint Patrick’s Day. Unfortunately, we have lost touch. I miss Teresa. She Is a good person.
So, on this day take a moment to consider all things Irish. Especially consider how one people can reach out to another and thereby forge a lasting friendship.
And consider the many “Great Hungers” and other disasters happening around the world today. The need for one people to reach out to another continues. And fortunately, for all of us, there are many who do reach out to others even in the most dangerous lands, and sometimes at the risk or loss of their lives. That says something about our humanity, and our future.
“Better Than a Rabbit’s Foot.” Ed. Joelle Walker. MuseItUp Publishing, June 2012.
BLURB: Sergeant Jerry Stanton is a young soldier serving in the War in Iraq. He is a gunner on a gun truck nicknamed “Lucky Bear,” one of those tireless workhorses that escort supply convoys from camps in Kuwait to destinations scattered throughout the war-torn country. In the early morning hours before a scheduled mission, a dust storm howls across his camp and threatens to bring convoy operations to a halt. Worse, the camp receives word that a gunner from his company was killed by an IED while on a convoy mission. Unlike most soldiers, Jerry doesn’t carry a lucky charm, but upon receiving news of the death of the gunner, he begins to mull over/ponder the merit/virtue of a good luck charm—only, what would work for him? Perhaps mail call will provide the answer.
EXCERPT: “People like a happy ending.”
Sergeant Jerry Stanton, an M4 Carbine slung across his chest, glanced at the dark form that trudged alongside him in the hot, early morning darkness. It was all the darker for the dust storm howling across the small camp, a dusty and sandy convoy support center, CSC, a mile south of the Iraqi border. He placed his hand over the tall styrofoam coffee cup from the messhall that was open at all hours to serve those about to head out on a mission. He felt the itchy dust filtering down his back, along his arms, and coating his fingers.
In spite of his short time deployed to Kuwait, he had learned that dust storms were worse than sand storms; they were hot and itchy while the sand storms stung exposed skin and chilled the air. Breakfast was good but tasted flat, more due to the question of whether their mission would be a go or no-go because of the storm that roared out of the midnight darkness hours before.
“People like a happy ending,” the soldier repeated. He was a gunner from another gun truck as the squat, venerable M1114 HMMWVs, which were never meant to be combat vehicles, were called. He held up a rabbit foot that spun frantically in the wind and added, “I like a happy ending. Especially now.” They rounded the corner of a small building, actually a renovated mobile home trailer with a covered wooden porch lit by a bare electric bulb. The gunner pointed to a small black flag, suspended from a log overhang, flapping furiously in the wind.
“Oh shit.” Jerry sighed as a cold chill raced through him.
“It’s been there for an hour or so,” the soldier said as he enclosed the rabbit’s foot within both hands and brought it up to his lips as if to kiss it. He glanced at Jerry. “I’m not superstitious, but still, I mean, there’s nothing wrong with having a lucky charm. You know?”
“Yeah.” Jerry nodded as he watched the twisting flag. “I know.”
The soldier looked once more at the black flag and then walked toward the shower and restroom trailers beyond which were the air-conditioned sleeping tents they called home…
SS Hampton, Sr. is a full-blood Choctaw of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, a divorced grandfather to 13 wonderful grandchildren, a published photographer and photojournalist, and a member of the Military Writers Society of America. He retired on 1 July 2013 from the Army National Guard with the rank of Sergeant First Class; he previously served in the active duty Army (1974-1985), the Army Individual Ready Reserve (1985-1995) (mobilized for the Persian Gulf War), and enlisted in the Army National Guard in October 2004, after which he was mobilized for Federal active duty for almost three years. Hampton is a veteran of Operations Noble Eagle (2004-2006) and Iraqi Freedom (2006-2007). His writings have appeared as stand-alone stories and in anthologies from Dark Opus Press, Edge Science Fiction & Fantasy, Melange Books, Musa Publishing, MuseItUp Publishing, Ravenous Romance, and as stand-alone stories in Horror Bound Magazine, The Harrow, and River Walk Journal, among others. Second-career goals include becoming a painter and studying for a degree in photography and anthropology—hopefully to someday work in and photograph underwater archaeology. After 12 years of brown desert in the Southwest and overseas, he misses the Rocky Mountains, yellow aspens in the fall, running rivers, and a warm fireplace during snowy winters. As of December 2011 in Las Vegas, Nevada, Hampton officially became a homeless Iraq War veteran.
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