St. Patrick, Johnny Rockets, and Me
"Is this Casey Tygrett? I got your number from your college."
This isn't an enticing opening to a phone call. Despite the major information security breach, the person knew my name and my home number which was a brand new number due to graduation and getting married.
"I'm a distant relation of yours, and I'd like to talk to you about our family."
I was intrigued. He named my grandfather, great-grandfather and several uncles as well as living relatives that I had regular contact with, so I felt comfortable continuing the conversation. This is strange, but most things in life are.
In my family there were always two branches - the branch that met inside the picnic pavilion during the annual reunion and the one that parked trucks nearby and sat on their tailgates throughout the whole day.
As a kid, this never caught my eye. I spent time with my local set of cousins every weekend, why should this one be any different? I never knew we were split. I never knew there was animosity, disparity, or any other negative emotions. Looking back, it seems like there had to be something askew but those questions are far and away from my concern. All that to say, this voice came from somewhere in that "other" branch of the family tree.
I met my new-found relative at a Johnny Rockets restaurant just north of Columbus, OH. A place where '50s diner food goes to serve time for sins done on earth, yes it is a greasy spoon purgatory, we sat among the clank and clatter of glasses and highly affordable plates and talked history.
He slid a book across the table. A green presentation binder, the clear cover page showing a picture of a tiger with our family name hanging over the tiger's head, stared back at me from the faux-formica table.
I learned that day that my blood ran Celtic green.
I learned my ancestors - three brothers - left Ireland due to dire circumstances (war, famine, social faux pas...who can tell).
I learned that there were many variations on our family name, some with less T's and some without the Y.
Strangely, I hadn't thought much about where my family came from up to that point. We came from West Virginia, as far as I knew, and I knew that because that was my last place of residence. There is active debate amongst aunts and such as to whether we're Welsh, Scotch-Irish, or some other ethnic hybrid but as far as I knew the only difference between Wales and Ireland was the food and accent. It turns out even those aren't so distinct.
In the stink of bad chili, however, something in me shifted. Suddenly, I was thinking about my heritage. I was thinking about where I came from, beyond my mother's womb.
There was a story that began before I ever arrived - a story of pain and joy, a story of intrigue and delight, a story of sibling rivalry and social turmoil - before I was, it was. Before I drew breath and went to make my human dent on the world, there were others who carried the same name.
I had a country.
I had a history.
I had a saint.
The day when people dress in green, pinch strangers, and drink far too much represented something different to me after that day. Yes I may dress and pinch and drink even still but I do it with the knowledge that because of one St. Patrick, Ireland was saved. Some may even argue that the world was saved through the Irish after that point, but that's a different post.
Suddenly, my story had expanded exponentially. My world was excessively large in beauty and history, and I had a word to take and make my own. I could build pictures in my head of what the world may have looked like, I could make plans to hunt down counties and headstones that tell a bit of my story beyond what I could read in my laser-jet parchment, my gift from distant family.
I had simply stepped back some 200 years, however. This story is a young one, a babbling infant compared to the Exodus or David's battle versus the Philistines. A nearly wet set of newsprint compared to exile, restoration, and the birth of a boy to a scandalized virgin in a cave near Bethlehem.
It is an unconfirmed, breaking story compared to the publicized Roman execution of a Jewish prophet and the subsequent mystery regarding that prophet's remains. Stay tuned.
As I walked into the beginning chill of winter, leaving this unusual meeting behind, I had something new. A bright shining pearl, at least to me, that would lead me to represent everything in my life differently.
So today, I raise a toast (not right now, of course).
Because I am Irish.
Because I have a place and a people behind me.
Because I have a saint.
Because I have a Savior.
Because my story is bigger than me, and I will leave it to others when I'm gone.