Friday, March 12, 2004

The Search for Patrick Cronan

In honor of St. Patrick Day and in honor of my ancestor---

The Search for Patrick Cronan

I grew up with stories about him. My great grandfather. The orphan. He died before I was born and the old homestead had passed onto other hands, but we still on Sunday drives as a child went past Beck’s Mill and my great grandparent's house--a grey and ghostly place. I stared as if some mystery would be resolved there.

Just this past spring I drove my Aunt Helen there and walked around taking pictures. No one has lived in the old house for years. A woman came out of the trailer house across the driveway to see what we were doing. I called her over to speak to Helen, now 92, and introduced us as relatives of the original owners. People are amazingly friendly about such intrusions. Helen said as we drove away, “I used to go out and stay with them in the summer. I’d sit sometimes on that porch and swing and listen to the whiporwills call and feel like I was the loneliest person in the world.” A young adolescent’s experience I recognize and think, as drive on, that today we have TV or anti- depressants to keep form feeling anything as real as that loneliness.

At Sunday dinners or after, sitting around talking or playing cards, Patrick Cronan stories would emerge. Like how he always tried to grow potatoes on the red clay and rocky soil of his farm and failed year after year. “I told him he couldn’t grow potatoes there” “Not the right soil” “Stubborn” they would say, “Yes, stubborn as could be”

I remember sitting in the company of the men as they smoked and talked and my father telling someone that Patrick had come over to this country in a cracker barrel of a ship. I was at an age where the image of a Zesta Cracker box came into my mind, a man sitting in it, floating and paddling his way across the water. My hero.

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