With a mother and grandmother both born in Belfast, you can bet your boots I grew up surrounded by a lot of green.
The amazing story of Giant’s Causeway? Three-Leaved Shamrocks? Rainbows and Leprechauns? Those are all old hat to me (and good fun too!). I often wonder if this is where I first learned how to tell great stories.
My greatest memories of growing up Irish involved my grandparents telling their stories from World War II. My grandfather, Eugene, was a munitions driver for the U.S. armed forces and my grandmother, Mary, delivered mail for the Royal Air Force. She joined the effort after coming home one day to see her house partially destroyed by an air raid. A few years later she and my grandfather met in a bar and, shortly after the war ended, came to America together with my mother, who was only three months old at the time.
Married for over 50 years, my grandparents lived a simple but happy life in Wausau, Wisconsin. I visited them often and can remember vividly eating my grandmother’s angel food candy over the Christmas holiday when the entire family was at her house. Occasionally, somebody would tell a funny tale and my grandmother would let her unique laugh enter the room. Hard to describe but very pleasant to a young boy’s ears. It was during these occasions that my grandparents would often recount many stories from their WWII days. Believe me, they were incredible to hear.
MARY & EUGENE PANKONIEN AT THEIR WEDDING NEAR THE END OF WWII
My grandmother was the first to pass away and, a decade later to the day, my grandfather joined her. My grandmother, or “Molly” as she liked to be called, never liked having her picture taken. My grandfather didn’t mind though and the best thing I ever did was to stop by his house only a few months before he passed away and record him with a Panasonic HDX 900. I got all those WWII stories on tape and they will live in the Richter family archives forever.
Enjoy the holiday everyone. Have fun and be safe. Happy St. Patrick’s Day!