There once was a town in East Bumfick, in what’s now called New York. It was settled by Yankees and Anglos, a Colony for sure. It was a nice town, and a small town. They knew they were coming up in the world when a Blacksmith from western Bay Colony came over.
So it went, and so it goes. In the late 1700s the Town Council, which was comprised entirely of Whigs, voted to break ties with the Motherland until their sovereign English rights were respected. Some towns lynched their Loyalists, but not Bumfick. It was a freedom loving town in most senses of the word, even if freedom wasn’t free.
On the liberty pole which stood in the town square, there hung a flag. It was a simple New England Ensign, rendered blue about the field with the words “George Rex: for the liberties of America; No Popery.” This flag stood as a reminder to the French Colonists that we knew what the Jesuits were about, and didn’t want any of it.
But it didn’t stop the Irish. You can’t stop the Irish. You also can’t stop death, or (((taxes))) but that’s another story.
Or is it?
Our story begins with a Farmer; Oscar William Meddybemps. Oscar, better known to the town as Uncle Meddybemps, came from a town in Maine – Meddybemps- following a property line dispute in which a rival farmer moved one of his rocks. We don’t know quite what happened, but Uncle Meddybemps left in a hurry after getting a nasty letter from the Church Father in the mail.
Still, Uncle Meddybemps didn’t cause no trouble. He was a quiet man, polite but reserved. The Dutch on the far side of town were inclined to say dour. To the Englishest of them, he was just Uncle. He was set in his ways, and there weren’t no changing that. Until one day, it was announced at the Town Meeting Hall during a moot for the Aldormen that Bumfick would have two distinguished residents from Away. When the floor was opened for questions, only Meddybemps raised his hand.
“How far away?”
The Dutch and the Anglos looked at each other and murmured, and then everyone turned to the barkeep who made no eye contact and instead stared deeply into his shoes while humming Yankee Doodle as he fiddled with the buttons on his overcoat.
“Where will they go?”
A dour rumbling seized the Englishmen, who were not fully sure how an Irishmen and Frenchmen were distinguishable from being Papists. There was an audible sound of sphincters slamming shut, which is why the Dutchies came to call us tight asses. The Dutch side of the Meeting Hall warmly cackled before a representative of the Dutchies spoke, saying: “we’ll take them all! There’s room for everyone.” The English side of the room collectively sighed relief. Without further ado, Uncle Meddybemps stood and returned to his farm. It was said he was smiling. On the inside.
Time went by, days and weeks. It was maybe a month of Sundays that the English passed their lives. Blissfully ignorant of the freckled question making its way through the Dutch side of town. But then it happened. After church one day, after Church at the Town Meeting the English mayor announced that the Irish would be moving to the East side of town. Murmurs ensued, the collective tightening was heard.
The “two” immigrants were trotted up to the podium and shown to the townsfolk, leaving behind a small army of sadd and underfed children. The mayor gently elbowed one of them, muttering “well go on, speak up, tell us your names!”
“I’m Seamus Shenaniganohara, from a County you can’t pronounce” said the one, “and I’m Patrick MacDunce, who is also from a County you can’t pronounce. These are our children, they were born yesterday.”
At that moment the dourness of the congregation reached a peak so.fevered that the collective tight assery achieved negative pressure causing boats to sink in nearby Massachusetts. No words were said as the English looked to the West side of the hall, which was suspiciously devoid of Dutchies to represent themselves on that day.
“Don’t worry,” the English mayor said, “I’m sure Ireland sends it’s best! Besides! They already speak English…. Unlike the ungrateful French!”
The nervous shifting and tired resignation gave way to calm acceptance as the English returned to their lives, and Seamus and Patrick to their new flats on mainstreet where the workers lived. When the curfew bell struck and the English went to bed with the sinking sun, all seemed well. “They’re just like us,” the English told themselves, “they speak English.” All was well. All was well.
Until Uncle Meddybemps was awoken by a frightful scream. And another. Another still. Quickly donning his nightcap, Meddybemps rushed outside to see Seamus and Patrick engaged in a wrestling match. Blood soaked the streets.
“What the devil!?” Beddybemps cried. “What in God’s Name is going on?”
“Seamus called me an imbecile!” Patrick roared as he punched his compatriot in the spleen, “and he won’t tell me what it means!!”
“You don’t already know?” Meddybemps asked.
Seamus rebounded by kicking Patrick in the groin, causing him to fall to his knees. “Of course not, he’s an idiot!”
“Stop it!” Beddybemps implored them, “there’s no need for this!”
But it was too late. Seamus picked up Patrick over his head and threw him like a sack of potatoes: and his head smashed Meddybemps’ kitchen window. Meddybemps drew his hands to his face with an exasperated gasp and proceeded to shoo the Irishman away with a stick while the constable arrived with a wagon to collect the unconscious Patrick. As the constable knelt down to collect the man, he noticed a flask leaking in his pocket.
“what’s this? Booze?”
“Well now, that can’t be, Bumfick is a dry town. It came about when we banned happiness. And the French.”
The two Anglos went on agreeing with each other dumbly, as Patrick slowly regained awareness in the back of the wagon. “Well I think I’ll be on me way,” he said brightly, as he stood up and fell off the edge of the wagon before dusting off and walking away.
“But you’ve been detained…” The constable rather weakly pined.
“Why thank you!” Patrick said, “mighty kind of you! But I’m better now, and it’s fit time to wake up, I think.”
The constable turned to Meddybemps who said “reckon he don’t know what detained means.” And that was that, the dejected constable returned to the jailhouse with no one to jail. And Meddybemps, he went to the Carpenter’s Hall to trade for a window. Being handy, he was able to fit it himself – but it took the better part of the day, so he was not able to get out and watch his crops.
The following morning began more or less the same way. Only this time it was Patrick who smashed Seamus’s face through the glass in revenge. The Patty Wagon was called. And this time the constable insisted. “No thank you,” Patrick said, before walking away. The English were confounded. Clearly these people had no concept of law. Or order. Or decency.
Every morning came more or less the same way for Meddybemps. He would awake before dawn, call the constable, and then replace his window. The English for the first time began to read Greek myths aloud since when the Puritans had banned them. The freckled question had it’s answer in myth. Sysiphus had his rock, but Meddybemps had his Irish. A secret Town Meeting was called. A resolution was passed, we English hadn’t been clear. As obviously violence and property damage were ways of life in Ireland, we had simply to inform them of the English way.
Go to bed early, wake up early. Don’t drink, don’t fight, be polite. The two Irish were given pamphlets with the virtues of both Franklin and Jefferson. And that was that. The problem, it was deemed, was solved. But for the fact that the next morning Meddybemps awoke to the fighting Irish bleeding in the streets. He politely referred them to the pamphlets, and ordered a new window.
This cosmic struggle went on, and the English came to set their days no longer by the crowing cock – but the crying Gaul. But there were stirrings. The English farmers and builders were mad. The Aldormen knew well the untapped horror of a good Englishman who teaches the end of his rope. So drastic measures were taken. The barkeep put up a sign. It looked like this:
“That’ll learn them,” Meddybemps was the first to say. But the violence continued. The Carpenter put up a sign saying “no Irish need apply,” and on it went.
But nothing happened! In time we learned that only half of Ireland was literate, and Seamus refused to translate the signs to Patrick because he thought it was funny. We were not amused. Great pressure was applied to Seamus to reform his frenemy, a word heretofore unknown to us. And he did. Begrudgingly.
Slowly, and not surely, the Irish settled in. The drinking lessened as word from Connecticut came in about a secret fraternity of Irishmen who swore of drinking. The Knights of Columbus, or somesuch upstartery. Still. The existence of secret Popery was tolerated insofar as Meddybemps found himself repairing windows five times a week, and then three. Real progress was made when he was replacing his window at precisely the same time his wife had her monthly visitor.
The carpenter took down his sign, and found that when sober, the Irish were fine builders. So the barkeep was fired and the tavern closed. A dour sadness ensconced Bumfick, as mumblings against prohibition occurred. But it was worth the sacrifice. Productivity increased, and violence decreased.
In time, Meddybemps was hired on as a carpenter’s apprentice and windows at long last became a common facet of the Yankee home. There was, however, no farmer, and many people began to starve. But the problem was solved! Assimilation had been achieved. “Just like us,” became the watchword of the day, as the English viciously guarded political positions with increasingly extreme prejudice. Eventually Shenaniganohara changed his name to Shannon, which seemed English enough to some. The No Irish signs came down, and all were well. Except for one man in the Ghetto named Schlomo who took the signs and kept him in his attic where he would trot them out on the days his cousins needed to distract the Customs Officers at Ellis Island.
But that is truly a story for another day.