back to Niagara Falls Reporter main page

back to Niagara Falls Reporter archive


By S.K. Brown

I am seeing red, but no one cares, not even my family and it's a family thing I'm a bit miffed about. In a week or so, I'm heading to upper lower Michigan for the "naming day" of my grandniece Aislynn Morgaine. Two good solid Celtic names. The dissonance comes from the fact little Aislynn's last name is Kaminski. Parents have such blind spots when they name offspring. If that isn't bad enough, her doting grandfather is already calling her his own "little sugar ass." This can scar a child. I was named after my grandmothers and for years I was called by those two names at the same time. Until I put my foot down -- I was about 25 -- and said I would answer to Susan or Kathryn but if I got called Susie Kate one more time I was running away from home.

But it's not Aislynn's name that has me seeing red, nor is it that I am expected to appear at a Naming Ceremony, a Druid christening of sorts, intended to denote the child is not obliged to take the spiritual direction decreed by her parents, giving said child a free hand to join the Hari Krishna and humiliate the family. Truly, I'm delighted my niece Cassie is continuing a Celtic tradition that survived St. Patrick. Druids were a lot tougher to drive out of Ireland than snakes. So the traditions survived.

For the last 200 years, the women on my mother's side of the family -- we are talking a passel of females -- have been healers, teachers or witches, a regular coven of Druids.

I have so many nurses in my family that they specialize. You got a gastric thing going on, you call my cousin Maureen. You have combat stress, you call my cousin Tracey, who is also an army major. Dealing with an anxiety attack? Call my sister Erin, who knows when to tell you to get a grip. Woman worked with the criminally insane and understands the importance of a firm hand. For everything else, I call my mother, who always starts her diagnosis of my illness with the words, "You should quit smoking and cut down on your drinking." I'm dying and she's worried about my vices.

As to teachers, my maternal grandmother emigrated from County Kilkenny to become a governess to a grand Irish-American family in Grand Rapids, Mich., who wanted their children to read and write Gaelic. Gran tutored them in that ancient language until she met fisherman-farmer McCauley from Beaver Island by way of County Kerry and married him.

I tried to be a teacher once. I was a substitute for two months and my vague dreams of nurturing young minds vanished in one week. There's nothing like reality to snap you back to reality. I have no patience with myself, let alone children. They're so logical in their illogic. "But, Mrs. Brown, I didn't need to go five minutes ago. Now I do." This statement is delivered in a pathetic whine while the child does the squirm dance of "get me to the bathroom quick."

Thus I became a witch. It was the only family business open to me. My cousin Kitty was in the same boat, but she now manages a bank. The roads not taken, right?

I believe my niece Cassie is following in my footsteps, except with her, we're talking Glinda the Good Witch from "The Wizard of Oz," rather than my own rendition of the Wicked Witch of Western New York. But how could she give me the word "apathy" to provide a "blessing" to her child? See, at a naming ceremony, one's family and friends are given a word by the parents and are expected to respond with a poem, a song, a wish for good fortune in their own words, and/or something they own and treasure which represents this "blessing." And I get a word to bless this darlin' child of a darlin' child that means not giving a damn about anything.

Apathy is not something I encourage or even wish on my enemies. I truly believe every one of us should be screaming the planet down when our leaders, not to mention our near and dear, screw up. Of course, if I did want to give her a token of apathy, I could give her before-and-after snapshots of Main Street, where we've had five decades of apathy between short bursts of community greed. But I'll be damned if I'm going to encourage failure in blood kin.

I called Grandpa Kerry, aka my brother, and asked him if Cassie had made a major mistake in my blessing word. Typically male, he just complained he had it worse because he got "wisdom," and since he didn't own an encyclopedia, what was a man to do? As an answer to my question, it sucked, but as the compassionate sister I am, I advised him to get a grip and call Erin.

Thus, I was forced to go to the source of my blessing word.

"Cassie, I am not going to bless this child with apathy. I want this child to be passionate about life and willing to confront wrong when and where needed." Not eloquent, but to the point.

My niece just laughed. "The blessing is in the power of the giver. You want to tell her apathy is a curse? Give her a blessing that will protect her from that evil. I believe you can."

A challenge. I do love that little Druid.

So I'm wracking my brain to discover the antidote to apathy. Because in the world we're creating for Aislynn, full of pedophiles and terrorists, school violence and street violence, apathy is a curse. Aislynn needs the brains to chart a life that is true to her talents and integrity, and still make a bit of cash. She needs the heart to love her fellow men, even when they don't deserve it. And she needs the courage to keep going, whatever misery life hands her.

For the gift part, I'm thinking of giving her a spare George Foreman grill I got at Christmas. Just kidding. An aside: Apparently both family and friends are aware of my cooking skills. Trust me, dear ones, I can burn meat to cinders regardless of the appliance. It was a blessing given me by an evil second cousin once removed.

Actually, I'm considering conferring on this precious child my revered copy of the collected poems of Emily Dickinson, "Final Harvest." Emily had what I would call a spare life, but she saw beauty and hope in the smallest things, even as she grieved a loss. Maybe I'll read my favorite poem of hers. If I haven't been hooked to stage left by then, I'll sing "Amazing Grace," because I love that song and my singing is sure to move the gathering into overdrive to get me gone.

I may be just a witch, but I'm damn good at my job.

S.K. Brown is a freelance journalist who worked for 14 years for Knight Ridder Newspapers in Detroit and Toronto.

Niagara Falls Reporter June 11 2002