Wednesday, July 14, 2010

A bit of French DNA makes me nostalgic on Bastille Day

Not much singing in my grandfather's house on Bastille Day.

Martin Hett was born on July 14 inside a thatched hut in County Roscommon, Ireland, either in 1899 or 1900 -- there always seemed to be some confusion about the year. My sister Molly had to dig up his birth certificate in order to apply for dual Irish/U.S. citizenship. Maybe she knows the year.

Martin had many siblings -- and step-siblings. An evil stepmother, too. If it was a nice day in Roscommon on that Bastille Day so long ago, he might have been born outside to avoid the crowds. A few hundred miles away in Paris, fireworks were erupting, illuminating the Eiffel Tower and the wine-flushed faces of thousands of French citoyens. By 1918, a lot of them would be dead in the mud of their homeland.

And Ireland would be a free state. And Martin Hett would be in America not singing "La Marseillaise." He'd be working, though. A hard worker, not much for singing, even though he came from Irish and French stock. De la Hett was the family name, according to one family geneologist. The name brought to Ireland with a Frenchman intent on kicking Brit ass but probably winding up hanged from a gibbet, or just hanged, which was more economical.

But not before he gave a Roscommon lass his Gallic seed and part of his name.

"Let's storm the Bastille!"

"Fine, but let's make some time for a pint."

The French were many times unsuccessful in dislodging the British from Ireland, which was then part of the globe-spanning British Empire. Not clear how many French soldiers survived to mate. At least one.

And here I am, contemplating Bastille Day on a Wyoming afternoon.

I don't feel French. But I do like "La Marseillaise." A rousing anthem about revolution. Remember the scene from "Casablanca" when Victor Laszlo leads the patrons in "La Marseillaise?" One of my favorite movie moments.

During the U.S. invasion of Iraq, many American super-patriots hated the French, who would not cooperate in our misadventure. You recall the whole "freedom fries" fiasco? I do. So stupid. The French have been with us in Afghanistan. The last time I checked, 45 French soldiers had died in the fighting.

I have DNA ties to Ireland and France, although I've never visited either country.

Now, let's celebrate with a pint (or maybe a hometown microbrew) and then storm the Bastille.

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