My Irish ancestors came to the United States to escape the potato famine in Ireland. In this picture of my great-great grandfather, Daniel Murphy, you can see in his eyes how tired and beaten-down he was. Next to him is Bridget Murphy, his daughter, who was clearly a spunky lass. In fact, Bridget and her 11 rowdy siblings showed great courage when they took a chance and went to help populate California. San Francisco was known as somewhat wild back then and my ancestors joined the fun. My black-haired, wisecracking grandfather, Joe, was nicknamed “Blacky” after Clark Gable’s colorful saloon-keeper character in the movie, “San Francisco”, which is a great movie about that time.
When “Blacky” got older, he was pretty much just “Grandpa Joe” who wore the same plaid shirts every day. He had overcome obstacles so he lived plainly but for his wealth of jokes and many friends. His immigrant parents could only afford to put one son in law school and they didn’t pick my grandfather. He was disappointed but that was the usual deal for immigrant families back then with scarce resources.
Grandpa Joe learned the trades. My grandmother, Alice, did their business bookkeeping and wistfully indulged in little fancy things like perfumes and jewelry. Grandpa Joe kept a few small vices too, such as betting on horses. The first rule was to bet on any horse that had the name of a family member. This was purely sentimental but fortunately there really aren’t that many horses named, for example, “Alice”. If there were no family names, his next rule was a lot more practical: he chose the best horse trainers according to his inside track knowledge. Like Grandpa Joe’s betting system, my immigrant relatives were soft at heart, but also hard-nosed by necessity. There was no going back, they had to put forth their best efforts here.
Subsequent generations of my family had the opportunity to pursue higher education and work in law, business, science, and politics. However, my immigrant forebears who were employed in heavy labor such as construction accomplished by far the most in terms of creating a future for their descendants in the United States.
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