Potatoes. They’re the reason I’m here in North America.
I was born one hundred years after An Gorta Mor (the Great Hunger) began. I live in a world of material abundance, secularity, instant – and constant – communication, automobiles and airplanes. I can pick up a phone and reach friends across the sea as quickly as those down the street. It would be as impossible for my Irish great-grandparents to comprehend my world today as it is for me to understand the world they knew as children when the blight hit.
But I try anyway. I read and wonder and struggle to peel back the years to catch a glimpse of what they might have seen or heard or felt. I imagine there is an echo of their memory somewhere in mine.
The story of the Great Irish Potato Famine of 1845 – 1851 is not a story about potato blight. It’s a story about poverty, about the role of government and about a chasm between socio-economic classes so great that those at the top and those at the bottom may as well have been living on different planets. Continue reading →
In the south end of Evanston, Lee Street comes to an abrupt dead-end at Sherman Avenue. Appropriately, it was Sherman whose scorched earth “March to the Sea” was the beginning of the dead-end of any hope for General Lee’s confederate army in the U.S. Civil War. Not to be forgotten up on the north end of town, General Grant and President Lincoln are duly honored with dignified tree-lined streets.
Our city’s original street names – in addition to the customary Main and Central – commemorate war heroes, local founders of the city, landowners and several varieties of trees. Some American cities and suburbs get more creative: I used to live in University City, (the location of Washington University) just west of St. Louis. University City’s founder had big dreams of creating a utopian place of learning and named every street after an American college or university.
What goes into naming a place? Who gets to decide? What was the original meaning and what does it mean now? Continue reading →