>circa 1956


This is the O’Keeffe homestead in County Waterford, Ireland. My father just shared it on Facebook for all his nieces and nephews, being as he is one of two left in his generation. He’s kept the family tree, kept the family stories, held us all together. If we knew anything while growing up, it was our O’Keefe heritage, our Montana roots, and the ability to listen to stories. I used to write in my bio that I had been raised in a family of story-tellers. What I should have written was that I am the least of those tellers.

Driving Home from My Father’s House by Way of County Waterford

Mom was sure we’d get through the storm if we ate
a hot breakfast first. Eight inches of snow was blowing
into twelve. Outside my pickup was warming up

for the 220 miles of hazardous Montana spring weather.
We filled our plates, drank fresh juice, and answered our cell phones.
Friends from Billings were warning us the sooner you leave

the better. Which way should I go, I asked Dad, Judith Gap
or Roundup? I rehearsed for certain trouble: tire chains, 4 wheel low,
melting snow for water; but the worst that’s ever happened to me

are things that never did. There’s truth in that saying and I give
my ancestors the credit. Dad peppered his eggs and blew on his coffee,
then measured us with that look. He jabbed thick Irish fingers towards

his two grandkids. Listen, I’ve got sometime to tell you. In the midst
of road reports and measured drifts, he told them where their names
were born: where the nose of County Waterford meets the County of Cork

are sixty nine acres of ancient O’Keeffe homestead. He swirled a potato
in his egg and repeated the words I was raised with: You’ll get to where
you want to go by remembering where you’re from.


About redmitten

author of Cracking Geodes Open, Making Good Use of August, and The Peppermint Bottle. poetry editor for IthacaLit. website: https://toomuchaugust.wordpress.com

5 responses to “>circa 1956

  1. >Wonderful. Also loved your poem at Leveler. I sent in a comment!Reading Sweetgrass, set in Montana, by Micah Ling (Sunnyoutside, 2010, forthcoming), something you might be interested in….

  2. >this poem kicks butt! it starts out and pulls the reader in, and as you read along, you wonder and wonder if this story is really all that great, is her dad really going to say something fantastic, etc – and then, in the end, it totally is worth it and fantastic!!! it's so hard to tell a family story without sounding overly sentimental, isn't it? i ordered your book from amazon, and am looking forward to reading it!i like the idea of doing a blog like this – using old photos, exploring my family history….

  3. >Hi Sherry, You are a wonderful storyteller! Thanks for sharing this story of your father. My family name on my mother's side is named after a farm in Finland. As I understand it, the farm is still there, along with relatives I doubt I will ever meet. I have pictures of the farm from around the 1940s, though family ownership goes back to at least the end of the 19th century. Thank you for reminding me!

  4. >How lucky for you to have this photo. I have now traced my farthest ancestors to 1740 from around Galway/Cork/Kerry. I have yet to uncover any pictures though. I imagine they have long since disintegrated into dust. To inherit story telling is such a precious gift. Luck of the Irish!

  5. >kathleen,i've made a note of that book- sounds wonderful! have you watched the documentary "sweetgrass"? it was filmed not too far from where i live. i will track down ling's book- if it is forthcoming, is there a best way to obtain a copy to help the author out?hi annie,oh wow, finland! i bet those photos are stirring. my father has spent years tracking down relatives who once lived at this homestead- i wonder if one day you might track down yours??hi kerry,you know what, we could end up related. i think i've said that before- the way your blog feels like home to me. when i was a kid, there was a favorite priest in town with your last name. he grew up in ireland. luck? oh yes!

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