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We're French!

| Sunday, March 2, 2003

My father still hasn't gotten over the news.

About nine years ago I was researching our family background. My father's father died when my dad was only 3 years old, so I found some people who knew the man and wrote a column about him. In the process, I learned something tragic about my Great Grandma Purcell. She wasn't Irish, like we thought.

She was French.

As painful as it was for me to learn this tragic news -- as painful as it is to make this family secret public now -- my father has taken it especially hard.

Father used to tell us about our Great Grandma Purcell. She was full of wit and spirit. She had a huge, loving heart. She also had a distillery in the basement, as all good Irish families in Pittsburgh did during Prohibition.

So when I first told him she was French, he didn't take it well.

"The Hell we're French!" he said.

I can't blame father for his reaction. I certainly don't want to be French.

It's partly because of the way they run their affairs over there. They seem to enjoy the large socialist economy that produces lots of bureaucrats, impediments to business growth and high unemployment rates.

It's partly because of their lack of gratitude. After a good run in the 19th century, they suffered many military setbacks in the 20th century, and America bailed them out. We sacrificed American lives to liberate them in World War I. And after they let the Germans waltz in, we sacrificed more American lives to liberate them in World War II.

It's partly because they are so snooty. The French are against everything American just because it is from America. They pass laws to keep our movies and culture out (though I can't entirely fault them there). They treat American tourists with rudeness and disgust. And they resist every solution we offer about anything, particularly the situation with Saddam Hussein.

My family has been trying to come to grips with our terrible secret. We meet with a counselor monthly and he is helping us face our French heritage head on.

During one session, I realized I suffer from many French tendencies. When I was a lad, for instance, my friends and I built a shack in the woods. We kept our Playboys in there, which were prized possessions back in the 1970s.

Well, the Seifert boys, a surly group of ruffians in a neighboring borough, heard about our stash and wanted at them. We tried to placate the brothers. We gave them our Barbie Benton issue in exchange for peace. But this appeasement only whetted their appetite. They attacked anyhow, and we ran off like a pack of gazelles with wild hyenas on our tails.

Our counselor says my family has a tendency to exaggerate the positive aspects of our Irish heritage, while downplaying the fact that we're almost half German. He pointed out that the Germans have been almost as difficult as the French where Iraq is concerned. That may be true, but we don't mind being half German. It is because of our Irish-German mix that we're able to drink so efficiently.

Our counselor says that to embrace our French heritage, we should focus on the more positive aspects of being French. Napoleon was no sissy. Joan of Arc was a terrific testament to courage. And France is a beautiful country rich in culture and history. I know he's right. It just seems to me that France would be so much nicer if the French didn't live there.

In any event, I think father is finally coming around. It was he who introduced the rest of the family to Cognac, and I think he's on to something.

When you drink enough of that stuff, being French isn't so bad after all.

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