The "Little Fella" of County Queens
The first house my parents owned was in Astoria, Queens. For those unfamiliar with Queens, NY( and Astoria more specifically )picture Archie Bunkers house from "All in the Family" but attached, not detached, a real working class ethnically diverse area, walk to the subway, walk to the corner store-type of place. Its still that way nicely enough. They lived there in the late 1960s along with my brother who was about 4 at the time, my sister who was about 8 and myself who was just born, think i have one wrinkled picture of myself there and In that very same picture is the main character of this story, my fathers mom, who also lived there and was a little bit senile, but Irish senile, which is like a charming way of being crazy.
My mom had her hands full with the three of us and even though she and my dad knew granny was a little off in the head, they just let her do her own thing. This is a woman that had 13 children and was born and raised in County Clare, Ireland so it must have been confusing for her to love in such a place as Queens in her golden years, so the senility was just buffered somehow by this. This might sound odd to people but i dont have a real concept of grandparents, she was the last one and died when i was about 2, my parents are Irish immigrants and my Moms dad was the only other one that even came to America, he played a fiddle and banged around New York in the 1930's then had enough and went back to Ireland to marry a woman 20 years younger than him, so the sex alone killed him. My fathers dad died long ago and I still dont know of what, and my moms mother died over there in Ireland as well, of what i dont know. So I like this little story because shes the only one that ever met me and she was quite the character in the hood back in the day.
My granny liked to just take off taking long walks I have been told. She helped my mom a little but was in her 80s so, even in her senility flet she was getting in the way, so she took off to the park, which she like quite a bit or chilled with some other older Irish people in the neighborhood she could relate to. She also had a habit of talking to kids and just bugging out on people which concerned my dad because he was worried she would be seen as some crazy old lady who bothers kids or who kids bothered. My dad was a steamfitter and worked his ass off all day rigging buildings in Manhattan, my mom stayed home with us and we were a happy little band of leprechauns. My dad used to tell me he would just go to the local diners and delis and pay the owner at the end of the week if his mom would eat there, shed get some food and go to the park or sit at the diner drinking tea. He knew she was a little off in the head but I think he also knew she'd never do well at all in a nursing home or other facility and was functional enough, so although it stressed him he just let her roam around. My dad was a real hard ass so i always thought it was very sweet of him to do this. He had a horrible relationship with his father and I think it was a way for him to take care of his mom and let her see that he did well in this country. I have no memory of her at all really but he said she was very good around us and kids in the neighborhood just got a kick out of her. She always wore a dress and mad big black boots with eyelets on them for laces. My dad was always relieved when she was home when he would get home and if she wasn't he'd take a walk looking for her, if she really roamed, he'd get in his Rambler and drive around looking for her. The only other picture I ever saw of her was in the Rambler, this jet black car with red interior, its a funny picture because she looks all cute and confused.
She would talk to a lot of neighborhood people and come home telling my mom about this and that, the lady down the block is pregnant, the kid down the block broke his leg, such and such a store opened or closed, that sort of thing. Then one day my mom said she started talking about this "little fella" down the block. "Oh that little fella is something else", "Oh the little fella was in a bad mood today", " Oh the little fella told me a funny story today", she'd say. My mom knew the whole block and didnt really know any tiny man that she'd talk to so she brought it up to my dad in case she was talking to a neighbors kid too much. So my dad kept it in mind and tried to see what she was up to when he came home from work. Not much out of the ordinary happened for a week or so, he said she'd talk to kids a little, sit on a neighbors stoop for a bit, pet a neighbors dog, typical stuff. Then one day he noticed her leaning way over a neighbors fence for a few minutes, At first he thought she was plucking flowers out of there or something, so he walked over to get a closer look.
The closer he got he realized she was talking and laughing, as if in a conversation, and hoped there was a dog or a cat in the yard. Then he realized who she was talking to. It was a garden gnome. A little one with a lantern, a red hat and green pants tucked into this small , just-off-the-sidewalk yard. There he was, it was the "Little Fella" himself. A leprechaun. In Queens.