Fee, Fie, Fo Fum, I Have the Blood of an Englishman

I’m sitting at my computer listening to Phil Coulter sing “Take Me Home” and I’m getting homesick. I’m also wondering why I’m getting homesick.

Phil Coulter is an Irishman. His songs are probably better known than he. Elvis fans might recognize a song called “My Boy.” It made it to number 3 in 1974. Other songs written by Mr. Coulter include “Steal Away” and “Gold and Silver Days.” Most of his music is about Ireland. I’m originally from Pittsburgh. So why do I get homesick listening to songs about Ireland.

I could say it all began when my bride and I visited Ireland (for the first time) a few years ago. But I think it goes back much farther than that. I think it goes back to the late 1940’s in Pittsburgh.

Old timers might remember that Pittsburgh was once known as the “Smokey City.” Old Smokey got its name from the heavy industry that covered Western Pennsylvania like a blanket of soot. The three rivers were lined with steel mills. The surrounding area was covered with coke furnaces, coal mines, and other factories related to the steel industry.

A modern shopping center now sits on a piece of land once used by the Jones & Laughlin Steel Corporation to dump slag – a worthless by-product of the steel making process. Families would spend an evening parked on state route 51 watching the slag dumped from giant rail cars. It was like watching a lava flow. To us children, it was an extra Fourth of July.

Prior to 1950, our home, and most other homes, schools, offices, and factories in the area, were kept warm in the winter by coal burning furnaces. In addition to the heavy smoke in the air of Pittsburgh, there was a very distinctive odor. And that brings us to the initial Irish connection.

As soon as we walked out of the airport in Shannon, Ireland, I was transported back to my childhood. The Irish, you see, still use coal extensively to heat their homes. They also use compressed peat, which produces a similar odor. Surprisingly few homes rely exclusively on central heating. Most of their sitting rooms include a small fireplace. Unlike the United States, instead of burning wood, they burn coal and compressed peat.

My bride and I had a marvelous time in Ireland. The people were extremely friendly and the countryside was beautiful. I could say similar things about many of the places I’ve visited, but Ireland was unique because of the pervasive odor. I think that was the one attribute that made me feel so at home.

The connection doesn’t stop there. Hang on to your hats while I explain a theory of mine and give you more reasons why I might be homesick for a place where I’ve never lived for any extended period of time.

I have a theory to explain reincarnation. We’ve all heard about people like Shirley MacLaine who, through hypnosis or other methods, discovered, and believe that they walked this earth many years, or centuries, ago. In prior lives they might have been a different sex and attained a higher or lower social position, but they firmly believe they’ve been here before.

Some religions consider reincarnation a fact of life. The scared cows of India are animals that cannot be slaughtered and eaten because they may be relatives who have returned to earth in a different form.

In 1967 I was working at a mental institution near Canonsburg, Pennsylvania. Some of you might recognize that Canonsburg was the birthplace of Perry Como. Bobby Vinton also grew up in that area. Neither spent any time in the place where I worked… that I’m aware of. Years before it had been a reform school for boys. One never knows!

One day a medical scientist came and gave a lecture on his research. The main thrust of his report was how he could control the behavior of laboratory rats by sending electrical impulses to different areas of the rats’ brains. While that was rather interesting, a side note is what really caught my attention.

The scientist explained how they trained rats to negotiate a maze by rewarding them with food. Once a rat learned the maze and could zip through it repeatedly, they killed the rat, chopped up its brain, and fed the brain to other rats. The rats that ate the chopped up brain learned the maze much more quickly than the rats that were not fed the chopped up brain.

I’m not sure what the scientist’s point was in this research. I don’t think he wanted us to chop up the brain of Albert Einstein and feed it to our children. I really don’t know what his purpose was.

I do know that it got me to thinking. The result of that experiment indicates to me that memories are stored in parts of the body other than the brain. By ingesting the brain cells of a rat that had learned the maze, the other rats were able to use the memories of the slain rat.

So what would stop us from gaining the memories of others by being created from their cells? Each of us was created by the combination of our parents’ cells. We know that our DNA is a direct result of that combination.

Perhaps we got more than our eye and hair color, facial features, general size, and intelligence from mom and dad. Perhaps we also picked up some of their more significant memories. And, since they inherited similar memories from their parents, we also acquired the memories of many generations.

It’s all in our cells someplace. We simply need the correct stimulus to bring it out. Be it hypnosis, a concussion, or some other type of shock, we’re all capable of recognizing something we’ve never seen before. Have you ever heard of Déjà Vu?

That’s my theory. Every one of us is a combination of all our ancestors. Would anyone like to guess where my ancestors came from? If you’re thinking somewhere in the British Isles, you’re absolutely right.

On my father’s side, we have traced the family tree back to 1620. That’s the year that Thomas Leeds was born in Kent, England. In 1676, he and his three sons left religious persecution and came to America. They settled in New Jersey. Twelve generations have passed and most of the Leeds men (in my line) have married woman of similar backgrounds. There is a liberal sprinkling of Scotch, Irish, and Welsh along with the English.

My mother’s maiden name was O’Hare. We haven’t been able to trace her ancestry as far back as my father’s, but we do know that most of her ancestors came from somewhere in the British Isles.

So there’s a second reason for me being homesick listening to an Irish song. Before I go any father, let me share the words of the song with you.

I sit here drinking while the sun is sinking low o’er the mountain and the dry dusty ground.

As the night is fallin’, I start recallin’ the nights in my own home town.

I see their faces in familiar places, I hear the music that we played back then:

My heart rejoices as I hear their voices calling me home again.

Home, oh! Take me home, home to the people I left behind.

Home to the love I know I’ll find: oh! Take me home.

As the sky is burning, my mind is turning to the cold winter evenings by my own fireside.

So far away now, but any day now, I’ll sail on the morning tide.

Home, oh! Take me home, home to the people I left behind.

Home to the love I know I’ll find: oh! Take me home.

Perhaps those words make you homesick for your own hometown. But they don’t make me homesick for Pittsburgh. They make me want to pack up and go to England, Ireland, Wales, or Scotland. As I mentioned, my bride and I were in Ireland several years ago.

Over the years my job took me to London four times. The first three were only for a day or so. The last trip lasted three months. I know I thoroughly enjoyed the atmosphere of the pubs; most visitors do. But I also loved the food. Steak and Kidney pie or pudding, fish and chips, bangers and mash, bubble and squeak, shepherd’s pie, and many other dishes made me feel right at home.

Maybe what I really miss is the British food and ale. I’ll have to cook myself a steak and kidney pie, get a six-pack of Bass Ale, and see if that cures me. For some reason, I think any effects will be temporary. Maybe I should stop listening to Phil Coulter.

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