Actress Kate Mulgrew exhibits an Irish talent for storytelling in her new memoir, "Born With Teeth" (Little, Brown). In it, she regales the reader with tales of her large Irish family (including the childhood deaths of two siblings), her TV and film career (her credits include "Ryan's Hope," "Cheers," "Star Trek: Voyager" and "Orange Is the New Black"), and her quest to find the daughter she once gave up for adoption.
In the excerpt below, Mulgrew writes of her parents, who knew how to drink, dance, talk and "stir up the devil"
I started out in a green house with a red door in a small town, where mysteries abounded. Immediately after issuing me into the world, my mother took me to this house and put me in a shoebox, which she placed on the dining room table so that one and all might come and gaze upon my perfect miniature beauty. Hands like starfish, to hear her tell it, grave but ravishing cornflower-blue eyes, and, most remarkable of all, a set of baby teeth. Two pearls on top and two, nonpareil, on the bottom. Shakespeare, my mother said, would have a field day. The neighborhood ladies were not impressed and stood there in silent judgment with arms crossed over pregnant stomachs. It wasn't good form to crow about your child's beauty, especially considering the vast numbers of children that populated those Irish-German households. My mother, however, was undaunted and maintained her frantic vigil until she convinced herself that I, her first daughter, was growing even tinier than I had been at birth. Alarmed, she rushed me to the hospital and demanded that I be incubated. Dr. Sharp, her obstetrician, shook his head but to no avail. And so it was that in that strange aquarium of light and warmth, my mother's face pressed against the glass, I developed a constitution that could only ever be described as able and hardy.
My father observed my growing appetite for solid food with ill-concealed contempt. "Jesus. H. Christ," he would mutter as I shoved yet another fistful of banana pudding into my mouth, "I'm going to the Lux Club for a belt." Of course, the Lux Club at happy hour was thick with young Catholic fathers looking for a quick reprieve before heading home to their harried wives and hordes of screaming children. These strapping Irish boys would then stumble home to find the madhouse magically transformed into an oasis of quiet, children tucked in, dishes done, the lovely young wife lying achingly still in the bed. He might whisper "Shhh" if she started to turn and then, oh so quickly, the nightgown was up over her thighs and the deed was done in a lightning flash so that neither he nor she could ever remember with nostalgia the actual moment in which any of their children was conceived.
My father was not surprised when Dr. Sharp visited and announced that I would need a special crib, one with bars on all sides as well as over the top because would you believe it, said the good doctor, but this kid has no sense of pain. Mother was delighted by the novelty of this condition and stood stoically by as my baby teeth were pulled, quickly and without incident, so as to prevent my eating them. I was too young to wink with intention, but I like to think I caught my father's eye as he pulled on his overcoat and invoked yet again the name of his secret friend, Jesus. H. Christ.
Babies appeared with maddening regularity. The bassinette, to my horror, was constantly emptied of one baby and filled with another. This was a sleight of hand I simply could not grasp, and yet I was told sternly that this was my younger brother Joe and to always rely on my older brother Tom and to hold this newest one gently and quietly because she was just an infant and her name was Maggie. I was given a bottle and told to feed this baby while the other kids went streaking out the front door to the Old Lot across the street, where all the neighborhood children were at play. Screams of pleasure and abandon pierced the living room where I sat in an armchair holding my baby sister, who seemed to me quite leaden, swathed, as she was, in thick cotton blankets. My resentment blossomed into rage when it dawned on me that I was not to be allowed my freedom that afternoon, that I was, in fact, being held prisoner by this lump of obligation called a sister and that not only had my siblings abandoned me but my mother had as well.