The following was written by Penelope Siig… I think of my dad every St. Patrick’s Day, so here, a slightly-amended version of what has become an annual tribute:
My dad, Brendan Jennings, at right, left Ireland with his brother Jack when he was just 17 (1927). He and Jack made their way to San Francisco, where their older brother, Owen, a pharmacist, had established his business. Dad studied to be a pharmacist as well but opted to take a job with McKesson & Robbins, Inc. where he met my mother Dorothea.
He joined the Army shortly after Pearl Harbor and was sent to China (via Newfoundland, the Azores, across North Africa and India and finally over the Himalayas) in 1945 as part of a Special Forces/OSS mission to liberate the Japanese civilian internment camps there. Because he had an eidetic memory and could easily pick up just about any language, he stayed in China for a period of weeks to support repatriation efforts. In 1946, he was awarded the Special Breast Order of Yun Hui (Order of the Cloud and Banner).
pictured at left, brothers Brendan (l), Jack, and Fr. Michael (r)
below right, Brendan and Dorothea
My parents were divorced when I was just two, so I didn’t really get to know and appreciate my dad until I was in my thirties. He never lost his Irish brogue, quick wit, and sense of humor and remained true to his Irish Catholic faith. A lifelong Democrat, avid reader, historian, poet and writer whose editorials were frequently published in the SF Examiner and Chronicle, he often wrote to President Kennedy and Robert Kennedy to offer his advice and enjoyed a long-term correspondence with SF Mayor George Moscone. He had a beautiful tenor voice as well. I was hoping to restore or at least be able to listen to some of those old recordings of his (Bakelite 78’s) that I found a couple of years ago, but sadly, they are beyond repair.
When I first visited Ireland with my son in 1998, only one of Dad’s seven siblings, younger brother Gerard, was still living. Uncle Gerry (an artist, accomplished landscape and scenery painter, and co-founder of the Kilbeggan Players, among other things) had some wonderful memories to share including a story about how my dad could write backwards without a second thought and would trick Gerry into believing that it was a form of ancient Greek code.
I learned much more about my dad [color photo above left in 1988], his family home in Mullingar, and my Irish family on our trip to Ireland last October, and have included a few additional photos.
Yr. Editor requested from Penelope her permission to publish the above story, which originally appeared Monday on a social network; her response follows, and I’m taking the liberty of including it with the above:
[At left, Penelope at work, SF Symphony, mid-1980s] Demetrius arrived in San Francisco with his many boxes of books and the clothes on his back three days before the Great Earthquake in 1906. He lost everything in the quake but went on to open the Athens Cafe (on Third Street, I think) and later, Malamis and Company. The family home was on Clement Street. My great aunt Margo (my grandmother’s sister) was married to Dimitrios Kappatos. They owned and operated the Almond Blossom Cafe on the corner of Geary Boulevard and Van Ness Avenue (a central meeting place for the Hellenic Society, local, mostly Democratic, politicians, and opera attendees, after the War Memorial Opera House was built a few blocks away), which they sold to Tommy Harris in 1947. It’s been Tommy’s Joynt ever since. Their beautiful home [above right] where my mother and father are pictured – also where I fell in love with San Francisco at the age of 3), was on Singingwood in St. Francis Wood. Theirs is another story I have been planning to post for a while. Here are a few pics: the Almond Blossom in 1925; Tommy’s Joynt today; Aunt Margo with her second husband, Stavros, on the steps of their home in St. Francis Wood [pictured below].
Thanks, Penelope – a lotta your work and love went into that post! KB