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Our Irish surname was all our family needed to wear over-the-top green on St. Patrick’s Day, with little regard for appropriateness. It mattered little that we were off to school or the dentist, my father scoped out our attire hinting at times that the green quotient could be kicked-up a notch. My memories that are etched in green stone include:
1. My green hair fiasco: I wish I could say it probably happens to everyone at some time in their life, but of course, that would only be true if you were trying to impress your father with kelly green hair on St. Patrick’s Day. These were the days when primary colored hair was not at all fashionable and actually considered weird. The fiasco part came when I tried to wash out the supposed temporary rinse. It wasn’t.
2. Everyone loves a parade: The Chicago St. Patrick’s Day Parade when I was a kid had a pretty straightforward route. No zigs or zags or hairpin turns just straight down a long street for a few miles. I was marching in the parade and trying to Irish Dance when we would stop. There were so many parade participants and different groups, I lost my parents for a short while even though they were walking alongside the troupe as we marched. When my group got to the end of the line there was a little confusion and for a few minutes my parents lost sight of me–you can only imagine that fear as a parent. We did quickly find each other but I was never allowed to be in the parade again. My mom said something about not being able to take the strain on her heart and my dad mumbled something quietly to my mom about hell freezing over but I heard it.
3. Send in the clown: Nobody necessarily likes to see their parent dressed like a clown–unless of course, that is their occupation. As kids, my sister and I used to cringe as we witnessed my father go off to work on St. Patrick’s Day in his bright green blazer, green pants and a green tipped carnation in his lapel. Of course, now as an adult, I would give anything to see my dad dressed once again in his green garb.
4. The green river: One year on St. Patrick’s Day our family went downtown so we could witness first-hand just how green the Chicago river really was. We were able to get really close to the river and I noticed that it really looked rather dirty and murky, with maybe a tinge of green. I guess as I kid, when I heard they turned the river green, I was expecting a river of bright green Jell-O. I think they have much improved this today.
5. The family bar: Our family used to go to a neighborhood bar on St. Patrick’s Day and eat corned beef and cabbage. I don’t remember that I even particularly liked the meal, but as kids we got to go into an actual bar and I thought that was really cool. We got to play pinball and a bowling game, plus we got to see what the big deal was about bars. We quickly figured out it was the popcorn machine and the kiddie cocktails, and some of the adults were even drinking green beer. Imagine that, we thought, who would drink that?
6. Since I lived in Chicago in a predominantly Irish/ Catholic neighborhood we had to go to church before school on St. Patrick’s Day. I thought this absurd but the nuns and priests used any excuse possible to get us to mass. They said it was because St. Patrick was a saint and we had to go. But then eventually, many of the saints got thrown under the bus because the Church claimed they weren’t “real” saints after all. My personal favorite, St. Christopher, the patron saint of travelers was taken off the Universal Church Roman Calendar but I ignore this as I do most Church doctrine. I figure I could have slept an extra hour at home on St. Patrick’s day instead of sleeping through the mandatory mass.
7. The few non-Irish kids in our neighborhood didn’t really get the “green thing.” Sometimes they even tried to make fun of our outfits or corned-beef-and-cabbage dinners. I didn’t even like cabbage back then but I still stuck up for our Irish traditions, claiming our Irish soda bread was far better than their Italian bread, Polish sour dough rye or whatever they ate.
8. And of course as kids we heard the Irish sayings, many of which we didn’t understand such as “May the road rise to meet you.” What? It simply means; wishing you much success. But, Erin Go Bragh would bring giggles to our Irish faces as we struggled to figure out who the heck Erin was and why were they talking about her bra?