I am only one quarter Irish: my mother was Elaine O’Donnell, and her father was as proud an Irish rogue as I have ever seen. In Detroit, We did not celebrate St. Paddy’s Day as effusively as Chicago does. But Grandpa always had a twinkle in his eye, and he made it a point to mark the day with mischief. His best accomplice was his Irish setter, Whiskey, who would accompany him to work and lunch as a special celebration.
As I grew up, Grandpa would always advise me to find a nice boy named Patrick to date. I wasn’t sure about this advice, as Patrick Moritz, my first crush, had decorated the viaduct by my house with the inscription, Janet Joliat is a pirate’s treasure: she has a sunken chest. I recall he had help from Richard Morgan. What a walk of shame it was as I approached home. It was just chalk, and I snuck down to obscure it, but it was burned into my self image.
I never did date a Patrick. When I had my first child, a gentle uterus dweller whom I had pre-named Elizabeth, I had no fall back name. After three days as Baby Boy Dahl, Patrick was placed on his release papers. Steve was pushing Gunner and Elvis. As his girl’s name was Velveeta, I think he was joking. Patrick is a good man, and has brought great joy. He would never scrawl hurtful epithets on a viaduct, I am sure of it.
Today, as we all channel a little Irish, I will carry on the O’Donnell tradition of the wearing of the green. My aunt – Carol O’Donnell Greene- is in Florida with us, and she has a celebration planned at the compound. Shamrocks have started to show up on doorknobs and in the elevator. Irish music is drifting from her condo. I believe that she might be making corned beef, and there is talk of a mystical dessert. My brother Paul and his wife Marietta Cavanaugh Joliat are here with their family, and their Irish has been enhanced, not diluted through marriage. They snuck off to procure garments of green. And Irish Whiskey.
The celebration of St. Pat’s is a tradition at the condo. Mom had a wardrobe for the event- she made drawstring pants from shamrock material. The first time she cut them out, she laid the pattern improperly on a fold, and ended up with three legs. She actually tried to amputate the middle limb and make it work, but she was left with MC Hammer pants. She started over.
Her pants are far too small for me, but I will be sporting her vest today. I wore it last year, too, as Steve and I made dinner for Dad and Marietta- corned beef and cabbage, not the best choice for a man in the last stage of congestive heart failure. He may have been too weak to cut or chew it, but he appreciated the effort. On the plate were the echoes of older, better St. Patrick’s days. He was a grateful man.
Of course, I could also wear my “Kiss Me I’m a Steve Dahl Fan” t-shirt, but I hate to give Steve the satisfaction. I’ll have to choose at the last moment. Green is the mandate. It’s cool here, and I had the foresight to bring a kelly green sweater. And leprechaun earrings. Steve is a bit worried about me.After all- it’s just 1/4 Irish I’m toting.
The story of St. Patrick is more legendary to me than religious. I don’t believe the malarky about driving snakes from Ireland. I think that Ireland had Druids and superstitious worshipers, and the Christians wanted a foothold on the beautiful emerald isle. He was an ambassador for them, recruiting landowners, castigating pagans, and hunting for women to serve as nuns. It’s an honest job. The pervasive Catholicism there today is a sign that he did it well. The latest scandals involving bishops covering for predatory priests intimates that the Catholics need to question authority a bit. None of that affects my zeal for our little celebration here in South Florida.
I will raise my glass to my Grandpa’s memory, my parent’s legacy, the gift of my children and family, the blessing of days and friends. I will give thanks for my roots and my future. It may be an artificial “holiday” but any excuse will do.