On this very day 29 years ago, winter had yet to loosen its grip on the East End. How could I remember an insignificant little meteorological tidbit after close to three decades?
With no difficulty whatsoever. You don’t forget things like driving along Route 58 in Riverhead in a snow squall in a borrowed, beat-up old pickup with the drivers’ side windshield wiper flipped completely over to the left so the snow builds up on the windshield while the wiper waves up and down in the air out by the side rearview.
You don’t forget heading south on a very dark Church Lane in Aquebogue in that same truck later that evening after dinner with friends and the vehicle’s electrical system shutting down, leaving the truck dead on the side of the road between lonely woods and a very empty farm field.
And you certainly don’t forget that earlier that afternoon your wife had given birth, via a C-section three weeks ahead of the due date, to your first child, a boy, a St. Patrick’s Day baby born with an unruly shock of red hair that the nurses kept slicking down but that bounced right back up.
Now THAT was a St. Patrick’s Day to remember, even without green beer, rubbery corned beef and a boiled vegetable that once resembled cabbage.
Until then, Paddy’s Day was no big deal. Progeny though we were of a Kelly-Brophy union, you couldn’t call us practicing Irish. Lasagna and tacos were typical March 17 fare. As adults we might gather at Ma’s and watch “The Quiet Man,” but with ne’er a Guinness in sight.
Soda bread? What’s that? No one knew the words to “Danny Boy” and nobody cared. Nobody skipped school to take the train into New York for the city parade. Let’s face it, we were about as Irish as bagels and lox. Go out in public in a leprechaun hat and a tied-on red beard? What are you, meshugeneh?
OK, so we named our son Ryan Patrick, but c’mon he was born on St. Patrick’s Day, for cryin’ out loud. What did you expect, Saleem Pierre Antonio Ludwig Stosh Rufus Viggo?
Over the years, the holiday was little more than a reason to put a shamrock on his birthday cake. A day like any other — well, except for the time the shrubs “accidentally” caught fire next to the garage during his 10th birthday party. Got to meet just about every member of the Cutchogue Fire Department that day. I’m sure that by now they’ve all but forgotten my, um, salty language.
But since 2000 I’ve spent Paddy’s Day in NYC with the lads piping our way north up Fifth Avenue. ’Tis grand altogether — well, except for the year the snow was blowing horizontally down the avenue, right into your face. Or the year the temps climbed into the upper 60s, which isn’t so grand when you’re wrapped in layer upon layer of wool.
The city parade demands patience from its participants as there’s a lot of standing around before stepping off. Sometimes three hours or more. You soon discover which delis have bathrooms and which do not. If for no other reason, that tends to cut down on pre-marching imbibing.
One of the highlights for the younger guys is having young females come up and ask to have their picture taken with them. Much giggling and flirting ensues. Ah, to be young again. I usually get the folk who want me to hold their babies.
A few years back two gorgeous blonde girls came around the corner where I stood and asked ME for a photo. ME! Certainly! My pleasure! By the way, where are you ladies from? Denmark? That’s great. Hope you enjoy your time in New York. Nearly bursting with pride I hied me west on 46th Street to a loose knot of pipers.
Hey, guys! Guess what? Guess who just had his picture taken with TWO Danish blondes? No, me! I’m serious. What’s so damn funny? Waddaya mean it’s time for my medicine and a nap?
Hope you all get really, really chafed. And you know what I mean.
This year — today if you’re reading this on Thursday — the forecast is for fair skies and spring-like temperatures. There should be a special feel to the parade, New York’s 250th. I can’t wait.
I bet there will be young blondes on every corner. I know, I know. To quote Robert Browning: “Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?”