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Saturday, March 17

How Green Was My Beer

I'm dreaming of a white St. Patrick's Day

We had several inches of white/gray slush yesterday here in the NY area. The plows came by overnight and left a big pile of heavy, watery, chunky, icy, white and gray stuff at the end of our driveways. I'll stay inside this weekend and wait for the thaw expected by Monday. Since we drive those quaint vehicles known as cars in this family, there will be no switching to 4 wheel drive and blasting over the ice piles out to the road in enormous grocery chasers/kid transport vehicles equipped with state of the art DVD players, only to flip over on Hempstead Turnpike near the Stop and Shop. This is St. Patrick's Day and we are fully stocked with corned beef Easter candy and plenty of booze. Maybe I'll turn on the TV and look at the parade for about 3 seconds.

To be perfectly honest with you, I forget what we did on white St. Patrick's Days when I was growing up- I assume it was spent like any other St. Patrick's Day because once you're boozed up, the weather doesn't really matter. Being a product of Catholic parochial schools, of which there are at least one in every single town around here, St. Patrick's Day was a day off. (Catholic school kids had a LOT of days off for various saints and events. For instance, Ascension Thursday in May is a fabulous beach day -no public school kids. Jones Beach, West End 2. The public school kids had their exclusive beach days in the fall during the Jewish holy days.)

Like good Irish-Catholic children, this day was spent hiding liquor under our coats and taking the Long Island Railroad to NYC for the big parade, staggering up 5th Ave towards St. Patrick's Cathedral to say hi to the Cardinal and the mayor and then venture off to find some bars serving green beer to underage kids ...and we peed in the bathrooms of some of the most famous and posh stores along 5th Avenue to boot. What class.

I went on to spend 2 of my 4 years of college in very Irish Catholic drinking schools in the Bronx where we continued the tradition, and even more so because we were legal, only we took the subway (which was above ground) to Manhattan for the festivities. Some of the guys in Manhattan College's Gaelic Society allowed a couple of us girls to march with them. Supposedly we were the first females allowed to march with the Gaelic Society and only because we were formidable drinking buddies and pretty cute. This was early feminism c. 1974. Maybe we walked with them for a couple of blocks, only to be lured away to the Irish pubs on the side streets serving 10¢ green beers and free corned beef and cabbage with watery potatoes.

I don't know what the attraction was. Maybe it was an Irish Woodstock on 5th Avenue where you could feel the love, where the beer flowed freely and the music filled the air. Maybe it was the cute guys from the Catholic boys HS's and colleges. I think you had to be loaded to appreciate it. I hear bagpipes in my mind's ear... the drones... and Catholic school marching bands. Men in skirts. Oh god yes, too many men in skirts that looked like our school uniforms only they had big fluffy hats.

It wasn't until I was in my 20's and working on Park Avenue and 53rd street that I saw the parade from a 'secular' viewpoint. I had walked 2 blocks over to 5th Ave at noontime to check it out. It was no Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade- it was just a bunch of marching and business people milling about on the sidewalks, mostly irritated that you couldn't cross the street. I didn't see kids like us anywhere. The real festivities had moved to the night-time in pubs and fire houses serving green beer and there they remain. Thirty something years later, I boil a hunk of that greasy pink beef with cabbage and potatoes in my kitchen- maybe some folks will drop by, maybe not (not with this weather). My son will once again ask us the very significant question of the year: just how Irish is he. It's debatable- fractions are hard.

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