St. Patrick's Day was always a huge celebration at our house when I was a kid growing up on Irene Road. Maybe even bigger than Christmas… Well, OK…that's a wee bit of an exaggeration. It wasn't really bigger than Christmas, but sometimes it felt that way thanks to my father. It didn't matter if the 17th fell on a weekday or a weekend, it was the one day my father dusted off his vinyl and cranked his stereo console up to 11. While we were still burrowed in our beds, he kicked things off bright and early with Dennis Day and the Irish Rovers singing about unicorns and "the same old shillelagh father brought from Ireland." If that wasn't enough to rouse us, the drums and pipes of the Royal Irish Fusiliers' First Battalion—played loud enough to shake the house and rattle the windows—did the trick. My brother would roll over in the bed next to mine, clamp a pillow over his head and moan "please make him stop." I didn't mind so much — mostly because I was just happy to see my father in such high spirits: whistling, humming, and especially singing anything besides "Country Roads" by John Denver. Following breakfast, which consisted of a bowl of Lucky Charms poured from a box someone had picked clean of all the marshmallow bits, my siblings and I dressed head to toe in various shades of green and headed off to school brimming with enough Irish pride to even convince myself that this "authentic" (clip-on) tie was the perfect accessory for my holiday outfit. Note the album covers in the background for Dennis Day's Shamrocks and Shillelaghs and that battalion of guys with fuzzy hats, twirling rifles, snare drums and bagpipes— no doubt double-stacked on the spindle in heavy rotation with The Unicorn.
I don't know if my parents had made a secret pact with the nuns at St. Clare school, or money had been exchanged with Fr. Fitzgerald on the day we were baptized, but for a number of years, the Collins kids had an enviable free pass to leave school at 11 o'clock every March 17th for something other than an orthodontist appointment: The St. Patrick's Day Parade in downtown Cleveland. Busting out of school with our parent's permission and assistance felt totally badass. And while a few other families with last names like McNeeley, Sweeney, Malloy, Shea and O'Neil sanctioned the break-out, the majority of the school did not share our luck of the Irish. Meanwhile, The Parade was inevitably a freezing affair (it was Cleveland in mid March after all), but we were oblivious to the cold. The streets were filled with squealing bagpipes, precision drumming, billowing tricolor flags, and plenty of local politicians in convertibles for the crowds to jeer at. The joyful celebration was intoxicating — with or without a bottomless mug of green beer.
One year I bought my father an Irish flag for Christmas. From his reaction you would have thought I was presenting him with a pot of gold from the end of a rainbow. He used to fly that flag every year on St. Patrick's Day out in front of his Sohio gas station on Mayfield Rd. When the station closed, he draped it across the front door of our house. Nobody ever complained if it happened to linger past March 17th. The year he died, one of his Irish buddies on the City Council got the flag from my mom and flew it from the top of Lyndhurst City Hall. I wish I had seen that in person, but I was living in Washington by then. Eventually the flag made its way to Druid Drive, where we proudly flew it from the front of our house for over 15 years heralding one of our favorite gatherings: the Annual Druid Drive St. Patrick's Day Party. We almost lost it one year to the sharp teeth of a frisky chocolate lab named Guinness, but our friend Suzanne worked her sewing machine magic, and it managed to fly for a few more years before the sun bleached the tricolor(s) down to a single color, and we finally had to replace it.
Like O'Pavlov's dog, simply utter today's date, and my father's Irish playlist fills my head. So, in an effort to bridge the old and the new, my father's tastes and my own… the Happy Medium Song of the Day is a contemporary spin on a traditional tune that I think Jack would have appreciated. As a kid, Dennis Day regaled me with poor Tim Finnigan's inability to rest in peace. Today, The Tossers from Chicago have the honors. Happy St. Patrick's Day everyone! (Please use the comments box to share your thoughts.)