As I write this, my mother is in the kitchen, listening to Riverdance and banging two wooden spoons together. Her clacking is not in time, but rhythm has never been one of my mother’s strong suits — they took the triangle away from her in grade school. She’s had both hips replaced but that doesn’t stop her from doing her most inspired Michael Flatley impression. She’s a Tobin after all and it is St. Patrick’s Day.
Despite being a conglomerate of Italian, German, Scot, and Irish heritage, we take St. Patrick’s Day fairly seriously in my house. Come to think of it, we take being Irish pretty seriously in my house, even though we’re 2 generations removed from the family homestead in County Clare. Well, we take Irish food and music very seriously. My mother makes a mean boiled potato and there’s enough Irish oatmeal in the pantry to lead the nation through another potato famine. My favorite song growing up was “The Orange and the Green,” I was more interested in playing a reel on my fiddle than Mozart on my violin, and my first concert in New York City was Gaelic Storm at the BB King.
In honor of the holiday, I’ve put two loaves of traditional Irish brown bread baking in the oven. Meanwhile, my mother made green jell-o and we collaborated on cabbage rolls and green Scotch shortbread cookies. My father contributed with a 6-pack of Irish Red in the basement fridge. We’re ready to party in a way our ancestors would be proud of… maybe.
I went to Ireland once, when I was 7. That trip was the first time I’d ever stayed up past 9PM and first time I’d ever been to a bar. My father was on business and my mother used it as an excuse to met up with her favorite Irish cousin and her son. Julie drove us from Shannon into a small town hidden among fields and knolls. It was like the setting of JRR Tolkin book. The sky was black and clear and the only light illuminating the streets was the glow from cottage windows. We stepped out of the car into a informal parking lot outside a pub. Music and laughter filled the air and it was clear we were in for a rolicking good time.
The whole world seemed to be crammed into the small, smokey public house. Pints sloshed as joyous patrons slammed their glasses down in time to the music, which was provided by a group set atop a rickety stage. The tables and chairs had been cleared from a section of the floor, and men and women reeled around in circles, stomping and spinning, pulling in new partners at will. An older gentleman with a white beard and cap, straight off a postcard, threw me into the middle of the floor, determined that I would learn how to step dance before the night was through. As a kid, I had chalk white skin, rose bud cheeks, and thick blond curls. In my cable knit sweater, I looked as local as anyone else there. I would eventually learn that the Tobin farm, tied up in family feuds for a half century (how typically Irish), was but a mile away — I was as local as anyone.
We rolled into our cousin’s B&B at 2AM and slept till late afternoon. It was one of the most memorable nights of my life.
It’s true what they say about Ireland — it gets under your skin, you become part of a family, and you start to pine for it. Sometimes, I feel like pulling a John Wayne in “The Quiet Man” — retire from this fighting life, move back to my people’s farm, fix it up, marry me a nice Irish bloke, and dance a jig to the tune of a happily ever after.
In the meantime, I’ll have to settle for my home baked bread, a pint, a warm memory, and a toast to my Grandma, Anna Tobin.
Happy St. Patrick’s Day.