I wear my ethnicity lightly. It doesn’t define me, although the results of a DNA sample John sent in for me revealed that I’m much more Irish than I had supposed. The locus of my extended ancestry was a very narrow circle in the county of, of all things, Munster. I didn’t know there was a Munster Ireland. Actually, I didn’t know there was a Munster, Indiana until I moved there to be with John.
It amused me that John, without a scintilla of Irish in his background, always made more of St. Patrick’s Day than I did. It usually took the form of a search for the perfect, or at least the pretty good, dish of corned beef and cabbage. He’d don something green, or failing that, put on a pretty shamrock pin that had been in his family a while. No matter what venue we tried, he was invariably disappointed. The corned beef was always too lean, too dry, too healthy.
No one was more Irish than my mother, with both parents born in Ireland, and herself born on March 17. Yet, on that day, she’d avoid Irish restaurants like the plague, not wishing to run into a loud, drunken crowd like, say, her own relatives. I remember one year, I was about ten, when she and I celebrated her birthday at a Chinese restaurant on 79th street, near the Avalon. We had the place to ourselves, which pleased her, but presently, three Chinese waiters dressed in green approached our table and began to sing “Danny Boy.” We bit our lips until they had safely disappeared back into the kitchen.
Now about that toe. For several months, it has gotten progressively more painful, and in the past two weeks, it has become difficult to keep a shoe on, let alone walk the track at the health club. My doctor assumed it was gout, and I began a regimen of exotic pills, gallons of tart cherry juice (which I’ve actually come to like), and nothing worth eating or drinking. Well, it turns out he was wrong. The culprit was a weirdly ingrown nail which, yesterday, was dealt with in a manner that I recommend to anyone trying to pry secrets from a traitor.
My beleaguered digit was rescued just in time for today’s outing with old friends and colleagues from Chicago Vocational High. Feeling festive, I put on a green shirt and green underwear. To my sweater, I attached John’s shamrock pin. I like, really I need, things about me that John had touched. When my ride, Tom Doyle, arrived, I was further greened up as he draped some emerald green beads around my neck.
Seven of us assembled at Horse Thieves Hollow. To get there, Tom and I had to dart across Western avenue, dodging traffic, running, in shoes, with my newly refurbished toe. It was exhilarating. I was ready for anything, for oysters, for red meat, for beer. The place was new to me, but most agreeable, especially when I spotted the statue of a large blue leopard high above the bar. For the next two hours, I basked in good humor, good company, good memories. Several of the women remembered my mother, and we toasted her birthday.
Back home in my bedroom, I took off the beads and the shamrock pin and placed them in an art deco glass box with the recumbent figure of a woman on the lid. It rests atop a bookcase with the other artifacts that John and I called our harem.
I’ll see my green treasures each morning as I arise. I’ll want to know where to find them for next year.