In my Italian family, we liked to pretend that all the important people in the world were honorary Italians. My folks swore St. Patrick was Italian until the day they died. Historians believe that he was born in Britain. He did get his taste for cinnamon potatoes in Ireland. I love cinnamon potatoes, but they’ve become a no-no since my blood sugar spiked as if it were scoring points against the Sixers’ defense. I found that substituting raw kale chips doesn’t really make my St. Patty’s Day bright, even if the chips are green, the color of choice on this day.
I worked with a guy who used to dress up like a leprechaun every St. Patty’s Day. The guy actually looked like a leprechaun. Even his shoes curled up at the toes. One day, he disappeared and everyone swore he had found a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow or more likely at one of the blackjack tables in Atlantic City.
Back in the day, if one of my own had married an Irish girl, it would’ve been considered a mixed marriage and we automatically expected the two families would go to war. I once went with an Irish girl after I finished my mandatory military service requirement. We were really crazy about one another until her Ireland-born father saw me show up one day wearing my father’s old cashmere top coat and a gray Stetson hat. He thought I either had gangland ties or I was taking a screen test for a movie about gangsters. I felt I was the victim of an unfortunate stereotype. When I got a Valentine’s Day card from her addressed to “Dear Friend,” I knew instinctively it was over. But, until then, we really enjoyed St. Patty’s Day, with her doing her traditional Celtic dances and me eating my Irish potatoes.
My wardrobe and the traditional wearing of the green never were very compatible. Kelly green was never a big fashion color for me, so, consequently I had to reach deep into my array of ties to find one that barely met the requirement. One wise guy on the corner used to say, “Where’s the lad’s green today on St. Patty’s Day?” Another wiseacre would answer, “Just check out his teeth.”
My relationship with the Irish blonde lass I was dating came to an end when she told a priest friend I had “bedroom eyes.” I think she just meant the color of my eyes was very close to the shade of the Sealy Posturepedic mattress she had recently purchased. Notwithstanding the innocence of her remark, the priest advised that she should not subject herself to that kind of temptation, so she ended our relationship. I tried to convince her to let me worry about the temptation, but for some reason, the priest intervened again on behalf of her virtue and nixed the idea. I have since always counseled women not to have close friendships with priests.
I’m not sure this is part of the Irish tradition in honoring St. Patrick, but my friends and I always liked to spend that time in Madison Square Garden watching a basketball tournament. Back in the day, we justified our tradition because there was always a little Irish point guard on each competing team who would inevitably light up the Garden with his play. Today, not even the University of Notre Dame can find an Irish point guard. The great play of African-Americans dominates the game today, and I’ve got news for Notre Dame. Putting the word IRISH on their jerseys in bold capital letters doesn’t make these guys Irish.
My Irish friends and I always kidded each other about the difference in our taste for food. Some stereotypes are rooted in truth. My Irish friends back then never said “Let’s celebrate St. Patty’s Day with a good meal.” They seemed to have a disdain for food. Food was something one ate so as not to starve to death. You didn’t love food anymore than you fell in love with your laxative (until MiraLAX came along). Food was something one ate when tired of drinking beer. We Italians, on the other hand, made fun of their lack of enthusiasm for food. The barbs would fly while I helped myself to a box of cinnamon potatoes I purchased at half price, the day after St. Patty’s Day.
I have to admit the Irish love for St. Patrick seems to far exceed our love of Christopher Columbus. Honoring St. Patrick was a way of honoring Irish culture and contained none of the naysaying that Italians have to put up with about Columbus, like the Vikings beat him to America or that he greeted the Indians by slaughtering them. We’re defensive about Columbus while the Irish are ever proud of St. Patrick. I did find out when I was a teen that all those KISS ME, I’M IRISH buttons that pretty Irish girls wear on St. Patty’s Day were not to be taken literally.
I still think we win the debate with the Irish over whether one would rather date Sophia Loren or Maureen O’Hara. I think if he were being honest, even John Wayne would’ve agreed with us.
I hear Donald Trump is celebrating St. Patrick’s Day by marketing his own brand of cinnamon potatoes. Trump go braugh! ■