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Posts Tagged ‘St. Patrick’s Day’

All the years of my life, this day has been first, my parents’ birthday and second, St. Patrick’s Day.

My parents were born on this day in 1931, Mama in the mountains of the Philippines, where her father was a mining engineer, Daddy on the old home place in Daisy, Georgia, where his father was a country doctor. They met in the Philippines when they were 23, he an Air Force lieutenant freshly stationed overseas, she an accomplished pianist just back from college in Minnesota.

At the start of their story, their birthday was the only thing they had in common – a single thread that would lead them on their great life adventure together.

When Daddy was a boy, he loved listening to the Irish music on St. Patrick’s Day, broadcast by the Savannah radio station. He named me after his two favorite songs, “I’ll Take You Home Again, Kathleen” and “Kathleen Mavourneen.” He’d play those songs on the harmonica. The song he loved to sing the most, though, was “Danny Boy”.

We are going to listen to Irish music tonight. It’s 9 p.m. on St. Patrick’s Day. I’m in front of the Kinsale Inn, in Mattapoisett, Mass. I’m here with my husband, Bud, and four of our six children. All of our daughters are with us tonight: Mercy, Ana-Maria, Seraphina, and Rosie. Our sons are at home playing video games.
I miss my parents. I spoke to my mother in California early today. My father died in 1993, today is their 77th birthday.

Walking up from the harbor one can hear the merriment. It’s St. Patrick’s Day among the Irish, those who claim them, and those who love them.

The Kinsale Inn is the oldest seaside inn the United States. It is now owned by transplanted Irish folks who have made a success of it with their distinct blend of fun, coziness, and lively music. Tonight, they are having an Irish seisiun, or session.

The musicians encourage people to come up and sing or play an instrument. It’s part pub, part inn, and part Irish tea room. Waiters with bow ties hustle about the room shuttling drinks and sandwiches from the grand oak bar to the many tables.

Just inside the inn door, there is a fat baby dressed like a leprechaun in the arms of his father. The room is crowded. I can’t figure out the fashion, it looks like L.L. Bean, but there’s something more. It’s coastal Yankee with a flourish. People have dressed up to go out tonight. I tuck myself into a corner near the stage. My daughters are shown to a table by a waiter who smiles at my husband’s request, to get them anything they want.

A music trio is running the session. They’ve warmed up the crowd, and a jaunty repartee goes back and forth. They sing of love and loss and yes, drinking. A woman named Mary Beth stands on the stage, hands on her hips, and calls the chorus out to the crowd. Soon we are all singing back. I am in a pub on St. Paddy’s evening, singing, while holding an Irish coffee. Bud has a bottle of Smithwick’s ale.

It’s my parent’s birthday and I’m far, far away from any of my childhood homes. I am missing most the parent I can’t talk to. I’m remembering Daddy on the harmonica, Daddy singing.

Bud puts his arm around my shoulder and I lean in. He points out the girls across the room just as a smiling waiter brings a tray. I see them clapping as the dishes are put down in front of them. The waiter nods his head and I can see him talking to them.

I’m in the midst of the room singing and swaying to a song about whiskey and love. I need, really need to hear “Danny Boy” tonight. I send a wish up, and as a backup, plan to ask Bud to write a request on a paper napkin and give it to the waiter.

There is another song about love and loss, by a young woman with tousled hair. She sings so sincerely without any accompaniment. She sings about separation, reunion, holidays without him and the desert. I wonder if her mate is in Iraq.

Bud has Irish blood and that is another story for another day. He sees his old boss, Jim Sullivan, across the room. Jim is sitting with five widows. Jim has explained carefully to Bud, “They can’t sit at home on St. Patrick’s Day”. He lifts his glass of Irish Mist across the room at me with a gallant nod.

The trio starts another foot stomping round. They greet a table of folks from Fall River who come to see them every St. Patrick’s Day. They are speaking in Portuguese. Tonight, we are all Irish.

Then, in that moment between sets that is ripe with possibility, the microphone is passed to a woman with a bonnet of steel gray hair. She introduces her granddaughter, Kaileigh Kelleher. Kaileigh lifts a flute to her lips. The light is shining on her face. The flute is poised. She looks like a Christmas card angel with her fair, young skin and auburn hair. She starts.

She’s playing “Danny Boy”, and a wave of nostalgia hits me. I’m nine years old again, Daddy’s back from Vietnam, and my baby sister has just been born. There are ten of us; we live in a large tropical bungalow under massive acacia trees on Clark Air Base in the Philippines.
The mandolin picks up the melody, and brings me back to the present moment. A hush falls over the room, and people start singing softly. The voices never rise above the flute and mandolin; they remain suspended between the two instruments like a ribbon of great affection.

She pipes the last notes and the pent up emotion in the room rushes out in applause. The musicians keep the tempo up with a round of “Tell Her That You Love Her” and finish the session with a haunting rendition of “The Water is Wide.”

Bud and I walk over to the table where our daughters are finishing up apple pie, bread pudding, cheese cake and ice cream with picture-perfect pots of Irish tea.

The fireplace in the corner glows.

It’s St. Patrick’s Day at the Kinsale Inn, and all is well.

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