Monday, March 20, 2006

Take Away my Celt Card

This was probably the weirdest St. Patrick's Day ever for me. To be honest I'm always a bit disappointed by them; each year I want something spectacular to happen, but since I don't really know what that means specifically, I'm not very effective at making it happen. This year I met up with my friends Megan and Geoff; we were going to see our mutual friend Jeff in a play, but wanted to get dinner first. So we wandered rather aimlessly in the West Village looking for someplace to eat, finally deciding on Mexican food. Making that decision didn't end the wandering however. Our first stop looked promising as it was almost completely empty, but the reason for this became clear when we reached for the front door, where a modest sign announced they were not yet cleared to serve alcohol. Moving on. We ended up at, I kid you not, Senor Swanky's. Which was decorated with shamrocks and such, and had loud frat boys in green jerseys, but it was still fast food Mexican. We were actually pleased with our food, but I was less than thrilled with a frozen mango margarita that cost as much as my burrito. Then we went to see Jeff play Hitler (and Charlie Chaplin too, sort of) in a British play about the Third Reich. It's actually a pretty interesting play, CP Taylor's Good, now playing at Manhattan Theatre Source. Go see it. But it was a weird choice for St. Paddy's Day. Then the four of us (Geoff, Jeff, Meggie and me) headed off into the West Village to find a bar. On St. Paddy's Day. At 11:30pm. In the West Village. Hoping to sit down and, get this, talk. We ended the evening at Dojo, where everyone else had beer, and I, admitting defeat decided to have coffee and the worst chocolate cake I've ever eaten. And if I didn't like it, you know it had to be bad. I'm not one of those chocolate snobs, I'll even enjoy Hersey's Kisses. But this cake blew.
So let's recap, shall we? On St. Patrick's Day, 2006, I started the evening with Mexican food and a margarita, watched an English play about WWII Germany, then ended the evening with coffee and disappointing cake at a vaguely pan-Asian restaurant. I have no one to blame but myself. That said, it wasn't a bad evening.
I think part of the reason I always have high hopes for the day is because when I was a kid growing up in Indiana, there was a local retired college professor spinster lady named Undine Dunn who would always leave a little present for me on our front p0rch on the day. She left presents for lots of kids in our college community on their birthdays. I'm not entirely sure how wide-spread her net was, but I believe pretty much any child under the age of twelve with any connection to the college was remembered on his or her day. But as far as I know I was the only one who also got a gift on his Saint's Day. Did I mention that Undine and my family were/are also Quaker? Not really big on the Saints, you see. But St. Patrick's Day has always had a special place in the hearts of Irish folks regardless of religion (do you hear me you Ancient Order of Hibernian FUCKS? It's not just for Catholics), and Undine and I definitely shared a bond on this issue.
Undine was a very quiet, gentle soul, quite shy with adults, a life-long spinster, back in the day when that was what we called them, but very comfortable with children and animals. She put cat food out every day for all the 'strays' in the neighborhood, which of course meant there were some mighty fat housecats living nearby, as well as some pretty happy possums and at least one skunk. She always had mints and dog biscuits in her bag, and would hand out the former to any child she met, and the latter to any dog. She was one of the few adults outside the family circle with whom I and my siblings used the plain language (the second person singular pronouns thee, thy, and thine), in accordance with older Quaker tradition. (My family still uses it amongst ourselves.) As I and my siblings got older, she became more shy with us, shown by her changing to the formal second person singular, but we three refused the switch, and firmly addressed her as 'thee' until the day she died.
I think about Undine every St. Patrick's Day. I can't remember a single one of the gifts she left me, they were undoubtedly quite modest (I'm sure books played a significant part) but I was always pleased and excited to go out first thing in the morning (she must have left them no later than 6am) to see what she had given me. Looking back, I marvel that she did something that might have been construed as favoritism, given her great sensitivity to the feelings of children, but I don't remember either my older sister or (more significantly) my younger brother resenting the fact that I got an extra present each year. Perhaps the situation was aided by the fact that my father (also quite proud of his Irishness) would give everyone a present on the day, as he does still on Valentine's Day, Easter, and any other holiday he might think of. Now that I think of it, did Undine also leave easter baskets for each of us every year? I think she might have. Maybe something on Valentine's Day too? I'll have to check with my family. Nonetheless, St. Patrick's Day was my special occasion. She may have set a standard that adult celebrations have failed to match, but she gave me some very fond memories.


Brian said...

If it makes you feel any better, I was supposed to have a very Irish St. Patrick's Day - I was supposed to go with friends to a pub to see "Black 47," (an Irish band, if you can't tell from the name), whom I got to love at Stonehill, my Irish-Catholic college. But I wasn't feeling well, so I stayed in and watched Doctor Who instead.

Eric Deibler said...

What a beautiful story! (I mean the second part, of course!)

eyduck said...

A) Dojo chocolate cake SUCKS! Whole wheat flour and fruit sugar in my cake! Get thee to the firey pit of hell!

B) I had to explain to a co-worker who Saint Patrick was... She looked cross-eyed at me as I said, "Well, see, he drove all the snakes out of Ireland..."

C) I adore Undine. I want to be just like her when I grow up...