St. Patrick’s Day

shamrockHere we are on St. Patrick’s day again, the only day on which it was always considered de rigeur to get pie-faced, falling-down drunk. And yet this year the liquor stores are all closed because of the corona virus. For the foreseeable future, probably. What will the serious drinkers do? We ask ourselves.

The first I knew of this sacred tradition was in 1949, when Bill O’Neil was said to have fallen all the way down his cellar stairs, so relaxed that he suffered not a single bruise. When little children hear stories like this they become useful moral tales. If you must drink, drink your face off, so as not to get hurt if you fall down. That’s what we understood by the tale. Luckily I’ve only been that stewed once in my life, and when I fell down it was into the warm embrace of our thick red living room carpet.

My most memorable St. Patrick’s Day, long after that, was spent cold sober, along with my then husband, fetching a little child from Elizabeth, New Jersey,  to be our eldest son. We were in the process of adopting him from the state. Come and take him out for the afternoon, they said. See how you get along together. The social worker told us to go to the Turtle Back Zoo, but we couldn’t find it, so we went to New York City instead. Probably against the rules, taking him over the state line, but the St. Patrick’s Day Parade was going on, a spectacle not to be missed.

A vendor was selling hot dogs. We bought one for the baby. Today I know better than to feed a hot dog to an eighteen-month-old; they are a terrible choking hazard; but we were lucky that day, and he chewed it up and swallowed it just fine. A good time was had by all. When we got back to the Children’s Services office the social worker said, “How would you like to take him home today? His foster mother is ill and it would be a good thing for her.”

When you have your own baby it comes into the world naked. When you adopt an eighteen-month-old from the state, he comes with two huge trash bags filled with assorted possessions, ratty stuffed animals, old stained hand-me-down clothes bearing the names of other foster children written in laundry marking ink, crinkly rubber pants that go over cloth diapers, and diapers. We piled these items into the trunk of my husband’s sister’s car–somehow we never seemed to have our own car, all the years we were married–and started back to South Jersey with the baby rattling around in the back seat. There were no baby seats in those days. There weren’t even any seat belts.

But before we could get out of Elizabeth the right front wheel fell off the car.

Or the axle broke. It was something terrible having to do with the right front wheel. Fortunately we weren’t on the highway yet, but in front of an auto repair shop. We went limping in. The mechanic fixed the car while we sat in the waiting room, my then husband, me, and the patient baby. It took an hour or so.

At last the mechanic came in to announce success, wiping the grease off his hands. The injury to the car had been so severe, he said, that we were lucky we weren’t all killed. He grinned at the baby.

“My son,” he said, “today you were born again.” He got that right, on so many levels.

In honor of having brought him home on St. Patrick’s day we gave our little boy the middle name of Patrick. He’s somebody’s grandpa now. How time flies.

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