St. Pat's, Then and Now

Although I no longer go into the office every day, I’m still dressed in my Irish green for the holiday, including my shamrock socks, accessorized with my Celtic earrings and necklace.  I even have my St. Patrick’s Day sweatpants on; more about that later.  Marking the day is my way of staying in touch with the world, even though I’m not part of the day-to-day grind.  I’m sipping on a cup of Irish breakfast tea, and the corned beef is simmering away on the stove, to be fork-tender by dinnertime (thanks, Dino).  Even if the restaurants weren’t closed, my husband and I would still be spending the evening at home, because as a former bartender, I avoid going out on the days when so many people feel that it’s mandatory to sit in a drinking establishment and be over-served.  In the city, that gets ugly.

I’ve worn green to work every St. Patrick’s Day since I moved to Cleveland over 31 years ago, just to get in the spirit of things.  I even let my friend Kathleen talk me into playing hooky for two hours one year, to go to the parade.  Definitely a memorable experience. 

In the years between college and my coming to Cleveland, I lived on South Bass Island, also known as Put-in-Bay, located in western Lake Erie.  I celebrated the holiday there, too, but in the aforementioned bartender/server role.  Even on St. Patrick’s Day, though, the mayhem was manageable.  One of the places I worked, the Winterbar, was only open from late October to the end of March, logically enough.  Small and cozy, crew and customers alike would settle down for Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy! on many evenings.  We had game nights, with gag prizes that generated fierce competition.  The Winterbar was also, for several years, the setting for a St. Patrick’s Day stew lunch to benefit the local veterans’ organization.  The usual staff volunteered their time to prepare and serve the Irish stew, while a couple of vets and their wives oversaw the proceedings.  For them, it was a big deal, as they’d hurry up to the service window to order, “Two stew!”  For the serving crew, it was an easy afternoon.  And then as evening came on, the usual suspects, plus the once- or twice-a-year celebrants, would gather for green beer (we used food coloring), shots of Jameson’s and/or Bailey’s Irish Cream, and Irish coffees.  The food selection morphed from stew to chef Dino’s excellent corned beef and cabbage.  I remember that it was always a hearty, happy crowd, just enjoying each other’s company, because everybody really did know your name.  And where you lived, and how old your kids were.  One year, the bar manager even ordered white sweatpants with a green St. Pat’s and Winterbar logo.  Thirty-two years later, my pair still miraculously fits, and they’re in perfect condition, ’cause, of course, I only wear them once a year.  I treasure them as a tangible memory of good days gone by.

My St. Patrick’s Day this year is at a distance of much more than years from those of decades ago.  I remember the spirit of those times, though, and look back with nostalgia.  Meanwhile, we face a reality that couldn’t be imagined back then.  This, too, shall pass, but I can’t help thinking of how much isn’t happening today.  Wonder how many blocks long the line at Slyman’s is, now that they can serve only carry-out corned beef sandwiches?

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