Sometime shortly after March 1, winter lost its frozen grip on my backyard and brown blotches of lifeless grass and small mats of soggy hickory leaves began to emerge from their cemetery of snow.
It didn’t come as a surprise, though, because for a week the loud, love-sick calls of flaming red cardinals had drifted in the air. Their sweet, happy song each March is like the opening chorus of an Italian opera: Something warm and wonderful is about to occur.
The lake out my office door, however, still sports an icy cap. It’s a hard fact both I and the hundreds of gathered Canada geese want changed. The geese seem to constantly argue about when they’ll be paddling on water rather than waddling on ice.
Me, I just want open water so they’ll stop being honked-off. Maybe St. Patrick’s Day will bring soft water.
On the southern Illinois farm of my youth, St. Patrick’s Day often brought thoughts of vegetable planting. Well, not all vegetables; just the king of veggies, potatoes.
No, we German Lutherans did not celebrate the Irish holiday by planting that most Irish of crops. In fact, if one had enough time for one idle thought that day and that thought was to remember to wear something green, most German Lutherans — in our Missouri Synod circle, anyway — were less than charitable at the sight because of the seconds of silly idleness it clearly represented.
One year in the mid-1960s, Good Friday, our usual potato-planting target date, fell near enough to St. Patrick’s Day that my spud-crazy grandfather arrived on the holiday with 200 pounds of seed potatoes in the trunk of his Chevrolet.
No one dared challenge Grandpa’s patriarchy, let alone his potato prowess, so we planted all ’em that day. Were we mad? Clearly, but we were potato stoics so, like Luther, we marched — and hoed — on into history.
Only once do I recall my father celebrating St. Patrick’s Day. That March 17 (it was 1978) he and my older brother Rich were trucking corn to a nearby town while I, the most junior manager on the farm, was in the bin managing a scoop shovel.
An hour before noon that day Rich returned for another load. Dad had left first so I asked Rich what had happened to the boss. He didn’t know, he reported, but he had seen Dad’s grain truck parked in front of one of the two watering holes in a tiny town of about half-way between the farm and the grain elevator.
Neither Rich nor I knew what that meant because neither of us had ever witnessed such an occurrence in our lives. Our father at the pine-topped bar in the Modoc Inn at 11 a.m. — ever, really — on a workday?
Like good German boys, though, we stopped thinking and started working. Soon, Dad rolled in. As the big rig screeched to a stop, though, the truck’s passenger door opened and out climbed my half-Irish bride, the lovely Catherine.
Rich and I were stared slack-jawed at the sight. Catherine saw us and we waved her over to explain. Your father, she said with a knowing grin, asked me to ride with him so he could treat me to a St. Patrick’s Day drink on the way home from the elevator. Wasn’t that lovely of him?
Aye, ’twas, and I’d venture to guess it was the only time before or since that a German Lutheran dairy farmer spotted any Irish lass or lad a before-lunch glass of cheer when there’s potatoes to plant or corn to haul.
German Lutheran writers are, of course, a different story. More of an Irish story, in fact.