St. Patrick’s Day Brings Me Back To My Youth


March 17 is St. Patrick’s Day, a day when people who are disgusted at the thought of eating green eggs and ham have no problem at all drinking green beer.

I don’t drink beer, which is odd because I grew up in Milwaukee, and Milwaukee was practically founded on beer. The fabulous Schlitz Parade and gorgeous Pabst Theater are testaments to that. The prevalence of beer at every sporting event and company picnic is de rigueur. There’s a tavern on every corner. No one thinks twice about it. It’s the norm.

As part of their unspoken pledge to support the breweries that made their city famous, Milwaukeeans would drink beer of any color. But they are very discerning when it comes to flavor. While residents of other cities debate the merits of one football team versus the other, Milwaukeeans debate beer brands. (They don’t have to debate football, anyway. After all, they all know the Packers have no peers.)

Today, although many of the big boys have moved out, micro-breweries are sprouting up all over. Couple that with a large Irish population, and you can understand why St. Patrick’s Day is very, very big. To celebrate, back in the day, they would dye the entire Milwaukee River green. Maybe they still do. Maybe, thanks to pollution, they no longer have to.

A few years ago, I was in Kansas City on the holiday and had the honor of taking my three-year-old grandson to his first St. Patrick’s Day Parade. It went on forever, which would’ve made things tedious after a while, but I enjoyed every minute — mostly because of the woman standing next to me. Not only was she decked out in Mardi Gras beads in every shade of green, but she narrated the entire show for her two kids.

I never saw such enthusiasm! I mean, one expects a certain amount of love for marching bands and floats, but this woman appreciated everything. “It’s the Sheraton Hotel bus! You go-o-o-o, Sheraton! ‘Free wi-fi?’ Woo-HOOOOO!”

At the high point, when a giant inflatable St. Patrick with a staff in one hand and snakes in the other made its way slowly down the street, the woman was ecstatic. “Look, kids! It’s St. Patrick! He drove the snakes out of Ireland! We love you St. Patrick! We LOOOOVE you!”

And that’s when tragedy threatened to strike. This giant man-shaped balloon, which was already being buffeted about by strong winds, headed straight for the power lines that were stretched across the road. His handlers struggled with the guide wires, but St. Pat seemed determined to end it all in an explosion of sparks and fire. We watched, open-mouthed.

But Kansas City had it together. Handlers went into a special formation and leveraged their collective strength enough to lean St. Patrick back, back, back until he was safe. The woman next to me went wild.

“St. Patty’s doin’ the limbo, kids! Look at that, there! You rock, St. Patty!”

She hadn’t even been drinking, but I was ready for one.