I believe in Chicago’s South Side Irish Parade.
When we first moved 1/2 block off Western over ten years ago, we didn’t even know about the South Side Irish Parade. Family from out of town would come in because our son’s High School play was always on Parade weekend. So we’d put out a little corned beef and cabbage and sweets and have a good time and everyone would go see the Parade. I realized, though, that things were changing one year when someone I didn’t know walked into our living room, sat down, and proceeded to watch March Madness. No one knew him, but he was polite and congenial, and just wanted to watch the game. So we gave him food and drink.
Eventually, friends of ours from other parts of Chicagoland would come over to see what all the craziness was about. Relatives would stop by. As my children grew older, their friends would come, and invite their friends, so there’d be a huge crowd at our house after the parade. Kathy and I began to think it’d be a good idea to feed them since they’d been drinking, so we began cooking enough food for all. That was some time ago. One of our annual revelers suggested we rent our own port-a-potty to keep traffic down inside our house, so we do that now, too.
The day begins for us with Mass at Saint Cajetan’s. We get there 45 minutes ahead of time to make sure we get a seat. Bagpipers march down the aisle to begin the celebration. The sweetest Irish soprano ever heard makes her appearance. Here is where things are remembered – the past, and An Corta Mor, or The Great Hunger. The priest who delivers the sermon knows that sermon has to be something very special. Throughout the Mass are sprinkles of humor, politics, and much Irish song.
The Parade itself is, in some ways, an anti-parade. Its distinctive feature is that families march, children march, the “wee folk, ”for no other reason than to celebrate family and community. There are, of course, simple floats, church groups, the glorious bagpipers, fire- and policemen and women. And then there are the people who watch the parade. There’s so much hugging going on, the sharing of the simple glad feeling that on this one day everyone is a friend, an ally. Even people on the block who have been enemies embrace one another, and have much to talk about on Parade Day.
Over the years, we’ve had our share of — “incidents” shall we say. There’s been a fight in our basement, someone on the second floor stumbled and broke a window. One year some poor underage drinker wandered into our house and collapsed on the bathroom floor. Our neighbor, who is a state trooper, came over and made sure she was allright, and she was, but we called her father to come and take her home. There was also the time when we threw someone out because he was misbehaving. He spotted our “Shalom” wall hanging, and as he left, he shouted back “Shalom, motherfuckers.” And then, of course, there was the year I was in the hospital. I had had persistent heart palpitations the night before the parade, so I went in to get checked out and they kept me until Monday morning. The party, however, went on, and I had corned beef and cabbage and Guinness my one night in the hospital.
This year, there were a few less people. My son, a filmmaker, was out of town on a job assignment. Nonetheless, there were more than enough, maybe even a few more “adults” – that is, people more the age of the hosts. Some of the children of our friends and our children’s friends now come with their spouses, and bring their babies. We ourselves have a new grandson. My daughter, Bevin, named for the daughter of an ancient Irish king, dressed him all in Parade green for the first time, and he was happy and sociable.
I believe in this day, the Sunday before Saint Patrick’s Day. I believe in wearing something green, eating well and making sure others eat well if they want. I believe in the medicinal benefits of Guinness Stout and Knappouge Castle 1994. I believe in keeping history and faith present and alive. I believe in opening up my house and filling it with as many people as it can hold, making merry with my family and friends. And I believe in welcoming the congenial stranger who comes in and wants to make merry with us — or maybe just wants to watch a basketball game.
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