After many years of futile attempts to come up with a clever angle for a column that precedes St. Patrick’s Day (although I suspect the bulk of the parties will be happening tonight as opposed to Monday), I decided to go with what I know, and perhaps push the limits a little.
Anything remotely close to Irish wine has eluded me for the past seven years (I don’t suppose anyone makes wine from shamrocks, do they?), but I do like Jameson Irish Whiskey (which sells at the Liquor Mart for $29.06 for a 750 ml bottle). I especially enjoyed a shot of it after my volunteering shift at the Irish Pavilion at the Lieutenant Governor’s Winter Festival on Feb. 1 this year. It was slightly chilled (unintentionally, I think) from storage on a wretchedly cold day. I drank it straight and it really hit the spot. It comes in a green bottle, too, hence what follows.
My family heritage is half Scottish and half Irish — both of my great-grandmothers came from Scotland and both great-grandfathers came from Ireland. And while elements of both cultures speak to me — I absolutely LOVE the bagpipes and I like tartan — I’ve always identified a little more with the Irish side, probably because my dad did. We’d throw and attend St. Paddy’s Day parties, and I delighted in wearing green on the day, along with a bunch of shamrocks and ‘Kiss me — I’m Irish’ paraphernalia to make a bit of a spectacle of myself.
The pull of my ancestral homeland is something I can’t explain. My folks have been to Ireland twice. I’ve never been, but going there is on my bucket list. The closest I came was when I was about a few miles up in the air on my Grade 12 Travel Club trip when I was 17. Students from Neelin, my alma mater, and Crocus Plains banded together, and along with fabulous chaperones Chris Johnson and Tom Mitchell, we visited London, Paris, Brussels, and Amsterdam in 12 days. It was a journey I’ll never forget, and I especially remember, when we were flying over Ireland, that the heavy clouds parted and I was able, for about a minute, to see the Emerald Isle. It was the lushest, greenest green I’ve ever seen, and I vowed that very day I had to visit it at some point.
Anyway, because green figures prominently in all celebrations involving anything Irish, here’s the last installment in my decidedly feeble attempt at a St. Patrick’s Day column. While my folks always allowed my brother and I to taste a sip of wine at the dinner table, I never had a complete alcoholic drink in my life before my 16th birthday. That very special drink was bought for me by two very special people, and it was green. So here’s my story.
All through my growing-up years, my parents rented out two suites on the second and third levels of our beautiful big old house on the 300-block of Second Street. Over the years, some very wonderful people moved in, stayed for a few years — or many years, in some cases — and then moved on. Because there was a common entranceway, through the front door, the porch and into the main foyer, these folks became very much a part of our lives since we’d run into them frequently as they, or we, were coming and going. Some very special individuals became adjunct members of the family and remain friends to this day. And that’s where my tale really begins.
Kathy, a lovely lady we all became very fond of, moved into the third-floor suite while her boyfriend, David, was (I think) travelling overseas. When he came back home, he moved in with her. My folks were always open-minded, and while this was a bit scandalous for our little burg in those days — I’m talking the mid-1970s — they, and my brother and I, welcomed the new addition to our home with open arms.
David was fun, outspoken, and unapologetically himself. And I loved him for that. Why the two of them put up with this pain-in-the-butt teenager using ANY excuse to knock on their door on almost a daily basis and invade their space and their lives for as long as she could get away with — sometimes Mom would come and haul me out of there because I was being too much of a pest — is beyond me. But they did, and they came to be almost like a big brother and sister to me.
They were the coolest people I knew, and they had the coolest candle I’d ever seen on the middle of their coffee table. It was a huge, rectangular, flattened-pyramid shape, surrounded by white lace, with little red bows for accents, and the words ‘Peace’ and ‘Love’ in matte silver on opposite sides of the candle. And the candle itself was — you guessed it — green.
I coveted that candle. They never lit it and it was the niftiest thing I’d ever seen. I may have hinted a few times that I really, really liked it. I honestly don’t recall. But I’ll never forget that candle.
Anyway, my 16th birthday rolled around a few years later, and as was often the case with special occasions, Kathy and David were invited to the family celebration. They gave me card that said ‘Foxy Lady’ on the envelope, and I, who’d always been a geek, was over the moon. Then the next night — I think it was a Monday — they were going out to Kokonas for supper and invited me to join them for our own birthday celebration. I begged my mom to let me go, and she agreed.
I was beyond excited. I don’t remember what we had for supper — knowing Albert’s spectacular prime rib, I’m pretty sure it was likely that. But what I DO remember oh-so-clearly was that, at the end of the meal, instead of dessert, they insisted that I have a Grasshopper. Now as someone with a bug phobia, I was a little trepidatious, and they teased me, not telling me what it was. But when the fluffy green drinks arrived — Crème de Menthe mixed with cream in traditional champagne glasses — I took a sip and was transported. It was sweet, minty and smooth. And I loved it — almost as much as I loved them.
The years moved on and they moved out. When they departed, they left me that green candle I had admired for so long. When they got married a few years later, I wore a green dress to their wedding.
While I rarely see them anymore — I had them to my home, where I’ve lived for 28 years, for the first time EVER a few weeks ago (this time around, we drank wine!) — I’ve never forgotten what they, and that candle, and that very first Grasshopper meant to me.
And so on St. Patrick’s Day, when we celebrate all that is green, to Kathy and David, I remain eternally grateful.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition March 15, 2014