Tuesday, March 17, 2009

St. Patrick's Day

"May you always have laughter to cheer you,
those you love near you,
and all your heart might desire
and enjoy a wee bit of Irish inspiration this St. Patrick's Day."
I love this picture. I took it while on one of my walks looking for the extraordinary in the ordinary. I love the way those flowers just stuck their pretty purple heads up out of the weed pile. They don't seem to have any anxiety about not being good enough, or pretty enough, or useful enough. They just wanted to enjoy the warmth of the sun and grew towards the light.
For me, St. Patrick's Day is just another day. I don't have an uncontrollable urge to wear green or eat corned beef surrounded by cabbage and potatoes. However, it is usually on St. Patrick's Day that I pause to remember a couple of dear friends who were Irish devotees.
Hugh McLinden was a man I met through work in San Diego. Hugh was one of the earliest designated helicopter pilots in the U.S. Navy. He had some stories to tell. I don't doubt that many were embellished over the years to solicit a more than a few "omigods." Still, I'm guessing flying over a frozen Korean landscape in an aircraft that defied science must have been the source of many a hair-raising story.
Hugh found a reason to stop by my desk on a fairly regular basis. He'd be at the base to get his teeth worked on, or shop at the Commissary so he'd come the office to drop something off, or pick something up. With little regard to the piles of work on my desk, he'd take a seat, settle in and begin, sometimes where he'd left off, regaling me with tales of the past. Hugh never failed to bring me candy made by his beloved Elizabeth. She didn't get out much because of several infirmities, but she made candy and afghans that Hugh handed out like unwanted advice!
After retiring from the Navy, Hugh was a high school math teacher. He was also historian and world traveler thanks to airline privileges secured by his daughter. He was father to six children, I believe, and several grandchildren who he liked to spoil. Hugh was all Irish. For years after I moved away he'd call me on my birthday. Our birthdays were only a few days apart and both came on the heels of St. Patty's day - the reminder that usually jogged his memory! We'd exchange Irish music Cd's and Irish blessings. To this day I can't hear Danny Boy or see a bottle of Irish Mist and not think of that dear old man.
My other Irish friend was Bettie Garrett. I didn't know her all that well, but Bettie left an unmatched mark on my heart. She was a devout Catholic, yet could cuss or smoke up a storm. She paid her way through school by cooking for the nuns in a nearby convent. It was quilting and cooking that brought us together.
No, that's not really true. Bettie's quilting style was much to perfect for my taste and her cooking abilities far more advanced than mine will ever be. It was Bettie's concern for my daughter and son-in-law that drew me in past her gruff exterior. She never failed to ask about them or listen to my concerned answer. We hadn't known each other long when she told me she had pancreatic cancer and little time to live. I think Bettie was the first person that I ever knew who had the disease. I was stumped as to how to proceed with a friendship that had a time limit set on it. "Be my friend," she said when I asked what could do.
It was one of Bettie's dreams was to see the green hills of Ireland. Her cancer diagnosis pretty much ended the dream. Never to shy away from a grandiose idea, I decided to bring Ireland to her - as if I could wrap up the whole island and set it down in her back yard. I started collecting anything that might conjure up the Emerald Isle. I can't remember now what I put in the basket but it was a pretty fine collection of Irish trinkets. Because I was Internet challenged I did the search by driving around town and begging. When I explained my gift basket idea to a woman at the Delta airline counter (I wanted a poster) it was like we were kindred spirits. She joined me on the search. [I love it when people get me!]. Anyway, I was able to present my friend with a token of my friendship that made both of us feel good.
I've told the story several times about how a few months before Bettie died with thoughts of Tuesdays with Morrie on my mind, I asked her if we could go through her cookbooks, pick out her tried and true recipes and leave a legacy for her family - not to mention me. She struggled to get of the couch and took my hand as we walked into the room that housed her library of cook books. She stopped in front of a shelf of books that took my breath away. Oh sure, she had her favorites, the ones most used with turned down pages and gravy-stained covers but that woman could find any recipe you asked for even if it was in the book crammed into the tip top shelf. It was an amazing assortment. We both knew that it would take years of Tuesdays to complete a project like I was suggesting. And we both knew Bettie's life was limited to weeks. I admitted defeat but can still kick myself for giving up so easily.
Except that you make/eat it in the Fall of the year when there is a cool chill in the air so you might want to wear an Irish knit sweater, I doubt there is one thing Irish about Apple Dapple Cake. However, I can't get through apple season without making the cake and remembering the friend who taught me how to turn cups of sugar and oil and apples into quite a tasty autumn treat.
It's no surprise that both these lovers of all things Irish were staunch Catholics. They loved family. And they loved me. I was pretty lucky to know them both.
Here is a video that was sent to me this morning that pretty much defines friendship the way those two lived it: http://worriersanonymous.org/Share/anirish.htm I wish the same for you and yours.

Hopin' there's a bit of the Irish luck in your future,
Merry ME


Laura Paine Carr said...

I am so glad to have made my way here, again! A good good post, Ms. Merry! Heartwarming stories, AND where is that apple recipe??? ;-)

Fire Byrd said...

Thank you for that blessing, it made me cry.
My beautiful Mummy was Irish and she's been dead now many years and I still miss her.