St. Patrick’s Day
When I was ten years old, Georgie Ohland gave me his fife so I could join the St. Pascal Baylon Band. I loved it: marching up and down, back and forth, right flank, left flank, to the rear march. I played close attention to the person in front of me because I still had trouble with rights and lefts.
Even more pleasing was the hour spent in a classroom, practicing music. The fifes sounded like birds as we played, high and squeaky. Professor Passut would sink onto the edge of his desk, eyebrows drawn together as if he had a headache. But at last our fingers found the right notes and we were ready to march along Fifth Avenue in the St. Patrick’s Day parade.
How cold it was, year after year, waiting on a side street, sometimes for two hours. I held Georgie’s fife with one hand, the other tucked under my arm, trying to keep my fingers warm.
We swung out, fifers first, playing The Rakes of Mallow or The Wearing of the Green, my sister beating a drum a few rows back, the buglers last. Somewhere ahead, my mother marched with the Ancient Order of Hibernians, and my father, a police inspector, stood on the steps of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, smiling as we marched past.
So long ago.
Later this morning, I’ll turn on the television to watch those kids going up Fifth Avenue, my fingers dancing, playing an imaginary fife with them, remembering the notes, the rhythm of the old song, THE KERRY DANCERS: “Oh to think of it, oh to dream of it, fills my heart with joy.”