My younger brother invented a holiday. I can’t correctly recall the story behind its origin. Something about trying to schedule a Thanksgiving dinner with his friends that got pushed back a few months until it finally happened in March, closer to St Paddy’s than Thanksgiving. The Yankee Thanksgiving that happens in November, not the Canadian Thanksgiving that happens in October. Not that it matters, it is still a made-up holiday. It never happens on St Paddy’s Day, only around St Paddy’s Day, and this year it happened last Sunday, 11 March.
The beauty of a made-up holiday is that it has all the trimmings of a proper holiday – friends, good cheer, and overeating – with no scheduling conflicts. No one is going to say, “Dang it, this St Patsgiving we’re visiting Auntie Carbuncle in Boise and can’t visit my brothers.” No excuses. If you don’t want to go, don’t go. But who would want to miss an invented holiday that combines the best of Thanksgiving and the best of St Patrick’s Day? Not me!
The tradition, which is in its sixth year, is that everyone drives to my brother’s house in Liverpool, just north of Syracuse, New York. (Send me a private email and I’ll give you his address and phone number. He’d love me for that. That is what brothers are for.) We spend the day cooking and eating traditional Irish food then go around the table and give thanks for being of Irish descent. That is the plan anyway. Most of the time we forget the giving thanks part, our brains addled by lack of blood as our stomachs try to digest copious amounts of corned beef and cabbage. My role, this my second St Patsgiving, was to make the soda bread. Simple. Irish soda bread is fall down easy. You could be drunk as a skunk and make it, especially the recipe I use. Actually, since I use buttermilk, my soda bread is more accurately called “cake”, but that is being pedantic and priggish. Soda bread doesn’t have to rise, so I knew it was only going to take about an hour and a half to two hours to make the loaf. Naturally I waited until Sunday morning. And to prepare, I hung out until midnight with a couple friends on Saturday night. And before going to bed, I set the clock an hour ahead, in honor of Daylight Saving Time.
Sunday morning I awoke to a squirrel trying to gnaw his way through the apartment wall. All winter long I’ve been warring with three squirrels who are trying to make the attic their love nest. The iron fire escape attaches to the house outside my bedroom window, and offers an easy lodging for the pesky varmints to try and chew their way through the cedar siding that covers the side of the house. The bedroom is on the third floor of the house. Twice I’ve climbed up the fire escape and nailed boards to cover holes that they have started – a precarious adventure in itself – and thus far I’ve succeeding in keeping the attic free of squirrels. This Sunday, St Patsgiving Sunday, I didn’t have time to checkerboard the house with another board, and instead hammered on the wall until they fled. Gazing through the window, I can look them in the eye. Don’t for a moment think squirrels are cute. They are rodents. Vermin. They would eat a human baby if they could get a hold of one. If I lived in the country I would shoot them. Don’t be shocked; that is what country people do. But I live in the city and can’t. Well, I could shoot one, maybe two before the police showed up, but I’d rather not spend St Patsgiving in jail. And I’d rather not have them confiscate my rifles.
So, I was up and squirrel-annoyed and tired and I started the soda bread. It takes an hour and a half to drive to my brother’s house. The meal is at 1 (13:00) and he wants me on the road at 11. My son, Aug, was at his mom’s – he splits his time evenly between her house and my apartment – so I had to pick him up before going. It was 8 but felt like 7 because of daylight saving time. I got the coffee going and stared blurry eye at the chickadees scrabbling on the bird feeder for seed perches. With a belch of steam the coffeemaker completed its pot. I poured a cup and started measuring ingredients. By 9 the soda bread was in the oven, destined for its 50 minute journey at 375 degrees Fahrenheit. By 10 it was cooling on the counter top and I was shaving and showering, in that order. I mixed up some Robinsons Barley water, my second appointed task, revved up the Honda, picked up the offspring, and by 11 was tearing north on Route 81, bound for brother Roll’s house.
Roll is short for Roland. He is named after the saint, St Roland, the Irish-born abbot of the Cistercian monastery in Chézery, France, who died in 1200. Actually he is named after my uncle, the reverend. I don’t think anyone in my family has every heard of St Roland, or Cistercians, although I think I have a cousin was has heard about France. Like I said, we are country people. My son August, who is named after St Augustine, and I arrived on the scene a few minutes after 1 (13:00) and just in time for the meal. The kitchen was loaded with corned beef and cabbage, baked ham, grilled salmon, boiled pototes, carrots, and parsnips, more soda bread, a sweet potato casserole, cinnamon and raisin bread stuffing (to go with the ham), and many empty Guinness bottles. I knew that one or two went into the meal, and wondered how many the cooks had been drinking, but quickly forgot once the queue for the food formed. St Patsgiving isn’t a family holiday, so besides my son, my brother, his wife and his sons, we were the only Ryans in the house. It is more of a friend’s holiday, and the rest of the crew were my bother’s friends and their families. All told there were 16 people. And 25 pounds of cooked meat. The event was off to a good start.
I only casually knew my brother’s mates so I concentrated on chewing. The food was fantastic, as always, and I happily shoveled two plate fulls down my gullet. I steered clear of the salmon, too light, and concentrated on the corned beef and cabbage. I’m not a huge fan of cabbage, although I did have a decent plate of scalloped cabbage last night, but do enjoy a good pound of corned beef. I ate until I had a hard time breathing, my expanded stomach pushing up into my diaphragm, and happily sat in my chair gurgling and slowly slipping into a much desired food-coma. And on the edge of unconsciousness, my brother announced a new addition to his St Patsgiving tradition:
“Now let’s go on a two-mile run.”
I immediately waffled out an answer. “I’d love to run,” I said, wiping the grease from my lips, “but I didn’t know there was a schedule athletic event and didn’t bring any gear.” Looking at my Doc Martins I said, “I can’t run in these.”
“I have shoes that will fit you.”
“Size 15?” I was getting nervous. Roll isn’t as tall as me and I hoped his shoes wouldn’t fit my gargantuan feet.
“No, but my 14’s will fit.”
And, unfortunately, they did. Before I knew it he placed shorts, t-shirt, shoes, and socks in my lap. I haven’t been running, but I have been power walking. It’s better on my knees. Since January I’ve power-walked at least a mile every day, so I knew I could aerobically manage a two-mile run. It wouldn’t be pretty, but it wouldn’t be lethal either. I joined Roll and his friend Ben outside. None of the others wanted to run, although a group of walkers set out to walk a mile. I didn’t know there was going to be a walking event, either. It was a gorgeous day, and unprecedented 60-some degrees Fahrenheit. And without a whistle, or starters gun, or any fanfare, we three started to jog.
I ran two miles. That is so much easier to type than do. It took me 18 minutes, which isn’t a fantastic time, but I didn’t puke or go into cardiac arrest. I am forty-fughan-eight years old, for Christ’s sake. A two-mile run after a two-pound supper is respectable. Respectable enough for me. After the run and the cool down we sat in the living room, runners joined by walkers, and chatted. Movies, books, fantasy fiction, comedy skits. We started guessing when past major events happened. “When was the Falklands War? When was the Chernobyl disaster?” Interesting personal asides. One couple annually butchers a pig and he gave away his secret bacon recipe, which my brother claimed must be 70% salt. People switched from Guinness to Barry’s. Roll and I tried to quench our thirst with lemon-flavored Robinson’s, but it was too sour.
Around 6 (18:00) Aug and I decided to head home. It had been a glorious feast, but all good things must end. I had told his mom that I’d have him home at 6, which wasn’t going to happen unless we teleported, and I’d left my teleporter home with my phaser cannon and ion gun. I called, said we were going to be late, and leisurely returned south. Car rides with Aug are grand. I don’t say anything initially and eventually he starts talking, filling me in on aspects of his life that I don’t know much about. I’m pretty familiar with my son’s interests and friends, but that is all changing as he climbs the tenebrous slopes of Mt Puberty. There are more comments about Vicky and Uma than Geoffrey and Ian. I listened and learned and smiled.
Pulling into town I remembered my morning and my continuing battle with the squirrels. There is a grocery store on the way to Aug’s mom’s place, and fermenting a quick plan we pulled into the parking lot. A week before I’d been in a different grocery store looking for something else and noticed rat poison on the shelf with the cleaning supplies. Where else would it be? Well, squirrels, do you like rat poison? There is about an inch of difference in my mind between you, sciurus carolinensis, and your rat brother, rattus rattus. I’ll fix your little fluffy butts. Aug saw a package of St Paddy’s Day cupcakes, and since we’d had a good day I thought I’d treat us to cupcakes. So we stood in line at the checkout and eventually placed our two items, rat poison and cupcakes, in front of the checkout girl. She looked at us, then at the items, then back at us.
“We are baiting leprechaun traps,” I said.
Loaded for bear, actually squirrel, I dropped Aug off at his mom’s and landed home around 8 (20:00). It was dark. Did I feel like scaling the fire escape and poisoning squirrels? I went inside and looked at the rat poison. I’ve never seen rat poison. Inside the cardboard box are four plastic trays full of evil-looking green pellets. That’s the whole kit and kaboodle. It would mean climbing the three-story fire escape and somehow anchoring the plastic tray so that the wind wouldn’t blow it away. It was late, I was tired, belly full of corned beef, and thighs aching from the run, so I said screw it. The last thing I needed on St Patsgiving was to slip and fall from the fire escape, landing atop the neighbor’s Chevy Impala followed by a rain of rat poison pellets. Can I legally poison wild animals in the city? I don’t want to ask.
Instead I slipped into the tub with a mug of decaf. Tomorrow was going to come way too soon, but the hot water would relax me and help me sleep. My second St Patsgiving was grand. Roll threatened that next year he’d up the run to 5 miles, which I thought was a fairly drastic leap. We’ll see if it happens. Knowing him, it will. His summer vacation plan is to bike the circumference of New York State, and he’s already penned me in for one of the legs, the southwest to northeast diagonal. Fughan hell. I’d try the “oh, I forgot to bring my bike” tactic, but he is building me a bicycle. Damn. I mean, great! I guess I know what I’ll be doing this summer: visiting an emergency room somewhere in western New York with long-term fatigue loss.