Chicago canceled theirs. New York canceled theirs. Boston canceled theirs — even Dublin canceled theirs. But My Home Town’s happened took place right on schedule.
I am, of course, referring to our St. Patrick’s Day parade.
A week before the parade, Jen-X asked me the perfect rhetorical question.
“You going to the parade?” she asked.
“Does the Lone Ranger wear a mask?” I said, perhaps a bit too smugly.
“I should’ve known,” she said.
At that point, realizing discretion might be the better part of repartee, I kept my yap shut and just nodded.
But without being snarky about it, there are two good reasons why anyone who knows me would’ve known I’d never have missed the parade.
I’ve never taken one of those DNA tests that are so popular now, but even without one I can guarantee no drop of Irish blood runs through my veins. Nonetheless, I always celebrate St. Patrick’s Day and have done so almost religiously the past half-century. It’s due to a guy named Willy Kendrick.
If you don’t know who he is, don’t feel bad, because there’s no reason you should. Willy is my best friend from our days at Potsdam State. We were best friends then, we are best friends now, and we’ve been best friends all the while. Then again, he’s an easy guy to be friends with. He’s smart, well-read, witty, warm and generous to a fault. I can’t recall once over the past 50 years we’ve had a disagreement or even a misunderstanding.
“That’s all well and good,” you say, “but what does that have to do with St. Patrick’s Day?”
Everything, really. Just read on.
As sure as I’ve no Irish ancestors, I’m equally sure that’s all Willy has. All four of his grandparents came over from Ireland as adults; one of his grandmothers spoke Irish as her first language.
He clearly came by his Irish-i-tude naturally, and as happens with best friends, a bunch of it rubbed off on me. Then again, he went to Rosh Hashanah services with me, so there’s always been a quid pro quo between us.
St. Patrick’s Day, 1969, was the last one we celebrated together before we both went in the Navy. But even though we’ve always lived apart, I’ve called him every St. Pat’s Day since then, without fail.
I said I had two reasons why I’d go to our St. Pat’s parade, and reminding me of my friendship with Willy is the first one. The second one is much simpler and more obvious: Any time some bunch of local mishugges organize an event all on their own, and on a shoestring, you can bet I’ll show up to support it.
I got to Main Street way before the parade’s start, and I’m glad I did because it gave me time to shmooze with my friends Bill and Lynda Peer, which is always delightful. In this instance it was also useful, since Bill pointed out we were standing in the shady side of the street. I then followed them to the sunny side, I front of the Adirondack Bank, and as soon as I did, the first marchers came into view.
There was, of course, a piper. I didn’t know him, but his piping was excellent. Then there was the color guard. Representing the Marine Corps was my pal and fellow journalistic hack George Bryjak; I didn’t know the others. And that pretty much set the pattern for the rest of the parade. As they glided by me, I’d know some people and not know others. Though I can’t recall the parade order, it was all fun and it had a bunch of highlights.
After the color guard came the grand marshal, Pat Finn, who looked positively aglow — a perfect grand marshal if ever there was one.
Then there were our Winter Carnival king and queen, Joe Szwed and Nancy Heath, each styling in their crowns and capes. And when I say styling, I mean just that because the St Pat’s capes (as opposed to their red Carnival capes) were, in keeping in theme, a beautiful Kelly green.
Then there were the family groups, each as upbeat and jovial as the other.
The Mountaineers, our local rugby club, was there, struttin’ their stuff — our boys and girls, God love ’em.
Hizzoner Clyde Rabideau and Trustee Richard Shapiro, two fine broths of faux Hibernian lads, were certain crowd-pleasers. Their shtick was to intersperse their walk-n-wave by locking arms and twirling in their version of Irish dance. To me, however, it like a new and unique dance form — a High Peaks Hora.
The Lawn Chair Ladies were there, of course. And so were the Canoodlers, who I thought outdid themselves. They had leprechaun outfits replete with green derbies and orange beards that were so boffo I couldn’t recognize anyone in the group, even though I know almost all of them. Their choreography, which included artful smacking of their shamrock-festooned paddles, was clever — especially since no one got decapitated.
My rave fave of the parade were the step dancers from the Champlain Valley Irish Dancers school. Admittedly, I’m no expert on Irish music or dance, but I have been to Eire three times and have seen a fair bit of both. And lemme tell ya, the Champlain Valley dancers were wonderful. They were perfectly in step and seemingly inexhaustible. (They danced all through the parade and were even dancing in front of the town hall afterward.) And I was most impressed by how young most of them were. The youngest of them looked in single digits, but were keeping up with the older girls (who were hardly ancient themselves). Those dancers are a tribute to their teachers, as well as to their own dedication.
After the parade was over I ran into Pat Romeo and Dave Staszak, and we enthused about what a delightful parade it’d been. Then both Pat and Dave said they hadn’t seen Himself himself and didn’t know if he was there.
Lest you not know, Himself himself is Whispering Mike Ryan. If our St. Pat’s Day parade wasn’t Mike’s original idea, he, along with Ray Scollin, was one of its movers and shakers. Moreover, he was the parade’s first grand marshal. So knowing his background, Pat and Dave couldn’t imagine he hadn’t shown up.
“I mentioned that to Bunk earlier,” I said, “and he said he said Mike had told him a couple weeks ago that he wouldn’t be able to make it this year.”
“So that explains it,” said Dave.
“Yeah,” I said. “But I would’ve known Mike wasn’t here, even if Bunk hadn’t told me.”
“Why?” said Dave. “Because you didn’t see him?”
“No,” I said. “Because I didn’t hear him.”