It’s March, the time to prepare for warm weather on the Gulf Coast and to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, a lucrative holiday for bars, breweries, and lawyers who defend people arrested for DUI.
Somehow, I don’t think St. Patrick was thinking of babes in green bikinis when he converted the heathens of Ireland to Christianity, but commercialism is louder than Catholicism and now St. Paddy’s Day is a major money-maker for savvy marketers.
So let’s have fun March 17, but only after Monsignor Hunt celebrates Mass at Paddy O’Leary’s on Pensacola Beach, my starting point for the day, which also happens to be my birthday.
It’s a big one, too: Number 65.
That means I’m so old that I remember when motorcyclists were bad boys and people feared lean, long-haired bikers.
Today’s bikers tend to be pot-bellied geezers piloting electric-start machines loaded with saddle bags, windshields and other modern conveniences. They’re hardly the dare-devil Hell’s Angels of yore. They’re more likely to be retired accountants than tattooed guys with names like “Mongo” and “Killer.”
But that’s OK, except maybe to their children, who see Dad squandering their inheritance on a motorcycle he can barely straddle. Forty years from now, those kids will be senior citizens going through their own strange rites of aging, and it will be their turn to squander their children’s inheritance.
One of the joys of longevity is that you get to see things change, usually for the better: A kind, cheerful Pope. A president who is black. Downtown Pensacola once again alive and thriving.
Who knew? It’s all good stuff in my book.
It reminds me of my Uncle Jimmy, who snorted when the Beatles first arrived in America via “The Ed Sullivan Show” 50 years ago last month.
“That music will never last,” crewcut Uncle Jimmy declared. Uncle Jimmy taught me how to catch a fly ball, drop down a bunt and hit the cut-off man in baseball — stuff he knew well — but his ignorance of the Beatles’ appeal taught me something else: Don’t make sweeping pronouncements about things you don’t understand.
Uncle Jimmy is still with us, so I’ll raise a drink in his honor on St. Patrick’s Day.
And I will have a double toast for a Patrick who means more to me than St. Patrick.
That would be my grandfather, Patrick O’Brien, who came to this country as a young man because America was the land of opportunity and there was no way for him to make a living on the family’s two-acre farm near Galway, Ireland.
For years he sent money home to family in Ireland, just as so many immigrants in America do today.
But he never went back to Ireland, because America would be his home for the rest of his life. It’s a very fine home, too, where people can put poverty in the rear-view mirror and build better lives for themselves and their children.
So what if they get to be grandpas and decide they want to ride motorcycles?
Just as long as they have a designated driver to get them home safe and sound on St. Patrick’s Day.
This column appeared in the March 2014 issue of Splash!