has only two real holidays, both of them commonly associated with the color
green. The first day of Spring
comes in March, and we have every reason to expect the world to turn green. In Memphis, though, you can't count on
that. Statistically, it is as
likely to snow on March 20 as on any day of winter. If the neighborhood does not turn not
white from snow in March, the Bradford pear trees will produce enough white
blossoms to make it look like snowfall. At the same time, the wonderful old
post oaks in the south grow long fuzzy catkins in the Spring, and they are
capable of producing enough pollen paint your car yellow if you park under one.
Green will simply have to wait.
most dependable signs of Spring are the migrations. Our little juncos and red-winged blackbirds will be heading
north, along with those other snow-birds, the folks from along the U. S./Canada
border, who have been keeping warm in Florida all winter. You'll see them on
the interstate, chugging along in their overloaded motor homes. Another migration path leads south in
March – northern college students on Spring Break. You'll want to avoid them on the highways, too. There will be a vertical migration as
well. Do you want to know how
close Spring really is? Check to
see how far down in the dirt you have to dig to find an earthworm. Their migrations may only cover a
distance of six inches or so, but when they start to stick their wormy little
heads up in your garden, Spring is definitely here.
about St. Patrick's Day? If you
happen to be in New England, you may notice that small towns dye their
green for the day. In Memphis, you
can drop by Silky Sullivan's down on Beale Street and have a green
beer. Everyone you meet will claim to come from Ireland. And you'll
need to be up-to-date on
your knowledge of all things Irish and green, like blarney stones, leprechauns and
If you are Irish, or want an excuse to
behave like an Irishman, you'll want to deck yourself out in the brightest
green outfit you can find on March 17th.
Just one word of warning.
When I was a kid, my Scotch-Irish mother boasted to me that her family
came from Northern Ireland, where the people were Orangemen (supporters of the
18-century Protestant claimant to the English throne, William of
Orange). So I went off to school
proudly wearing my new tangerine-colored sweater on March 17. Not a good idea!
St. Patrick was real enough, although he
was a pagan, came from Wales rather than Ireland, and was named Maewyn. His first trip to Ireland occurred when
he was captured by Irish marauders and carried off as a slave at the age of
16. After 6 years, he escaped and
made his way to Auxerre in Gaul, where he studied at a monastery and adopted
Christianity. He returned to
Ireland as a bishop and spent some 30 years fighting with the local Druids and
converting the population to Christianity.
has it that he drove the snakes out of Ireland. True enough, there are no snakes there. But, then, there never have been.
The island broke away from the continent well before the last Ice Age,
and snakes never managed to make the swim to re-establish themselves. My guess is that when Patrick promised
to drive the snakes out of Ireland, he was actually casting an ugly slur on the
Druids, who were pagan priests – "the little snakes!"
is a real Blarney Stone, and Irish legend says that if you kiss it, you will be
rewarded with the gift of eloquence.
The stone itself is located on the third story of Blarney Castle, just
northwest of the village of Cork.
To kiss the stone, you must sit with your back to it, lean backwards
(with someone holding your feet), and lower your head down a crack between two
stone walls. They tell me there
are iron rails to hold onto, but I think I'd rather just remain green with envy
for those who speak with honeyed tongues.
are also problematic. We all know
what they look like – about three feet tall, old and ugly, with pointed ears
and a pointed cap to match. They
smoke long-stemmed pipes, make shoes, and hide pots of gold under rainbows.
They are anti-social, tricksters, thieves, and creators of mayhem in the middle
of the night. They like to get
drunk on a home brew called poteen and as a result usually have pink-tipped
noses. There are no female
leprechauns, and I'm not going to touch the problem of how they make new baby
Leprechauns are associated
with St. Patrick because they are elves and therefore join the group of folks
Patrick wanted to run out of the island.
Despite the pictures you'll see, leprechauns probably do not hide under
shamrocks. St. Patrick's connection with shamrocks is , however, grounded in fact. He used the native three-leafed plant
to explain the nature of the Trinity and adopted the shamrock as his badge.