To me, St. Patrick’s Day is a special holiday. First of all, it’s my Grandma Mary’s birthday. Every year while she was alive — unless I screwed up and forgot, which I’m happy to say was rare — I would call her around midday to wish her happy birthday. Grandma was the most selfless person I’ve ever known, and after telling me she was fine and all she was doing was sleeping and eating, we’d talk about how all the different cousins were getting along, and then about baseball, spring training, and my cousins playing professionally. I always looked forward to making that call, hearing her voice, and getting to tell her I loved her — and hearing her return the sentiment.
Secondly, the holiday serves as a harbinger of spring. I think of the date as a benchmark when I can finally stop worrying so much about firewood, since spring is coming around the bend. It marks a time in the year when we can start thinking about when the crappie spawn will happen, make sure all of our mowing and property maintenance equipment is ready to go, and we can begin to look forward to hunting morel mushrooms. And the days are finally getting longer.
And lastly, it’s a holiday when I celebrate my Irish heritage by planting potatoes and eating the delicious traditional meal of corned beef and cabbage. Every year when I’m planting potatoes, I think of my Great-Great-Grandfather Martin, who came over from Tipperary County, Ireland, to the New York state and Quebec area, and homesteaded a piece of Kansas ground by way of Illinois. At some point, our name was shortened from O’Regan to Regan (at least that’s my educated guess), and to this day, there is a main road in Esbon, Kansas, named Regan Street. Martin’s daughter Elizabeth donated land for the first Catholic church in the area, and Martin built a sod home and then later a two-story framed home. I’ve always wanted to take the plat maps of the original homestead and walk that property near Esbon.
By all indications, Martin possessed grit, as did so many in those days, and he might knock me upside the head if he heard me say I think of him while I plant potatoes. But I do, as well as his son, Frank, my great-grandfather, a man of considerable influence who eventually settled somewhere around Valley Falls, Kansas, which is not far from where I live. I like to think that we both found the best area of Kansas to settle.
If we don’t get the potatoes planted on St. Patrick’s Day, they go into the ground sometime right around then. And then everything else in the garden follows, and we look forward to longer spring and summer days with warmer weather. I love it.
What about you? What are your springtime rituals, or your St. Patrick’s Day traditions? Do you have any knowledge of homesteading ancestors? Working for a publication like Grit, we’re always interested to hear about traditions and heritage. Send me a note (firstname.lastname@example.org), with a photo (JPEG, at least 300 dpi) if you have one, and we’ll try and feature a few of them in a future issue of the magazine.