Today is St. Patrick's Day. When I was young, my holiday morning began with a glass of green milk, served in shamrock mugs, and it ended with corned beef and boiled potatoes. My mother is not of Irish descent (she's mostly Dutch), but my father came from two Irish parents. This makes me fifty percent Irish, and fifty percent hodgepodge.
My mother enjoyed celebrating our Irish heritage, and her commitment can be summed up by her children's names: Erin, Megan, Sean, and Kate. Some of those were second choices. "Mavourneen" was considered for my sister Erin, and I was almost "Siobhan." Someone in the family convinced Ma that Siobhan would never, ever get pronounced correctly. That was proven true, back in the day, when folks struggled simply with "Megan."
I don't think I look especially Irish. My sister Erin seems to have inherited most of my father's genes, which seems appropriate, she being named after the homeland, and all. My childrens' genetic disposition is similarly lopsided. Of the five, four have blue eyes and some version of blonde hair. Only one, Boy Three, has dark hair and eyes. And he looks exactly like the Captain. When he was nine, we found a picture of the Captain at the same age, and held it up to Three's face. The similarity was striking, and a little disconcerting.
The Captain's heritage is fifty percent Italian, and fifty percent eastern European hodgepodge. He is like a chameleon; when he stands next to his mother, he looks completely Italian. When he's near his dad, he looks Polish. It's a fun party game we play.
All of this means that my children are like most of the others in the United States: a mixed bag. I think it's important to know the family tree, as best we can. It makes us feel connected to something greater than our wee selves. Family history places our life in context, and, by comparison, makes us better appreciate the ease of our modern existence. But our hodgepodge combination has left me ambivalent about celebrating St. Patrick's Day. If your family history is represented by half the settled world, is it fair to celebrate just one corner of it?
We all know that St. Patrick's Day is no longer just a religious holiday. The Captain will spend most of his day avoiding enthusiastic, over-imbibers in New York City. Boy Five will review the success of the leprechaun trap that he built in school. I suppose I could muster the energy to bake something with green icing. But I think I'd rather spend the day talking about my father, Grandpa Leo, the missing link to their Irish heritage. That is a memory worth celebrating.