WOSTER: My conflict on St. Patrick's Day
My mother was Irish, part of the McManus clan who grew up in the neighborhood around Lyman.
I never pass the Lyman exit between Reliance and Kennebec on Interstate 90 without thinking of my mother and her Irish brothers and sisters.
(If I also think of the massive, marvelous ice-cream cones my dad used to buy for us at the general store in Lyman, I can be forgiven. They were the best things this side of Zesto in Pierre. Also, I'm assuming they cost some ridiculously old-time price like a nickel, which my dad would have grudgingly pulled from his pants pocket and handed over as if it were the Crown Jewels of England.)
The McManus family from Lyman laughed and cried and cussed and hugged and celebrated and mourned together like no other family I've ever known. They could battle each other tooth and nail, but if someone else tried to battle any one of them, that someone else took on the whole clan, and it was a fight to the death, figuratively speaking, anyway.
Some of my earliest memories are of being excited about the approach of St. Patrick's Day each March 17. Well, of course, if you're a McManus and you can trace your ancestry back to the Auld Sod, to be sure you're wearing green on March 17. My mom told me some of the stories her mom told her, and for most of my childhood, I figured every one of them was God's truth. My Grandma McManus never told a lie in her life. I can promise you that.
I'll admit to being partly proud and partly puzzled by stories of how the Irish -- and by Irish apparently in the McManus family we meant Catholic Irish -- used to drop bricks from the top of buildings onto the Protestants. I was proud of my people, for sure. I was a little puzzled by the tactics. I grew up on Roy Rogers and the Lone Ranger, and those guys wouldn't have dropped bricks from a rooftop on the villains. They'd have walked up and punched them, after giving the villains the first punch. Still, my mom thought it was a big deal, and she was all Irish. I was half Irish.
And the fact of being half created a fair amount of conflict in me on St. Patrick's Day. See, the other half was Bohemian, from my dad's side of the family.
My dad taught me to say things like Hello and Goodbye and You Have a Big Mouth in Bohemian, which was cool for a school boy (especially the one about the big mouth), but not like having a day set aside to honor you just for being born a certain nationality. Being Bohemian certainly was not like going to school on March 17 and seeing all the kids and teachers wearing green because you and your ancestors were Irish and direct descendants of St. Patrick. That guy chased the snakes out of Ireland. My Bohemian dad chased a few rattlesnakes out of Lyman County, but it wasn't like clearing a whole country of its reptiles.
So, for a while I felt somewhat disloyal at all the fuss over my Irish half and the disregard for my Bohemian half. My cousin Leo helped a bit when he did some research and discovered that there was an outside chance our dads' family roots might, in some crazy, distant way, trace back to a gang of hill-country thieves in Bohemia. It wasn't St. Patrick, but, to schoolboys, cut-throats and robber barons weren't exactly chopped liver.
When I discovered the Encyclopedia Britannica at school, I did my own research and learned that one of the big-heat folks from Bohemia's past was none other than Good King Wenceslas, the guy who looked out on the feast of Stephen. It wasn't dropping bricks on people, but folks recognized the song.
I asked a teacher in third or fourth grade if we could celebrate Saint Wenceslas Day along with St. Patrick's Day. She didn't buy into the idea. Maybe if I'd told her it would ease my inner conflict?