My mom, my best friend Mary Jo, and I stand in the alcove by the front door of Frisch’s waiting for the parade to start, trying to avoid the blustery wind that blows so bitterly cold that evening. My coat of emerald green, a hand-me-down, provides little resistance to the river wind and snowflakes, but my mother could not make me wear something warmer. I wanted to wear the green I imagine that Ireland is. Mary Jo, dressed in a shoulder to knee wool coat, and her white fake fur hat tied with string, fluff balls tucked under her plump chin, stands very close to my mom.
It’s past 6:00 pm and the parade has not started yet, so Mary Jo and I rush into Frisch’s with a dollar, to buy two cups of hot chocolate. Back outside with my mom, we notice that a crowd is moving toward the curbs; time to claim a spot near the street in order to see the dancers, bands, and bagpipes. Off in the distance, the whine of Irish melody floats and dances with the snow. Strobe lights from police cars precede the parade, and we giggle with excitement. We are ten-year-old girls on an adventure into the city.
About a half a block away, a figure, dressed in white with a staff and pointy hat, dances from curb to curb. Each time he gets close to a side, the crowd roars with laughter. As he draws near to us, I see the golden threads, and flowing white linen of St. Patrick, stamping his staff as if every demon snake in the world is under foot. The man’s face is obscured, at first, but as he turns toward our little crowd, I notice something familiar about him.
My mom has been standing aloof from the entire scene until she too, sees St. Patrick. Suddenly she says, “Oh my God, it’s Edward! Eddie, Tina, it’s your uncle Eddie.” She begins to laugh, becomes more animated than I have ever seen her. “Edward.” She yells, trying to catch his attention. He looks at her barely acknowledging his younger sister. My mother just keeps laughing. There’s a glimmer of childhood prank in her eyes, and then Uncle Eddie, taps me on the head, and he too, seems to be a child.
He prances down the street, jaw set in determination, attempting to look as saintly and Irish as possible. But Eddie has no Hibernia in him at all. He, like me, has roots in Baden and Black Forest, not Kilkenny, or Clare. He drinks beer, not ale, frequents taverns, not pubs.
Years later, I will ask my mother about that night, why my German uncle donned an alb and mitre, staff in hand, and played the part of St. Patrick on a snowy night. Her answer will bring a smile to my face. “Tina, he had an in with the bishop and could borrow the get-up.”
Every year when dinner table talk reverts to the St. Patrick’s Day parade in Cincinnati, I make a point to say, “The first St. Patrick in the parade was not even Irish, but a good German.”