Saturday, March 17, 2007

"What do you usually do for St. Paddy's?"

Before the sun had risen (it still hasn't), even before the dogs were released for their morning stroll along the Kuskokwim River (they still haven't been), I stood in my dimly lit kitchen heating the teapot and pondering this question that was asked before I came downstairs.

It seemed like such an easy question to answer. St. Paddy's Day isn't complicated, right? But an actual answer, one that felt accurate and complete was evading my pre-caffeinated mind.

My first thought was Irish bars, and the college combination of empty wallet and wealth of time: go early, stay late. The trick was to get in before the start of lines and cover-charges. Then I thought of the St. Paddy's Days in New York, and the young professional's combination of salary and luxury: a coveted reservation at a restaurant and an epicurian nod to matury's effect on one's sense of a "good time." I chuckled at the memory of how - no matter how epicurian the dinner would be on St. Paddy's - I always made a point, afterwards, of stopping at my neighborhood regular before calling it a night. It didn't have to be an Irish regular. But it had to have pints. After that chuckle, my mind meandered back to the St. Paddy's days of my childhood - to the daffodils that would pop up all around my house, to the simmering anticipation of Oregon strawberries and the arrival of Walla Walla Sweets, to that mischievious glee of finding someone - anyone - unfortunate enough to have forgotten to don at least one green item of wardrobe.

Oh, yes. One can love a morning that is decorated with such a random assortment of treasured memories that all seem to compliment each other.

While the water heated for my tea, my mind thought back to last year - my first St. Paddy's Day in this Alaskan smalltown 500 airmiles from the nearest Irish bar and uncountable number of airmiles from the culinary Taj Mahals of my Manhattan days and the daffodils of my childhood ones.

I can't remember what we actually did on that actual day last year. But I remember well that at some point, on or around that date, I made Orangette's recipe of Braised Green Cabbage. Yes, I remember well that recipe! (Such a fine, humble dish that rather embodies for me my dreams of an Alaskan example, of sorts, of an Alaskan Ambrosia.) And I remember that I made it my heavy cast-iron skillet and loved the simmering perfume of it so much, that I felt compelled to share it. It must have been cold last year (as compared to today's mere 5 below), because I remember being all bundled up in many layers of borrowed winter gear. And I remember my boyfriend and I, on the snowmachine, crossing Mission Lake on the trip to Alligator Acres for an evening of Texas Hold 'Em. And I remember having one-arm wrapped around my boyfriend's stomach, and the other arm carefully laden with a burning-hot, cast-iron skillet of braised cabbage (wrapped in towels to avoid melting my carharrt work bibs) and a jar of pennies. I remember how earnestly I tried to read my boyfriend's body so that I could anticipate turns or bumps and balance my treasures accordingly. Suffice it to say, we arrived with no loss of precious cabbage or of pennies.

Now, here, sitting at my table with a sunrise about to overcome the day and such a fine assortment of memories complimenting my steaming mug of milky tea, my mind tries to find the common thread of all these years of St. Paddy's Day.....the "usual" part.

What do I "usually" do for St. Paddy's?

And it suddenly dawns on me that the answer to this question - the commonality among all the ways I have celebrated St. Paddy's Days over my years and epochs - is this: I call my grandma.

Happy St. Paddy's Day, Grandma.

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