I have always felt that Saint Joseph got a raw deal. He continues to this very day.
The father of Jesus and the husband of Mary, his day, unfortunately, takes place two days after the feast of Saint Patrick. Apparently, that proximity rendered a St. Joseph's Day Parade "overkill" to the parade organizers of days-gone-by.
Still, every March 19, three-tiered altars are erected to honor the Holy Trinity while Italians celebrate with cannoli, zeppole, "Lobster Tails" (still a pastry), and there are even rule-breakers who might whip up a sumptuous pizzagaina (ham pie). Be honest with yourself: Does corned beef on rye even come close to any of this?
But, there's the Saint Patrick's Day Parade, in all its splendor, sprawling across city blocks in New Haven and in Hartford and beyond, with its marching bands, firefighters and kindergarteners doing the most amazing dances - wherein their legs are flailing while the upper halves of their bodies are stationary - and there's even a Queen! And finally, it is often televised.
But, it's not like I haven't enjoyed many a Saint Patrick's Days in my life, and many a Saint Patrick's Day Parades, too.
My "perch" back in the late '80s and early '90s was directly in front of Kavanagh's, a famed Chapel Street pub, where the Shepherd's Pie could not be beat (or the meat loaf the rest of the year), gone many years now - 17 to be exact.
The word "institution" gets bandied about when it comes to old venerable bars and restaurants, but Kavanagh's sure as heck was one. For a quarter of a century it was a gathering spot for townies, co-owned by a friend of my late father's, a guy by the name of Frank Conti. Yes, an Italian gleefully had his kitchen churn out the bangers and mash and pour the Guinness.
A bartender with the last name of Sullivan immediately got together with her sisters to open a worthy successor to Kavanagh's, and Sullivan's was born. It'd probably still be my spot were I to brave the elements for the Saint Patrick's Day Parade this year.
When it comes to the parade, it's all about "your spot." Your crew - family, friends, classmates, even people who want to fight you - they all need to know exactly where to find you amongst the madness.
And folks do set up shop. There are lawn chairs aplenty, some unfolded as the sun rises on downtown New Haven, with coolers (no more booze!), and other accoutrements that make taking in the entire spectacle doable - not unlike the set-ups one totes along for a day at the beach.
But the Saint Patrick's Day Parade is no day at the beach. The low hum turns to rattle sometime around midday, bagpipes and drums both near and far, green as far as the eye can see. By nightfall drink specials are easy to find pretty much everywhere within walking distance, and even out in the 'burbs, with plenty of menu staples having their prices slashed and with good reason: they are often dyed green in honor of the day.
Have you ever had "Green Eggs & Ham?" I have. Many times. And it had to do with a Saint, not a Seuss. Not as tantalizing to the eye, but every bit as tasty.
The parades are getting increasingly difficult to hold, thanks to town and city budgets being slashed, economic woes a blow to such festivities. Fundraisers are a must to keep the revelry going strong. There were several in advance of this year's New Haven parade, but Elm City (and all the greater New Haven residents) reach for their wallets happily so that the party can continue.
I vividly recall the first year I realized that several guys I had graduated high school with were amongst the firefighters dutifully walking in the parade. It was a surreal moment really. When I stopped and thought about it, we'd only just been there as raucous high school students a few years earlier, yet now here they were in full regalia, proud to represent not only the city, but their fathers and grandfathers, most of them born into a family of firefighters.
One year I wasn't far behind the NHFD, part of a collection of local radio personalities dispatched to toss freebie T-shirts and other radio station swag to the folks lining both sides of the street. There would be the occasional full stop as you marched in the parade - sometimes for a few minutes at a time - and during one of them I caught up with an old classmate. There we stood, side by side, the late Jimbo Blakeslee clad in his fireman’s uniform and looking like he belonged in a movie made in the 1940s and me decked out in a KC101 T-shirt, with platinum blond hair and my old sneakers spray-painted green.
We'd both attended Notre Dame together from 1981-1983, neither of us making it to graduation. A girl from the Notre Dame/Sacred Heart mixers of our youth burst from the crowd just then and said she just had to get a picture of us together.
We put our arms around each other and just as we were about to say ‘cheese’ Blakeslee said, "If Brother Joe could see us now!"
I'd give anything for a copy of that shot.
Editor’s note: New Haven’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade has been postponed this year, due to the recent Coronavirus outbreak.