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See you Monday, Finnegan

Mar 20, 2014 - By Betty Starks Case

Why it's good to be a little bit Irish every spring

St. Patrick's Day, spring, Son's birthday -- which do I write about? Or do they all blend together in our world?

Son says the crocuses are blooming in his Spokane, Wash., yard. The seed from our beautiful blue flax that he took home and planted last fall is up and growing. And we saw a pair of robins dancing around the rosebush in our flower garden a couple of days ago.

So, despite snow storms now and then, spring hovers near. Its special first day appears, according to the calendar, on March 20, the day this column appears in The Ranger.

Son's birthday, the day we herald as spring, is the next day.

But St. Patrick's day put us in celebration mode a few days earlier, with various reasons as to why we do it. Here are some of ours:

Years ago my mate inherited a tattered family birth/death record book with dates beginning in 1797. That looked like a treasure to me, the maternal family name being Irish. I decoupaged one sheet of names and dates to an artistically shaped piece of wood to display on the wall of our home.

Mysteriously, in the ancient book the name of Son's great grandfather, Frank Patchen, was spelled "Patching" on all the names. Wondering how and when it happened, we drove to Casper to question an elderly aunt, the only one living who might possibly know.

Aunt Mabel remembered she'd heard that an Uncle Andrew had decided to change the name many years ago, probably to fit the spelling to the common pronunciation -- Patchen -- removing the "ing" as we carelessly do with many words in speaking.

But the mysteries continue, at least in my mind. It's not a very common name.

I wonder, are we related to Judge Patchen in Casper?

And what would a genealogy search produce if the judge did respond to a query which he probably wouldn't?

Living in Casper also, Grandpa Frank Patchen was known as an Irish fiddler who loved more than anything to play and watch people dance to his music.

Son's Grandpa Case, whose genealogy speaks of Case Castle in England rather than Ireland, loved the Irish heritage of his wife, and participated whenever he could in the dancing, singing, and story-telling. In fact, he was known to call square dances at country homes in the Pavillion area, and I was told he had a fine singing voice. I wish I'd had the privilege of hearing it.

I didn't recognize his Celtic leanings until I'd been in the family a number of years and my mate, son and I lived here in Riverton, our homes back to back with the grandparents on North First Street.

There, we shared an outdoor clothesline where Grandpa and I hung communal laundry.

One Monday morning, from behind the dishtowels and sheets and pillowcases flapping on the line, I heard in Gaelic brogue, "Well, good morning, Mrs. Murphy! And how are you today?"

Surprised, but recalling my own father's identity games with a friend years ago, I quickly responded with, "Good morning, Mr. Finnegan. How are you?"

Once we'd been introduced to our new characters, we moved into them easily and gracefully, merry chuckles interspersed with whatever nonsense we could evoke to keep our Irish fantasy going.

The illusion continued as long as we lived there, but only at the clothesline on Mondays. In the background, Grandma Case, the one with the real Irish heritage, quietly advised me, "Don't give it up. He loves it."

When he died, I whispered, "See you Monday, Finnegan."

Only he would have understood.

Mr. Finnegan had become quite real to me, changing from a man who often didn't let others know him too well, to one behind the clothes and linens on the line where he talked like an old friend, laughed and joked. Treasuring my new friend, I joined in.

Now, I thought of all the other things he might have been that we never knew.

That might explain why most of us celebrate St. Patrick's day whether we're Irish or not.

It's an opportunity to pretend, find other sides of ourselves, fun sides, creative sides, maybe sides we never knew.

So we wish our springtime son "Happy Birthday," with the reminder that unlike the rest of us, you have more than one day to celebrate who you are. You're one-eighth Irish, after all. And that celebration begins three days earlier. Every year.

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