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Thursday, March 17, 2005

St. Paddy’s and basketball

Happy St. Patrick’s Day to ye! I’m hearing the Irish lilt in my head today. Reminds me of a short story I read by Penelope S. Duffy called, “Voices.” She heard Irish voices in her head that sounded like this:

”Fancies herself a writer now.”
“The cheek of it. How is she then?”
“At spinning our tales? Fair to middling, I suspect.”
“Aye. But what’s the point of it all? Has she nothing better to do than fritter her time away with stories and dreams?”

The smell of corned beef and cabbage is already permeating my house as it begins to simmer in the crock-pot. It’s tradition in the Hoke house. They say everyone is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day. My husband is the youngest of eight children from a typical Irish Catholic family that marries typical Irish spouses from big families and breeds children with the typical Irish-American roster of names — Patty, Lynn, Michael, Tommy, Jack, Mary Beth, Jimmy and Danny. The middle names of the boys are either Edward or Frances. The nieces and nephews (which number 30) cover the gambut of Biblical and Irish names: We've got two Moiras, a Kelly, Kerry, Erin, Molly, Clare, Ellen, Sarah, Kristine, Tracey, Colleen, Mary Kate, Mary Joanne, Mara, Elizabeth, Emily, Meghan, Olivia and Lucy. And a Ryan, Patrick, Kevin, Christopher, Matthew, Michael, Jon, Jacob, Ted and Mark.

My mother-in-law Joanne is full-blooded Irish, a member of the McGee clan. My late father-in-law Ed was part German and Irish but, as my mother-in-law pointed out, he was always 100-percent Irish on St. Paddy’s Day. Even my own father’s roots are Gaelic; he was born of Cochran blood.

Unlike many West Side Irish, our children don’t get a free pass from school today. We don’t attend Mass at St. Coleman’s and we’re not parade-goers, though we did attend a few years ago with my brother-in-law Tommy, also known as Tiny, when the temperature reached 70. We don’t go out and drink ourselves silly at the West Side Irish Club or the Cleveland Athletic Club. Our Irish family simply acknowledges the day with my husband’s favorite meal and — basketball!

That’s right, there’s no time to be gallivanting downtown watching Irish dancers with their curly wigs and colorful costumes (though I’m guessing had we a daughter things would be different). For the next several weeks, our house is embroiled in an intense competition over who can pick the most wins in the NCAA March Madness Tournament.

I’ve always enjoyed college hoops, but I’ve had to stealthily conduct my reconnaissance of teams since the lovely men in my life are not willing to share their intelligence with mom (just cause I’ve won the pool a couple ‘o times).

“Hey Ry, who’s looking good for the NCAA Tourney?” I ask my oldest.

“Sorry, mom, you’re going to have to watch ESPN.” Egads, he knows how just the sound of Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon makes my skin crawl.

“Danny, what’s a more competitive conference, the ACC or SEC?”

“What teams are you talking about? You’ve got to look at their record and who they play,” he says. Sheesh, gimme a little something will ya? No dice, this is an intense competition for big stakes — dinner at the winner’s choice of restaurants.

I made my best guess and filled out my bracket on Monday night. It now hangs on the pantry door with the rest of the family’s.

For the record, I’ve got Oklahoma State and Kentucky in the final with Kentucky winning. The rule in our house is that you can’t pick the same overall winner as anyone else. So here’s my theory on Kentucky. The team was a top seed last year and was upset early in the tourney. They have essentially the same team and are going to be hungry for the win. There you have it.

The rest of the family shakes out thusly: Danny has Kansas, Ryan picked UNC, Patrick has Wake Forest (he originally had Illinois until Ryan told him the Big 10 sucks in hoops), and Mikey has Duke. Mikey would have picked our beloved Ohio University Bobcats to win the tourney, but we had to break it to him gently that the Bobcats won’t get much beyond round one.

And so the tourney begins today. I’m the official tracker of scores and wins and will have my highlighter at the ready by dinnertime. Though darned if that Patrick Hoke doesn’t double-check my record keeping. While we partake tonight of our corned beef, cabbage and root vegetables, we’ll say a prayer to St. Patrick and have a spirited discussion about basketball.

The Irish are never at a loss for colorful expressions. To close this post, I thought I’d offer up a little sampling of Irish wisdom and wish you lightness of heart and the love of family and friends:

On importance of the drink:
An Irishman is the only man in the world who will step over the bodies of a dozen naked women to get to a bottle of stout. — Unknown

Here’s some comfort for you Danny from none other than Sigmund Freud who said of the Irish:
This is one race of people for whom psychoanalysis is of no use whatsoever. Hah! That’s a column in and of itself someday.

On the beauty of the Irish soul:
Of our conflicts with others we make rhetoric; of our conflicts with ourselves we make poetry. — William Butler Yeats

Of the undying Irish spirit:
Life is no brief candle to me. It is a sort of splendid torch
which I have got a hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.
— George Bernard Shaw

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