The first year Rob and I were married, his Irish relative flew across the pond to visit. She had connections in the States and arrived in Illinois just in time for St. Patrick’s Day. A gregarious woman, she determined that Rob and I needed a taste of a real Irish celebration, so we bundled into our car and headed downtown to the Irish American Heritage Center in Chicago.
When my great grandfather arrived in the U.S. as a refugee in 1940, no group of his countrymen welcomed him here. But Rob’s ancestors, a rag tag bunch from the Emerald Isle, had found deep community when they arrived on Chicago’s South Side at the turn of the century. As we entered the heritage center, folks singing and dancing all around us, our host began to work the room like a homecoming. Though she hadn’t visited in years, she was among family here. She introduced us to friends, led us through the bar (she knew the bartender), and showed us a rollicking good time. Irish music blared from the loud speakers. Guinness flowed like water. Not an ounce of Irish blood runs through my veins, but on that night even I felt like I was family.
Rob was proud of his Irish heritage. His story was woven together with the fantastic yarns of his family clans who’d come to America seeking freedom and a better life. His ancestry was filled with fascinating characters and stories that charmed our children. For Rob, being Irish was family and Chicago and cheering on Notre Dame. He liked his Guinness extra stout and the Uilleann pipes played extra loud.
When Rob and I got engaged, we ordered wedding bands sent to us from Ireland. I adopted this part of his heritage, and we had great fun celebrating his roots together. We attended a traditional ceilidh on our honeymoon in Prince Edward Island. As television-less newlyweds, we entertained ourselves in the evenings listening to “The Thistle and Shamrock,” a Celtic radio program on our local NPR station. On each anniversary we celebrated in Chicago, we headed to a local Irish pub for fish and chips, the first meal we’d ever eaten as married couple. And because we’d done it this way the night we were married, we always ate dessert first.
Now that Rob is gone, St. Patrick’s Day feels different. I’m not celebrating my own heritage today, but I’ve decided to keep celebrating his. It’s a way of keeping him alive for our kids and for me. Rob’s favorite corned beef and cabbage will dress our table tonight, minus the Guinness I forgot to buy on my last hurried trip through the grocery store. We’ll turn on some music and maybe try a jig or two. Today, we’ll remember our favorite Irishman. The one whose eyes twinkled like an impish leprechaun, the one whose merry laugh once filled our home with joy. Until we meet again, Rob, may God hold you in the palm of His hand.