It’s been six decades since my mom, daughter of immigrants from Luxembourg, created a green baked Alaska for my dad in honor of the annual celebration of the passing of St. Patrick. That green ice cream pie was an utter marvel as my mom removed it from the 450 degree broiler where she had toasted the fluffy merengue so the tips of its waves were just golden and the shamrock-green ice cream was still frozen cold. It nestled there on the thick pot holders in her hands, and it was so full of love and beauty I think of it when I am sad, and the memory cheers me.
Oh, and it tasted so good, that warm fluffy merengue and the dense and cold ice cream.
My dad was the son of Irish immigrants. That is to say, he was American. But his genes were pure Green. His mom was named Mary Gleason and that’s a fine Irish name. They say it was a Gleason woman who gave birth to a child during what the settlers called the Sioux Uprising of 1862. She gave birth to my grandfather or grandmother or some other antecedent. It’s not important to remember which it was, but the point is that the woman gave birth in a haystack to an Irish-American child while the Indians were rising up all around her and demanding some food and some respect. She was no doubt a frightened but strong Irish woman, and her baby lived and thrived, and some of its relatives marched into the future to enjoy my mother’s masterpiece pie a century later. More or less.
My father was what you’d call a militant Irishman for small town late 1950s and ‘60s. Considering how much the Irish fought and argued and struggled for a place in the world, dad’s militant insistence that his boys wear something green to school on March 17 was a small matter.
But I think, for dad, St. Patrick’s Day was an Irish Pride Day. He was born at a time when being called a Mick, or perhaps a Dumb Mick, was common. Irish insults and discrimination against your people was to be fought by banding together. The Irish needed to band together if they were going to be proud and strong. But banding together was out of the question in our town. There was only us, a lonely Irish outpost. Nevertheless, on March 17 dad would proudly don his green tie and shamrock button and head off to work. And, as instructed, we boys wore our green. Could it be true that our parents made us wear green bow-ties? I remember something like that, but I must be wrong. It would have been too cruel. However, they sent us to school wearing some conspicuous green marker.
We struggled. We complained. We argued. And, as with many causes taken up by the Irish, my dad lost a little ground every year. First we had bowties (perhaps). Then green shirts. Then a sweater. Finally, we may have accepted green socks.
It was about the time of the green socks that mom made the baked Alaska. Dad had fought the good fight. And he lost to the implacable forces of mediocrity. Mom knew that wearing the green mattered to him – deeply. So that night my sainted Luxemburger mom created a culinary masterpiece and put it in front of her Irishman and his wayward boys. That pie went down in history, and as I tucked into my second piece of ice cream pie, I happened to look up, and there was my old dad, and he was beaming. And I swear, as an Irishman on a bale of sacred shamrocks, that he had a one sparkling tear in his eye and that he was humming Danny Boy. Beannachtam na Femle Padraig. (“Happy St. Patrick’s Day!”)