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The Last Windrow: A very green celebration

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St. Patrick’s Day is but a whiff in the northern breezes this week as all the Irish in our part of the country have retreated back into their normal life enterprises.

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But, they did have their day in the sun and people who were not even close to being Irish, including me, wore green.

St. Patrick’s Day didn’t carry much importance in the countryside where I grew up. Our land was settled by people with names like Heimgartner, Beck, Howe, Ruhland, Lang, Muecke, Schultz and Ludwig.

German names — good, hearty Germanic names that meant lots of long, hard, arduous toil. Those folks judged you by how many hours you worked in a day, not by how much fun you had.

My family was Bohemian by birth. They had immigrated from the western plains of what is now the Czech Republic to the Iowa sod. Somehow they settled among these Germanic tribes, which kind of accepted them.

Those of you who know us Bohemian types know that we do enjoy a day or two of rest and a good party once in awhile, and those short vacations were not accepted heartily by our sometimes friendly neighbors.

Anyway, getting back to St. Patrick’s Day, our German Lutheran church never really got too excited about the day. Our sermons were the same as always, leading us through Lent and to Easter Sunday.

But the Catholics, just a mile down the road, celebrated St. Pat’s Day with vigor. Their celebrating was looked on with a sort of disdain by my fellow church-folk .

Why should they be so happy when we were in the early stages of mourning?

But, the Catholics from St. Joseph’s Church, Neptune, Iowa, did have some fun on the week when St. Patrick chased the snakes out of Ireland! I remember my granddad taking me to a turkey shoot sponsored by the church. The sharpshooters from the community showed up, whether they were Catholic or Lutheran. Many an argument was settled at the end of a shotgun blast when that last claybird was busted by the winning shooter, Catholic or Lutheran. Religion meant nothing on the shooting line.

The priest came over to my grandfather and me and asked my grandfather if he was going to come into the church to play some bingo and have some lunch. Bingo? That was not a game that was regarded as safe by my side of the church. Wasn’t that like, gambling?

Well, granddad spared me that exercise when he told the priest that we had to get home for chores. I kind of wished he’d have accepted the invitation.

Yes, there were some Irish among us, one of them being Ed Swain. Ed ran the little gas station a quarter mile from our farm home. Ed had done a lot of things in his life and had somehow ended up here, running a two-pump gas station in the middle of nowhere. But, his Irish heritage stood him well and he was always a cheerful sort.

One fine St. Pat’s Day afternoon he evidently invited my dad to have a shot or two of Irish whiskey with him to celebrate the day. My brother and I were dutifully milking the Holsteins that early evening when our father returned to the barn. I looked at my brother and he looked at me and we decided we had never seen dad so happy to be milking cows! He was singing some Hank Williams tune. I think Ed Swain had a lot to do with his attitude.

The Irish played a huge role in settling our part of northwest Iowa. Many came from Ireland after the potato famine. Names such as McDermott, Stokes, Delaney, Kennedy, Kenaly and Sullivan sprouted up on land deeds across our countryside and they all proved to be great farmers and tenders of the land. They raised great families there.

So, history tells us that the Irish had much to do with the successful history of our country and I’m here to say, I hope they all had a very green celebration. That is, after all, one of the things the Irish do better than anyone! My dad would agree.

See you next time. Okay?

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