Connections: Irish for a Day

   For me, it is St. Patrick’s Day when the Montauk Friends of Erin hold their parade, as they will on Sunday. It has always been a big day, from the very beginning of our family life. In my memory the weather back in the ’70s was always perfect, the floats lively and sometimes hilarious, and the crowds well behaved. My first husband, Everett, promoted the parade in the days when it wasn’t yet as well known up the Island as it is today, and he made sure the kids had a good spot for viewing.
    After his death in 1980, the Friends of Erin, knowing how much he liked the parade, planted a few shadbush trees on Montauk’s Main Street in his memory. In the ’80s, having become editor of The Star myself, I started being invited to take a place on the reviewing stand. It was the only formal occasion at which I rubbed non-official shoulders publically with local politicos, and I loved every minute of it.
    Our editor’s creed was and is to stay on the sidelines where organizations are concerned, so that we could be objective in our reporting. At the parade, though, we were a part of it all.
    I would be up there waving away with some of Montauk’s old-timers: Mary Gosman for one, Frank Borth for another. By that time, Eddie V. Ecker Sr., a former East Hampton Town supervisor, had become the master of ceremonies. He was tenured in the position for years, and was a jolly and welcoming M.C. He seemed to know exactly what and who everything and everyone was — either in the parade or just passing by in the crowd. I would recognize his voice and his laugh today if he were still alive.
    In those days, after the parade was over, I would join friends or Star reporters and head to a couple of the Montauk bars where the various bagpipe bands always make the rounds. How could that not be fun? These bars, like the Montauket, were outside my usual social routes. If there was a lot of drinking going on, it didn’t bother any of us. Droves of young people had started to come out on the train to make merry at, during, and after the parade, but it never seemed to get out of hand.
    The crowds have gotten larger and unrulier in recent years, as we all know, and so the Friends of Erin will, for the first time, start the parade this Sunday at more family-friendly 10 a.m., instead of the traditional 12:30 p.m. The idea is to thwart the marauding. Godspeed to the Friends of Erin!
    The next generation heads our family contingent at the parade now. My son David really got in the spirit a few years ago, creating a terrific East Hampton Star float featuring lobsters on roller skates and in a giant boiling pot. With a little help, he made fantastic lobster costumes, both adult and child-size. They weren’t green, but they sure were Montauk. Some of the fake claws and the red lobster heads are still knocking around. Occasionally, one of the grandkids will pop out of a doorway with red antennas bobbing.
    Why, exactly, is the St. Patrick’s Day parade in Montauk always so much fun? Why are my memories of it so happy — fine weather and hearty laughs? I certainly can’t pretend to be Irish. It may be that when I was a student at Bayonne High School, in New Jersey, a singular and exciting St. Patrick’s experience imprinted itself in me. I was one of the twirlers, and we were invited to be in the Manhattan parade. That year, I had been made a drum majorette and positioned out front. (I was promoted because I was shorter than everyone else, I’m afraid, not because I was particularly skilled with a baton.) I remember that we were really cold that March day, in our short skirts and bare legs, but that it didn’t matter. We had a ball as we marched down Fifth Avenue.   


Comments

Helen you may remember that during my tenure at The Star, I took a vacation day every March 17th to celebrate with my family. I hate to have to do this but there is a minor error in your column this week. The NYC St. Patrick's Day Parade marches up 5th Avenue--not down. I've been fascinated for many years by how New Yorkers respond to St. Patrick's Day and am always very touched to see so many different people all celebrating together. So of course, I had to do a little research. Very quickly, I found this sentence and it summed it up for me so I thought I would share it with you. "Though it is Patrick's day that we celebrate, it is also surely our own. For each marcher and each spectator, even those who are Irish only for the day, has his or her own family history, a history which, this country being what it is, this world being what it is, is likely to tell a tale of exile and dispossession, of struggle and success, of decline and rebirth and continuance." Have fun on Sunday in Montauk!