The creaky voice over the intercom made me freeze in terror. “Would Michael Farragher please come to the principal’s office?”
It was the morning of March 17, 1972, and I was head down and minding my own business in kindergarten, probably hacking my way through construction paper with plastic scissors at the time the call came.
Small knees knocked and the little bladder worked overtime as I took the long walk and stood in front of the smoked glass door of Sister Mary Regina’s office.
Were those the anguished squeals of children being tortured in the next room, or was it just her sensible shoes squeaking on the other side of the glass?
She opened the door and I came face to face with the star of many a nightmare. Dyed red hair was sculpted under a blue veil, and in the middle of her thin, parched face were piercing blue eyes magnified by thick glasses.
Upperclassmen warned me that the goggles actually amplified her laser vision, which came in handy as she burned your soul on the way to hell.
Did I mention that the li’l bladder was working overtime at this point?
“Your name Farragher?” she snorted.
“Yes, Sister,” I stammered.
“You don’t ever go to school or work on St. Patrick’s Day ever again. Do I make myself perfectly clear?”
“Yes, Sister,” came the reply.
“Good. I’m sending you home.”
This has set off a chain reaction of celebrations ever since, as you can imagine. While I can’t vouch for my school attendance after I transferred out of St. Anne’s in Jersey City, I know that everything came to a stop during my college and work years each March 17.
When you have 24 hours to get into trouble, trouble will find you to be sure. Like many Irish folks, I have my share of drinking stories that have become stuff of legend among friends and coworkers.
There was the time 15 years ago when the technical director of my firm flew into LaGuardia on that day to see a big client in the morning, and he was eager to see the famed New York parade. He was British and complained loudly about how the Irish got all the credit for being Europe’s biggest drinkers when it was really the Queen’s subjects who were superior.
Of course, he said it loudly enough that myself and a number of others along the parade route took the bait.
When I finally came to, at the not-so gentle prodding of the train conductor, I had slept through my stop and three others, with no sign of my colleague. We barely made it to the presentation on the following morning, each one of us repeatedly excusing ourselves to dry heave into the well manicured john just outside the conference room.
The story of how a good friend extricated me from the prying paws of an Irish drag queen who called herself Lady “Gay-lick” outside Pat O’Brien’s in the French Quarter in New Orleans is something I’ll leave to your able imaginations.
My decadent behavior during those years certainly didn’t help my mother’s efforts to improve our national image. She would faithfully write to the Hallmark card company every year in protest over the betrayal of the Irish as drunks in their green greetings.
Though I thought she was stark raving mad at the time, my view of our holiday is more in line with my mother’s nowadays. Sure, I’ll still hoist a pint or two, but my first stop is now a church, where I reflect on the saint that was captured and carried off as a slave to Ireland in his teens.
After remaining captive for six years as a herdsman his faith grew daily, and when he escaped back to Roman Britain, he recalls a haunting vision.
“I saw a man coming, as it were from Ireland,” he wrote. “His name was Victoricus, and he carried many letters, and he gave me one of them.
“I read the heading: ‘The Voice of the Irish.’ As I began the letter, I imagined in that moment that I heard the voice of those very people who were near the wood of Foclut, which is beside the western sea -- and they cried out, as with one voice, ‘We appeal to you, holy servant boy, to come and walk among us.’”
Is it any wonder that Patrick is our patron saint? His lesson is one that many Irish and Irish Americans here in the States can identify with -- you may leave Ireland but Ireland never leaves you.
Sister Regina knew that, and when I am in church on the morning this St. Patrick’s Day, I will light a candle and thank that nun for watching over my wretched soul and for instilling a sense of Irish pride in my formative years.