On Wednesday nights my ten year-old daughter Lauren has a writing class that is attended by the child and one parent. Perhaps 100 people, about eight to a table, listen to a teacher talk about aspects of good writing, with references to examples from well-known authors. Then the teacher provides a very general topic and everyone is given perhaps ten minutes to write a short piece. Everyone at the table reads their piece aloud to everyone else at their table, and then a small number of volunteers read their piece to the larger assembled group.
Last week we were told to bring items of clothing that had a special meaning. The teacher asked everyone to write down on an index card what the item was, whose it was, and when it is (or was) worn. She gave the entire group time to go around the room and look at the items of clothing. There were items of jewelry or fragile articles of clothing handed down through several generations. There was an old Russian soldier’s hat from World War I. There was a Girl Scout sash from the younger days of one of the mothers. And so on. The writing and the readings aside, this was an unforgettable experience.
Lauren brought a shoe she wore when she was a baby.
I brought my dad’s shamrock bow tie.
We were asked to write a short piece about our article of clothing. Because of the time taken to look at the items of clothing, there was little time to share readings with the entire audience.
Afterwards Lauren insisted that I read mine to the teacher, individually. So I did. This is what I had written:
The child’s name was Patrick.
It almost wasn’t, but his dad rescued the name. His mother had wanted to name him “John” — and she believed she had won the battle when she had secured her husband’s agreement to name the child “John Patrick.” But her husband mounted a counterattack. In flagrant violation of the usual conventions relating to names, he insisted on calling the child by his middle name: “Patrick.” The child’s mother resisted for a brief period of time — until the final betrayal. Her own mother joined forces with the child’s father, and began also to call the child by the name “Patrick.” Not wishing to inflict psychological harm upon the child by calling him by two different names, the child’s mother surrendered.
“Patrick” it was.
The child’s father had been born on St. Patrick’s Day — a fact that the child’s mother suspected was the explanation for her husband’s fierce attachment to the name.
Like all children, Patrick realized that he had been placed at the center of the universe. When his father’s birthday arrived every year, Patrick was clever enough to realize that the day was his special day as much as his father’s. After all, his name was right there in the name of the day. Luckily, his parents were also perceptive enough to understand that the world did indeed revolve around their son (although, unlike Patrick, they also believed that it revolved around their other children as well). They agreed, therefore, that St. Patrick’s Day was Patrick’s day as much as — or really more than — his father’s.
Patrick reaped the benefits in the form of presents.
When the child became a man, his father became an old man. In the meantime, Patrick’s father had developed an affinity for bow ties. He was especially proud of one such bow tie: a green shamrock bow tie. Patrick’s father wore that shamrock bow tie every St. Patrick’s Day.
One March 17, Patrick’s father was no longer around to wear the bow tie. And so Patrick received another present.
He wears it every year, on the day that he and his father shared.
The teacher asked me if I would be willing to read the piece to open the next session. I thought about it and realized that would be today: St. Patrick’s Day.
How could I pass up the chance to share my father’s memory with a large group of people on his birthday?
And so, Lauren and I will go to the class tonight. I will wear the green tie, and hold the yellow piece of paper, and try to read with a strong voice. I think he really would have liked that.