It was Christmas Eve, 1991.
The Fischer family was gathered at my brother’s house. Dad had been gone for several years.
No one knew what was coming.
We alternated from person to person, each opening a present from his/her stack, one at a time, in order.
Eventually, my mother opened up a relatively large gift from #2 son, me. It was one of those large coffee table books featuring brilliant photos of Ireland.
“Go ahead, Mom. Look inside at some of the pictures.”
And she did, paging and paging until she got to an envelope containing a card informing Mom that yours truly had already made arrangements to take her to Ireland in March.
My mother was extremely, extremely, extremely proud of her Irish heritage. And being the unselfish way she was, had I not made all the arrangements ahead of time, she would have never been satisfied and insisted that the trip she wanted for a, lifetime, her first to her beloved Emerald Isle, be totally on her.
I have so many wonderful memories of that 1992 trip.
On St. Patrick’s Day, we headed out that morning in Dublin to find a spot for the parade. There is no green beer and acting bonkers on St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland. The day is reverent, a national holiday. Everything is closed, schools, businesses, banks, restaurants, pubs while the 3-hour plus parade winds its way through the Dublin streets.
Following all the advice from the travel experts, Mom and I had dressed appropriately with winter coats.
Bright sunshine and temperatures around 65 degrees.
I asked the natives if this was unusual. Highly unusual was the response. Normally, a gloomy, cloudy sky greeted parade-goers with rain or even snow, 42 degrees if you’re lucky.
Don’t ask me what street my Mom and I found us on, but it was in some financial district. Irish kids and teenagers and adventurous adults found their way up to the second and third story windows of bank and office buildings and perched themselves for ideal parade viewing spots.
I was struck, but not surprised by the families in attendance. Mom and dad didn’t have one or two children. No., they had 4, 5, 6 or more. Talk about your Catholics!
The parade was amazing. It had everything and lasted, as I mentioned for hours.
At one point, my mother and I heard exclamations from the multitude of children on either side of us:
“Look,” they shouted.
“Here they come! Here come the Americans!”
Hanging from the upper story window perches on those bank buildings you could hear and see the excitement that someone (in this case, Americans) was making its way closer.
Naturally. Mom and I trained our gaze down the street to, in this instance, our left. Who is coming? Who has created all this buzz?
They marched in rows, dozens and dozens of them.
They were beautifully uniformed in orange and blue.
And then, I made them out and looked at Mom and said, “Oh my goodness.”
There I was on Irish soil, a red-blooded American filled with native pride. I have never felt since that time the tremendous love for the University of Illinois Marching band that I felt that morning in Dublin on March 17, 1992. Here I was, thousands of miles from my home, and nearby friends and neighbors approached. The Irish folks around me applauded loudly. So did I.
And then, as the band got right on top of us, you know what happened. Parade roadblock. The Fighting Illini band stopped dead in its tracks right in front of Mrs. Fischer and me. So I did what I do best. I started talking to the young kids who were like statues right in front of me.
I introduced myself as their neighbor to the north. God bless these kids, they didn’t turn in rejection once they learned my homeland. These nice youngsters told how they paid their entire way in order to march in this amazing parade. I wasn’t that much older than the band members I was glad to speak to, and yet I felt fatherly. Shy Mom was listening to every word of the exchange, and just when we were having a good ol’ time, the logjam broke, and my new friends from Champagne, Illinois, my only friends from Champagne suddenly started walking.
No, it wasn’t Michael Leckrone and the Badger Band. But it was darn close, and it made that day even more special. For one day, I was oh so fond of the Fighting Illini.
AFTER the parade, the doors of every pub in town fly wide open, and it’s a celebration.
BEFORE the parade, in our hotel the night before, Mom and I had settled down to what we thought would be a quiet, pleasant dinner.
I was amazed at the Irish cuisine and its high quality, especially their beef, seafood, and the freshness of their vegetables.
When in Rome, do what the Romans do. I learned early that if you order a hard boiled egg with shaved onions and some cream on the side with your Guinness, the Irish will think you know what you’re doing. That was my hors d’oeuvre every night.
Back to our dinner March 16, the night before St. Patrick’s Day. As huge as the hotel dining room was, I didn’t imagine it would fill up. Suddenly, an outburst erupted and every table was filled with an adult or two accompanied by a host of American teenage girls, all of whom were marching in the next day’s parade.
Our waiter, who bore a strong resemblance to Gopher on The Love Boat, was in seventh heaven.
It was great to see fellow Americans having a great time after they had scrimped and saved to make it all possible.
That night, I discovered my mother had developed Ireland-itis. All of a sudden. My Milwaukee mother was speaking with an Irish brogue.
Gopher would ask her how she’s doing.
“Oh, fine, fine.”
Except my mother didn’t say, “Fine, fine.”
My mother said, “Foo-ine, foo-ine.”
You know what I’m saying?
I almost dropped my Guinness.
“Mom,” I said after she did this about 100 times. “Do you know what you’re doing?”
“No, what?” she answered in the most perfect Dublin accent.
When I told her, she laughed so hard and so did I, and I’m so glad.
Mom was amazing. Back home, on trips to Irish fest, this lady would get so excited that despite possessing not the best of legs, she’d find herself 25-30 yards ahead of the rest of the pack.
On our Irish trip, my mother was like a 16-year old in Blarney. She was all aglow at a bubbling brook leading up to the famed Blarney Castle. Heading up the, and I forget, is it 132 steps to the top to kiss the Blarney Stone, I asked Mom if she needed to stop and rest because those steps were so narrow. Some 20 steps ahead of me, my Mother shouted back, “Did you say something?”
“No, Mom. Just keep going.”
“Well, of course.”
“Are you alright?”
“Oh, yes, yes,” said Mom with not an ounce of huffing or puffing.
My mother was always afraid of heights. At the top of the Blarney Castle, she wanted to sign up to give tours.
Audrey Fischer was a treasure trove of Irish goodies. She had Irish sweaters, Irish jewelry, Irish perfume. Saturdays meant watching Fighting Irish Notre Dame football. She cried every time she watched the Knute Rockne Story.
Mom was buried with Irish Connemara rosary beads.
Her immeasurable Irish pride has been passed down to her children and grandchildren.
On March 17th she’d be watch QVC for all their 24-hour Irish special programming. She’d open the St. Patrick’s Day cards she’d receive, even from friends and family that aren’t Irish, but know all too well that she is. My brother and his wife would no doubt get her Bailey’s and I’d get her some soda bread. And my mom, even if she’d never leave the house would be ok because it didn’t matter. Wherever she was, usually in the warm confines of her very own home, she was far more than content knowing she was, indeed, comfortable in her own home, Irish, and darn proud of it.
There is but one and only one whose love will fail you never. One who lives from sun to sun with constant fond endeavor.
There is but one and only one on earth there is no other. In Heaven a noble work was done when God gave man a Mother.
Irish mother’s blessings:
With the first light of sun …Bless you. When the day is done …Bless you. In your smile and in your tears …Bless you. Through each day of all your years …Bless you.