Off the Record

I’m always grateful for the season of St. Patrick’s Day—and the pandemic is not going to change that.

Although COVID-19 and personal tragedy for me and my family have made things difficult in recent months, I’m still anxiously awaiting the celebration of this special time of year.

St. Patrick’s Day—and the South Side Irish St. Patrick’s Day Parade—represents so many good memories for me. Spring is in the air; daylight increases each day; and March Madness is right around the corner.

St. Patrick’s Day also represents one of the best days in my life. On March 17, 2019—coincidentally also South Side Irish Parade Day—my wife, Brigitte, gave birth to our Grace Garmes.

It was a great day.

Clear and sunny in Beverly/Morgan Park, it was also the first time I covered the parade as editor of The Beverly Review.

Before the parade stepped off, I joined the many hundreds of people at 103rd Street and Western Avenue waiting to begin the march south to 115th Street. Members of the South Side Irish Parade Committee cut the ribbon to start the joyous event.

The grand marshal was Honor Flight Chicago, an organization that, according to its website, “recognizes the bravery, determination and patriotism of America’s senior military veterans with an all-expense paid, one-of-a-kind journey to Washington, D.C., for a day of honor, thanks and inspiration.”

The special honoree was Choose Kind, a local organization founded by Kerry Lynch that promotes acceptance and celebrates the spirit of her daughter, Mary Cate, who was born with Apert syndrome, a rare craniofacial condition that affects hand, foot and cognitive development.

As I made my way down Western Avenue with the parade, I enjoyed saying hello to many friends and family. It was about as wholesome a Parade Day as I had ever seen.

That night, our Grace arrived. Fittingly, she was born with red hair and blue eyes—our perfect little Irish lass.

Naturally, as the years go by, there’s no way I can remember details about every St. Patrick’s Day in the past, but I do remember everything about the arrival of my little Irish princess.

Moments after she was born, a nurse described Grace as “feisty.” Ever since, I’ve given her the nickname, “Feisty Gracie Girl.”

During Grace’s first sixth months, her nickname seemed odd because her mother and I were blessed with the quietest baby known to man—well, at least this man.

At family gatherings, relatives were amazed by her gentle nature, and they loved to watch Gracie in her bouncer, quietly and contently rocking away.

However, in the last 12 months, Feisty Gracie Girl has been a perfect nickname. She’s been loud, brave—and feisty.

During the annual celebrations of St. Patrick’s Day, Gaelic greetings such as “cead mile failte” (one hundred thousand welcomes) and “slainte” (health) are used to toast the occasion.

But, this year, I’ll be particularly thinking about a Gaelic name: Niamh.

In English, her name is spelled Nieve, and, as I wrote recently, our fourth child was stillborn at full term on Jan. 12.

Unlike the day Gracie was born, I have a hard time remembering anything but a few details. It was a blur.

I think at least one of the nurses attending to our needs on that terrible day was also there for Gracie’s birth. I think the one who said Grace is feisty was among the primary nurses who provided care for us after Nieve was delivered.

The nurse said it was nice to meet us, but I told her that she’d helped us with at least one of the deliveries of our two other kids, Mary and William.

For me and my family, those two days—separated by just two years—have been an agonizing demonstration of how high people can feel and how low.

Nonetheless, we feel happier as we again get ready to celebrate Ireland’s patron saint.

Recent sunny weather, with temperatures in the 50s, has focused my mind on the good memories of the many St. Patrick’s Day celebrations I’ve enjoyed, especially that great St. Patrick’s Day in 2019.

It’s true that there’s no parade this year, just like in 2020, and Western Avenue will again seem weird on what should have been Parade Day, which is usually the Sunday before/on St. Patrick’s Day, this year March 14.

On that day, the main thoroughfare in Beverly/Morgan Park will be filled with noisy traffic instead of charming Irish floats, bagpipes, marching bands, Irish dancers and thousands of spectators.

Last year, when the parade should have been starting at noon, I was back at 103rd and Western to record a short video of what was happening at the intersection. The scene was, of course, much different than it was in 2019 when I experienced the luck of the Irish.

As I left the eerily quiet corner, one thought came to mind.

“This stinks.”

It pretty much does in 2021, but I’m determined to take a look around and be optimistic.

Things are trending in the right way with this damn pandemic. More people are getting vaccinated. Family parties will feel safer. I can think about going to a Sox game this summer.

I’m a man of many flaws, but I swear to all of you that I will strive to never take things for granted and to appreciate everything good in my life. I don’t live in fear, but I understand that something bad can happen at any time.

As my family presses on, I am more grateful than ever for life’s blessings. Clear, sunny days in March remind me of Grace’s birthday, the greatest St. Patrick’s Day of my life.

Her first birthday, just days after the COVID-19 shutdown began, was a real downer, but now, the shutdown is miniscule to what my family experienced in January.

Even though the South Side Irish won’t be marching this parade day, they’ll still be celebrating—as will I.

No matter how challenging life has been, I will be joyous. My family will be happy, and we will be brave.

And, as we forge ahead, we will be feisty.