from Laura Alden’s Murder at the PTA
“Jenna?” my brother Oliver asked. “Why do we have St. Patrick’s Day?”
“Because it’s St. Patrick’s birthday,” I said.
We were in Mrs. Neff’s house, like we always were after school. Mom had come in to pick us up after she closed the bookstore, and she and Mrs. Neff were in the kitchen, talking, like they always were. Me and Zach (he’s a Neff) were playing a video game and Oliver was bugging us with questions, like he always was.
“Are you sure?” he asked.
My video game car crashed and blew up. Zach’s car zoomed past the finish line.
“No, I’m not sure,” I said, getting up from the floor. “Let’s go ask Mom. Last one there is a rotten egg.”
We ran down the hall into the kitchen. “Mom, Mom!” Oliver called. “Why do we have St. Patrick’s Day? Is it his birthday?”
Mom and Mrs. Neff looked up from a pile of paint samples. “Actually,” Mom said, “it’s the anniversary of his death.”
“Why do we celebrate that?” I asked. “Why not his birthday?”
“Excellent question!” Mrs. Neff clapped her hands. “Give the girl a gold star, Beth. I’ve always wondered the same thing.”
Mom squinted at the two paint samples in front of her. “Because we know the exact date he died, but not the exact date he was born.”
Mrs. Neff looked at me and rolled her eyes. “So simple, once you know.” We grinned at each other. Mom’s really smart, but it’s fun to make a little fun of her, too.
“But why do have a whole day for it?” Oliver asked.
“Well…” Mom put down the samples. “Because St. Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland. Many people believe that, from up in heaven, he protects Ireland in a special sort of way.”
“Oh. Okay.” Oliver stood on one foot. “But a whole day?”
“It’s an Irish thing,” Mrs. Neff said. “Paint the river green. Drink green beverages. Toast the town.” She jumped to her feet and started a little dance. “Jig with me, Jenna!”
Mom didn’t pay any attention to our high kicks. “Lots of people have relatives from Ireland. Your father’s great-grandfather was from Dublin, you know. Celebrating St. Patrick’s Day is a way to honor St. Patrick, Ireland, and those ancestors.”
“Why did they leave Ireland?” Oliver asked.
Mrs. Neff took my hands and we started spinning. "Roll out the barrel!" she sang.
“Marina,” Mom said in a warning tone and our spin slowed. A little. Mom kept one eye on us as she kept talking. “People left Ireland for a better life, Oliver. And one way we celebrate St. Patrick’s day is by eating Irish foods. Corned beef, cabbage, Irish stew, soda bread, and that shepherd’s pie we had. These foods help us remember that we’ve all had hard times and that we’ll get through them. To remind us that no matter when and where we live, we salute the sacrifices of those who came before us. On St. Patrick’s Day, we especially remember those who were forced to leave their homes.”
Oliver was frowning. “But yesterday Mrs. Neff said corned beef and cabbage is why so many Irish people left Ireland in the first place.”
Mom looked at Mrs. Neff. Our spin stopped and Mrs. Neff shrugged. “I can’t be the only one who can’t stand the stuff.”
Mom shook her head. I could tell she wanted to scold Mrs. Neff for making up stories. Even I knew that people had to leave Ireland because of bad potatoes. Mrs. Neff makes up a lot of stuff just for fun, but Oliver was too little to know that.
“Anyway,” Mom said, “along with the food, there have been St. Patrick’s Day parades in the United States since before the Revolutionary War. The biggest one is in New York City, but do you know what they do in Chicago?”
“The river?” Zach asked.
“That’s right, my son.” Mrs. Neff put an arm around his shoulders. “They dye the river green. Green as a shamrock, green as the Emerald Isle itself. Hmm…”
She looked at Mom and got a funny look on her face. Mom didn’t notice because she was telling Oliver how a river can turn green. But I saw Mrs. Neff’s look. And when she saw me seeing her, she grinned, winked, and put a finger to her lips.
I bit my lips to keep from laughing out loud. One of Mrs. Neff’s favorite things to do is take all of us, or sometimes just Mom, on Enjoy-Yourself-Or-Don’t-Trips. It's too late for this year, but Chicago isn’t that far away, and Mrs. Neff will have lots of time to plan. Maybe this time she'll let me help. Mom’s not going to know what hit her!