The St. Patrick’s Parade held in Bay City, Michigan, is one of the largest in the state, typically lasting for at least 4 hours, if not longer.
Bay City celebrates St. Patrick’s Day in a weird way. Instead of holding their parade and other festivities right on St. Patrick’s Day, it is held on the Sunday either before or after March 17. This year’s festivities were held on March 20.
I have lived here since late 2010, and having spent the previous 55 years celebrating St. Patrick’s Day on its traditional March 17 date, it has taken a bit of getting used to each year finding out what date the parade will be held on so I can celebrate my Irishness because everything St. Patrick in Bay City is focused around the huge parade. The traditional March 17 holiday is practically ignored, unless it falls on parade Sunday.
There are 5k and 10k races held down Center Avenue before the parade, all of the churches have special St. Patrick masses and celebrations and most of the restaurants host “traditional” cuisine, which is not really traditionally Irish, but American/Irish. The Irish in Ireland in the past could not afford beef, let alone corned beef, and yes, they do eat a lot of cabbage, especially in their delicious Colcannon dish of mashed potatoes, garlic and cabbage. But the inevitable corned beef and cabbage dishes served on St. Patrick’s Day is an American invention because those foods were plentiful and cheap here for the Irish immigrants.
I only live a few blocks from the intersection of Madison Avenue and Center Avenue so my daughter, Tara, her boyfriend, Justin, and my 3 granddaughters, along with any friends who want to join us, always meet at my apartment for lunch before walking down to the parade. Well, they all walk, I ride in style in my Amigo scooter because of my back and knee problems.
And speaking of style, I was stylin’ this year! I have a small basket on the front of my scooter that I decorated with a strand of green beads all along its top edge and then I hung a large, laminated green shamrock on the front. I also rolled up the bright orange bike flag I often tape to the back of my seat and taped my large Irish flag to it, the original all-green one with the Irish harp. It jauntily waved and fluttered behind me as we walked to the parade.
When I first got my Amigo scooter, I bought an extra bumper sticker that has been an especial favorite of mine for decades and I put it on the deck of the scooter in the back. I call it my “Irish Math” bumper sticker and I’ve had many people over the years ask me what does it mean when they spotted it on several of my previous cars and on my scooter.
It reads: “26 + 6 = 1” and there is an outline of Ireland next to that phrase. The bumper sticker means that the 26 counties of the Republic of Ireland plus the 6 counties in Northern Ireland equals one, whole, united country of Ireland. A hoped-for-someday dream for everyone of Irish descent.
With that sticker on my scooter and with everything else I had put on it, I rolled with style. But I wasn’t done accessorizing. Even though it was a beautiful sunny day, the temperature was a bit brisk, and made even brisker by the off and on breezes, I was also wearing my long Kelly-green scarf around my neck, my Kelly-green gloves, several Irish pins and green beads, and I had my Irish tri-color flag blanket wrapped all around me with the big green shamrock placed right in the front of me.
Tara envies me for having that blanket. She keeps saying every St. Patrick’s Day that she’s going to steal it. But I equally envy her cap! We are both long-time Detroit Tigers baseball fans and she has a green and white tasselled cap with shamrocks and the Tigers’ Old English “D” logo on it. I would have bought her her own Irish flag blanket but that particular one has long been out of stock and its the same story with her cap. So we both envy each other’s accessories 😀
I let the girls pick out all sorts of green beads and pins to wear and I have 3 miniature Irish flags that I let them borrow to wave at the people in the parade. So we were all puttin’ our Irish on!
My youngest granddaughter, Charlotte, who turned 2 in early February, has gotten into the habit of just calling me Jeneane. No Grandma, Nana, or Grandma Jeneane as Ava and Evvie call me to distinguish me from their other grandmothers, just Jeneane.
As we were walking (rolling) towards the parade, Evvie sat on a pillow on the scooter deck in front of my feet while Ava walked next to us. Ava, who is 10, is envious that Evvie is still small enough to be able to fit down there but Evvie is getting so tall and big, she won’t be able to do so for much longer and then it will be Charlotte’s turn to go rollin’ with me.
The 3 of us kept getting a bit too far ahead for Charlotte’s comfort, who was seated in her stroller being pushed by Mommy and Daddy. So every few minutes I would hear this plaintive cry from her, “Jeneane, Jeneane! Stop! Stop! Jeneane, Jeneane! STOP!” Ava, Evvie and I would start to giggle as we turned around and waved at her while we waited for them to catch up. We don’t get why she insists on calling me by just my first name but it makes us all laugh whenever she does it.
We thought we had left my apartment in plenty of time before the crowds piled onto the sides of Center Avenue but we should have left at least 20 minutes earlier. Center Avenue was packed on both sides but we managed to all squeeze into the one small opening we could find.
Because of my Amigo scooter, I have a built-in comfy seat that allows me to see over the heads of all but the tallest people. And as the temperature rose a little bit and the bright sun warmed us all up a little more, my handy basket became the refuge for gloves, mittens, cellphones and coats and little flags.
There were many marching bands and we all smiled to see Charlotte swaying and dancing to their music as they passed by. She kept turning around to see if I was watching her and she smiled and giggled as I be-bopped to the infectious music in my scooter chair.
I told Ava and Evvie that I was also in my high school’s marching band, a long time ago, and that I had played the clarinet and I pointed out those instruments to them. One of the marching bands had a rifle squad and Ava was fascinated by that as well. Her and Evvie have seen my old practice rifle and I one time did a few twirls for them but I cannot do it as well as I used to be able to do.
So after watching the rifle squad do twirls and throws, Ava turned around, with big eyes, and asked me, “Did you do that too when you were younger, Grandma Jeneane? Throw those rifles up in the air like that and catch them?” And I laughed when I told her, yes, I did do that, and more, with my rifle when I was in high school but it sure was hard to learn how to catch it so it wouldn’t bonk me on the head! Ava laughed and laughed as I pretended to rub my head and make an owwie face.
Ava wistfully wondered if she could be in a marching band too and maybe twirl a rifle in a few years. In the Flushing School District that both me and Tara attended for most of our school days, they start the kids on musical instruments in the fifth grade but apparently in Bay City Schools, the kids don’t begin doing that until junior high. So maybe Ava will get her wish in a year or two.
There were horses and ponies galore that we all oohed and aahed over and many dogs of all kinds and sizes dressed up with green coats or hats or green jeweled bow ties and collars. There were a few goats too, even one baby one, sedately walking on leashes next to their owners and the girls all began to clamor that they wanted to have a baby goat and walk with it in next year’s parade. It took awhile for us to convince them, and not entirely at that, that having a baby goat, along with their three cats in a small 2-bedroom upstairs apartment just would not be a great idea. The girls then thought that they could just keep it outside or in the shed in the backyard but we had to obviously nix that idea as well.
There were many firetrucks and ambulances and police cars from all around the Bay, Saginaw and Midland counties in the parade too and Charlotte got quite cross with how loud their sirens were. She clapped her little hands over her ears and gave them her best Scarlett O’Hara scowl but the sirens continued in spite of her obvious ire.
We all got a kick out of watching the Shriners in their miniature Corvette cars doing all sorts of twists and turns in the roadway and Ava and Evvie, of course, wanted to have one of those cars to drive on their sidewalks. Every time I see those huge grown men squeezed into those little cars, I always wonder how do they do that? We all laughed when we realized that one of those Shriner drivers was eating a burrito as he was careening around. I guess you have to grab a bite to eat when you can!
I also wonder every year with so many police, firemen and Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) actually in that long parade if crime rates go up and call waiting times for emergencies lengthen. That maybe if you’re a thief or a crook, that would be the best time to do some dirty work.
There were many Boy and Girl Scout troops in the parade as well and since Evvie just joined the Daisy Girl Scouts this year, she was happy when I told her that maybe in a few more years, she could be in the St. Patrick’s Parade with her troop and she could wave at us and we could wave to her as she walked by us.
And of course there were many vendors hawking their wares along both sides of Center Avenue, selling hot dogs, burritos, Irish flags, beads, huge green hats and scarves, cotton candy and doughnuts and green toy horns and trumpets. And of course all three girls begged for something from every vendor but they had to content themselves with hot dogs and pop. Those trinkets are marked up so excessively high!
Several Ancient Order of Hibernian groups were in the parade, Shriners, Masons, agricultural groups, and many businesses had put together floats. Some of the floats had rock bands on them and Charlotte danced and swayed to that music too with a big grin on her face.
And of course there were several politicians glad-handing their way down Center Avenue. Dan Kildee, our Congressional representative was in the parade too and I waved to him and called out to him, “Thank you, Mr. Kildee, for all of your help in Flint!” He gave me a big grin and waved more enthusiastically at me.
I was acquainted with his uncle, Dale Kildee, who had been our long-time Congressional representative for most of my life before he retired and his nephew, Dan, won his open seat several years ago. I lived my whole life in Genesee County before moving up here to Bay City in 2010. I was born in Flint, lived within its city limits for almost 20 years of my life, and I still have many relatives living in Flint.
So I very much appreciated all of Dan’s hard work in Washington D.C. making sure that Flint and its residents received, and continue to receive, help and resources from the high levels of lead in its water . Lead that was in the City of Flint’s water system because of the many inexcusable decisions made by our state governor and various state agencies.
Me and Tara both giggled when I whispered to her, “Well at least he didn’t come over here and plant a wet, sloppy, alcoholic kiss on my lips!” When Tara was about 10 years old, I took her to the St. Patrick’s Parade in downtown Flint. And for some unknown reason during the parade, the former mayor of Flint, James Rutherford, decided to walk over to me standing on the side of Saginaw Street, grab me, and give me a disgusting kiss. If I had flicked my lighter on, we would have both been burnt to cinders just from the massive amounts of alcoholic fumes that rolled off him!
He then yelled in my ear, “Happy St. Patrick’s Day!” and tottered back to his spot in the parade while I stood there, dumbfounded and grossed out. A reporter for The Flint Journal newspaper immediately came over and asked me what was that all about, did I personally know Mr. Rutherford and why did he kiss me like that because he hadn’t kissed anybody else during the parade.
I vigorously wiped the saliva from my mouth as I told that reporter that I had no idea why Mr. Rutherford had done that, that I had never met the man before, that I was just standing there enjoying the parade with my little girl when he got the notion to just come up, grab me, and kiss me.
The reporter looked at me dubiously like there had to be something more to this than what I was saying but it was the truth: I had no idea why he did that but I really wished he had not because it was a disgustingly gross kiss, yuck! And I never liked James Rutherford as mayor anyways because I thought he was a corrupt buffoon so being kissed by him was not a pleasant experience. But Tara and I giggled about it as we remembered that earlier St. Patrick’s Day parade.
The parade ended, as most parades do, with police cars heading up Center Avenue after the last of the participants filed past us. We began to gather up all of our stuff and Ava groaned because she wanted more of the parade. I checked my cell phone and I told her that the parade had lasted for over 4 hours and it would be back again next year but Ava dramatically heaved a huge sigh of regret that the St. Patrick’s Parade was officially over with for 2016.
It was so much fun and it was made so much more enjoyable by the girls’ delights in the many sights, sounds and critters in the parade but us adults were now all tired out. Even Charlotte decided it was time to take a nap in her stroller as we went back to my apartment building.
But we will have next year’s parade to look forward too and hopefully the weather will be as cooperative then as it was this year. It was a gloriously beautiful day for a parade!
Happy St. Patrick’s Day 2016!
“Irish Math” bumper sticker
My Irish flag blanket
The type of Irish flag I had flying on my Amigo scooter