Chats with Charlie: St. Patrick’s Day

It was a lovely morning, all things considered. The breeze was a bit cool, and there was dampness in the air. If that’s the worst of it, I thought as Charlie and I set out for our walk around the block, we’re doing alright. It’s the middle of March, the school down the road is closed for the week, and we’re out and about in sweaters and running shoes.

As Charlie stood beside the hydro pole, he looked up at me and asked about the bright green and white scarf around my neck. “It’s my Glasgow Celtic scarf,” I said.

“Glasgow?” he said. “I’ve never been there, although I come from close by.”

“Oh you do, do you?” I said. “And where would that be?”

“My great-great-grandmother’s grandfather was from the West Highlands,” Charlie replied. “But why the scarf? It’s not that cold.”

“Today is St. Patrick’s Day,” I said, as though that’s all the reason you need to wear bright green when you go for a walk on March 17. “And, by the way, one of my grandfathers was born in Ireland.”

“Oh yeah,” said Charlie. “I’ve heard of St. Patrick. Isn’t this the day when everyone who isn’t Irish pretends they are? They go downtown to celebrate Irish culture by drinking gallons of Guinness and whiskey?”

 “Yep,” I said. “This is the day.” Suddenly Charlie jumped sideways and started barking furiously as a car drove by, honking its horn. I looked up and saw that it had an Irish flag flying from the passenger’s side window. “It looks like they are getting an early start.”

 “Well,” said Charlie after he settled down. “We Westies always say that you can’t drink all day if you don’t start in the morning.”

 “But we only put water in your bowl,” I said. “These guys put water in their Bushmills.”

 Charlie thought that one through as we walked down the street until a bus roared by and pulled him out of his reveries.

 “Is that it?” he asked. “Is that all there is to being Irish? Going out and getting hammered once a year?”

 “It’s more than once a year for some of them,” I explained, “but that’s not Irish culture.”

 “Oh? What is?” Charlie asked.

 “Literature, for one,” I said. “Do you know that Ireland has won the Nobel prize nine times, and four of those were for literature? Only seven countries have won for literature more frequently. And Ireland has a tiny population. Only four and a half million. The Americans, with 323 million people, have only won it 11 times.”

“You’re right,” said Charlie. “My friend Grumpy is an Irish Setter and he’s always talking about books. He once got his teeth into a copy of Finnegan’s Wake and almost didn’t recover. His people were not pleased about it.”

 I pulled up on Charlie’s leash and sat him down. “Funny you should say that,” I said. “James Joyce was not one of those four winners. A lot of people are surprised to hear that.”

“I’m not,” said Charlie. “Why would you get a prize for writing obscure books that most people don’t get all the way through? He should have quit while he was ahead. He should have stopped after writing Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog.”

Charlie stood up and started walking again, looking quite pleased with himself.

“Slow down there, Charlie,” I said. “James Joyce wrote Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. As a young dog was written by Dylan Thomas. He was Welsh. But he did enjoy a beer as much as the ones who’ll be downtown tonight.”

 Charlie looked up at me. “Never mind all that,” he said. “We’re almost home and I could use a drink. Got any water in the fridge?”

“We always do,” I said. “And there’s an extra liver treat in it for you if you keep your nose out of The Woman Who Walked Into Doors. It’s my reading for today.”