For the past four years no one in our family has felt the need to explain to anyone why a group of tone-deaf Irish named Griffin (and others) would don official band uniforms and march, lacking instruments, in the Old First Ward St. Patrick’s Day Parade under a banner proclaiming “McNamara.” Coming up on year five, it’s time, as my grandmother would say, to “tell the truth and shame the devil.”
Growing up in South Buffalo, Mom instilled in our family a love of our Irish heritage. Among her favorite Irish songs, she was particularly fond of “McNamara’s Band” for some reason. So much so, my eight siblings and I recall, that every year on St. Patrick’s Day back in the ’70s, the group of us would troop home from school on our lunch hour and be met at the door by our mother. The stereo was powered up, Bing Crosby LP at the ready. She’d drop the needle and, as a group, we would march around the dining room table singing all four verses in unison with our delighted mother. Only after the final note was played were we allowed to wolf down our lunches before racing back to school.
Fast forward to early 2005. A serious medical issue took a toll on Mom’s health. There were many times over the course of her six-week hospitalization that the doctors told us to say our goodbyes. We were a forlorn group for sure, but when she rallied and survived, we rallied with her. We celebrated her reprieve and though she had many new limitations, she did remarkably well under the care she got at home from Dad.
The close margin by which we almost lost her led to a new mentality in our large clan. We were boundless in our appreciation of the additional time we had with Mom and seemingly limitless in our desire to grant whatever thing she wished for. (Ask me about the ukulele sometime.) That is why when in late 2009 she wished for us to be marchers in the parade instead of perennial sidewalk viewers of it, we were determined to make it happen.
Keeping our acceptance into the 2010 parade a secret from our folks initially, we siblings met as a group to brainstorm ideas. What kind of float would we have? What do you associate with a parade? we asked. Clowns! Firefighters! Shriners! Then someone said the magic word. Bands! As in McNamara’s Band. A well-connected friend put us in touch with a local high school in the process of buying new band uniforms and eager to sell off their old set. Real uniforms. With real hats. And plumes.
The uniforms sealed the deal. We alerted Mom and Dad, and they took an active part in the rest of our preparations. Though far from an actual band, we marched in 2010, and every year since in all kinds of weather, foul to fair. Dad always insists on marching with the ranks. And Mom sat proudly up front in her freshly pressed band jacket, hat and plume, waving to all and sundry like she was the Queen of Ireland.
Sadly, Mom left us last September. But we are so mindful of the eight good extra years we had. One of the highlights of our additional time, in her estimation and ours, was our annual outing in the Ward Parade. The beautiful memories of those four years persist. And they are enough to bring us back to march again this year. Sadder, for her departure; richer for the experience, and still, slightly tone-deaf.