Roger Marolt: St. Patrick’s Day gravy
Who wouldn’t pay to see Pitkin County Commissioner Mick Ireland, hair combed and an apron wrapped around his waist, serving a home-cooked dinner to Aspen Mayor Helen Klanderud, who is wearing something green? And she returning the favor by raising a beer mug in a toast to him?
It’ll cost you less than 20 bucks ” Visa and MasterCard accepted.
That, and you’ll have to meet me in the church basement between four and nine o’clock next Wednesday evening. Don’t bother calling the sheriff either. He’ll probably be there, too!
Sound kinky? Nope, but you’ll love it anyway.
That is, at least, until after the last bite of home-baked chocolate cake settles on top of the mashed potatoes, green beans, and the third helping of roast beef with gravy that you’ve already stuffed into your belly. Because that will mean that there’s only room for one more green beer before you’ll grudgingly have to head on home and wait 364 more days for the next time warp.
Yep, it’s that time again. It’s the one evening every year when the town lets its hair down, pulls on its old favorite pair of green jeans, and stuffs its cosmopolitan image into the back of the junk drawer. It’s the annual St. Patrick’s Day dinner at St. Mary’s Church. That’s the big church on Main Street across from the courthouse, around the corner from City Hall, the perfect location for a community gathering in Anytown, U.S.A.
Making the church resemble a Ramada Inn banquet room for an Irish family reunion begins this weekend. They’ll slide back the walls separating the classrooms at the end of Sunday school so the kids can be a part of the preparations. For a few days, they’ll take down all of the Crayola-colored construction paper scenes of Christ’s last supper in Jerusalem and replace them with relics of St. Patrick’s 117th in Aspen.
But, the real preparations began long before then. Dozens of volunteers have been working for weeks to get ready for the throngs of people who will descend upon St. Mary’s, hungry for a taste of a simpler way of life. You may have noticed some of the non-glossy, single-color (green of course), bland, poster-board signs in various shop windows around town. It’s really a notice, not an advertisement. You don’t have to sell genuine fun.
Many kitchens in homes throughout the valley will be busy with kids helping moms and dads helping kids to make all of the wonderful desserts. Lots of local restaurants will be cooking the roast beef and pork in their ovens. The green beans and mashed potatoes will be prepared in St. Mary’s own kitchen, which was remodeled a few years back mostly for this annual event.
Next Tuesday afternoon, the old regulars will sit in a circle in the rectory driveway and peel the skins off hundreds of pounds of potatoes along with some of the shiny, Botoxed veneer that normally encases our glitzy town. If you want to participate in some of the best storytelling since Marian the librarian retired, grab your peeler and head on down there. Who knew that the secret ingredient in St. Patrick’s mashed potatoes is whine?
Wednesday morning, a few of the volunteers will betray a good night’s sleep by heading down to the church kitchen before the rooster crows three times. A little later, after the school buses are loaded up, some parents will start to show up with toddlers in tow. After school, the older kids arrive. And then, they’ll be making more chaos than coleslaw. Anarchy will rule and the evening’s master plan will be catching roast beef drippings next to the sink. Everything will be perfect.
Is there going to be a long line? You bet! I recommend getting to the church at about seven o’clock. That’s when it’s usually the most crowded, and the most fun. You’ll see people you haven’t seen since “Uncrowded by Design” was designed. You’ll strike up conversations with everyone from X-Gamers to pinochle players. The line moves slowly through the halls of St. Mary’s. The nostalgia will be so deep you’ll need an extra-long periscope just to see 1970.
Can you get a private table? Heck no. If you’re lucky, you might get to sit next to your spouse if you buy big John Kelleher a beer. He has been the maître d’ of this dinner for going on what must be 20 years now and knows how to play favorites. (If you mange to sneak him a shot of whiskey, there’ll suddenly be nothing available except for the single seat by the cute blonde sitting next to the dessert table.) In this dining hall the noise is deafening, the wait staff is amateur, and nearly all the tables are by the kitchen, but everybody is your friend so it doesn’t matter where you sit.
As you clean your plate, you turn around expecting to see Aunt Bea at the other end of the arm that’s setting down another bowl of rolls over your shoulder. Hey, is that Opie busing the next table over?
Did I mention that there will be live Irish music? The band will play melodies in the dining room while the dishwashers bellow the lyrics from the kitchen. They’ll be sipping more than they’re sudsing in there, because that’s how it was back in the spring of 1957 when they first got here. It’s enough to make a leprechaun cry.
Oh, and I almost forgot. All of the money raised by the event benefits worthy causes throughout the Roaring Fork Valley.
Ahhhh! I knew there was one last bit of gravy.
[Roger O’Marolt has only attended about a third of the annual St. Patrick’s Day dinners at St. Mary’s. That’s how young he is. If you’re lucky, you can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org]
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