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Happy St. Patrick's Day - Martha Randolph Carr

Happy St. Patrick's Day, everyone. Today, all of America gets to be an honorary Irishman, wear green and attempt lame brogues. It's a wonderful, quirky little holiday that inspires city officials to turn the Chicago River that runs through the metropolitan's business section a lovely emerald green.

Parades will be held in cities and towns as people march down their main streets with the only requirement being that everyone is decked out in green. School children will attempt to pinch anyone they catch not wearing the prescribed color and insist people prove it if they attempt that old one about wearing green underwear.

To me, this holiday is a giant celebration of my late dad's birthday. Dabney Carr was a very typical Irishman born on St. Patrick's Day. The Irish in America believe that's a good sign.

It really means he was very good at inserting humor into any situation, but would suddenly surprise with a moving story about a long-dead relative. It didn't matter if the crowd didn't know who he was talking about, they were still moved to tears as Dad stood there resolutely finishing the short tale.

Everyone else thought it meant they had to come up with endless green gifts and green food on his birthday. Dad ate a lot of spumoni ice cream, which he didn't care for, and is actually an Italian dish. Most of his birthday cards had leprechauns and clover on them as well.

Perhaps it was his little gesture of revenge that he thought it was funny to give his family the same cards year after year, which he surreptitiously took back and saved. I was not amused and tried writing about it in my card to shame him into buying a new one. He just wrote me a funny note back, which I didn't see until the following birthday.

It wasn't uncommon for me to have my nose buried in a book as a teenager, and occasionally, my father was known to turn off the electricity at the breaker box to try and get me to go outside. I could hear the cackle through the house and was smiling even as I yelled, "Cut it out!"

I inadvertently got him back the year I was turning 16 and he decided to save a few dollars by taking it upon himself to teach me how to drive. He wasn't very good at it and I was already nervous as we came down the short road in front of our house. He started shouting instructions and I panicked and hit the gas, while jerking the wheel.

I left long skid marks in the grassy field where the car stayed parked all night. Neither one of us wanted anything to do with it for a little while. Dad stumbled back into the house and downed a shot of bourbon before announcing he was paying for driving lessons with a professional. He said he felt he owed it to the community.

In the last years of his life, I was there to take care of him and he and my son, Louie, became best friends. Louie, who was a young teenager at the time, would sit with Dad at the breakfast table as they told each other stupid jokes while I ignored them. They would laugh and tell me to go find something else to do. This was "men time."

Dad would have been 85 years old this St. Patrick's Day, wearing a little green, pinned to his Irish cable sweater as he tolerated everyone making some kind of fuss.

So, this year, raise a toast to the Irishman born on St. Patrick's Day who did a pretty good job of living and is probably telling a long and funny story to a captivated crowd somewhere in an Irish heaven. Erin go Bragh, everyone.

If you'd like to get involved in the 2009 America Challenge to raise funds for community-based charities, e-mail me at Martha@CagleCartoons.com for more information. Together, we're going to build stronger communities and empower ourselves.

Martha's column is distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons Inc., newspaper syndicate. E-mail her at: Martha@caglecartoons.com.