Chuck Brooks: Memories of St. Patrick's Day in Fox Lake resurface
It's time once again for the event of the year. Everyone who's anyone is there. People are dressed to the hilt. The very air is festive! Beverages are flowing freely! You have NO idea what I'm talking about, do you? Of course not. It's the St. Patrick's Day parade in Fox Lake, Wisconsin. Now, aren't you feeling a little silly for having forgotten about this yearly extravaganza? Mercy sakes!
OK, so most of mankind has no clue this event exists except for those in that little corner of the world known as Fox Lake and its surrounding communities. My parents lived in Fox Lake for a number of years after marrying. My dad grew up on a farm there. Once married, my parents settled there until the family was in full swing. I am told I lived there for ten months of my existence until we moved to Beaver Dam.
This yearly celebration is something my family has attended for a long time — at least for well over 30 years. My dad always wanted us to believe he was Irish and therefore we were Irish, but we were on to him shortly after this tradition began. The little town of Fox Lake holds about 1500 people, yet they know how to throw one heck of a party. In its early days, Mom and Dad would get us in the car and drive us about ten miles so we could get our seats at the VFW bar on the main drag downtown. It's the route the parade takes. Mom and Dad would dress up in green attire. This was a big day for them as they'd see many people they knew, since this was their turf once upon a time. Mom usually took a bit more of a civilized approach to wearing the green. Dad, however, couldn't get green enough. This was his day to let loose. With his pipe in hand, he was truly one of the day's finest leprechauns.
The VFW bar was always the place we'd park our bodies and wait for the parade to begin. When it did, we'd file out onto the street where everyone would stand to witness the most Irish parade you'd ever seen east of St. Paul. If you had a tractor, you were in the parade. If you had a flatbed, you were in the parade. If you could make a cool sign and dress in green, you were in the parade. And the town allowed people to bring open containers onto the street for a period of several hours as this took place. The street was and still is primarily taverns, and people go from one to the next, seeing those they know and taking part in the celebration.
I can't remember exactly every detail about how this all played out in the beginning, but I do know my two older brothers were out of the house when the celebration had its inaugural parade. My second oldest brother would bring his friends from college each year. It would be something they'd eventually look forward to even after college and well into their careers. I suspect their day in Fox Lake was no different than their weekend nights in college.
The VFW sells burgers and brats and chips. They sell gobs of pull-tabs and never seem to be without their customers. The more people drink, the more they gamble and eat.
Once my career began, I didn't return to it as much; although, my family continued to go. Once Mom died, it didn't hold the same enjoyment it once did for me. Sitting at our regular table, I couldn't get her image, as she'd sit across from me, out of my head. I did go back from time to time, but nothing as regular as Dad and my siblings who lived in that area.
After Dad died, it has had even less allure for me. Still, our family continues to keep up the tradition, which is cool. Mom and Dad likely peek in once a year to make sure those of us in attendance are behaving. I'm sure once they see our behavior, they look at each other and say, "Some things never change," and smile.
The festivities now begin with a stop at Stooges in Beaver Dam. They open specially for us. The owner makes a Bloody Mary for those who want one. Then we drive to Fox Lake by 11 or so. We play cards while we wait for the parade. Once that ends, "they" have one final ritual before heading back to Beaver Dam to find a place to watch basketball and the bracket announcements.
Traditions. Hard to break. Ever-changing. "But we cling to our pleasures as a tree clings to its last leaves." If you're in the neighborhood, look us up! Yup. They've talked me into returning this year.
Next week, I'll take you on another nostalgic trip as I share my childhood memories of what Lent meant to me as a kid. I suspect my mother may watch as I write this one. Yikes! Gulp.