Hanging Out in Rockford: Being Irish times two

I didn’t know what I was getting myself into when I called to see about who runs the Irish parade. I had been at the Larry Morrissey celebration of his Italian heritage when I heard Bill Shannon say they wanted to have a big Irish celebration for the mayor on St. Patrick’s Day. My curiosity was piqued.

I called around—the Rockford Area Economic Development Council, the Chamber of Commerce—and finally got the number of the president of the Irish Marching Society, Chris Walker, from Cyndie Hall at City Hall. I knew Cyndie was the go-to gal for any event you want to have in downtown Rockford. No wonder they moved her to her new gig. Cyndie supplied me with the name and number right away.

I coordinated a meeting of the society and the mayor at the Irish Rose. We talked about making the parade bigger and better. I wanted to try to have the celebration downtown; it was my secret agenda. Plans were already undertaken to have the after-parade party at Lyran Hall. Lori Cass was in charge. Don’t ever try to mess with the plans of a stubborn Irish woman, especially one who is pretty.

Actually, Lori allowed me to try for a couple of other venues. We looked at the idea of having it at the MetroCentre in the lobby, and we also looked at having it in the building the city owns along the river. But I talked to Corey Pearson about the MetroCentre lobby and to Jim Ryan about the Ingersoll space, and neither was available. I had to go back to Lori, hat in hand.

We had another meeting at the Lyran after it had been decided that was our final destination. (I am struck by the fact that, of all people, the Irish—with the largest ethnic representation in the city—have no club in Rockford they can call their own. My only explanation is that we were all in bars.) At the meeting, I open my big mouth and offer to do the corned beef. I want to do corned beef and cabbage, but they talk me out of it and say they have always just done sandwiches. Turns out to be wise advice.

I plan and plan. I buy the corned beef from Robert’s packing in Chicago. Mike the father, and Mike the son. When we were looking for a corned beef supplier last year, we bought samples from a number of purveyors, and cooked them off. When the father-and-son Irish team beat everyone else out, I hit myself on the head the way my mother would have. “Of course!” I told Troy, “It would have to be the Irish father and the Irish son who would have the good corned beef!”

I get the hot dogs from Red Hot Chicago, right across from Economy packing, and recently the subject of an article in the Reader. I think they are the best. I get the buns from Roma Bakery. I think John and his dad Gene run the best small bakery in the city. I always like to do business with families, especially when it comes to food. It has something to do with pride. Lori gets Mrs. Fisher’s Potato Chips. What else can you say?

I get to the Lyran late. I was shooting for 3, but sometimes 3 becomes 4, and I arrive in the nick of time. We frantically dump corned beef and hot dogs into Nesco roasters, which other volunteers have supplied. People wait patiently as we sort our thing out. Finally, we are ready. Then, it is hand out sandwiches as fast as you can for about two-and-a-half hours. Then, I walk out on the floor for the first time. Julie Styles gives me permission. I see the mayor, I see the Lorden’s; I see Chandler Anderson, who has to buy me a drink because I have forgotten money. I rescue my van that I have left running in the street for several hours with the flashers going. Luckily, no one wanted it.

I wind up sitting with the mayor’s sister and some other women friends, when they say they want to try the corned beef sandwiches. I say I can provide them with sandwiches (but remember, I have no money). I go over to the red-headed Irish woman who is handling the tickets for the sandwiches and ask for a couple corned beef sandwiches. She absolutely refuses me. God love the Irish.

Afterward, I get too drunk and walk out on a friend (at the Casbah) and then sulk back to my lonely apartment. Sometimes I can be so stupid, but then can’t we all? The wonderful part of this is we get to do it all over next week. Maybe my friend will help me, and I won’t get as stupid again. Anyway, it’s St. Patrick’s Day again on Saturday, the 16th time in this location of the Irish Rose and maybe the 25th time downtown.

Mike Leifheit’s “Hanging Out In Rockford” reviews locally-owned restaurants, businesses and Rockford life. These columns are available on his Web site, IrishRoseRockford.com. Leifheit is owner of the Irish Rose restaurant in the downtown River District.

From the March 15-21, 2006, issue

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