“But marshmallows are a St Patrick’s Day tradition!” my eldest daughter righteously insisted, aghast at my ignorance on the subject. “Don’t you remember, we all had giant marshmallows last year?” she asked in total incredulity.
It was as though I had suddenly announced that I’d never heard that people bring little pine trees indoors and decorate them at Christmas time. The other kids all agreed that, in their experience, marshmallows were indeed a well-known St Patrick’s Day staple. I had to bow to the weight of public opinion, and so I bought a bag of giant marshmallows.
I’ve found that the maxim ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’ is a good one if you want a peaceful family life. I therefore informed my wife of the advent of this new family tradition, explaining that it is widely believed – in our family, at least – that St Patrick himself was sustained largely by marshmallows when he brought the light of Christianity to Ireland.
Children have long memories for such matters, and a keen eye for detail when it comes to confectionary, and so I don’t doubt that next St Patrick’s Day marshmallows will be once again demanded as a formally-recognised family tradition.
In our family, St Patrick’s day is always a double celebration, since it is also my parents’ wedding anniversary. This year was their 47th anniversary and we are already gearing up for the big one, their golden anniversary in three years’ time. My parents were staying with us for St Patrick’s weekend this year, providing an additional excuse for celebration.
After a hearty meal of traditional St Patrick’s day fare – Irish stew and marshmallows – we settled down to look at some old photos of their wedding day, and the years around the beginning of their married life together. It is always extraordinary to think that, but for those happenstance dancehall meetings, and the consequent blossoming of romance which took place back then, neither I nor my children would exist.
The clear colour photographs of those sunny days back in the late 1960s and early 1970s made the past seem alive. Our family photos have been digitally scanned and so, when shown large and luminous on a screen, they look as though they were taken yesterday. There was my father in his merchant navy officer’s uniform, or onboard ships at sea. There was my mother – a primary school teacher – on her wedding day, surrounded by adoring children from her class.
We saw photos of my parents camping in wildest Donegal and Kerry. We saw babies and small children, who now have children and even grandchildren of their own. Poignantly for me, there were also many photos of my own grandparents, and some aunts and uncles, who are now departed. All looked just as I remember them.
Those old photos brought alive many early memories from the late 70s and early 80s. Suddenly, a half century seemed just the blink of an eye – even though I haven’t even been around that long. Yet all those vivacious, smiling people, full of life – just as I remember them – are now gone, leaving only echoes behind, amongst those who loved them well.
There is no distance in time between the full technicolour of the prime of our lives and our disappearance into dust. There is hope in this somehow, because this connection through time is so strong that it speaks of infinity. We sense that all of time, all places and all people are somehow connected through that mysterious consciousness, that greater intelligence, who guides those odd happenstances that bring each of us into being. Each day, and every fleeting moment, is subtly connected.
Those who are gone, never seem to be quite gone. They reverberate within us in this life – and then there is the matter of the afterlife. And who knows, perhaps they have marshmallows there too.
It may be too short, and the few guarantees we have in life are often grim ones: along with taxes, we are truly sure only of death. Yet, the sun always rises and, when we live well, there is a fundamental sweetness to life. Perhaps that is why we traditionally eat marshmallows on St Patrick’s Day.