Tomorrow, you can call me Patrick O'Kuhl.
It's St. Patrick's Day and everybody's Irish on St. Patrick's Day. At least that's what Sister O'Peter Marie used to tell us.
And those who aren't Irish are green with envy.
There weren't very many kids of Irish descent at our school in Highland. Sure, there were the O'Quinns, who moved in from out of state. And a McGuire or two. But most of us were German through and through.
That didn't matter to the good sister, though. On St. Patrick's Day, we all had big green shamrock nametags that attested to our Emerald Isle heritage. There was O'Voss and O'Voegele. O'Kleinhoffer and O'Schroeder. There was even a McNeunschswander.
Sister would do anything she could to make us feel more Irish. We drank green Kool-Aid and some of us wound up with green mustaches. The cafeteria ladies made corned beef. They even put green food coloring in the mashed potatoes. O'Gross.
The big event of the day was when Monsignor Whalen, who really was Irish, came in. You know that little white square in the front of his priest suit collar? On St. Patrick's Day, it was bright green.
He told us all about St. Patrick. We liked the part about the snakes. Then Sister would line us up to sing an Irish song for Monsignor Whalen. I never knew what tura lura lura meant, but it always brought a tear to Monsignor Whalen's Irish eyes.
Afterward, he asked if there were any Patricks in the class. He called me up to the front, put a big Monsignor paw on my crew cut, and told me and the class that my parents must have thought I was pretty special to have given me such a grand name.
I was embarrassed. And proud.
But he made wonder: Why did my parents name me Patrick?
So I asked, expecting to hear a heartwarming story about a big, burly redheaded Irishman who saved my uncle's life during the war. Or maybe a great-great-great-grandfather who pumped a little Irish blood into the Kuhl and Molitor family trees.
That wasn't it.
"All the other good names were taken," Pop told me.
When you're kid No. 8 and all the aunts and uncles have big families, too, all the Henrys and Edwards and Alberts and Urbans are already accounted for.
I wasn't named for the doctor who delivered me or even movie star Pat O'Brien.
Patrick just came to my parents out of the blue -- or the green.
When I started school, I didn't like the name at all. All the other Pats were girls. And nobody liked girls. So I took a lot of kidding.
It still gets my Irish up when I get a letter addressed to Ms. Pat Kuhl at work. Oops, did I drop that one into the trash can by mistake?
But most of the time, I'm proud to be a Patrick.
Like when our forgetful old neighbor, Mrs. Spencer, would sit with me in the big glider on her front porch, and tell me I reminded her of her Patrick. He was the love of her life -- her Irish husband, who died shortly after we moved into the neighborhood.
He liked baseball. I liked baseball. He had a good sense of humor. I was always telling her silly jokes. He liked to sit next to her on the glider on the front porch. So did I.
Usually, Mrs. Spencer couldn't remember much of anything. But whenever she told me about her Pat, she was sharp as a tack. It made me feel special.
And for some reason, I've always gone out of my way to look for rainbows and four-leaf clovers. (I have a big one pressed in our Bible if you want to see it).
My favorite color is green.
And, I've never seen a snake in my yard. Not one.