If you hail from the little city of Scranton, Pennsylvania you are more than likely getting prepared for the revelry and raucousness that comes with “parade day”. Whether the people of Scranton like it or not – this event is our greatest identifying factor. It’s right up there with our claim to fame in being the dreary backdrop of NBC’s comedy “The Office”. I guess I should mention that “parade day” is, in my opinion, loosely based on St. Patrick’s day. We’ve even managed to remove St. Patrick from the name for the most part. I never cared, though. Parade Day has proven to be at the center of some of my happiest, darkest, joyful, hilarious, most frightening, most delightful, drunken and sobering memories. I, like most Scrantonians, absolutely love this day! For me – this is the most wonderful time of the year!
I didn’t only love this day because I got to dress up in head to toe in the most obnoxious fashion and make a complete ass of myself with little judgement. (There was always someone making a way bigger ass out of themselves.) I loved it because it felt like my holiday. Scranton is crawling with very proud Irish Americans – but there are very few who can claim to be “from the other side” and my parents, being two of the only people in Scranton who could for a long time claim that advantage, also had established a pretty booming business for the area in the mid 1980s in the form of little Irish gift shop called Cronin’s Irish Cottage. My association to it made me feel like we were important to this season and my vivid memories make me still think we once were!
Walmart, Target, The Dollar Store – none of those giants had gotten in the game yet. Amazon was as far from reality as Star Trek. Bottom line was we were the only game in town and if you wanted anything Irish – authentic and imported or kitschy and silly – we had it. I remember proudly riding in a float in parades and waving to my school friends while beaming with pride and maybe even a little innocent arrogance. I was pretty much a nobody in school – too chubby and uncool for my little Catholic school uniform – so if this was my time to well up with pride – well. . . HELL! I was going to take it!
I remember our little store on Keyser Avenue crawling with people on the days and weeks leading up to the parade. The local news crews would be there, highlighting the novelty of this eccentric little store. My mom would run into the backroom, trying to hide from the camera, while my father laughed happily – elbowing anyone in the way of his shot. The newspapers would have our advertisements. We had a billboard that boasted “Shop Ireland at home. . .” It was my dad’s tagline and he was so proud of it. Little did he know that the birth of e-commerce would bring a whole new meaning to shopping from home – but he wouldn’t necessarily have a presence there.
For a few years we had a float in the parade. I remember one year in particular, I think it was the first, where a very good friend of my parents built an exact replica of our store on Keyser Ave – complete with a great big shamrock proudly painted on the front. I couldn’t have been more than five years old. We wore little Irish windbreakers that screamed 1987 and rode proudly in the parade route. It was unforgettable. We kept that little float in the backyard of our gift shop for years and my brother and I made a little clubhouse. That little float was a cornerstone of my childhood.
As I got a little older I joined the droves of drunken young ones wandering the streets of Scranton on parade day. By this time, I had lost a little interest in the store and was more carried away with the boisterous crowds and kegs of green beer. Although my parents were fans of parade day and how it thrust their business to the forefront, they were far from fans of their daughter wearing silly green hats, beads and glitter. My father would be particularly pissed at me. Not as much for the drinking than for the fact that I took any authenticity of the day from my wardrobe. It was a phase in my life that is thankfully behind me – but, MY GOD, it was fun!
By the time I turned my eyes back to our little Irish gift shop, times had changed. I always had the dream of stepping in there and finding my way back into the joy and laughter of the past, pushing through the crowds of happy customers seeking out shileleighs and walking sticks – standing shoulder to shoulder with my mom, dad, and brother as we rang up sales on this truly happy day. The parade day season was only a snippet of time in the larger scale of business. It didn’t take into account the times you had to work to make such a novelty of a business to survive on the off months. So the smiles weren’t year round as one can imagine – since you can only ride on that green cloud for so long.
The birth of e-commerce, the transition to drinking shirts and beads, Wal-mart and other big box stores, divorce, my dad’s death – they all changed the chemistry of what made that little shop work. I tried for years to recreate a magic that wasn’t mine to create. It was my parents’ magic and they did a pretty good job all on their own. Cronin’s Irish Cottage really does have a life of it’s own though and it still stands with my tough Irish mother standing solely at the helm. It is no longer on Keyser Avenue and no longer looks like an Irish cottage from the outside – but the soul and spirit is still there if you look beyond the shopping mall storefront and Big Box competition. My mother can tell you what the soil in Ireland feels like in your hands. You can’t buy that on the internet or from people who cannot boast a trip to the Auld Sod.
When I was dating the man who would become my husband – I told him how much I loved the little Irish float we rode in the parade for the first year and how much it had impacted my childhood. He recounted the story to his best friend and this crew of amazing guys banded together and built a float. It was not just any float. It was a hand crafted Irish cottage – complete with a thatched roof and smoke rising from a little chimney. When my mom met us on the parade route that year to walk in the parade for the first time in over 20 years – she cried a little. So did I. Nostalgia will do that to you.
Nostaligia is a funny thing. It tricks you into thinking you are sad when you really are not. It’s an aching. It’s a longing wrapped in love. It’s a feeling that is closely associated to the Irish in America so it would seem appropriate that I have this feeling when I think of the roots that grew my family’s Irish gift shop and, ultimately, grew me.
So – today, on parade day, I will visit my mom’s gift shop with my little Irish American babies and my husband laced with Irish, Scottish and German and we will try to get a glimpse of the parade that Scranton is so rightfully proud to own – and who knows – maybe one year my babies can ride in a float dedicated to the business their grandparents built – and have memories to sustain a lifetime.
nostalgia – a wistful desire to return in thought or in fact to a former time in one’s life, to one’s home or homeland, or to one’s family and friends; a sentimental yearning for the happiness of a former place or time
P.S. It would be wrong for me not to plug my mom’s little store in this post and, Lord knows, I do not want to be wrong. If you are in The Scranton area – please visit Cronin’s Irish Cottage located in The Marketplace at Steamtown (where you can Shop Ireland at home. . . )