March of Time

When (614) asked me to write this month’s Parting Shot, I was thrilled. Finally, I thought, a platform for me to showcase my nuanced opinions on family, spring, and pop culture. It’s March too, I thought, St. Patrick’s Day is approaching. What a coincidence, I said to my wife, that (614) would have an Irish bar owner write a piece during March where by 3 p.m. on St. Patrick’s Day every bar in Columbus will resemble the theater scene from Gremlins.

I really wanted tried write something about St. Patrick’s Day, but that seemed too obvious. Besides, we know what St. Patrick’s Day really is and that’s a day where everyone pretty much gets a free pass to be an asshole for 24 hours. But it’s also a great day because it’s a time where you get to perhaps see old friends, or make new friends, and if you’re doing it right, listen to as much of the Pogues catalogue as humanly possible.

To me, St. Patrick’s Day is a microcosm of a month that definitely has emotional issues. March is morning snows, followed by afternoon thaws; its snowsqualls and kites; March Madness and Spring Training. March is an asshole. And your best friend.

I grew up in a small town on the Alleghany River not too far north from Pittsburgh. As kids, we were accustomed to the snow/thaw cycle of late winter. We were young, energetic kids burning with cabin fever so we did what all kids did—we found mischief. Our favorite pastime was to hide behind the hedges of the local university and throw snowballs at passing cars. Looking back on it, that seems like a horrible idea, but in our minds the worst possible outcome was getting caught in the ensuing chase.

One particular year after a morning snow of several inches, the sun came out and it quickly warmed up to the mid-40s. We were ready. Hiding behind the hedges we had our ammo set up, just waiting for the perfect target to drive by.

Our first target quickly appeared and as it approached, we all jumped up and released our payloads. We missed so badly that the target didn’t even know he was targeted.

Then suddenly, from behind us, we hear, “Hey what are you doing?” Shit. It was my dad.

We froze, too scared to turn around. “Nothing,” I said.

“Well, you sure nothing’d that last car that drove by.” He said. “Let me show you how it’s done.”

It should be noted that my pops was a good athlete. He had pitched in the California Angels and Pittsburgh Pirates organizations and after retiring from baseball went on to box professionally for several years. He was kind, intimidating, and sometimes cruel, but almost always he was the funniest man in the room.

Pops bent down. “The key is to lead the car so you can hit it right on the driver’s door.” He said, as he tracked the oncoming—and I will never forget this—red Ford LTD.

We were all on our knees, too nervous to speak, but smiling with the sheer absurdity of the moment. Just then, my dad jumped up and threw what in baseball terms would be referred to as a BB—a heater, a frozen rope—right at the the vehicle.

Some other details I remember from that day: It was warm, the asphalt had started to steam where the sun was hitting it, and the driver of the Ford LTD was smoking a cigarette with his window half-way down.

The snowball had—by sheer velocity—risen slightly as it rocketed through the air so that when it hit, and it did hit, half of it struck the driver’s window and the other half—not much unlike a booster rocket after disengaging from the space shuttle—careened off the window and struck the driver.

I remember hearing the tires screech as the driver stopped the car. We couldn’t move. All of our instincts had shut down. Nothing was firing, or rather everything was firing at once, and we were frozen, trapped in a neurological bottleneck.

My dad stood up, he looked like a great bearded giant, and in said giant’s voice, yelled, “RUN!”

And we ran.

Thirty or so years later on roughly the same day, and at approximately same time, I received a call that my pops had passed away suddenly in the night. He was by himself, found lying on the kitchen floor.

March Fourth is a day that holds one of my fondest and most devastating memories of my life thus far. March is your best friend. March is an asshole.

March is a month full of anticipation for spring, yet due to proximity of winter, it’s a time where we can remember the hard times too; the exploding earth, and thunder snow. Just think of that first warm day and how every year right around this time we promise ourselves that we will seize every opportunity to get outside and enjoy every minute of sunshine that we can. And we mean it. Every year we mean it, because for at least one moment, everything is beautiful and nothing hurts.