A Weekly Column
By Joseph Walker


I don’t think any of the friends with whom I grew up was actually Irish. But every year at this time we became a pack of Welsh/Scottish/German/Navajo leprechauns, patrolling the schoolyard to enforce time-honored rules governing the annual wearin’ o’ the green.

I’m not sure where these rules came from. They weren’t written down anywhere, and I’m reasonably certain no governing body enacted them. They are just something that you know when you are 11. And at that time in your life, they are important.

The rules were simple. You were supposed to wear green on St. Patrick’s Day. No exceptions. Of course, how and where you wore it were matters open to private interpretation. You could wear a green outfit, which is what kindergartners and first graders tended to do. Or you could wear it covertly, which is what the older kids preferred. The main thing was, you had to wear something green – somewhere. It didn’t have to be visible, but it had to be showable.

Showability was especially important when it came time to mete out punishment. And, oh yes, punishment was involved. Do you think my friends and I enforced the wearin’ o’ the green as a fashion statement? If you came to school on St. Patrick’s Day without any green on, everyone could pinch you. According to my friend Albert, the pinch represented a bite from the snakes St. Patrick drove off of the Emerald Isle. Since Albert was Navajo and knew a lot about snakes, that seemed to us to be a reasonable justification for pinching people.

Especially girls. Being fifth grade boys, touching girls was usually pretty much out of the question. But on St. Patrick’s Day it was not only allowed, it was expected. Hence our unusual determination to comply with playground policy – written or otherwise.

Now, I should point out that the severity and the location of the pinch punishment was left to individual interpretation. Needless to say, it could be a long and painful day for anyone who forgot to wear green. However, if you were clever enough to hide your green and got pinched undeservedly, you were entitled to hit that person in the arm once you had shown them your green. I’m assuming that the hitting response to an unrequited pinch represented whacking a snake with a sheleleigh, but I’m not sure. Albert never ventured an opinion on the matter.

By the time I got to fifth grade I was pretty good at hiding my green. The feeble pinches I received on my chubby arms were well worth the slugs I dished out in return. Which is why I was excited when my parents gave me my first pair of boxers for my 11th birthday – and they were lime green! For more than I month I planned my strategy. I went out of my way to make sure there was nothing even remotely green in anything else I wore that day, and I carefully rotated my underwear to make sure the green boxers were in my drawer on March 17.

Albert, George and Dean all pinched me on the way to school that morning – and they all got hit by me after I showed them my boxers. My plan was working to perfection. Then I heard a voice behind me. It was soft and sweet – and unnerving. In other words, it was JoAnn.

"It doesn’t look like you’re wearing any green," JoAnn said to me, smiling sweetly.

"Uh . . . er . . . umm . . . " I sputtered (which is what I did whenever JoAnn was around).

JoAnn’s sweet smile turned instantly vicious as she pinched my arm. Hard.

Never in my life had I experienced such emotional cacophony. I felt pain from the pinch, but at the same time there was the extraordinary sensation of her fingers briefly on my arm. She actually touched me! On purpose! Then there was the feeling of triumph, knowing I had suckered in another victim, followed immediately by the horrifying realization that in order to fully enjoy my victory I was going to have to show JoAnn my underwear.

Yeah, right. Like THAT was going to happen.

So I just grimaced at JoAnn. "Yeah," I said. "You got me."

She laughed joyfully. And then ran to tell her friends, who for some reason felt they had to come and pinch me too. What was I supposed to do? It couldn’t look as though I had allowed JoAnn to get away with an unrequited pinch. That would be . . . unacceptable. So I just stood there and took it. All day long.

The bruises on my arms had pretty much healed by the time the next St. Patrick’s Day rolled around. But the memory hadn’t faded. I wore green socks.

Hey, you don’t have to be Irish to add a new rule for the wearin’ o’ the green.

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--- © Joseph Walker

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