Twenty-one years ago today, a leprechaun came dancing into our little family, bringing Irish magic, charm, and shenanigans to our lives. Mackenzie Kathleen McDermott loudly introduced herself at 3:05 in the afternoon on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, 1994. She was wearing a full head of dark hair, weighed in at 7 pounds, 14 ounces, and was 21¼ ̎ long. She had perfect skin, sparkling dark brown eyes, a sturdy frame, and a strong little grip. It was the capacity of her lungs, however, that was most impressive to me. As I wrote in her baby book: “she has a lusty cry…temper, temper! Alert from birth, looking around.” I took one look at her little Irish face, all scrunched up in a powerful yell, and I immediately knew that I was in big, fat trouble.
After Mack arrived, St. Patrick’s Day for us was never the same, and I suppose we should credit to some extent the magical day of her arrival in the world with her zest for life and the mischievous quality of her zany personality. The more Mack grew and the more freckles that emerged on her face, the more we all knew that she was a force of nature as vigorous as the Irish surf crashing on the Cliffs of Moher. She was a terrible toddler who engaged with gusto in constant mischief. She was an active and exuberant kid, always running and roaring and making a mess. And throughout her teens, she was a one-girl comedy act, always successful in making everyone who knew her laugh and laugh and laugh some more. Mack played hard, lived loud, and was impossible to ignore. From infancy to toddlerhood and from elementary school to college, she was a bundle of energy, she was a spirited sprite, and she watched for folly and fun around every corner. She was, indeed, our family’s Irish mascot, our own little leprechaun, our jolly little elf.
My Irish imp was ever a handful of trouble, but her sense of humor was infectious and her giggles had the power to melt her momma bear’s heart. Mack learned early on that she could make as much mischief as she wanted to as long as she finished it off with an Irish jig, or a silly joke, or a dimpled grin. Mack was always quick to remind me that she was an Irish daughter who came by her mischief naturally. She embraced her Irish heritage, and she gleefully used it as an excuse for any trouble she caused. She loved the Irish cadence of her full name, wore her freckles with pride, and always believed that having a St. Patrick’s Day birthday was the coolest personal detail of her life.
Throughout the year, Mack was always happy and ready to play the role of our family leprechaun. One year for Halloween she even dressed herself for the part. After school, she went into her bedroom to prepare for trick-or-treating, disappearing with a tub of holiday props I kept underneath my bed. When she emerged, she was wearing what I think is the best Halloween costume she ever had. It was so damn good, in fact, that I was not even mad that she had cut up a perfectly good shirt to make the vest. That night, she skipped and jigged through our neighborhood, collecting her candy and having a blast.
At Barrelhead, our favorite neighborhood bar and grill, where Kevin and I raised our girls on whole, deep-fried catfish and burgers and fries, there was a sign just inside the entrance that counted down the days until St. Patrick’s Day. The sign had chunky wood block numbers that sat in a frame, and the staff religiously updated the numbers each day. We ate at Barrelhead about once a week for something like fifteen years, and every time we entered the bar, Mack would go over to that countdown sign, turn around with a big grin, and shout “275 days until my birthday!” or whatever the magic number was that week. Mack never tired of this ritual; and I always laughed at her, so I guess I never tired of it either. Mack owned St. Patrick’s Day. It was uniquely hers. It was more than a birthday for her. It was a celebration of her Irish self, her inner child, and her devotion to all things silly.
For everyone who knew her, St. Patrick’s Day became Mack’s day. Mack made sure of it; and everyone seemed willing to oblige her. I miss my leprechaun oh so very much. I miss her every…single…day. And my sorrow today, on this first birthday without her, is overwhelming. But I find some solace in knowing that for all of us who loved her so much, St. Patrick’s Day will always be Mack Day.