Monday, March 17, 2008
St. Patrick's day.

I have a warm place in my heart for St. Patrick's day. When I was in grade school, you got to bring a treat to share with the rest of the class on your birthday. Cookies or brownies or rice-crispy treats.

But my birthday is in July, so I could never bring in treats. I can't remember why this was so important to me as a kid, but it was.

So my mom, rather than being relieved at having one less chore in her busy life, came up with the idea that I could take cookies to school on St. Patrick's day, because my name was Patrick. That was the sort of person she was.

So we made sugar cookies shaped like Shamrocks and frosted them with green frosting. I helped. Or at least I remember helping. More likely I tried to help and got in the way instead.

So I got to bring cookies to school once a year, and my standing in kid society was saved.

As I write this, I realize not everyone might have done this at their schools, growing up. Maybe it just happened in my little corner of the sky.

I grew up in a small town in Wisconsin, just outside Madison. The Town of Burke, unincorporated. Lots of land, not many people.

For most of grade school, I went to the modern equivalent of a one-room schoolhouse called Pumpkin Hollow. No, I'm not kidding. It was called Pumpkin Hollow School.

It had four classrooms, one each for first through forth grades. The entire faculty consisted of four teachers, the aid, and the lunch lady. We borrowed music and art teachers from a bigger school district and they came out to visit us once a week.

I think this small school was a very special thing, though I didn't realize it back then. We had a really active group of parents that would organize great things for us. We went to see the Nutcracker Ballet every year, and we had little fairs in the springtime with craft booths and little games.

I remember the playground. You'll never see a playground like it these days. The equipment was good, old-fashioned dangerous, or made out of tires, or both. We had a tire swing. A real one that hung from a high branch, and because the rope was long you could really whip people around on it. We could have killed ourselves, but we didn't. It was fun. Good lord I miss recess. When did play get squeezed out of our daily curriculum?

It wasn't a perfect place by any means. I don't mean to imply that. Even small groups of children can be cruel. There was one girl that everyone said had cooties, and we teased her though I didn't care and I was her friend anyway. None of the cool guys liked me very much, which sucked.

Ms. Otto, the aid, had strong old-school views about propriety, and she didn't approve of the boys and girls playing together. We could mingle together on the equipment, or play tag, but we couldn't cluster together in and make up our own games. A boy who played with the girls was given the worst punishment possible: he was forced to sit on the steps.

I spent a lot of time on the steps. Don't misunderstand me. I was not a young Casanova. I just preferred the company of girls. Generally speaking, I still do.

Once I brought an old Indian Spearhead to school to show the other kids. It was real, we'd found it when we were digging in the garden. But when I took it out to recess, I showed it to a girl and told her that it was sharp and it could cut her. I wasn't really threatening her, but I wasn't exactly *not* threatening her either. I was being tough, and slightly wicked, and I knew it.

The girl told Ms. Otto, and I had to sit on the steps and they took the spearhead away. Later that day, my teacher Miss Anderson gave me a serious talking to and gave me the spearhead back.

That was it. I was deeply ashamed, and I knew deep in my heart that what I'd done was Wrong.

I also felt like I'd dodged a bullet because they hadn't told my parents. Everything worked out smoothly, and I learned something. These days, they would have called homeland security, put me in therapy, and installed flint detectors on all the school doorways.

It was, everything said, a good place to grow up. It was too small for any severe social stratification. When your entire class is only 18 kids, the cool kids (Like Chad VanEss) still weren't that much cooler than the uncool kids. And the prettiest girl (Jody Mulcahy) wasn't that much prettier than the least pretty girl.

They closed Pumpkin Hollow not long after I left. Probably for budget reasons. I drive past it every once in a while when I'm at home. A small business has set up shop in the building, and I always want to stop and ask if I can look around. But I never do.

But in my dreams I go there. Sometimes the school is abandoned as I look around. Sometimes the new owners let me in and I see the old school half-hidden under the renovations. Sometimes I'm with someone, showing them around, saying, "This is the room where we had art class." "This was Ms. Stewart's room." "Everything is so small. How did twenty kids ever play dodge ball here?"

They are melancholy dreams, full of a deep, slow sadness. They always end the same way. After moving from room to room, I lay down on the floor and cry. Not for anything, or about anything. Simply because I am full of sadness, and I miss something that is so long gone that I can no longer remember what it was, or put it into words.

I would give each of you a shamrock cookie today, if I could. But that is beyond me. So instead I wish each of you happiness, joy in the changing of the seasons, dreams free of melancholy, and hope of new friendships on the near horizon.



Labels: , , ,

posted by Pat at


Anonymous TeichDragon said...

Sorry Pat, you're a tad late...

The date of the feast is occasionally moved by church authorities when March 17 falls during Holy Week; this happened in 1940 when Saint Patrick's Day was observed on April 3 in order to avoid it coinciding with Palm Sunday, and happened again in 2008, having been observed on 15 March.

March 17, 2008 2:31 PM  
Blogger Kelly said...

I graduated from 8th grade in a class of 18, and I grew up only 40 minutes outside of Philadelphia : ) We did the same thing for birthdays - the birthday kid would bring in cupcakes or what have you. As a fellow July birthday-er, I felt pretty jipped because I couldn't. I guess I still feel a little jipped, since I've never celebrated my birthday at school, and even in college all my friends would be away during the summer : ( Ah, the hidden angst of having a summer birthday!

Thank you for your kind wishes, Pat. I raise a toast to your awesomeness!

March 17, 2008 2:49 PM  
Blogger Kelly Swails said...

Wonderful post, Pat. Thanks for sharing.

We did the cupcake/cookie/treat thing for birthdays at school, too. My school was small, though not as small as yours. We had about forty-five kids in my year, separated into two classes ... so around twenty-two or -three kids. Smaller groups can be more cruel than larger ones, I think, because when you've known someone since kindergarten and you've slept over at their house and they've eaten dinner at yours, it hurts that much more when they call you fugly or four-eyes a few years later.

I don't think it's strange at all that you prefer the company of girls, probably because I prefer the company of guys. Don't get me wrong, I love me a good girl's night out, but my best friends in high school were all guys, and even now I'm more comfortable at a table full of guys than a table full of girls.

March 17, 2008 3:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I went to a medium sized elementary school myself. They had a flint detector installed at every door. All of us kids formed little cliques and we would each build snow forts out of the snow banks the plows would create when they cleared out the HUGE play area (its not as big now when I look but it was big then). Sometimes it even came to snow ball fights.

The school is still there, but, it is now a private christian school. Every now and then I take my kids there to play on the playground equipment. Not so much as I used to when grandma (my mom) lived right next to it.

Thanks for the memories, Pat.

March 17, 2008 3:59 PM  
Blogger amber_mane said...

Well I don't know about the REST of the world but in my country we celebrate St.Patrick's day ON ST.PATRICK'S DAY. Which is always the 17th of March and always the day you dress up in green and get utterly smashed on guinness and shnapps. Or whatever beverage of a toxic quality you have upon your personage.

I tell you celebrating St.Patrick's day at University is AWESOME.

As a kid it was never a day I knew much about except that I knew if I looked for four-leaf clovers on that day I would have a greater chance of success and now and then I swear I saw a leprechaun. Of course I was that kind of kid where flights of fantasy and the real world were one and the same to me.
I hope I'm not too much different :P

Thank you for sharing your story, it really got me thinking about my own childhood. I understand what you mean about your birthday being in summer. My birthday was always in summer as well, and right close to christmas. It was tradition in my family to have birthday parties. Not huge ones, just a day of fun for you and who ever you invited. Of course since it was summer a lot of my friends would be gone on holiday or busy with their families so close to christmas. So sometimes I would have my birthday party in November instead of December so then I could have friends to come to my party. (Just to clarify, I live in New Zealand, so that means summer is over November - March period).


March 17, 2008 4:00 PM  
Blogger JonSauve said...

We did that stuff in my elementary school too. Every time a student had a birthday, they brought in awesome treats. I remember I brought in ziploc bags with a handful of assorted candies in them. Everyone loved me.

And pumpkin Hollow is pretty much the awesomest (word?) name for a school ever.

March 17, 2008 4:31 PM  
Anonymous Bibi said...

Awww, Pat, this is so sad :(

It's like my childhood, in a way... I grew up in a tiny school in Panama(the one in central america) and then moved here just in time to start high school, and it always makes me sad to think of all the friends that I grew up with that just sorta moved on without me. I makes me sad that if I were to go back and visit I'd be a stranger :(

But wow, you are really an amazing writer. Even your blog shows it. I swear I could smell those shamrock cookies...
And thank you, the end made me happy:]

Have an awesome St. Patricks Day!

March 17, 2008 5:35 PM  
Blogger Nathan Lowe said...

Thanks for the Heartfelt Pat. I went to a small school too. It's amazing how much that can affect you, and I wonder how much different I would be today if I had grown up in a different school...

Happy St. Patrick's Day

March 17, 2008 6:17 PM  
Blogger Shorty said...

Pat, that is an incredible story. I LOVE that you went to Pumpkin Hollow School

It is certainly MUCH more interesting than being one amongst hundreds.

But, my favorite part was that your sweet mother made sure her son felt special (and snuck in a way to endear you to your classmates, too). Beautiful.

Happy St. Patrick's Day to you! I raise my Shamrock shake in your honor.

March 17, 2008 7:31 PM  
Blogger Shorty said...

Oh, and the last part of your post (where you talk about walking through your old school, laying on the floor, and crying) touched me...

I know you appreciate Peter S. Beagle's "The Last Unicorn"... well, if you look on page 69-70... that brings me to the same place. I cry every time... and relate it to very much the same thing. Crying for something intangible and magical that I never had or lost so long ago I can't remember it anymore. But, the ache of its absence still lingers.


Sorry, didn't mean to over-do-it with the self-disclosure!!

March 17, 2008 7:39 PM  
Anonymous Llyralei said...

"These days, they would have called homeland security, put me in therapy, and installed flint detectors on all the school doorways."

Best quote ever.

I feel so touched.<3 My birthday's in July as well and I'm still sad because I don't get anything birthday-special during school. And I can sympathize with your dream. My entire district's so changed from how I remember it, I dunno how to deal with it. Instead of steps, though, we had to stand by the wall. I remember when they took out the monkey bars because they were too dangerous.

Wow, I'm getting sentimental. In any case, I'm so happy you shared that little piece of your life. And thanks. I hope your St. Patrick's Day was truly wonderful.


March 17, 2008 7:45 PM  
Anonymous Jenna said...

This was beautiful to read, Pat. Thank you for sharing...

I went to a large elementary school - three or four classes of 35/40 kids each for each grade, that sort of thing. We always brought in goodies... but in Kindergarten, there was a HUGE blizzard (by our tropical NYC standards XD) on my birthday, Jan 10th. Mom carried a tray of cupcakes with me to school, lifting me over snowdrifts and then picking up the cupcakes... I still remember it (:

Thank you for sharing your memories with us, Pat.

March 17, 2008 8:52 PM  
Blogger Shane said...

Oh, cool, here is a first me.
A blog choked me up.
Thanks so much.

March 17, 2008 8:53 PM  
OpenID roseneko said...

I had the July-birthday problem too, so my mother came up with a different idea - why not celebrate my half-birthday? Then I could give half of a cupcake to my classmates, and life would be good. I remember getting really happy about the idea until I found out my half-birthday was January 15th, which was Martin Luther King Day (which we had off). But I wasn't upset about it for very long. I was kind of a happy-go-lucky kid. Still am, really.

Happy St. Patrick's day to you too, and drink some good Irish whiskey today! *toasts you with her Bushmills single-malt*

March 17, 2008 8:54 PM  
Blogger Shane said...

*a first for me

See? Can't even type, I'm so misty eyed.

March 17, 2008 8:54 PM  
Blogger Mary J. said...

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Thank you for the little glimpse into your childhood- I like shamrock cookies but sharing memories also make a beautiful gift. :-)

March 17, 2008 9:21 PM  
OpenID thornofcamorr said...

Pumpkin Hollow - Thats the best name for a school ever. Now I wish I went to a small elementry school like that.

March 18, 2008 12:13 AM  
Anonymous Lenore said...

That blog entry made me really sad!!!! I wish for you to have pleasant dreams about happier things in the future.

I remember not being able to bring cookies to school on my birthday as well. For it kid, it does seem rather dramatic not to be able to.

I don't have a single memory of celebrating St. Patrick's Day. Which is weird, I was born near you actually, in Madison, but now I live outside of Scranton PA.

Scranton has a HUGE St. Patrick's day celebration, all the bars open up at 7 a.m. and all the streets and shops are closed for miles around. Even if you did have work that day, theres little chance you'd actually get there.

No one even calls it St. Patrick's day around here, it's called 'parade day' And this year it was ultra exciting because Hillary was there.

Next year, you should come to Scranton for Parade Day, hmmm by that time, the new book would almost be out... how exciting!

March 18, 2008 1:13 AM  
Blogger tas said...

Pat i read that thing you wrote about school and i just have to say i feel the same. i miss the freedom you have as kids. i always wanted to grow up in the country. I am planing to move to scotland in four or five years.
You should go in to the school and say hi to some of the memories.


March 18, 2008 1:30 AM  
Anonymous cameron said...

Sometimes its good to be depressed. Wait, that's not right... Hmm. Perhaps I'm saddened. My daughter would say that being sad or depressed (a word she doesn't know yet) is not good. I would have a tough time trying to convince her otherwise-- It's one of those things that you acquire with age: a healthy appreciation for the melancholy. Maybe that's the trade-off for time on the playground.

I spent a lot of time moving around until the fourth grade, then ended up in a very small school in the hills. 1st through 8th grade in a small building w/ a trailer extension for the older kids. 4th, 5th and 6th grade shared a teacher. 7th and 8th had their own. My "graduating" class had 8 kids. No joke. A couple have already passed away.

I haven't thought about that school in a long, long, time.

Thanks Pat- For your anecdote, and for helping me take a couple minutes from my monotony to remember my past.

Your a blessing-


March 18, 2008 1:51 AM  
Anonymous Dischord said...

Now that's the kind of writing that makes me love NotW so much. And look forward to WMF. Thanks, Pat!

March 18, 2008 6:16 AM  
Anonymous Rebecca said...

Yay for July birthdays! At my grade school all the summer birthdays got lumped together at the end of the year. So I was eclipsed by 10 other (cooler) people and the excitement of summer vacation. I'm sure all the other summer birthday kids are glad you opened the conversation and we can finally talk of our pain.

And although I never threatened anyone with an arrowhead I did spend a bit of time with my nose against the wall :P

March 18, 2008 6:54 AM  
Anonymous Kalligenia said...

Beautiful post. Cheers to you on St. Patrick's Day!

We never had the birthday treat thing going on at my school. My elementary school was a medium sized Canadian one and full of cliques. I was somewhat removed as I played with friends at recess from a different grade and far in the field where there was this bush that looked like a spaceship.

March 18, 2008 7:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My name is Patrick as well and St. Patrick's day always held a special place. Growing up, my mom would always make me pancakes. What do pancakes have to do with St. Patrick's Day...nothing - but I got to eat them. And that is special indeed.

March 18, 2008 8:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

We had 1-12 in my grade school...1-6 was downstairs, the high schoolers were 'upstairs'. No one from downstairs EVER went upstairs, kind of a spooky place. Even though it was a backwoods type of school we still somehow got a color tv to watch the moon landing.

March 18, 2008 8:22 AM  
Blogger Val said...

You might not know this, but ever since my years at the Pointer, I still associate St. Patrick's Day with you. I even wrote about it in my blog yesterday. So when I see shamrock cookies or even shamrock shakes at McDonald's, I remember those late nights at the Pointer waiting for you to come in and set up your horoscope column. I remember how you would carefully line up the column and how your eyes would sparkle with joy as you would read over your own words. I recently took a trip up to the University Archives to sort of "recapture" some of the joy I felt when I worked as comics editor. Ruth, the archives lady, and I spent a nice afternoon chatting away about my old comic strips as well as BJ's, etc. It was touching to see that Ruth had copies of our old strips and columns in her office. Hey, someone else remembers! In any case, I'm having a cookie with my peppermint tea this morning and just wanted to tell you that reading your blog today made my day. And if you're curious, here's the link to my blog entry where I mention how I associate you with St. Pat's day:

March 18, 2008 9:51 AM  
Blogger Judy said...

Hi Pat -

I can completely understand your pain with the whole birthday thing..... except for me, it was a bit worse in some regards, because I am a June bday, and the end of the New York school year ALWAYS ended within a day or two of my bday. Try getting 20 kids to sit still and celebrate your bday when there are so many other wonderful things going on - end of year parties, half days, summer vacation right around the corner..... and in Jr. High and High School, we had a birthday committee which would decorate your locker with streamers, signs and balloons - if your friends didn't get there first. What did I, as a late June birthday, get? A trash bag taped to the locker door and a reminder that anything left after 12:00p would be thrown away by the custodial staff. No, not bitter at all, 15 years later...... ;o)

Thank you for pointing out that sometimes the sweet does rise to the top of those bittersweet memories. I hope they bring you comfort and strength as you move through life.

March 18, 2008 10:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are probably the best story teller alive... thanks for that

March 18, 2008 10:33 AM  
Anonymous Josie said...

Oh, God, don't I miss elementary school. I was lucky enough to get to play on a "dangerous" playground, complete with a huge fort and an arrangement of three huge monster truck tires to play on. They renovated when I was in the fifth grade and I started to get bored at recess. They even took away the swings! I loved the story about St. Patrick's day. I'm sure the other kids thought you were awesome because not only were you a saint, but you had a whole day named after you. ;)

March 18, 2008 11:06 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Patrick Rothfuss does not cry!! Thats purified man-ness falling out of his tear ducts!

March 18, 2008 11:58 AM  
Blogger Incubus Jax said...

I love the "emo bullshit" label. If you're really into the sick and twisted google John Cheese's "Hey There Delilah".

Thanks for sharing the post. I know how you feel, about being sad for something that's so far gone.

Keep your head up.


PS I finished "The Name of the Wind" tonight. I can't tell you how happy I am that you wrote it.

Take care.

March 18, 2008 9:46 PM  
Blogger illyria516 said...

I love that your Mom thought of the cookies for you for St. Patrick's Day. What an awesome Mom! We did cookies at my school as well, and actually I had a similar school experience. There were about 20-25 kids in each class, four grades, recess "rules", and cookies for birthdays.

I, too, look back and treasure that time, and also feel sad that it is no longer in existance as a school. I felt like those in my class had a unique experience that was essential to my general school experience. Your blog made me think of those days. Ah... so wonderful! Thanks for the reminder!

PS. I remember in first grade I had a crush on this little boy and I used to hug him every day. In todays world I would have been sued for sexual harrassment and would be a Level I sex offender.

March 19, 2008 9:22 AM  
Blogger Rebecca said...

I went to a fairly large elementary school in a fairly large city and I definitely remember having cupcakes on kid's birthdays. Funny you say that you felt left out by having a summer birthday - I'm a winter baby and I always felt left out since I couldn't have a pool party (in retrospect, my parents probably planned it this way). I'm sure cookies are no longer allowed, however. Your entry brought back lots of good memories, like playground equipment made of tires which is still there. So I guess all the good times don't have to end.

March 19, 2008 9:54 AM  
Blogger Jessica said...


That would have made me cry, in a good way, were my crying organ not all worn out lately. Thanks for telling it. And it's yet another story that makes me hope I can just be some smidgen of a part as good of a mom as yours.

My 10th grade chemistry teacher was right, you can't go home again. That is one of the suckiest things about life I think. But maybe we carry home with us and it becomes part of the new homes we make for ourselves. Damn I hope so anyway.

Well anyway thanks for that and everything, you are something else.


March 19, 2008 11:22 PM  
Blogger Amanda said...

I think many schools did the "bring in a treat for your birthday" parties. Mind you, not everyone participated at my school, and it was cut short around 3rd or 4th grade.

I really liked reading this post. It made me remember elementary school. Our traveling music teacher who had to classroom, only a cart with a couple of random instruments on it and some music. Our playground with a GIGANTIC tire tower, monkey bars, rings and random masses of metal poles that were indecently fun to play on.

Thanks for the memories :)

March 20, 2008 10:04 AM  
Anonymous Pat's Sidekick (Tights not included) said...

The writing in this blog, perhaps more than any other, shows how you were capable of writing the finer points of Kvothe, I think. I love your humor, don't get me wrong. And your ability to twist and shave words and phrases and conversations to make them fit together like a 100,000 piece puzzle which depicts something no one has ever seen before. But what really, truly makes Kvothe such a powerful character for me isn't his talents, which are so well thought out and provoking that I think God probably inhabited your mind for a little while to get a feel for what Jesus was supposed to be like. :P But no, what I like most is his pain. Nothing is more compelling than his suffering and how it formed him, forging him into a character with a complexity that mirrors the human condition. And with that little bit, um, when is the second book coming? I'm curious, cause the last time I checked with hopes held high, it was April, just in time for my birthday. So I'm wondering. Ciao, mang.

March 20, 2008 4:25 PM  
Blogger Nancy said...

This was a great post! I went to a small catholic school out in Dallas (it is not quite so small now) run by the Sisters of the Holy Ghost. Yeah, from Ireland. County Cork. I had a very amusing Irish/Texas drawl growing up. And wrote a lot of stuff using Brit spelling.

Thanks for sharing. I'm going to be smiling for the rest of the day!

And by the way, I totally ignored the Pope moving St. Pat's day to the 15th.

March 21, 2008 1:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

LOL pat i thought you were going to say that you took guiness to school on st pats day. We use to do that. Made the old fashioned play areas awesomely dangerous!

March 21, 2008 1:57 PM  
Anonymous tangela said...

Awww. Gah. Eyes. Misting.

Yes. I am a sap.

Growing up in a small town sounds awesome.

I don't remember that much about my elementary school days. And I'm only a teenager.

That's sort of terrible, isn't it?


March 24, 2008 9:37 PM  
Blogger yellowdog granny said...

sigh, I make everyone angry when I tell them I despise St. Patrick and St. Patrick's a pagan, he's not one of my favorite the old fart wasn't even Irish.

April 2, 2008 7:15 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home

RSS info

Previous Posts
Bookmark this Blog
(IE and Firefox users only - Safari users, click Command-D)


© 2007 Patrick Rothfuss, All Rights Reserved
Contact Patrick
website designed and hosted by