My mom’s dad was born March 17, 1913. To the best of my knowledge, he wasn’t a lick of Irish (my red hair comes from my dad’s dad’s mom, who was the last redhead and whose family was from Ireland). But my maternal grandpa loved celebrating his “Irish” birthday.

Grandpa Mahler

1984 – Mom, Grandpa and me. I was about 1 1/2 years old.

Sadly, Grandpa died in 2003, but had he been alive, he would have been 100 today. As much as I miss him, I think we were pretty lucky to have him in our lives until he was 90 years old.

Grandpa Mahler

Grandpa and Grandma with my bros and me. I love that my bros and I had different hair colors – blonde (super blonde when he was a toddler), brunette and redhead. 

Both of my mom’s parents were born and raised on the south side of Chicago, and apparently knew each other “from the neighborhood.”

Grandpa Mahler

Not their wedding day – probably my grandma’s sister’s wedding. Grandpa was 26 and I think Grandma was 19. 

Grandpa served in the Navy during World World II and married Grandma on December 29, 1943, while he was on leave for about a week. (Also, just now doing the math, my grandma, my mom and I all got married when we were 24.)

Grandpa Mahler

This was their wedding day – love the hats on Grandma’s sisters

They raised five kids (Mom was #4) on the south side of Chicago, and Grandpa worked for the Illinois Central Railroad. (These days, I take the old I.C. line to work.) They were able to see four of their five children get married (my late Uncle Tom – the marathoner – never married) and Grandpa was able to get to know all 11 of his grandkids. (Grandma passed away from cancer in 1990 before my youngest cousin was born.)

Grandpa Mahler

With my mom on my parents’ wedding day

The last year of his life – 2003 – was a hard year. That was the year my uncle’s cancer came back, and we lost him in June. I think losing his son seemed to really break his heart, and at age 90, I’m guessing that’s hard to recover from. By that time, Grandpa was living between my mom’s house and her sister’s house. In October, he agreed to move into a nursing home. I don’t know if we realized it at the time, but he was ready to go. For real. He died within a couple days of moving in.

I’ll always remember my grandpa as a sweet man who loved his family very much. He was always smiling. I still remember the sound of his laugh. He had a sense of humor. One memory I have is that when I would get a report card, he would give me $1 for every B, but nothing for an A. He said when you get a B, you can still work on improving. So the lesson is, it’s OK if you’re not perfect, as long as you try to improve.

So, for me, St. Patrick’s Day has never been a big day for drinking (still don’t understand the connection between the patron saint of Ireland and drinking all day long), but it’s a day that always makes me think of my grandpa and wonderful memories of my family.