Ode to March

One man's salute to a month that matters.

illustration by jBurak Çakmak | Dreamstime

My favorite month of the year is June, primarily because it happens to feature the two days that make me happiest: my wedding anniversary and Father’s Day. But as much as I love our sixth month of the year — schools out, baseball season in full flight — I’ll never have a bond with June quite like the one I enjoy with March.

It all started . . . well, several years ago. I was born on March 4th, 13 days before my dad’s 27th birthday, which happens to be St. Patrick’s Day. With a name like Murtaugh, my family is bound to love all things Irish, but my dad took special delight in the coincidence of his arrival date. Then 25 days after my fifth birthday, the month of March gained added glow when my sister (and only sibling) snuck in just three days before fools have all their fun. A family of four with three cakes — and an abundance of candles to blow out — every March.

Those of a certain age certainly remember the Seinfeld episode when Jerry and the gang debated the relative “feel” of weekdays. Mondays and Fridays have distinctive feels, it was agreed. But Tuesday? Meh.

As far as months go, March most certainly has legitimate “feel.” In this part of the world, grass literally gets greener (most appropriately) as the local pubs loosen their taps for the 17th. A Memphis winter may be mild, but it’s cold enough and comes to an official close the third week in March. As major league baseball teams shake the rust off in Florida and Arizona, local high school and college nines are spraying line drives into that greener grass while hitters in the Northeast and Midwest are still indoors, measuring progress by how violently the net of their batting cage receives a rubber ball.

One indoor sport, of course, captures attention like few others, so much so that the alliterative March Madness can be considered as much a title for college basketball’s championship tournament as the Super Bowl is for the National Football League’s premium event. And here in Memphis? Grizzlies fans dream of basketball in June (when the NBA Finals are played) and that day will surely come. But fans of the Memphis Tigers have, for generations, considered March the only real measuring stick for their favorite team’s progress. Ask a Tiger fan to list his or her favorite months in memory, and they’ll likely all be connected (subliminally at least) to leprechauns and green beer. March 1973. March 1985. March 2008.

Last August in my column for the Memphis Flyer, I ranked the twelve months of the year according to their respective sports highlights. March finished a respectable sixth, almost entirely on the strength of the NCAA tournament. That, friends, is a sporting event with feel.

March and I have a memorable history. I sat on the end of the bench as a sophomore in high school — on my 16th birthday — as our basketball team was upset in the semifinals of the Vermont state tournament. (I wish the massive snowstorm we had that day had at least postponed the event.) Spring break in college was always memorable, even if my destinations — El Paso one year, Memphis another for my grandmother’s funeral — weren’t like those they draw up at travel agencies. In 2011, my family enjoyed a week in Washington, D.C., and got to tour the White House on, yes, St. Patrick’s Day. (The Green Room stood out, with portraits of two presidents from Tennessee, Andrew Jackson and James K. Polk.)

Seasons tend to be welcomed, informally at least, as they arrive. Some embrace the first cool breeze of fall, while others accept Mid-South humidity as summer’s necessary partner in crime, reason enough to chill the beverages and find a swimming pool. Perhaps I’m guilty of micro-greeting the month of March as it bridges winter and spring, a month too chilly for Memphians ready for a round of golf after the five o’clock news and too warm for a Midtown fireplace to actually feel cozy. Nonetheless, it’s a month I welcome with open arms, a nice reminder that June is getting closer.

I was an adult before a good friend pointed out that my birthday also carried its weight as an expression: “March forth.” I’ve come to consider the words a nice (and inspiring) coincidence. One my late, very Irish father would appreciate with a smile. 

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