Slideshow: St. Patrick's Day Parade in Delray Beach
By Jan Norris
Patrick is 200 pounds of pork on the hoof — but he’s no ham.
“Petunia really was a ham. She loved the parade,” said Kimberly Vislocky, Patrick’s human “mom.”
Patrick, a brown and dark gray pot-bellied pig, is the new four-footed mascot of Delray Beach’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade. For the second year, the 2-year-old porker rode the length of Atlantic Avenue, displayed in the back of Vislocky’s slow-moving SUV, which was open to the back so everyone could see him.
“Someone complained to the parade organizers that it was cruel to make a pig walk down the road. So now he rides,” Vislocky said.
As Patrick sniffed and snorted around in the back of the trunk, looking to nibble whatever he could find, she tied a huge homemade green bandana with gold fringe around his neck, and put a green beribboned bowler on his head. He was now officially in his parade costume.
This year’s annual parade, held on March 12, was bittersweet for Vislocky, whose Petunia, a 17-year-old pot-belly and wild boar mix, died in her sleep in December. Petunia had graced the St. Pat’s parade with her porcine presence, dressed in fancy ruffles and crowned with a green glittery tiara, since 1995. Her parade career ended in 2009 when arthritis and old age slowed her down.
“She got excited when I got the costumes ready every year,” Vislocky said. “I make them myself. She knew the parade was coming and she’d be the center of attention. She really was a ham for it.
“She was so smart — she’d cross the streets at the crosswalks, and if she got hot, she’d walk into the stores where there was air-conditioning. When we got to the VFW hall at the end, she’d go right to the ladies’ room where it was coolest and lay down. Pigs are intelligent. People don’t know that about them, but they’re very smart animals.”
They’re also not as dirty as people believe, she said. “They’re actually very clean animals. They only get in the mud to cool themselves off because they have no sweat glands.” She takes care of Patrick’s coat by showering him off.
Still, she wonders at all the parade-watchers who run up to the pig to give it a kiss. “I don’t know what they’re thinking,” she said. “But they do it, for luck, I guess. They have their picture taken with him and scratch his ears, then kiss him on the nose.” She wrinkled hers, and shook her head.
Vislocky owns Kimberly’s Pet Grooming in Delray Beach, and cares for her other “celebrity” pets — a billy goat named Bunny who competes in the Easter bonnet contest every year and a younger pig named Patty — Patrick’s parade backup.
Vislocky fretted over the group of motorcycles revving their motors behind her in the parade line. “He doesn’t like loud noises. We were in front of a semi truck last year and they kept pulling their air horn. He didn’t like that — so we’re toward the end of the parade this year.”
At that time, the motorcycles were waved on ahead, leaving a quieter firetruck behind her. Patrick raised his snout and sniffed the air, then went back to rooting in the back of the truck. He was looking for a grape — the treat he gets along the parade route till he lands at the end — the VFW hall.
“I don’t know where we’ll go next year; they’re moving the VFW to Federal Highway,” Vislocky said.
Back when Petunia first marched, the parade ended at Powers Lounge, she said.
Powers was Maury Powers, the man credited with starting the parade 43 years ago. He marched with a green-painted pig named Petunia down the avenue on St. Patrick’s Day to attract guests to Powers Lounge at the railway tracks, now the site of the new Buddha Sky Bar.
The parade became an annual tradition, and participants wound up at his lounge for the party of free-flowing beer and tall tales, according to Pat Robinson, an original parade participant.
“I was friends with Maury. And I had the ‘fortunate’ job of cleaning the carpets in the lounge,” he said. Robinson owns Man of Steam carpet-cleaning business in Delray.
Powers died in 1996, only a year after Vislocky’s Petunia began marching. The family closed the lounge, and parade marchers began gathering, as they would today, at the VFW hall on Second Avenue for the after-party.
He remembers his “kind and funny” friend every year by marching in a top hat, as Powers did, and trailing his own float: a green, glittery shrine to Powers, whose photo is in the center of the handmade sign towering over all. Robinson’s float signals the end of the parade.
Robinson’s trailer was only a few vehicles separated from Patrick near the beach as they lined up.
After waiting in line more than an hour, the parade finally moved forward. Vislocky walked along behind the SUV, holding the green leash that served only as a limp pointer to Patrick, now sitting on his haunches in the back.
Parade-goers squealed and got out their phones and cameras when they spotted him: “It’s Petunia!”
She doesn’t always correct them. “Everyone loved her,” Vislocky said.
Patrick duly sniffed and snorted, his ivory tusk making him look more menacing than he is.
“He’s a sweetie,” she said. “He’s just not a ham.”
Patrick Robinson with his two sons, Chris (left) and Dan (right), march in the parade ahead of the portrait of parade founder Maury Powers.