Irish Internet Radio and TV from Dublin, Ireland.
Land of the Free
The trip to Ireland for the O’Connell family of Simsbury, Connecticut, was winding down in the western town of Ennis. John O’Connell, the family patriarch, conducted the tour that included all of the Art Museums, antiquity museums and plays that Ireland had to offer and his issue could stand. Paul and Peter, John’s two sons, waited their time to play golf at the world’s greatest golf courses only to be thwarted by rainy weather which they could normally ignore in Ireland but it came down in some odd Old World measurement- Peter was sure it was raining hectares. John O’Connell, a champion of Irish culture proposed a western trip to the Cliffs of Moor and a side trip to a Museum of Ancient Swords.
Golf scrubbed again, Paul and Peter wanted just one night in the three-week family reunification to be a male thing. Paul complained that if he went to another dainty afternoon tea, his man breasts would expand to compete with any set found between the pages in Playboy. Peter complained that if he saw another ancient sword or Medieval ginsu knife he would fall on it for the entire male gender.
“How do we tell our women?” Peter asked.
“Tactfully—maybe we could suggest they have a woman’s night out?” Paul suggested.
“With whom? Has it occurred to you that all the women in our family cannot stand one another? That’s why
they go to the ladies room by committee so none of them can talk about the others.”
It was an astute observation. They all returned to the communal table at the same time in the same pecking order as they left the table. They knew the men were talking sports or politics and would never broach the topic of women unless a hot babe walked by their table. The babe’s objectification would only last as long as the woman in question was within sight.
Paul threw up his hands in frustration, “What do you propose?”
“I say we linger, have a drink at the bar, watch a sporting event and when they come to join us, they’ll soon get bored and go upstairs to bed. We’ll tell them the game went on for extra innings.”
“What if there aren’t any sports on television?” Paul said, “this isn’t Simsbury—there is no ESPN.”
“There’s always some sort of sports on these Euro channels—maybe that football knock off without pads—you know that group hug sport.” Peter said.
“You mean rugby?”
”Whatever,” said Peter, “then there’s that street bowling that we nearly ran over yesterday, you know, the one where the spectators chain smoke and drink beer out of a wine glass.”
“Irish bowling?” Paul asked.
“Yeah,” said Peter, “and there’s the sport that has the ball, no pads and a gang of colorful thugs carrying a bat with a stone at the end—you know, the team assault and battery thing.”
“Hurling?” Paul asked.
“Yeah,” said Peter, “and if all else fails there is bound to be a repeat of a golf tournament.”
“That would be cruel.” Paul said. “We came all this way across the pond and the angels in heaven are having an all-week beer blast. Haven’t they heard of sunshine over here?”
“Yes they have but it’s an ancient Celtic myth of a yellow celestial ball. I wouldn’t mind playing golf in a fine mist but how many times has it hailed this week? And what is hail in the liturgy—is that angels passing kidney stones—I forget?”
“It has hailed every day from two till four in the afternoon,” observed Paul, “like the clouds are taking Metamucil. I need a night of bar hoping to erase this week of precipitation. Does this town have any bars?”
“C’mon Paul, this is Ireland. You’re never more than four feet to your next Guinness.”
“This might be too risky,” cautioned Paul.
“Risky is good. We’ve been in bed by ten each night. One night past midnight will not make us werewolves. We have had no day life—it isn’t much to ask for one evening of night life. So what if we’re in the dog house for a month. I can do a doghouse month standing on my head.”
The two laughed and walked back to their hotel room to shower and dress for dinner. Peter looked at the white tiled bathroom that had an eagle clawed tub with no showerhead attachment protruding from the white tiled wall. Barbara, his wife, came into the bathroom. “You have to take a bath. Go ahead, draw one.”
Peter shook his head. “I haven’t taken a bath since I was an infant.”
“Aw, poor Peter,” Barbara said with dripping sarcasm, “you miss your wubber ducky?”
Peter plugged the large tub with a rounded plastic stopper attached to the end of a rusted chain and released the water into the wide deep tub by way of lime stained once chrome airplane propeller spigots. “Hey, the water is brown—what’s that all about?”
“That’s why the waiter laughed at you when you ordered tap water. I have some bubble bath if you put it in the tub you won’t see the brown water.” She handed over the bottle but there was only a teaspoon of liquid in it.
“There’s hardly any bubble bath in the bottle.”
“Stop your complaining,” said Barbara, “I was the one with smarts enough to pack it.”
“I see, thanks dear.” Said Peter as he put the drops in the tub. The water filled the tub and bubbles appeared en masse. “Honey do you have any more of that bubble bath?”
“No why?” Barbara asked.
“There is only a small layer of suds. I can still see the brown water. It’s like taking a bath in the East River. Do you have any spent condoms or the odd bloated body part to make the experience more authentic? It would be a real homecoming.”
“Quit being a baby. The water is brown because it has a high mineral content. Imagine it’s Guinness and you could fulfill a lifelong fantasy.” Barbara laughed at her words as Peter slowly submerged into the murky brown water. He took a fresh bar of Ivory soap for contrast and the minerals congregated in the letters and other recessed parts of the soap bar.
“Hey Barbara, is cow flop a mineral?”
“Only in Europe,” she laughed.
Peter closed his eyes—this only extenuated his sense of smell to the point where he could smell rust. He quickly washed himself, happy that he’d soon return home to the soft well water of Simsbury where he could wash himself with pure hot liquid that could jet out of a showerhead like a Polish water cannon. He pulled the plug, stood up in the draining thin ooze and brushed the particles of brown matter from his legs and feet.
He dressed in a blazer and tie—a uniform he was tired of wearing. They walked to the hotel dining room and many of the tables were thrown together to accommodate the large family.
The meal was unusual as far as Peter was concerned—he thought he’d have corned beef and cabbage every night but instead was treated to beef and salmon and presented in novel ways that would rival the finest New York City eatery. The only thing that was stereotypically Irish was the presence of a “potato lady” at all the fine restaurants who marched around with a heated metal box much like a hot dog vendor at Fenway filled with different types of potatoes, mashed, au gratin, fried, and baked. She would hover over the tables after their entrée was served ready to dish up the spuds.
John O’Connell stood up and held up a glass of chilled white Burgundy, “To our host, this lovely country called Ireland and all the Irish people, who have shown us all a good time even though the weather hasn’t cooperated.”
“Here here,” said the clan as they clinked glasses.
The salad came. It was one of those cleverly layed out bowls with exotic greens and multi colored tomatoes and peppers in a light vinaigrette. There seemed to be thistles in the mix that had a subtle scent of mint. It was the best salad that Peter could ever remember.
Barbara ordered flank steak and was surprised that the beef was juicy and tender. “I think they served me tenderloin but the meat is too large to be tenderloin.”
Barbara flagged down the waiter, “What county does this beef come from?”
The waiter smiled and winked, “it comes from County Kansas City.” The waiter looked at Peter and anticipated his question, “No, the salmon is local —caught today not three kilometers from here, and the white wine in the sauce is from County Napa Valley, only because we can’t stand the French either.”
“Well,” said Paul, “the Irish know how to feed people. Why don’t we all get a night cap at the bar?”
The ladies agreed and they walked to the bar and sat on the stools. There was a hurling match on the television set. The women looked at the sport in time to see a man get clubbed with a stick that opened a blood red crease down the middle of his forehead.
“Great shot,” said Paul and Peter in unison.
Debra and Barbara looked up at one another and shook their heads. Barbara spoke up, “You liked that?”
“Yeah,” said Peter. “There are three matches tonight—it’s the National championship. This will make up for all the golf we missed this week. What’ll have, wifey?”
“I’m going to bed.” Barbara said and Debra nodded to take the same course of action.
“See you two later.” Debra added.
As they rounded the corner out of sight, Peter high-fived Paul, “that was too easy,” said Paul.
“Stranger things have happened—I think team assault and battery is my new favorite sport.”
The men had a pint of Guinness and discussed with the bartender a good bar-hopping route in Ennis. They started by walking across the street to The Brewery Pub that had beautiful old wood that was stained lightly so as not to blur the grain. The establishment was filled with locals most of them curly-haired farmers with massive tanned arms and cracked leather faces.
“Remember,” warned Paul, “No talking about politics—that’s the only caveat in the travel books.” Paul rolled up to the bar and put down a fifty-dollar bill. “A round for the house,” he said, “I’ll have a Guinness.” The patrons pounded their glasses on the bar in applause of the free round. Paul raised the glass, “Up the republic!”
The patrons laughed and another man stood up and raised his glass. “And what might your name be?”
“Paul, a fine Catholic name—an apostle. Paul, we thank you for the treat—we knew you were a Yank before you bought us a round. Up the Republic was overkill.”
The crowd erupted in laughter. The man who made the toast came and joined Paul and Peter. He put out his hand, “I’m Desmond O’Grady.”
A blonde woman nudged Paul, “That would be Officer Desmond O’Grady,” she laughed, “It would be our version of the Welcome Wagon.”
”Enough from you, Fiona,” said the officer. He bolted down his Guinness. “C’mon lads, this round is on me.”
Peter and Paul still had three-quarters of a pint. Paul noted, “When in Ireland.” They bolted down their drinks and picked up another. The officer was already halfway through his second Guinness and he was half the size of Peter.
“C’mon,” the officer egged them on, “Lad’s as big as you and you let a wee leprechaun like me drink you under the bus?”
Paul and Peter, honor bound, caught up to the officer and kept pace with him. They watched the hurling match and Desmond explained the game making it a viewing marvel.
“And all this time I thought it was an excuse to bat the brains out of an opponent,” said Peter.
“Blasphemy—it’s an Ancient Celtic Game that recalls our past—but we have our share of pesky fights. Occasionally, to keep the peace, you have to bash a skull with a slated end of ash.” The Officer raised his glass, “don’t you Yanks have a similar game?”
Peter laughed, “Minor league hockey comes to mind—if you miss the man with your stick you can always skate over his face.”
“And you’ve only had the Brits as invaders?” said another man who seemed to come out of the smoke-filled air and flanked Peter.
“What?” Peter asked.
“The Brits—they burned down your White House. There wasn’t any resistance.”
“You’re mistaken, there was no White House in the revolutionary war,” said Peter.
“Now don’t you start, Buster Savage!” Officer O’Grady warned the man.
Paul broke in, “Buster is right. Congress was getting ready to raise taxes and the Brits beat us to the punch.
They burned down our White House in the Nineteenth century.”
“Well, it’s good to see there is one literate Yank in this world,” said Buster.
Peter felt stung by his historical ignorance but he thought he’d do penance by buying Fiona and Buster a drink.
“Thank you,” said Fiona as she mock curtsied.
“I have me own money to buy Guinness,” scowled Buster. “You Yanks can’t buy your way into my favor.”
“Don’t you start,” said the Officer.
The conversations continued about differences in culture, Irish history and the emigration of the Western Irish to the American shore. Buster took several shots at American culture. He was ignored but he kept his stool next to Peter.
He then began to nudge Peter with the business end of his elbow. “Hey Yank? Where are you from?”
“Connecticut,” replied Peter.
“Connecticut, what’s that?” He said laughing at his own joke.
“It’s a state,” said Peter, finally on top of his American trivia.
“Oh, that Connecticut—the arms manufacturer, guns, planes, nuke subs, helicopters, jet engines and the like.”
“That’s the one,” said Peter with pride.
“Wow,” said Buster, “all those great grandiose weapons and all in the hands of the World’s greatest wankers.”
Peter didn’t know that he was being insulted so he dumbly nodded at Buster.
Buster continued in a direct tone to Peter that Officer O’Grady could not hear. “You Yanks are rich and you have the best weapons in the world and you couldn’t even beat up the North Vietnamese—a simple race of sickly pimp midgets.
Peter smiled, not wanting to get into a fight with Buster, “That is one way to look at it.”
“When you lose a pitiful war there’s only one way to look at it—you lost—you weren’t as good as the others.” Buster smiled.
Peter was annoyed, thinking of his friends who died in the war but he turned away from Buster, drank his Guinness and smiled, “If you say so.”
Buster, frustrated that he was being blown off—Yank style— elbowed Peter in the ribs, “You stupid wankers could have taken over the world only you sat with your thumbs up your rich fat arses.”
Peter coughed and straightened himself. He had to answer Buster this one time, “Well, you are right, we could have taken over the world at any time—still can—but we never had that jackass Napoleonic Complex that you World War Europeans have acquired as a dominant trait through excessive inbreeding.”
The bar was quiet and Peter put down his glass of stout. He carefully watched both of Buster’s fists waiting to block the oncoming blow. The bar patrons, including Officer O’Grady, withdrew. Buster feigned a left and when Peter went to block it, Buster stepped into him, jarring his head into Peter’s nose
“Damn a head butt,” thought Peter, “never figured that.” He was about to deliver a blow to Buster’s head and end the fracas but noticed that his attacker was half his size and not swift in movement. Peter placed his palm on Buster’s small forehead and gripped it like a palmed basketball, keeping him away with his larger reach. Buster swung wildly but could not land a punch from the superior arms-length distance. The bar patrons laughed as Peter yawned and felt his nose. “Hey barkeep, you got a clean rag?”
“Sure,” he tossed a fresh towel toward Peter.
He returned his ire back to Buster. “That’s another thing. I’m a Red Sox fan and calling me a Yank is an insult. You call me Peter from now on.”
“Let me at him,” protested Buster as a cadre of patrons whom Paul bought drinks escorted Buster out of the door—with malice. There was no bar bouncer—it was done by committee or Irish chorus.
Peter looked at Officer O’Grady. “Sorry, I didn’t mean for that to happen.”
“Ah, it was all Buster’s doing, he was just looking for a Goliath tonight—you just happened to be here. You didn’t wipe the floor with him and you could have. That’ll embarrass the hell out of him—it’s a tale he can’t bend to his advantage.”
The bartender banged a cowbell with a steel rod. “The beer hall is closed.”
Peter looked at his watch. It was 11PM. Peter shook his head in disgust and looked at Paul. They left a full pint of Guinness on the bar as the patrons filed out of the establishment.
They walked out and tried to get by the queue of people who stood in front of the green cloth overhang that protected them from the rain.
Officer O’Grady came out with a serving tray with three stouts on it. “You boys forgot your drinks.”
Paul looked at the officer quizzically. “I thought the bar was closed.”
“That’s right; the establishments in Ennis are to close at eleven sharp—no exceptions. If they don’t close the bar at that time—well I’d run them all into the precinct—the lot of them.”
The barkeep came out and opened the hardwood double doors, looking at his watch. The patrons filed past the three men as they toasted the rain.
“I don’t understand,” said Peter.
“Well they are made to close the bar at eleven sharp, but fortunately there is no law as to when they can reopen. Gentlemen,” said Officer O’Grady as he held the door open and escorted the men back into the previously closed tavern. Shall we?”
Paul and Peter stayed at the bar pint after pint as the blood settled into Peter’s eyes.
“That’ll be a big shiner tomorrow,” said Paul, “I told you not to talk politics with the locals.”
Peter looked away from his brother, “That jackass asked for it, begged for it and when that didn’t work he took it . . .”
“Why didn’t you hammer him?” Paul asked.
“It doesn’t matter who starts the fight, the giant is always the bully.” Peter looked down on his brother, “that’s something you could never know.”
“I’m no pip squeak,” said Paul.
“No you’re a sawed-off runt. You’d need to grow some to qualify for pip squeak.”
Paul looked at his watch. “We’re officially screwed. I’m sure Debra is asleep but she rigged the door so she can jump out of bed and lay on a heavy guilt trip on me. I forgot about the long plane ride tomorrow.”
“I’ve taken care of that. I upgraded to first class. Debra can have my seat while we’ll sit in coach. That’ll get them off our backs.”
“Thanks Bro—what do I owe you?”
“Your left nut, but eight hundred should cover it. Maybe they’ll get shitty on champagne and the ride from the airport to home will be tolerable.”
Another short stocky man with a scowl on his face appeared on Peter’s flank and announced, “What the hell are you all about, Yank.”
Peter turned and stuck his face two inches from the man’s nose. “I’m all about killing ass-wipe runts like you.
I don’t fight a man unless I can kill him, skin him, fuck him and eat him. I’ll put your head through a plate glass window and saw it off with the broken pieces. I’ve done it before.” He said as his eyes quivered in a crazy fashion.
“All right! all right!” Said the would-be brawler, “I’ll be going—no need for that.”
Peter turned to Paul. “Let’s call it a night before I get hit with a rock propelled from a Hebrew slingshot. This town is too biblical to me.”
They shook hands with Officer O’Grady who curiously said, “I might run into you two later.”
Paul and Peter returned to the Innkeeper’s desk to collect their keys. “We may be down later to see you if the wives have set up a barricade,” said Paul.
The young man behind the counter smiled, “Would you gents need any more drink tonight?”
Peter looked at his watch, “It’s three-fifteen local time; surely all the bars in this town are closed.”
“Oh, I would never propose a bar at this ungodly hour but we do have a guest’s lounge on the first floor here. I can send in some glasses, a bottle and set ups, if that’s your fancy.”
Paul looked at his brother and read his mind, “Our wives could kill us twice but the sting is out of it after the first death. In for a penny, in for a pound. Black Bush Irish Whisky soda and ice we’ll have.”
The boys opened the doors to the well lit room with many tables and a crowd of townspeople in various ages of about one hundred in number.
Paul and Peter slid into an booth table across from an elderly gentleman with short white almost satin hair, blue eyes and freckled skin.
“Sit down, lads, sit down. Can I pour you some of mine?”
“We have a bottle coming,” said Peter, “we’re back in the States tomorrow and they don’t allow any opened bottles on the airplane so you may have to be our guests tonight. I’m Paul O’Connell and this is my brother, Peter.”
The old man looked confused, “A couple of New World apostles then. Whatever bad behavior on your part do they mean to stop by barring your possessions at the gate of a plane?”
“We have no idea why,” said Peter.
The old man shook his head in disgust, “Oh, by the way, I’m Martin O’Toole, just out for a night of conversation and drink. Where in the states do you call home?”
“Connecticut,” Said Peter.
“Oh Connecticut—the land of steady habits—I know it well,” said Martin.
The Innkeeper came in with a tray with all that was agreed on to drink. He left a bottle and three glasses along with a silver bucket of ice and a large clear-water soda bottle. Paul poured three glasses with whiskey and Peter added ice and soda to his drink.
“That’s an abomination,” said Martin, “a whiskey crafted that well needs to be drunk neat not drowned and
chilled by water. If the distiller wanted a runny whiskey he would have added the extra water at the distillery by natural means and he’d surely export it to London.”
“Okay,” said Peter, “my mistake.” He got up from the booth and emptied his drink in a nearby sink that brought the entire lounge to a deafening reverenced silence.
Peter returned to the table as all eyes in the guest lounge followed his movements.
“Now you’ve compounded your abomination,” said Martin with equal fervor that ended up in a broad ear-to-ear smile. Paul, Peter and Martin laughed. “You’re all right, you Americans, despite what everyone says. But why come here? I’ve been to New Haven, Bridgeport, Hartford and even Waterbury—all of these cities are at least ten times the size of Ennis.”
“We prefer a city that’s nearer to La Hinch and Ballybunyan,” Paul said.
“Oh so you’re sporting men then?” Martin asked.
“Well, when weather permits,” said Peter.
“What weather are you waiting for? I played La Hinch this morning it rained but golf is an outdoor sport you just have to cast a cold eye on the weather and not let it spoil your plans.”
“Our wives would object to us catching a cold,” said Paul.
“Let me get this correct,” said Martin. “You forded the Great Atlantic to play Ireland’s and perhaps Europe’s greatest courses and you let a wee thing like some falling water and the feminine wiles of your brides stop you? How is it that American men have won so many wars?”
“Fortunately, we never have to fight American women,” said Peter. The three laughed out loud.
“Are you married, Martin?” Paul asked.
“Aye, I’m married but me darling Bridgette would never think to ruin me day of golf over a petty thing like weather.”
“They must have different unions here,” said Paul.
“Were you two boys ever to war?” Martin asked out of the blue.
“I did a stint in Vietnam,” said Peter, “Paul did too.”
“What branch of the service were you?” Martin asked.
“Marines, both of us, just common grunts,” said Peter.
“Ah now! There is nothing common about a US Marine. I was one in the Pacific Theatre of Operation,” said Martin.
“Wow, you were in a real war,” said Peter.
“Bullets don’t know politics or history,” said Martin, “the fact is—the call went out and you two brothers answered, and both from the same family—now that is highly honorable. I joined the marines because I was a fisherman and knew how to jump off boats. Ireland was neutral but I wasn’t. I’d be hog-tied before I fight with the Brits. Besides, I wanted to gain American citizenship back then.”
“Why aren’t you living in the States now?” Peter asked.
“I lived in Boston and I believe that it is the only city where you can actually smell the judicial corruption—the rules are made there so the barristers can runaway with the fine money. Still, it is the place where I met me darling Bridgette. We had our first date in Boston Common—beautiful green park—and we had a picnic of cold turkey and a chilled chardonnay. No sooner did I pop the cork when three officers of the court arrested me for public drunk without so much as a drop on me tongue. It was illegal to drink wine in a public park. I couldn’t believe this injustice so I took me day in Court to protest.
The judge, a pompous fool, he would have none of me defense and commences to lecture me. Have you ever heard the quotation, ‘Obedience to the Law is Liberty?’ I say to him no but I will say it is a blatantly racist thing to say not to mention stupid. The black robed fool says to me it’s prominently etched into every Central Massachusetts Courthouse where he was from originally. I reiterate that the ill-gotten phrase was racist and it shows poor breeding in the promotion of the quotation.
The judge smiles at me like I was his infant son and kindly asks me to explain. Judge, I say, does the year 1832 mean anything to you? No, he says. Well that’s the last year that slavery was the law of the land in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. I wonder how many law-abiding African Americans in bondage felt the grace of liberty that year. Well the courthouse is in shambles they start applauding me and I find myself clapped in irons and thrown in jail for contempt of court, which I was duly guilty but never tried.
I sit there, behind bars, for three hours until he summons me to his bench and demands that I apologize to him and the court. I say Judge and he quickly says you will refer to me as your honor in my court. I ask him if he served in the war. No, he says to me, I was in law school those years. I make him a deal. I told him I was first wave at Iwo Jima and suggested that I keep calling him Judge and I’d kindly let him call me your honor.
I had dinner, breakfast and lunch behind bars and finally they let me go. I never paid the fine and was on the first boat back to Ennis the next day. That judge, like many in Boston was caught taking bribes and he never spent a day behind bars. It may have been just a random event but I thought if a grand country like The United States of America asks you to fight in so many wars—it would be less controlling—it would be freer.
Paul and Peter were aghast at the old man’s story but it was told in the bold colors of the truth. They had nothing to add to the conversation and an awkward silence came between them.
“I’m sorry that happened to you, Martin,” said Peter. “You’re right, that should never have happened to a WW2 veteran.”
Martin smiled, “‘Tis not your fault, gents. America, for the greater part, I love and respect but arresting anyone for sharing a bottle of wine with a beautiful young lass is no country for a young man.” Martin looked at his watch. “I say gents, we’ve had a lovely talk and I was wondering if you could escort an old grunt back to his house. I live a mere three blocks from here.”
“It would be our honor.” Paul said. Peter stood up and flanked Martin as he made his way home. It was a brownstone row house with a bright glossy red French sixteen poster wood door. Martin was unlocking the door when it flung open.
An imposing woman, taller and more barrel-chested than Peter, came forward past the marble threshold, “Martin O’Toole, where have you been tonight?”
Martin shook hands with Paul and Peter ignoring his bride. He slowly turned to her and in soft firm words he said, “Now Bridgette, love of me life,—I’m in no mood for a talking to. . . ”
Bridgette smiled and hugged Martin and he closed the door.
Paul and Peter looked at each other in awed amazement, “Did you see that?” asked Paul. “How did he do that?”
“Magic words, that’s all there is to it—just plain ancient magic Celtic words that we have forgotten,” said Peter, as they walked back to the hotel with a confident spring in their stride.
Peter secured his keys and took the staircase rungs two at a time to the third floor.
As he was jostling the keys in the lock, the door flung open. Barbara, slender and one-half the size of Peter, stood there with an apocalyptic look on her face. “Where have you been, Mister?”
“Barbara, love of me life, I’m in no mood for a talking to . . .”
I will spare my readers the brutal crime scene, suffice it to say, that the invoking of many magic words are often lost in translation or an Atlantic crossing.
We Will Save the World
The Woodstock poster seemed to stare back at Bob McClaren when he first spotted it at Benny’s Guitar and Head Shop in 1969. It was pastel blue and white and listed all of the groups whose albums Bob recently bought through the mail for a penny—ten in all—with the proviso that he buy ten more at the regular price. Hey, it seemed like a good deal at the time.
Bob bought the poster and mounted it in his bedroom wall above and behind the cinderblock and plank bookshelf system that housed over two-hundred and fifty albums he purchased with caddy and newspaper delivery money. He decided then and there that he had to make this one pilgrim edge in his youth.
His older sister, Trudy, was going to Woodstock with her fiancé, Don Katz, who spent many hours in Bob’s room listening to his albums. When Don and Trudy were first dating, Bob was merciless on Don who was a star athlete lettering in baseball and football, probably because he was a physical missing link —his arms were long and out of proportion with the rest of his body. He could literally scratch his heel while standing erect. Whenever Don came into the house, Bob would play “I’m an Ape-Man,” by the Kinks and crank it!
“I’m an Ape-Man, I’m an Ape Ape-Man oh I’m an Ape-Man.”
That was six years ago. Bob hoped it was long ago forgotten but Trudy was not amused with Bob’s antics and a rift developed between brother and sister. Woodstock seemed like a million miles away to Bob.
He shook his head and thought hard on how to get into Don and Trudy’s car and past his mother who would never let him go to such an obvious den of inequity—in the wilds of the Hudson River Valley that had only been tamed for the last one-hundred and fifty years ago.
An epiphany came to Bob. There was only one shining path: Bob had to get something big on Trudy and blackmail his way into their car.
Chance provided him with the opportunity in July as he walked home sluggishly after caddying fifty-four holes. He cut through the local High School and Trudy, Don and their friends were having a cookout and hootenanny, eating hotdogs and marshmallows, playing guitars and smoking Mother Nature—waiting for the bust.
Bob ambled back to the caddy shack, called the police to report their activity. He then crept back to a rise that overlooked both the campfire and the hill where the first squad Cop car would appear.
Bob eyed the first cop car with red and blue lights flashing. “Cops, Cops,” he yelled as he ran toward the party, waving his hands. All the partygoers got up and ran into each other. Trudy and Don quickly jumped the fence. She looked back, “It’s my brother Bob—c’mon jump the fence.
Bob slowed down. “You go on. I’ll be okay.” Bob stood there kicking dirt on the campfire as the police crept up on him.
An officer drew a weapon and stood behind his driver’s door. “Raise your hands and drop to your knees.”
“What?” asked Bob in a high-pitched innocent tone. A headlight blanketed Bob who shielded his eyes.
“Harrison, put down your weapon. It’s just a kid.”
Harrison holstered his weapon, “Just following procedures.”
The Officer came up to Bob who was still kicking dirt on the fire. “These kids had a fire going here. They all run off and left the fire going. It could start a fire in these trees—I know—I’m an Eagle Scout.” Bob asserted.
“Oh you are?” The officer said. He picked up a lit marijuana cigarette sniffed it and then took a toke inhaling in one strong breath. He passed it on to Harrison so he could carry on his own investigation.
“That’s pot,” confirmed Harrison as he held his breath. “You didn’t smoke any of that did you kid?”
“No sir,” said Bob who looked across to the chain link fence and saw the silhouettes of Trudy and Don. “I was coming home from caddying.”
“Fairly late for caddying,” said Harrison between tokes.
“I pulled two bags fifty-four holes today.”
“Son, we are going to have to take you downtown and ask you some questions.”
“All right officer,” smiled Bob.
The other officer pulled on the joint. “We’ll do that in a bit.”
They brought Bob down to Police Headquarters and put him in a room and left him there for an hour. The other officer came back with a legal pad and a pen.
“Empty your pockets, kid.”
Bob pulled out a fat wallet and the cop looked at the billfold. He counted the bills.
“There’s over two-hundred dollars here. Where did you get that kind of money?”
“I’ve been caddying all week. Bob said. “I haven’t had a chance to put it in the bank.”
“You sure you don’t deal drugs?”
“You can check with the caddy master if you want to,” said Bob. “He’s at Deer Meadow Golf Course. He knows I’ve been caddying all day long.”
“Check that out, Finn. You know kid— I’ll have to tell your father about this.”
“What tell him? I was trying to put out a fire near a school. Go ahead and tell him. What did I do wrong?”
“You know, I don’t make that much money in a week,” said Harrison.
“Yeah, but you get to work all year. My work ends when I go back to high school.”
“It’s still not right.”
“Look,” said Bob, “I’d rather drive around in a squad cars and smoke stray joints forty hours a week. I have to drag two bags fifty-four holes a day seven days a week to earn that much.”
“Quiet kid,” said Harrison. “We don’t need any of that. Now if you are telling the truth—did you see any of the people there?”
“Yeah, I saw them jump the fence,” said Bob.
“Who were they?”
“They had their back to me. I didn’t see their faces.”
“C’mon kid, you live in that neighborhood. Give me some names.”
“They were taller than me and I don’t go to school with them. I don’t know any of their names.”
Finn came back into the room munching potato chips from two opened economy sized bags. The crumbs spread out over his uniform and moustache. He whispered to Harrison but Bob could hear every word. Harrison stuffed his mouth with chips and the crumbs were taking a similar path.
With a mouth filled with chips, Harrison managed, “OK kid, you’re free to go. Your story checks out.”
Bob walked out of the Police Department, headed toward the library and entered a pay phone booth. Don Katz’s off-white Dynamic 88 Olds pulled up and Trudy popped her head through the passenger window. “Who are you calling?” She asked innocently.
“I’m calling dad, those cops twisted my arm.” Bob said with bogus tears.
The Ape-man stood up from the driver’s side of the car. “Did you say anything to the cops?”
“No—you know I saw you two there—I’m no rat.” Bob wiped his eyes for effect.
“No,” Said Trudy. “You’re a tough son of a gun.” The last time Trudy sounded so sincere she took all of Bob’s sweaters and ran off to college. “Why are you calling dad?”
“I need a ride home. I’m exhausted after caddying fifty-four holes with two bags on my back.”
“We’ll give you a ride,” offered Don.
“And more than that,” said Bob under his breath.
With a promise of transit to and from the Woodstock festival past his mother’s watchful eyes, Trudy and Don were happy to buy Bob’s silence by going along with his scheme. Bob borrowed a friend’s typewriter. He banged out an invitation to a fictitious Special Eagle Scout Jamboree at Lee, Massachusetts. He delivered the note to her mother who dreaded the two-hour drive twice in the weekend until Trudy, on cue, came into the kitchen and offered to drive Bob to and from Lee which was on the way to the music festival.
Don came by and nonchalantly agreed to the plan. Bob was impressed at Don’s competence at playing the short con.
The plan set, Bob rode his bike to the Mountain Shop and ordered a new three-season down sleeping bag, a Paul Bunyan tent big enough to accommodate Paul as well as Babe the Blue Ox. If this was a Hajj, Bob was going to be the best provisioned pilgrim, and with the best tent, he might even acquire a harem!
The day arrived and Trudy and Don, still stung by the sudden and pointed blackmail, packed the car with two pup tents and two sleeping bags (to calm Bob’s mother’s fears that they’d sleep together at Woodstock).
Bob came down the stairs in a new outfit, a lime green, yellow, Dresden blue and raspberry tie dyed dashiki and bright cherry red a badly bleach burned pair of bellbottom jeans. He neatly packed the new tent and sleeping bag on a polished aluminum rack.
Trudy smiled at her evil brother. “What’s this? Don’t you have to be dressed in the official Boy Scout uniform?”
“Not necessary,” said Bob quickly, hoping his mother wouldn’t hear, “this is a special Eagle Scout jamboree.”
“I was an Eagle Scout,” said Don, “and I went to my fair share of Special Eagle Scout jamborees and I had to wear the official Boy Scout uniform. I can show you where it is in the manual.”
”Honey,” said Bob’s mother, “you’d better go upstairs and change into your uniform.”
Bob ground his teeth, trudged his backpack upstairs and changed into his Boy Scout uniform. He quietly polished all his buttons and brushed his sash with all his merit badges. He had thrown out his Boy Scout shorts right after he made the rank of Eagle which he pursued only for college application fodder.
Bob walked back to the kitchen and was further humiliated by his mother snapping photos with him in uniform and pack next to the Ape-Man.
Bob walked out to the Don’s car and noticed white clamshell storage unit on the top of the car. “You want me to stow my gear up there?”
“No,” said Don casually. “The clamshell has rusted hinges and won’t open. I’ve been too lazy to take it off the car. I get good mileage with it on the top. Put your gear in the trunk.”
Bob obeyed, ambled into the car and they drove off to Woodstock.
They approached the festival from the east back roads through Western Connecticut and Eastern New York. They parked the car in a make-shift lot that was only three-hundred yards from a back entrance.
Bob, still in uniform, walked up to the gate and handed his ticket to the security man who was dressed in an pea green Army jacket and had so much facial hair he looked like a countercultural Muppet.
“What’s this? Man,” asked the bearded creep.
“It’s a ticket to Woodstock,” said Bob bewildered at the question.
“Wow! Far out man! So that’s what they look like. Hey man, you’re all green—like me. Were you in the Nam too?”
“No,” said Bob frustrated as people around him laughed and filed into the festival without tickets.
Bob ran into the festival and scouted for the ideal campsite that was near the facilities yet upwind of them in a flat clearing. He found one near a muddy pond. Bob unpacked and pitched his palatial tent while Don and Trudy pitched their pitiful pup tent.
He was about to peel off his uniform when Don came into his tent. “Hey Bob, there’s a station wagon over the next rise that is selling hot dogs and hamburgers by the box. Trudy and I were thinking of a cookout tonight. If you help haul the meat in your backpack; you’re invited. “
“Let me change first.”
“I was told we better get a move on or else they will sell out.” Don cautioned.
Bob shook his head furiously emptied his back pack and walked out of the tent.
They walked up the hill toward the stage and could see the wagon on the rise of the next hill—a large queue was forming. They double-timed their hike and in twenty minutes they were in the back of the long line. Another forty minute wait put at the front of the food mobile. A Ford 150, a white dually truck came with more boxes of food. A box of hot dogs that sold for ten dollars at home went for thirty a box and similar gold rush town markups were offered for the other food staples.
Bob loaded his pack with the provisions and they hiked back though a much larger crowd in the dale of the second valley nearest to the stage.
It took another forty minutes to return to the campsite. Trudy sat where the campsite was with a bunch of flowers in her hand. She was crying. Bob looked around and noticed both tents were missing.
“What the hell happened?” Bob asked.
“They took our tents,” said Trudy between sobs.
“They did what?” Don demanded.
“I went to pick flowers just over the back ridge and when I came back all of it was gone.”
Don went over to comfort Trudy. Bob dropped his pack and searched the ground frantically for a tree branch, a tire iron or a large concrete block dripping with industrial ooze large enough to beat his sister to death.
“My clothes!” Bob screamed. “I’m still wearing this lame Boy Scouts uniform. Are you telling me I have to wear this for three days?”
“At least you have the clothes on your back,” said Don. “We’re lucky to have the other tent and sleeping bag in the car. We’ll have to take turns sharing it.”
“My tent cost eighty bucks. I have to caddy one hundred and eight holes with two bags on my back to make that much money. I had a deluxe mess kit, a silk lined down three-season bag and they don’t just grow on trees.” Bob protested.
“What else can we do?” Don asked. “Why don’t you stay here and guard the food, while Trudy and I go get the extra tent and bag in the car.”
Bob shook his head and exhaled greatly. “Go get the tent.”
Bob waited at the campsite watching the food like a lion in the dry season. A shapely blonde woman walked past him. She was buck naked and his eyes followed her lustily into the muddy water. He wanted to join her but he kept a focused eye on the food. The pond was now inhabited by thirty nude bathers, each sex was equally represented. They started playing volleyball without a net or a ball but they still argued the close calls.
Bob spied on them from his perch careful not to let anyone near the food. He drooled at the pond scene. Another woman came up to him—this time fully clothed in gypsy regalia. She had a yellow happy face smile chiseled on her puss and very small needle head black pupils. She looked Bob up and down. Bob rubbed his head and felt his Boy Scout cap.
“Jimmy,” the woman shouted hysterically, “come here, quickly,” She beckoned her boyfriend to come who wore tattered shorts, Jesus Christ sandals and too many tattoos. She pointed at Bob while her index finger trembled. “I think this plant is moving.”
Jimmy came up and squinted at Bob not five inches from his nose. Bob sat there in total disgust. “Wow,” said Jimmie, “just like the triffids.”
“Triffids?” His smiley girlfriend asked.
“Yeah, it was a movie ‘Day of the Triffids.’ These moving plant zombies mosey on down from outer space and start eating all the villagers. Freaked me out, man, I still can’t eat asparagus to this day.”
“Please, go away,” pleaded Bob.
Jimmy bent down and scratched his head, “Wow man, I believe this triffid speaks.”
The woman came back and uncapped her canteen and sprinkled water at Bob’s feet.
“Oh God,” said Bob.
The woman emptied the canteen and patted Bob on the head, “You grow now, triffid, peace,” she said giving the victory sign.
After three more humiliations, Don and Trudy returned with a tent and a cooler and a flat iron pan they bought at another campsite.
“Trudy and I will use the tent tonight,” Don said, “you can have it all day tomorrow.”
“That’s mighty white of you, Don, said Bob, “seeings how Trudy was the one who lost my tent.”
“Hey Bob, we all have to make do,” said Don. “Why don’t you get some kindling and some wood so we can start a fire?”
“That’s a brilliant idea, Don.” Bob said summoning his most sarcastic tone. “Has it occurred to you that this land is a flat grassland field and there are about a billion freaks on this grassland inhabiting this field but not one tree?”
Don pointed westward. “I see a forest over there about two miles away. You could gather the wood in your back pack and bring it back.”
Bob kicked dirt on the ground. “I have never hiked so much in my life.” Bob stopped his protest when he heard his stomach making noises. He put on his empty pack took out his compass and marked it heading west. He made his way into the forest and spotted a crude campsite and three boys grinding a green stick into a boulder. There was no tent but a pitiful excuse for a lean-to sagged among the branches that would soon topple over to the slightest gust of wind.
One of the boys pointed at Bob. “Lookey here,” he said, “It’s the Jolly Green Giant. Hey Giant can you spare a can of corn?”
The other two laughed clutching their bellies.
“Very funny,” said Bob, “at least I’ll have the satisfaction that you will all starve before the music festival is over.”
“Why do you say that? White bread?” Said the talker in such a bellicose deep animated tones that he could not be taken seriously.
“That’s granite,” noted Bob pointing at the boulder, “you might get a spark from grinding wood into sandstone but there is a better way.”
“Oh mighty green one,” the large boy said, “you know it so well—how would you do it?”
Bob looked at them and smiled, “how do you start a fire at home?”
The smallest boy spoke up.”We’d go to the nearest tenement that’s on fire with a dry stick.”
Bob looked around and reasserted his gaze on the three. “Sorry, we are plum out of burning tenements today. You,” he pointed at the loud mouth, “get me some dried grass and dead leaves. You,” he pointed at the small one, ”go get me some kindling.”
“Sticks, lots of sticks and dried twigs and you,” he pointed at the remaining boy, “get me some larger pieces of wood.”
In a moment’s time, the first boy arrived back with a large amount of dead vegetation. Bob made a mound of it and took out his flint and steel set and started scratching sparks onto the hay, blowing on it gently until it ignited.
“Damn,” said the loud mouth, “I’m scared of you.”
The others came back with enough kindling and logs to keep the fire going for a week. They filled Bob’s pack with the extra firewood.
Bob took over. “Now, let’s see to that lean-to. Ferns aren’t good for cover plants. They let the rain in. We need broad leaf plants but smell them first. We don’t need any skunk cabbage in the mix.”
Bob took out his knife and notched the fir saplings trunks, fastening them together with twine-like vines. He wove a lattice and placed the broadleaves over the frame and tilted it over a bed of brown pine needles.
The boys were grateful. They shared their meal which consisted of slabs of bologna cut from a giant deli roll cooked over an open air fire like marshmallows.
“I’m Rat,” said the small one.” This is Freeload and Bugger.”
“Bugger?” Bob asked.
Rat looked at Bob and shook his head, “It’s best not to ask.”
“Okay, I’m Bob.”
“If you don’t mind,” said Rat, “we’ll just keep calling you the jolly green giant. It fits.”
“No offence taken.” Bob smiled, threw his backpack over his shoulder and took out his compass.
“Hey Giant,” said Freeload. “If you like, you can come back here later and hang out. You know, we wouldn’t mind.”
“I wouldn’t mind at all,” Bob waved. “I’ll be back tomorrow.”
“How will you find us?” Bugger asked nervously.
“I have a compass.”
All three nodded their heads and asked in unison, “What’s that?”
“It’s a silent map to the woods. I’ll show you tomorrow.”
Bob returned to Don and Trudy’s campsite and started the fire. They finished the cookout just before the rain started coming down. It was too dark to use the compass so Bob stayed at the campsite and tried to sleep but the rain invaded his face. He tried to gain entrance to the tent but heard Trudy complain, “Go away.”
Later that night, Bob was soaked to the bone by the steady downpour and there was no available shelter in the desolate open field. He was tired and angry and he ran up to the top of the ridge full speed, wanting to shout out his grievances to the world. At the top of the ridge, Bob could barely see the lights of the stage that was partially hidden by the next rise. Here he was, a ticketholder, and he was so far back that he could only hear a faint tremolo of sound. None of the music was whole, in fact it sounded like the AM radio signal you’d hear from two states away on a cheap Japanese transistor radio. Bob listened hard to an emcee and could make out only two words, “Beautiful people.”
That was the last straw. “Beautiful people?” Yelled Bob at amplifier setting ten, “that’s rich; you low lifes are nothing more than common thieves. You miserable felons ran off with my food and shelter. We will save the world. What a crock! You’re all stoned to bologna, smell like cat piss and I’ll bet dollars to donuts that not a one of you ever busted hump in your entire rotten lives.”
“Hey kid,” replied a voice that trailed up from the valley of tents, “if it’s all the same to you. I’d rather hump a bust tonight.” Laughter drifted up the side of the hill.
“Oh, very funny, I hope you all die of crotch rot.” Bob was satisfied.
“Wow man, what was that?” Another voice came up the hill.
“I think it was that triffid, man.”
“Wow man, that triffid has a serious attitude problem. Hey triffid, you need a toke?”
“Far out Man.”
The next morning was clear. The rains had soaked the grounds—there was mud everywhere. Don and Trudy decided to wander—leaving Bob the tent so he could get some sleep.
His uniform was sopping wet but he slept in their sleeping bag with his soaked clothes leaving them with a large wet spot that amused him. At noon, Trudy and Don had not returned. Bob spotted them playing naked volleyball in the muddy pond. He snickered as he grabbed all the leftover hot dogs, hamburgers and the flat pan from their tent and packed them in his knapsack. He set off for the forest to meet up with Rat, Bugger and Freeload all the while enduring the abuse the festival goers could heap on him for being out of uniform at the Freak parade.
“Hey Jolly Green, over here.” waved Bugger from the field near the campsite. The boys were throwing around a football, running various pass patterns. They quit the game and retired back to the campsite only to find that it had been ransacked and the bologna and bread were missing.
“We didn’t even have that much and they grabbed it all.” Rat asked near tears. “Why’d they rip us off like that?”
“Because they are world-class jerks,” said Bob. “Don’t mind though. I have half a box of hot dogs and half a box of hamburgers and rolls, mustard and catsup. We won’t go hungry tonight or tomorrow morning.”
“Look at that,” said Bugger. “They didn’t steal the lean-to but they destroyed it. Now I wouldn’t mind so much if they needed shelter and took it but just to destroy it now that takes big brass ones.”
“Never mind,” said Bob. “Let’s leave this camp and get closer to the action. Hendrix is playing tonight and I haven’t heard a note of music since I’ve been here.”
“It’s too crowded there,” said Freeload as he scarfed down a raw hot dog.
“Maybe in the field,” said Bob, “but I believe these greenhorn thieves are scared of the woods and I’ll bet we can make a camp near the stage inside the cover of the trees.”
The four boys hiked south southeast on Bob’s compass after he made a tree line mark in the open field. He showed the others how easy it was to travel without a map. Bob let Freeload, Bugger and Rat take turns as helmsmen and they all used the compass expertly on their first try. They were thirty yards into the forest and they didn’t see a soul except for a couple who asked them how to get back to the safety of the field. Bugger pointed them in the right direction.
The boys came upon a glen where they could hear the stage clearly. Country Joe and the Fish were in the middle of their “What’s that spell” chant as the boys looked at one another with puzzled looks but they laughed at the absurdity of the cheer. They made camp and Bob was surprised that all three could make a lean-to without any help. He pulled out two blankets from his knapsack.
They set up a campfire and Bob let Freeload strike the flint and steel set to ignite the blaze. They cooked the hotdogs by extended sticks. Bob looked up and noticed a nearby Douglas fir. He climbed it and shouted down to his cohorts. He threw down the rope and they attached the knapsack filled with the food and pan. They climbed up after Bob and sat on two long boughs that afforded a clear view of the stage and the music was perfect not blaring but clear.
Rat sat next to Bob and he asked him, “Why did you come to Woodstock?”
Jimmie Hendrix took to the stage with thunderous applause. Bob looked at Rat and pointed at Hendrix. “He’s why I came to Woodstock—the only reason.”
Rat smiled and nodded in agreement. “He never comes to Harlem,” said Rat, “and he’s a brother.
“If I were in Harlem, I think I’d camp out at the Blue Note. That has to be the greatest spot for music in the world,” said Bob.
“We been there,” said Bugger. “We know how to crash the place and hear the music through the vent pipes in the basement—for free.”
Bob looked at the other two for confirmation and they shot back nods and said “for real” in unison.
“Who did you see there?” Bob asked.
“Lots of cats, Dizzy, Stan Getz, and I never miss Louie Armstrong,” said Rat. Rat reached into his pocket and pulled out his wallet. Inside the wallet was a brown and white-striped Fender guitar pick. “B. B. King gave me this. I carry it everywhere I go.”
Bob looked at the triangular piece of hard plastic as if it were a pound of pure gold. “To think, this pick strummed over the stings of Lucille. You saw Louie Armstrong, imagine that—and you guys are giving me a hard time about not having trees. I’d trade all the trees in Harwinton for one night of Satchmo live. He’d never come to Harwinton unless his car broke down on his way to Hartford. Man, what a performer.”
“I wouldn’t make that trade,” said Bugger. “I like trees. We’d never see Hendrix otherwise.”
“Trees are cool.” Said Freeload. “I like the way they all look so different and some of them look plum evil against the night sky. What kind of trees they got there in Harwinton.”
“Oh, all kinds,” said Bob. “What I like most about my town is the pine trees that dip their bottom boughs into the lakes—it gives a lake a piney scent when you jump in the water.”
“You go into the water. My ma would beat me silly if I jumped into the East River,” said Rat.
“Heck, I wouldn’t go into the East River either.” Bob said. “They rate fresh water by how drinkable it is. There are some lakes in New York State that are rated drinkable without treatment—that’s class one. The East River wouldn’t make the lowest level—it’s too polluted—too much urban runoff.”
“Can you imagine? Rat noted. “Going to a lake and cupping your hand to drink water. Don't that beat all? That must be incredible. You got any of those lakes in Harwinton?”
“We have lakes,” said Bob, “but none of them are rated class one. The best we have one rated class two – you can drink the water if you treat it.” Bob said. “Connecticut has too many people and too much urban runoff gets into the lakes, but we can go tubing down the Farmington River.”
“Tubing?” they all asked.
“You rent a tube from a guy who has a bus to pick you up at the other end of the river. Lots of fun and there is a level-three rapid but the Army Corp of Engineers controls the flow. Some guys rent an extra tube and use it to keep a case of beer ice cold.”
“Wow,” said the chorus from Harlem.
Bob wanted to change the subject being fascinated by their exploits at the Blue Note. “Rat, you really heard Dizzie Gillespie? I mean, he was great.”
“Was? I would agree with that. His best days are behind him. He was awesome when he played with the Bird.” Said Freeload.
“Bird?” Bob asked.
“Charlie Parker, played sax—died a long time ago. He and Dizzie were like ham and eggs.” Rat said. “My uncle has all their recordings. They were the Bebop Kings.”
“Bebop?” Bob asked.
“Bebop is a kind of Jazz that has hard starts and stops and big note jumps sometimes as big as an octave like a sputtering car engine,” Bugger added.
“I thought Jazz was just Jazz.” Bob said wanting more information.
“Oh no, there are scads of Jazz styles,” said Rat, “from Dixieland to Freestyle and only one man has his foot in all of them.”
Bob was bewildered. He fancied himself the Jazz expert of all of Harwinton but a new universe was opening up in front of his eyes. He hated to show his ignorance but he had to know who had his foot in all styles of Jazz. “Who is that?” He asked meekly.
“You gotta know, Giant . . . “said Rat. “Miles Davis.”
Bob had heard that name but never heard his music. The Jazz DJ in Waterbury wasn’t yet hip to him.
“Miles is the best player of them all,” said Rat.
“You’re crazy, Rat. He couldn’t hold a candle to Fats Waller.” Said Freeload.
Rat responded quickly. “You just like Fats Waller because he never missed a meal—just like you.”
“You’re both crazy,” said Bugger. “Waller was better than Miles. That’s true. But my Granddad said that Art Tatum came to town once and skinned Fats Waller alive in a cutting contest. He took the ivory flat off the keys.”
“Man,” said Bob who never heard of any of these guys. “I thought Jazz was only Ellington, Dizzie, Armstrong and Dave Brubeck.”
The rains came again after the night concert and Bob arranged the shelter as one structure so no rain could penetrate the trees or lean-to. The boys lay on the blankets that were cushioned by brown pine needles and talked all night of Bebop, Chicago, Dixieland, Kansas City, Cool, smothered pork chops, corn on the cob soaked in seawater, piney lakes, deciduous and conifer trees.
In the morning, the rains cleared and the boys, like some well-honed Boy Scout squad silently went about gathering campfire materials and Bob let Rat use the flint and steel set to start the fire. Bob cooked up all the remaining hamburgers so Rat, Freeload and Bugger could eat to their heart’s content, knowing they had a long journey back to Harlem that day.
Bob shook hands with Freeload and Bugger. Rat gripped Bob’s hand firmly looked into his eyes and smiled. “You take care of yourself, you’re the only Jolly Green Giant I’m likely going to know from the land of the piney lakes and shading trees.”
“You take care of yourself too, Rat, from the Blue Note city that always improvises.” Bob said. “You know, a tree can’t play alto sax.”
“And Jazz can’t keep you dry when the rains come, so I guess we’ll have to hook up with you again sometime.” Rat reflected. He pulled out his wallet and took out the pick that B. B. King gave him. “Go ahead, it’s yours, Giant. B. B. will be back I’ll just another one.”
Bob was mute with surprise. He took the compass that was hanging from his neck and gave it to Rat. “I once calculated that from Harwinton Center to the Blue Note was a direct path of West Southwest. If you get lonesome for trees start out at the Blue Note and hike the reverse, East Northeast. We’ll go tubing.” Bob nodded at the Rat’s wisdom of the exchange. They took down each other’s addresses and agreed to write and Bob turned, and walked back to his sister’s campsite this time without a compass.
Trudy was angry. “Where have you been? Did you know they absconded with our food and flat iron pan from the tent?”
“No I didn’t.” Bob said smartly. “I was out in the rain all night picking daisies.”
Trudy and Don did not hear one note of the concert. They loaded the tent and the sleeping bag in the trunk of the car and drove back to Harwinton. On the way back, Bob looked out the rear door window at Waterbury —an almost treeless city that reminded him of Rat, Freeload and Bugger. Bob wondered if Woodstock lived up to its hype? Was the start of Peace on Earth? Bob could forgive his trespassers as they faded in the rear view mirror. He was Christian—he’d gone to church a few times. Bob once said the Stations of the Cross, was confirmed and even helped his Grandma light candles when her arthritis flared up.
The road to Harwinton turned into the landscape of the forest at Woodstock. Bob reflected and laughed at his misfortunes that weekend. He felt generous toward his fellow man and he decided the first thing he would do when he returned to Harwinton was to go to Church and light a candle for all the boys who lived in lands without trees. After that he’d light another for all those who could not sneak into the Blue Note. He would thank his God for such a wonderful life and such a noble weekend.
Don pulled into the driveway where they were greeted by Bob’s mother and father. Bob helped Don and Trudy unpack.
He returned to the car one last time but noticed the trunk was empty. He turned in time to hear Trudy say, “Bob aren’t you forgetting your pack, bag and tent?”
Bob turned to see Don unlock the clamshell and throw it open. He unloaded the pack that was in pristine condition. Don winked at Bob as he whistled loudly, “I’m an Ape-Man,” by the Kinks.
The gray withered wicks of the Church candles are stone cold to the touch this very day.
PASSING FOR ASP
"This hospital room smells of alcohol—a bleach-like no-pigment alcohol—certainly not the quality of Tullamore Dew." observed my grandfather on his deathbed in 1953.
He was a 68 year-old come-over Irish American, who buried two wives, sired three children and served in World War One. He was still a citizen of what he called "free Ireland." My father worried that Gramps wouldn't be buried on American soil because of his foreign citizenship. Gramps was always quick to assure my father, "they will bury me for the stink of me."
I came home early from college to visit Gramps in his hospital bed. I was his favorite relative, being the first in the family to attend and later to graduate college. As soon as my face came through the door, Gramps waved his arms scattering all the relatives to the outside waiting area, all-the-while beckoning me to come to him. He managed all these motions with the thermometer in his mouth. He had advanced bladder cancer but still looked like a robust warehouse worker who installed slate roof tiles on the weekends.
The nurse recorded his temperature and patted Gramps on the head. "I wish I were as healthy as you."
My grandfather winked at the young nurse, "Go lass,” he said, "you talk so sweet I’d just about believe you.”
I was stalled from getting to his bedside with the nurse between us and he waved his arms again "Get over here, Roxbury."
"Gramps, you have to stop calling me by my middle name—call me Liam.”
"It was I who named you at your christening. You are L. Roxbury Day—the name will come in handy when you apply for a job at a bank next to the sign that reads Irish need not apply."
"They don't do that anymore Gramps—that's ancient history."
“Don't you believe that, Roxbury. The ASPs have a secret society."
"That's another thing Gramps, why do you call English Protestants ASPs. I believe the improper inappropriate vulgar racist term is WASPs.”
"Vulgar indeed! To call them WASPs is redundant. If you are Protestant and Anglo-Saxon it is assumed that you are white. Besides the ASPs took a liking to being called WASPs Knowing they have a sting and they hate being called ASPs. I've made a lifetime study of this phenomenon. It is my way of telling they need not apply to my fraternity. Never mind of this, tell me how it goes at the hedges?"
I was at a loss for words. My grandfather had this habit of bringing up obscure historical references to Ireland that I would have no way of knowing and then he would shame me for not knowing such universal knowledge. I exhaled greatly. "OK Gramps, I give up what does the reference to the hedges mean?" I braced myself for the lecture that was sure to come.
"Roxbury! What is it that they're teaching you at the University of Connecticut? I'm sure it's not history."
"Yes they do teach history. For instance, this semester I am taking history of England." I said before I could think what I was saying. I wanted to corral the words and lead them back into my mouth.
"I bet they teach ASP history. Do they elaborate how they oppressed the wee children by not allowing them to go to school? Irish children learned from behind the cover of the hedges they planted after they committed genocide on Irish trees. Did they tell you of the scores of hedge masters they strung up at the gallows? Imagine the nerve of these hedge masters—teaching schoolchildren how to read and write so they could show the ASPs how to use their own language? Did they tell you how they cut down every tree in Ireland to build their Navy?"
"Well no.. "
"And did those sainted ASP professors tell you the tactics they used to subjugate the little known island of Tasmania? Did you know that that island was named after James Tasman? There was a man of vision—a regal ASP if ever there was one. It was Tasman, the jackass, who managed to miss Australia yet discover Tasmania—a feat akin to discovering Mackinac Island all-the-while missing the entire North American continent!"
I was getting annoyed with the lecture. "OK Gramps, the explorer was an idiot. Tell me again how many Irish explorers were there?”
“’Tis a very difficult task building a ship without a tree in your backyard, Roxbury. We tried launching one made of stone and turf but neither held up in the Atlantic surf.”
I exhaled another great gust of air, “Go ahead Gramps, finish it. How could such an incompetent like Tasman subjugate natives?"
"That came later, the ASPs came to the island in many ships. They stood shoulder to shoulder and walked across the island and shot every native in sight, killing all of them-save one."
I looked at him oddly. "Tasmania is a wide island."
"Yet Ireland is wider and it takes longer to cut down a tree than to shoot a native. The width of Tasmania did not make them hesitate.”
"Gramps, I know the ASPs, as you call them were mean to you when you first arrived but they are hardly a race of men known for genocide."
"I can forgive you your blasphemy, Roxbury, you are a young man and you do not know them. They are as black hearted as Nazis."
I dug in, putting my right foot in front of my left and looking at Gramps from a profile stance. I gestured with my hands like a stock dealer ina pit. "I have many Protestant friends. Just as the sins of the fathers don't fall on their sons so should the prejudice of the older generations not go forward." I was proud of my proclamation.
"Go ahead and trust the ASP. Cleopatra trusted them but she knew what they were capable of and she was not disappointed."
"How is it you know about Cleopatra, Gramps? You never saw the inside of a high school."
"I've seen the insides of many a book—I’ve read as many as two a week since I was 15 years old. I may not have a degree but I’ll match wits with any ASP historian on the planet. Before you go calling me a liar about your Pope-hating friends in college, I suggest you test me words in a text on the history of Australia—so long as the book is published by one of those Australian universities. The Aussies have the Celtic wisdom of vigilance to the truth. The only difference between the Aussie Irish and the American Irish is the Aussie Irish often got caught."
"I will look it up."
Gramps looked outside his window. The view was not pristine—a sort of blind brick wall greeted him, no windows to the other rooms in the same wing of the hospital. He looked back at me with a determined look—a wide smile on his face. “While you're looking up the history of Tasmania I have a favor to ask."
I came close to him so he could reveal his secret. "Of course Gramps anything you want. What can I do for you?"
“Before me bladder blew, I was researching the family history. I did not get very far with it but your father has the papers that I've assembled. I was wondering if you would be good enough to finish what I've started. I hate to put this on you but there is the obvious deadline. I only ask that you do the work yourself and not put it in hands of an ASP revisionist historian."
My grandfather’s rhetoric always bothered me. I never dared bring home friends from school always worried that they would be given the third degree and a debate on whether the Pope was perfect in rights and morals—an argument I never could grasp—would commence and escalate to a shouting match. His rhetoric had an affect on my social life as well. I found myself qualifying the women I dated, asking them of their religious affiliation before ascertaining their interest in music.
I left Gramp’s hospital room after my father arrived with his papers and left for the Storrs campus of the University of Connecticut. Connecticut maybe as old as this country, the fifth oldest state in the union, but this did not stop the Storrs campus to look like a frontier town. There is nothing but dense forest and a one lane limited access highway that hides this campus of forty thousand students. Everything was new—the college was redefining itself from its agricultural land grant roots to become a formidable liberal arts and science institution, but the agricultural legacy was still there in the many industrial chicken coops that were still dedicated to idea of the perfect chicken cordon bleu. Many of the experimental chickens were stolen as fraternity pranks with elaborate ransom notes that if ignored were followed by the cleaned bones of the hostage.
The library had an old airport hanger design that boasted of its immense wealth of rare and uncommon editions and the grandness of the building did not diffuse the old attic smells of ancient paper. Genealogy was not a leading science at the time and not in favor by the powers that be in Connecticut academia. The idea that an organism of the world amongst other equal organisms should never acquire the vulgar nerve to research his or her past. Any such clandestine undertaking would inevitably be suspect of making amoral cultural judgements that were evil, shunned, frowned upon and not nice.
I postponed the search to check on Gramp’s nagging story of the genocide in Tasmania. I searched a British published text first and could find no reference to the killings. I searched a Tasmanian history published in Brisbane and found a factual account of the genocide. It was an eye opener but one I could easily dismiss by way of Napoleon’s quote that history is a myth we all agree on.
I opened the bundles of papers and found the first Day to cross the pond. His name was Oliver Day and he landed in Philadelphia not Ellis Island as I thought was the case for all immigrants who came to the country from Western Europe. Oliver was an indentured servant to a farmer in Erie, Pennsylvania named Holcolm. The contract drawn up set the term of indentured servitude at seven years with a list of conditions that if violated would double the term of indenture to fourteen years. One of the conditions read, if indentured servant is found near a bawdy house-said servant would double his term of indenture. I wondered what constituted “near” or for that matter “bawdy house” for the mid-nineteenth century. The other conditions limited the servant to what he could eat and drink.
Gramps must have laughed out loud at the signatories on the contract. The attorney’s name was Johnston, the witness was a man called Smith and Holcolm was the lessee. The only signatures were a chicken scratch script with the attorney’s name barely legible and a flowery script of “Oliver Day, formally of Kerry and graduate cum laude from the Hedges.” The lessee and the witness affixed an “X” with explanatory notes in the same attorney’s chicken scratch of their identity. The document was marked 1860. The next papers were Oliver Day’s conscription in a Pennsylvania State Militia in 1861. There was a draft in Western Pennsylvania and a common practice amongst masters to send servants in place of sons to fulfill the military requirement of the state. Discharge papers of Colonel Oliver Day were issued in September of 1865.
Gramps traced Oliver to Hartford as early as 1866. He married a local come over and opened a tavern that soon became the largest gin mill in Hartford. The last paper on Oliver Day was a Hartford Times obituary that related his death in such a tasteful way that the reader could only conclude that he was dead drunk, fell into the Connecticut River and drowned “belly up”. His saloon was auctioned and the winning bid went to the brother of the standing mayor named Grayson. A clipping from the Times a year and a half after the death of Oliver told of the demise of Mayor’s brother. He “tragically fell to his death from the roof of his tavern in the early Saturday morning on New Year’s Eve as he was dutifully surveying the slate tile. Matthew Grayson slipped near the eaves killing him and a known inebriate named Sean O’Dowd whom he fell upon.” Later the Times forgave Grayson who “accidentally, and with no malice, fell upon the unfortunate inebriate.” There was another clipping dated two days after the story correcting the misspelling of the “known inebriate” identifying him correctly as Sean Dowd but they added the curious fact that Sean Dowd was born in Dublin, Ireland.
Gramps had traced the American lineage but none of the lineage in Ireland. I wrote to the Hall of Records in Kerry asking for help and received a curt reply about how time consuming such an undertaking would be and a suggestion that I visit the mother country to do the research first hand. Included in the package was brochure of Kerry and a fare listing of Aer Lingus flights from Boston to Shannon. There was another flyer referencing a service of Irish Genealogy research from a firm located in London.
One day, as I looked over the flyer in the UConn library, I noticed a mop of blonde hair attached to a woman of angelic light skin and deep brown eyes looking at me from across the table. I looked up and smiled at her. She smiled back nodding at the flyer. “I looked up my family last year—how is your search going?”
“I was wondering if this firm is any good.” I asked.
“They were a big help to me in the old country.”
I smiled back at her. “I’m Liam.”
She extended her hand. “Nice to meet you, Liam, I’m Colleen. They were an invaluable resource much better than this library. What inspired you to look up your family history?”
“I have a grandfather in Hartford Hospital who has seen better days. He asked me for a favor.”
“That’s sweet. What have you found out so far?”
“My grandfather was orphaned and brought here by a great uncle from Kerry. I tried the Hall of Records in Kerry but they were less than responsive.”
“I tried the same route and got travel brochures of the old country.” She shook her head and laughed. “I suppose they get hundreds of these requests and have long since lost the civility of a helpful response. Try the genealogy service —they are cheap and send you a coat of arms and a history of the family name. I suppose that’s all you can get unless you plan to travel abroad.“
I stopped looking at the colorful brochure as my attention was taken by Colleen’s face —the map of Ireland was all over her facial features. “What are you majoring in?” I asked.
Colleen gaze met mine with such a sharp surprise glance. “Why I am an English major and Secondary Education minor.”
“Is that right. I’m majoring in English as well but with pre-law as a minor choice.”
“Pre-Law and English that’s an odd combination. Why aren’t you majoring in Government or political science?”
“Oddly, it was my grandfather’s idea. He pointed out that supply and demand will come into play when there is a selection process. A recruiter will no doubt come across fifty poly-sci majors and might enjoy a conversation on literature. It would be one way to differentiate me from the rest of the herd. He’d been told that English majors do better on the LSAT’s. I thought a Music major would make a more memorable interview but Gramps thought I was pushing my luck so I opted for English.”
“Your grandfather sounds like a wise man. What sort of music were you going to study?”
“If I could have gotten away with it —Jazz. I love all of it, Dixieland to the modern day Cool.”
“Is that right?” Said Colleen. “Have you ever gone to Newport?”
“I’ve been there the last three years. I’ve also made the pilgrimage to the Blue Note.” I was happy to have these events to list—I was awkward in front of Colleen as I searched my mind for more lists to recount.
“I went to Newport for the first time last year. I heard Duke Ellington when some blonde lady started dancing.” Said Colleen breaking the awkward silence.
“I was at the very same concert.” I said numbly.
“Can you imagine that?” Said Colleen as her eyes reflected the overhead lights and refracted back to my eyes putting me into a soft swoon like a deer caught in the headlights. "Duke Ellington is playing at the Bushnell Auditorium on Saturday," continued Colleen matter-of-factly.
My mind was a jumble but my subconscious had the recollection of the gist of the conversation. "Ellington ... yeah ... The Jazz guy ... umm ... maybe we should go."
Colleen looked utterly confused. "Well, I know ...
I shook my head voraciously, "What I'm trying to say, Colleen is I know it's short notice but I'd love to go to the concert with you if you're not doing anything on Saturday."
Colleen looked past me. "Well," she said, “I had other plans of studying but I can put them off until Sunday. I'd love to go."
I was still speech disabled and slowed down so I could park my words correctly. "We could go to dinner first—I mean—if you eat.”
She giggled as her head movement continued the eye and light play. She reached across the table and took hold of my hand gently. "I have been known to eat on occasion. Where do you want to go?"
"What kind of food do you eat?" I asked.
“Whatever is edible but I do like American and Italian cuisine. I love corn beef; salmon pretty much anything except liver. I’ll go to just about any restaurant.” Her hand lingered on my hand and her touch seemed to relieve my anxiety.
We went for coffee at The Farm Shop and talked all afternoon. Coffee turned into dinner and the impromptu date ended as we shared a hot fudge sundae—using our delicate long spoons conducting the background music or the quick thrust and parry of an expert at the epee. I'm sure the other restaurant patrons looking at us thought we were ridiculous but to me our date had all the sensuousness of the drumstick-gnashing scene in Tom Jones.
I was careful to let Colleen have all the fudge, remembering how my sister was a chocolate fudge addict. On Colleen’s suggestion, we left the car in the parking lot and walked hand-in-hand for two miles back to the campus and finally, to her dorm.
We stood in front of the Georgian loggia that fronted the Colonial brick dorm building, saying nothing, but looking at each other—ignoring the December chill.
I leaned forward and kissed her on the forehead. " I am looking forward to Saturday."
“Me too, " said Colleen as she returned a kiss to my cheek.
The next morning, I sent a money order to the London genealogy firm and drove to Hartford Hospital to talk to Gramps. Gramps and I were very close and even though I only spent nine hours with Colleen I wanted to tell him about her. I was no Casanova, and, other than my fudge coup, women were a mystery to me. I know we have similar anatomy and are the same species but at times I think I can figure out and talk to a Komodo dragon easier than the opposite sex of my own primate species.
Gramp’s nurse was studying a clipboard at the nurses' station. "How is he today?"
"Rare form—a very good day. He will be happy to see you. He's discovered television—so it seems we are making progress." She said smiling.
"Come in here, Roxbury. " he shouted hearing my voice from doors down all. "Come on in—Notre Dame is on the blasted tube."
I walked in his room as he watched the black-and-white television mounted on the wall in front of his bed. Notre Dame was playing Penn State. The game meant more to Penn State because Notre Dame did not participate in post season bowl games. The very thought of postseason play was sacrilegious to Notre Dame—imagine playing football on Holy Week!
"Sit here, Roxbury." He said. Gramps frowned when I ignored his middle name baiting. "Would you look at this blasted box. I have learned many things from this RCA. I read accounts of these games from the Hartford Courant. Look at their formidable offensive line; Murphy, Kelso and Burke—all Irish names but these lads are Africans. I am well aware of the Black Irish but I seriously doubt any of these linemen have a drop of Irish blood in them.”
“What's with all this Irish stuff all the time, Gramps? You never went out on Saint Patrick's day."
"That is right nor New Year's Eve neither. Amateur nights; both of them."
“Amateur nights?" I was puzzled again and risked the lecture.
"Yes Roxbury, it's a night when common garden variety ASPs crowd the roads, trying to drink like I drink every night. Geesh, would you look at those black Irish linemen-small hills really. They may have nothing to do with the Emerald Isle but they sure can open craters in the Pennsylvania line.” He chuckled at his observations.
“Gramps please," I closed the door so no one could hear his embarrassing rantings. I walked back to him smiled and said, "I met a woman."
”Oh! You met a woman—you say?" he said laughing. “’Tis a tad late in your life to become an Irish queer, Roxbury."
I looked at him oddly in silence. He looked back at me with a puzzled look. After an awkward pause, I said, "Gramps, I'm waiting for the punch line. Irish queer?"
"A latent period in a young lad’s life when he gives up booze for women." He chuckled and swatted my back. "Don’t fret Roxbury, it happens to all of us. What is the lasses name?"
"Colleen," I said smiling.
His ears perked up. "That’s a grand start." He looked back at the television set. "She doesn't play offensive tackle for Notre Dame? Does she? It seen as if anything goes these days."
“She's all that you originally thought about her—map of Ireland on her face and her armpits sprout four leaf clovers. Will you keep up with me, Gramps? I really like her."
"That's another good start. Where will you take her next?"
“We are going to a Duke Ellington concert at the Bushnell."
"Jazz? Do you think that's an appropriate outing to take a fine Irish lass? The music is rather racy for a first date—all that heathen rhythm.”
"It's neither racy nor heathen."
"If you say so, Roxbury. How is the family history going?"
”Not so good, I wrote to the Kerry Hall of Records and received a somewhat personal invitation to visit the old country."
"Yes," said my grandfather. "I have traveled that blind alley as well—a phone call is even worse. There are genealogy groups in the United States. I was about to write to Brigham Young University before me bladder blew."
"I will write them as well as any other leads. Colleen researched her family and I have been picking her brain as well."
"She sounds like a wonderful lass, Roxbury." His attention went back to the television, “fighting Irish indeed!"
We spent the rest of the afternoon watching the game. Gramps lowered the sound so I could hear his protests about the ND offensive line who were cleaning Penn State’s clock even without the prize of a post season bowl appearance. It was a feat that Rockne's White Irish lines could never achieve.
I left after the game ended, drove to the Bushnell Auditorium Box office for the tickets and then rode back to the Storrs Campus. I was running late and I parked in front of Colleen’s dorm and walked up to the mailboxes. I panicked. All the names were listed by last names. In my swoon the night before, I never did ask her last name. I was hoping beyond hope that there would only be one Irish name in the collection of thirty boxes but I was confronted with a myriad of Mc and O names as well as single syllable names that I knew to be Irish clans as well.
A coed student walked into the mailroom and looked at me oddly.
“I have a date with a woman here.” I laughed at my predicament. “This is so embarrassing. Her name is Colleen but I don’t know her last name. We are going to a Duke Ellington concert tonight. Could you help me?”
“Sorry.” She said as she quickly opened the main door and closed it behind her quicklyn bolting the door.
I stood in the hallway for ten minutes waiting for the next coed to terrorize with my likely story. The door opened and Colleen came in with a smirk on her face. “So you are the hallway pervert. Can’t say I see the resemblance.”
She escorted me to the sitting room. “Well for future reference which one of these doorbells is yours?”
“Hmmm. Maybe I like it this way.” She looked at me with empathy. “I live in room five with my roommate, Prudence.”
“Prudence?” I laughed. “She must be a looker.”
“Hey don’t go running down my roommate’s name—I like her. I do have to admit, she is rather matronly.”
A bit of my grandfather came out, “I hope she’s matronly. It’s a tough fate to be named after a tin can of corn beef hash.”
Colleen playfully slapped my arm. “Are you going to feed me or what?”
We rode to the Casa Loma. I wanted to order pasta because you can get great pizza all over Connecticut, except Storrs.
Colleen almost read my mind. “I prefer pasta but I haven’t had a good pizza in a long while. I’m putting you on notice that I’m not leaving any room for a hot fudge sundae tonight.”
After this imparting, we shared a pizza. I was impressed when Colleen ordered a super deluxe pie with everything—my favorite. Colleen didn’t shy away from the anchovies—a love test my Grandfather made up one afternoon when he was bored.
The first date was memorable, I never remember laughing so much in my life. No one, save Gramps, could make me laugh like Colleen. When we entered the Bushnell, she held me back from going to our assigned seats. We watched the concert in the back and danced cheek-to-cheek as the Duke played “Sophisticated Lady” and his other tunes. After the concert, we strolled to Sage Allen Department Store and danced in front of the lighted entrance to piped-in Christmas Carols until we were run off by an irate bell-wielding Salvation Army Santa when the store closed at midnight.
I was very much in love with Colleen but I picked the worst time to court her because we both were knee-deep in final exams for the first semester. We had silent library dates. I worried that we’d be too distracted to study but whatever we did seemed to work for the best. I studied and concentrated as never before with Colleen across the table from me. The fresh air breaks were prizes for our hard work.
The finals also took time away from Gramps and I felt such guilt but he would have none of it and demanded that I keep my nose in the books. “Tend to the hedges” was his constant refrain. I told myself that I would make up the lost time during semester break but I had a job at a vodka warehouse in Hartford. Colleen had an internship at a school in New Haven. I spent every free night at a bar in Middletown where we'd meet halfway or I’d travel all the way to New Haven to see Colleen.
“You must spend more time with your Grandfather.” Chastised Colleen. “There is no reason to research a family history while ignoring your living relatives.”
“He’s as strong as an ox – probably outlive us all.”
“Look Liam.” She said with her penetrating eyes boring a hole through my skull. “We have plenty of time. I don’t want to see you until we are back at Storrs. You’re next dates are at Hartford Hospital with your grandfather.”
There were only three days left on our separation and I really wanted to visit with Gramps but New Years Eve seemed to dry out all the channels of vodka throughout the nation. The warehouse was on a push to refill the pipelines. I logged much overtime and only visited Gramps on my way back to the Storrs Campus. He was starting to show the effects of his cancer and grimaced with pain at regular intervals. He asked me about the family history and I told him that I was waiting for promising news from the Mormons in Utah. I did receive the papers from London but I left them in my dorm room before break.
Back on the UConn Campus, I was happy to see that the Utah papers arrived. I read the papers from the London firm as well as the ones from Utah. The Brigham Young genealogy and the London genealogy had similar conclusions but no definitive answers to our lineage.
The Days were a new Kerry family who immigrated to Southwest Ireland from one of two places; London or Morocco. I laughed at the prospect of telling Gramps of his possible ASP heritage or the African heritage but secretly was worried that these findings might bring his health to the breaking point.
I toyed with the idea of making up the entire lineage having the Day’s in line with Budica and Connelly but I figured that Gramps superior knowledge of Irish History would be my eventual undoing. I owed him the truth and he was a tough old veteran of World War One. If he could stand the bunker shelling he could stand the truth. Part of my dilemma was delightful. I wanted to see his face when I told him that we were either black Moors impressed by a Spanish nobleman to stand in for a draft-dodging son or whether we were the privileged ASP class that worked to oppress the Irish children, before we, ourselves, were oppressed by the landed gentry in America.
I walked to Colleen’s dorm and was about to press doorbell five when it occurred to me that I still did not know her last name. The mailbox would give this information. I looked on the mail tab and saw two names, “Flaherty and Grayson.” I smiled, seeing that my woman took top billing, although the other mail tabs were issued by the bursar’s office and were listed alphabetically.
Colleen answered the bell, escorting me to the monitored sitting area in the front of the hall. “I want you to meet the can of corn beef hash I room with.”
“Ok, but I must warn you I’ve already had breakfast.” This comment earned me another playful punch on my shoulder.
We rounded the corner and walked up to a tall thin beautiful red haired woman with white skin and prominent freckles and big brown tortoise shell glasses reading from an Economics text. She stood up, brushed her blouse and smiled at me.
Colleen stood between us, “Liam this is my roommate, Prudence Flaherty.”
My jaw almost dropped off its hinge. I looked and pointed at Colleen. “You’re Flaherty, she’s Grayson.”
Colleen looked back at me with a smiling face; “No silly, I’m Grayson.”
“But how did you get a name like Colleen? That’s an Irish name.” I stood there ignoring Prudence’s outstretched hand.
Colleen put her hands on her hips and frowned. “Sue me. I guess I come from an eclectic family. If you must know, I was named after an Irish nanny—my mothers childhood care-giver.”
I looked back at her roommate, “And you,” I pointed rudely at her roommate, “How does Prudence and a Kerry name like Flaherty get mixed together?”
Prudence let her outstretched hand fall to her side. “That’s a very funny story. My name was the idea of a come over aunt. She gave me a proper WASP first name so I could be a nanny at a better high paying neighborhood.”
I was floored by the revelation. I looked accusingly at Colleen. “And Grayson. You wouldn’t have come across a distant relative who was the mayor of Hartford? Did you?”
“Yes, he’s my great great granduncle. His brother was my great great Grandfather—he owned a tavern in Hartford.”
An overwhelming feeling of betrayal came over me that set the tone for the evening. Our bubbly funny back-and-forth banter gave way to my bitter brooding as I sat across a member of a family that probably robbed my great great grandfather Oliver of a saloon and more likely had a hand in depositing him in the Connecticut River. I knew these ill feelings had more to do with the bad health of Gramps but I was very much a wet blanket that night and the rest of the week. Colleen wanted to know the reasons for my moody behavior. Instead of confiding—I kept it all to myself.
That Friday morning, I received a call from my father telling me that Gramps had taken a turn for the worse and it would be wise to cancel class and come home for an early weekend. I packed my dirty clothes in a gunnysack and headed to Hartford Hospital.
My entire family, cousins and all, were standing in the waiting area near the nurse’s station. Gramp’s nurse, a twenty-year veteran was beside herself in grief. She made a beeline toward me and we hugged. “It’s so good you made it. He’s waiting for you.”
I walked into his room and noticed his white pale skin. He normally had white skin but this was an ashy white powder-like skin. My father sat in a chair next to his bed.
Gramps looked at me and smiled, “Liam you made it. Pull up a chair.” His words were enthusiastic but his tone was dull and soft.
I put my hand on his. He nodded. “You’ll have to excuse me Liam but I wanted to hear your progress on the family history.”
“Okay,” I slowed down. “I used two sources and they came up with similar conclusions that are inconclusive.”
“Leave the honey in the jug, Liam, and never mind the academic prattle—where do we come from?”
“One of two places, Day is an old English name and a man from London names Day came to Agadoe Heights in 1533 to be the crown’s magistrate in County Kerry. The other Day immigrant came from a Berber family in Morocco named DeFeo. He stood in for a Spanish nobleman’s son from Malaga so he would not have to do sea duty on the Spanish Armada. This moor named DeFeo swam ashore to Dingle Bay when his ship sunk and intermarried with an Irish women and shortened his name to Day to fit into the clan system of Ireland.” Gramps lay on his bed and his eyes were wide open, as was his mouth. I tried to make light of the solemn news, “I guess they had banks in the old country as well.”
My father started laughing out loud and could not control himself and excused himself from the room.
Gramps brow was fretted for some time and he remained quiet while breathing heavily. Gramps looked up at me again. “How is Colleen?
“Not so good – turns out she plays guard for Notre Dame. Her last name is Grayson?”
“The mayor Grayson?”
I nodded and Gramps started laughing. He raised himself slowly to a sitting position. “Liam, that was so long ago and hasn’t any meaning after a generation. In all the advice I’ve freely distributed to you, take this to your grave, Ignore all other events and if your heart shows you a path, even if you lose—take it.”
“I don’t know Gramps, of all the names in the world she had to be that Grayson.”
“Look at it this way, Liam—if you two do get serious at least your issue will be able to pass for ASP.” He started laughing and began to cough loudly–so loudly that I pressed the nurse’s button. The nurse came into the room immediately—she was keeping a close vigil at my grandfather’s door. She ran to him and ordered me out of the room.
I walked back to the waiting room near the nurse’s station and mingled with my cousins from Litchfield County. I was not there for a long time when the nurse came out again and stood near the door. “Liam, your grandfather wants to see you and your father alone.”
I walked back into the room flanked by my father. Gramps was no longer in his sitting position but his eyes were open. “Liam, come closer. “
I put my ear close to his mouth although he spoke loud enough for my father to hear.
“’Twas a good deed you did for an old man. I couldn’t be happier. We were probably the blackest Moors in all of Africa. It all makes sense, Berbers, great warriors, strong swimmers and brilliant negotiators. No doubt about it: We are African—same as Jesse Owens. I'll bet Owens once had an apostrophe after the “O” and dropped it so his issue could mop bank floors. The Black Irish, I bet Grandfather DeFeo shared an oar with DeVelera on that Armada ship, a happy lineage, what a grand surprise. Be sure to share the good news with our Western cousins.”
I felt his grip lighten. I gripped it harder and said. “Soon you’ll be out of this bed and you can tell them yourself.”
He smiled and tried to lift his eyelids but instead they fluttered. “Great Warriors, strong swimmers, the blackest of the Moors like Othello…” Gramps drifted off to sleep.
Gramps joined our new found African ancestors that night like Oliver Day, the great warrior and strong swimmer who drowned belly up at an early age in the Connecticut River.
In the proceeding decades, I have told this story a million times—and I must admit—it keeps getting better. I took Gramp’s advice and eventually married Colleen Grayson, and we were blessed with four children. Now they have all graduated from college and have started their own families. I often visit Gramp’s grave. They didn’t bury him for the stink of him; they buried him because he was a highly decorated Veteran of World War One. Gramps, a man of a million stories, never spoke of his years in combat.
I guess my children can pass for ASP now that Colleen spoiled the race—and if they follow the advice given to me by an old wise man to follow their heart perhaps my grandchildren and their neighbors might someday pass for American. If this advice gets passed along for an eternity perhaps some fine day my ever so distant great grand children and their neighbors will all pass for Citizens of this Earth.
Hey, sometimes the academics get it right, or as Gramps once paraphrased, “Every now and again, even a blind swine noses up a truffle or two.”
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