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Joseph T. O’Donnell

Change The Sky Joseph T. O‟Donnell A memoir of a son who watched a father build a house.


Change The Sky

Thank You for purchasing Change The Sky. A portion of all sales will be donated to the woundedwarriorproject.org who welcome home and assist our returning wounded military men and women and habitatforhumanity.org. an organization that changes the lives of thousands of families by helping them earn what most of us take for granted-a clean and decent place to live. I invite you to click on the above sights for further information. Thank You


Joseph T. O’Donnell


Change The Sky

PressOn NOTHING IN THE WORLD CAN TAKE THE PLACE OF PERSISTENCE. TALENT WILL NOT-NOTHING IS MORE COMMON THAN UNSUCESSFUL MEN WITH TALENT. GENUIS WILL NOT –UNREWARDED GENIUS IS ALMOST A PROVERB. EDUCATION WILL NOT-THE WORLD IS FULL OF EDUCATED DERELICTS. PERSISTENCE AND DETERMINATION ALONE ARE OMNIPOTENT. THE SLOGAN “PRESS ON” HAS SOLVED AND ALWAYS WILL SOLVE THE PROBLEMS OF THE HUMAN RACE. Calvin Coolidge


Joseph T. O’Donnell

Dedicated to my Mother on her 86th Birthday. A woman who persevered. To my Father who prevailed. October, 2010


Change The Sky


Joseph T. O’Donnell

Chapter 1 A few weeks before the spring thaw of nineteen and sixty-seven my father arrived home early one afternoon to his small row home in the West Oak lane section of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and announces his intentions to my mother. “I‟m going to start that digging for the foundation on Monday!” “What digging? What foundation?” my mother asks. “For the house!” “What house?” “The house up the pike! What do you mean? What house?” My father makes his announcement as if announcing that he is putting rubbish to the curb with no hint of the enormity of his plan.


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“Laid off again?” my mother asks. My father‟s silence answers her question. My father is dressed in his only uniform of green dickeys and collared work shirt. He loses his lunch box to the familiar spot on the kitchen counter and turns towards my mother who asks. “Who‟s going to help you?” my mother wants to know. “Ah sure I‟ll have plenty of help.” The mysterious helpers are not identified, but my mother knows they can only be other Irish immigrants he has worked with in the past. My father has not assimilated very well with his American hosts so he will trust no one else but, like Irish. He will rely on their help on weekends, because the friends will attend their own jobs during the week. But that‟s all he requires. It‟s always the bare minimum. And his house building will be no different. The bare minimum will be enough because it will link with what my father refers to as an awful go. An awful go of work to be done. And in


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that awful go he‟ll attempt to teach his three boys Jimmy, Joe (that‟s me) and Pat a thing or two about building and hard work. My mother watches her husband wash his hands like he works, hard, fast and furious. My father dries his hands and then notices his bride is glaring at him. She knows from his history that his decisions rarely consider comfort needs of the family. That is not to say we are deprived. Food, shelter and clothing we have. After that, you were on your own. You see he doesn‟t need much because he was groomed hard on a windy hillside in northwest Donegal county Ireland. A small place outside of Glenties town called Mulnamin Hill. Where all you needed was food, clothing and shelter. But, we are American children and we are exposed to unwritten rules of money and material goods. “I must call that bulldozer man to start the digging,” my father says leaving the kitchen. He finds the only telephone hanging


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on the kitchen wall and sticks a finger in the dial. My mother thinks about addressing him on the wage and wane care but, heâ€&#x;s on the phone with the bulldozer man. My mother tsks a tongue yet secretly she is excited. It would be lovely to leave behind the shrinking row house and that alley way that feels like an appendage in all row house living. Outside our back door lies a small portion of the many miles of Philadelphia alley ways. She also wonders if perhaps, she should tell her husband to have the bulldozer man dig a second smaller hole. The second hole perhaps Six feet deep. Because for what my father contemplates, at age forty seven, to build a house nearly alone with no wages and support five wanes and one more on the way most assuredly, will put him in a hole sooner rather than later. It wasnâ€&#x;t uncommon for my father to quit a job in the morning and start another that same afternoon. His resume to this point include


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stints as barman, laborer, independent carpenter and kennel worker. My father bought this piece of land some three years earlier, with every intention of building a house for himself and his family. It is the only way for an almost middle class and unconnected Irish immigrant to “get out of” whatever he was into. In my fathers case he wanted out of the cramped row house and alley ways of Philadelphia and into some space. And he hasn‟t the large funds needed for mortgage, so he will build his way out. Build your own home for a fraction of the cost, though the deed would exact a toll for the tremendous energy needed to complete. It would take time. He needed time to save and put away the lean wages of a career laborer. A few of my father‟s Irish immigrant friends build their houses on weekends and continued to work during the traditional work week. My father has no such intentions. His plan is to build it straight through. He has the skills,


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tools and confidence to do it. He has developed these skills the last twenty years in the great country, America. My father referred to America as the great country. He thought it great in the sense of scale and opportunity rather than distinguished. The greatest country label in the traditional inference could only belong to Ireland.

My father discovered his lot by sheer Irish luck,- hard work and fate- one day on his way home from work. He discovered it while building some homes on the same street as the empty lot. They were twin homes being built in Flourtown, Pennsylvania at the top of the street known as Grove Avenue. The fronts of these houses were a collage of stone from Mister Corsonâ€&#x;s quarry not two miles away. Assorted light gray and alabaster stone framed in intersecting highways of mortar. My father likes the look


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and the durability. The stone reminds him of the stone walls back in Ireland. Miles of stone walls line acreages of Irish homes and farms whose only method of stability is time, weight and gravity. The stone in America must be mortared straightaway though because the Americans donâ€&#x;t have much time or patience for gravity and time. My father working the stone only a few days decided to take a different way home from work. He has been on the lookout and dreaming for a piece of land for years. A piece of ground to build a house was a rare thing in and around the Philadelphia suburbs. Houses went up fast after World War Two, and Philadelphia and the Delaware valley were no exception. Most of the good parcels were developed in proper fashion, with a few lots spared for extra space adjacent to homes. Or perhaps they were spared because too many unruly trees dotted the lot, thickened with time since Native Americans hunted and gathered here.


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My father‟s s ride home this day brings him to the opposite end of Grove Avenue. He comes to a stop sign in the middle of the block. Just beyond the stop sign, he sees to his right a realtor sign. The sign is red and white stripped like a fishing lure to alert potential buyers. The sign reads COMLY & PAUL. There is a telephone number. House for sale? My father‟s heart beats a bit faster when any land is viewed. An ingrained trait to those who grow up with land fused to their back. He continues through the stop sign and stretches his neck to check out the house. But, there is no house. A bare lot sits. It is not empty, however. An enormous willow tree stabs the middle of the lot. And close to the street, two maples stand opposite the width of the lot at each corner like centuries old sentries. The willow is in full bloom, and its branches cascade down like the men‟s


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hairstyle of the day. It is nineteen sixty-four. I am not quite six years old. My father nearly runs his 1956 bubble fender Ford up the curb, but catches himself. He quickly parks the car. It‟s the oldest car on this street. The big dull gray bubble fender Ford is a rare specimen in these parts. Station wagons and sleek, chrome-adorned cars with bright colors seem to be the standard here north of the city. The bubble fender Ford is memorialized in many photographs before and after my birth. My father is behind the times. But an attempt to catch up has begun. He parks the car and is out. The car door slams hard. He‟s dressed in green Dickeys and an old plaid workmen‟s shirt that immediately identifies his occupation. He is most presentable though for a man that has been fiddling with house building all day. Some established homeowners are eyeballing him as he begins his survey. He‟s been building houses for others for years and the time has come to build his


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own. The alley behind our row house is getting smaller and we‟re getting bigger and more curious with the years. Like a push that sends the meek into a rage, the lot has flung him into action. He walks the east side of the lot. He treads on the future driveway. In his trancelike state, he is oblivious to the wary neighbors. A tricycle and ball lie in the unkempt grass, evidence the neighbors‟ kids use the lot for a playground. My father will end that. The lot is similar perhaps to a small garden on Mulnamin Hill in Donegal County Ireland but, to my father the Garden of Eden is found. He‟s at the trunk of the car and rummages through his handmade wooden toolbox deep in the trunk of the bubble fender Ford. He finds his thick flat carpenter‟s pencil dull from a day‟s work against lumber and stone. A few strokes from a utility knife yield a proper point for writing. The pencil shavings


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float to the ground against his shirt and trousers and inside the cavernous trunk. He walks to the sidewalk-less lot. He takes an old paycheck stub from his wallet positions it on his bent knee and with the carpenter‟s pencil copies the telephone number. He checks it again for accuracy and then once more to make sure it‟s correct. When the plan comes together he‟ll not see a pay check stub for nearly a year. His heart and step lifts with joy after the number is safely tucked away in the worn billfold. He taps the rear pocket containing the wallet a few times to make sure it‟s still there. There‟s a bounce in his step as he returns to the bubble fender Ford and places the pencil in its proper place. Always the tools back were they belong. My father would say “Never leave a tool behind your ass.” Not even a carpenter pencil. Because my father has learned that tools misplaced are rarely found when needed. My


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father closes the trunk –takes another look at the lot and he is gone.

All of this takes place and I the son of the carpenter have no idea of my fathers plan. I am five years old and I am in kindergarten at the Kinsey public school in Philadelphia. Soon I will be eight and nine years of age in 1967 and I will watch my father begin build his way out.


Joseph T. O’Donnell

Chapter 2 My father discovers that behind his lot and parallel to Grove Avenue is a park. A multi-acre parcel called Fort Washington State Park. A stretch of land set aside for recreation and relaxation by able suburban planners complete with creek, trees, and fixed upright cooking grills to host your barbecue. Also in the park an exposed wood beam covered pavilion as big as full court basketball court with wood picnic tables. At one end of the pavilion stands a five foot high fireplace with a stone mantle. The pavilion is a great public structure for all to enjoy. The best the city has to offer is a triangular patch of grass riddled with canine fecal matter that dozenâ€&#x;s of kids fight for. We play football there and on good days we only smell of dog shit. Though my mother and father refer to it as dog dirt because that other word is a bad


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word. Bad enough we come home from the diamond with dog shit smeared on our pant legs to foul the house but to compound the odor by foul words is unthinkable. We call it the Doggie Diamond but it is triangular in shape. It is also known by the kids on the block as Doodie Diamond – in reference to the dogs that frequent it daily to commune with nature. The diamond is a natural baseball field, but we never play baseball on it. We play football because all you need is a football and several hard headed Irish, German, African and Italian American kids to play. Baseball requires a bunch of stuff like bats, helmets, gloves, balls, bases and space. Who has that? Doggie Diamond has a better ring than say Doggie Triangle or Toto Triangle. The diamond is surrounded by dissecting streets at every point and dozens of row houses whose owners come to our football stadium to walk their dog. My father despises that diamond and lets me the family know it.


Joseph T. O’Donnell

“That bloody Doggie Diamond. Playing in the field of dog dirt and bringing it home with them for the wont of space. And Joseph hit by a car chasing the wayward ball into the street.”


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Chapter 3 I cannot imagine this real estate agent, Comly or Paul, terribly impressed as my father strolls into his office, albeit freshly shaven with what little ring of hair he has wet with Bryl Cream and smelling of Old Spice. My father, short, bald, and sporting large frame glasses, looks every bit the aging mild middleaged working man. What would this man do with such a parcel? Contractors are expensive. My father has no intention of hiring a contractor. He is the contractor and he has a small pool of talented Irish labor that will help him. He hasnâ€&#x;t asked anyone for help yet but they will be available by the unwritten rule of obligation. Not unlike the Amish west of Philadelphia who gather every time a neighbor raises a barn. The mister Comly –Paul office is a place where men wear Bryl -Cream every


Joseph T. O’Donnell

morning before work, not just for Saturday nights and Sunday morning church services. They have sums of money for vacations and memberships to the country clubs and swim clubs. Soon my father will have no income because his plan is to build an entire house in six months, come hell or high water. And my mother couldn‟t work as she has the six of us to care for and no driver‟s license or second car to get to a place of employment. And one year before my father announced he was going to “Start the digging” my mother has a fresh wane Annie barely nine months old to care for. There‟s no daycare or babysitter. Babysitter? Baby sitter‟s are only employed on Saturday nights when, for a few hours, Pat and Lily dance at the Irish center with like Irish. Who would dare think of babysitting during the day? Mr. Comly, through duty or dollars, or duty to the dollar, scratches a figure that includes five hundred dollars more than what he paid for the ground months earlier. A man has to make a living. The cost of the lot is


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$4500.00. My father has something in the neighborhood of one thousand dollars in life savings. The year is 1964. He turns to a cousin of my mother who, after discussing the possibility, extends the offer of a loan in her well-manicured Main Line home. Thirty five hundred can be loaned and, with the additional one thousand from his savings, the parcel can be had. When money comes from family it doesnâ€&#x;t seem like a loan. Especially when there are no confusing documents and attached encumbrances. My father returns to Mr. Comlyâ€&#x;s real estate office. A four day growth of beard hangs on him. My father normally shaves on Saturday nights before the dance and Sunday morning Mass. Comly tells my father he needs the one thousand-dollar deposit by the close of business tomorrow. Some other parties are interested in the tract of land. My father agrees and tells Mister Comly that he will have the money to him the next afternoon. Comly sits


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back down at his desk and watches my father leave his office. Probably thinking he has seen the last of him. Once outside the realtorâ€&#x;s office my father finds a pay phone and jams his thick finger in the hole on the dial. As long as I have known him, my father will never, ever, find the bottom of the dial on a rotary telephone. Only the tip of the finger fills the telephone dial just enough to control and spin the dial. It reminds me of the manual meat grinder my mother straps to the end of table to grind meat. The giant piece of meat jammed into the small hole of the grinder, the rotating blades crushing the meat to reveal its true content in a slow cascading fall of mangled mammal flesh. Luckily, there is no blade waiting for my fatherâ€&#x;s thick finger inside the telephone dial. He dials each number waiting impatiently for the dial to return so he can jab a finger again into the next holed number. He reaches my mother on the other end.


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“Lily, I want you to go to the bank and withdraw one thousand dollars from the passport savings for the deposit on the lot.” “When?” “Now, today.” “You‟re kidding!” “No, that‟s it, now. I‟m buying that lot tomorrow. And by God someday we‟ll be living up there.” The deal is done. My father has bought his land. He has his parcel, his lot in life. I along with my brothers and sisters are unaware of the purchase and what significant events that lie ahead. My mother readies the five of us. Coats, socks and shoes. An extra layer of clothing on the youngest Patrick. Soon we are two abreast on the sidewalk for a walk to the bank.


Joseph T. O’Donnell

Chapter 4

My father has his land and all he can do now is maintain it for the next couple of years. The building will not start right away as my father needs to save for what he thinks will be the total sum needed to complete his house, feed the wanes and pay the bills. He will be woefully short in his summations. I am six years old and I donâ€&#x;t have a clue what my father is up to and I go about my life. The first home I recall on Stenton Avenue was located in the West Oak Lane section of Philadelphia. Before that, though, my older


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sister Margaret and brother Jimmy lived in an apartment above the ALL IRELAND bar my father had co-owned at Twenty-Second and Toronto Avenue in North Philadelphia. The last time I saw the old bar in the nineteen nineties it was a Baptist church. One manâ€&#x;s pub is another mans temple. In the nineteen fifties the neighborhood was predominantly Italian – the priest is native Italian and conducts the mass in Italian and Latin. My mother told me she could not register at the parish, as she did not speak the language. So although they lived in the neighborhood they were forced to attend mass in a another neighborhood. The priest refused to register my mother and father in a blatant act of cultural racism. Of course, it wasnâ€&#x;t called racism then; it was called fear. The Italians like every other ethnic group protecting what was known in an unknown land. The Italians had only the commonality of language which gave them an identity. It was a natural response of every new immigrant


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community. It was circle the wagons mentality, the Irish no different. Our house is on the 2100 hundred block of Stenton Avenue and it sits in the middle of the block flanked on either side with a dozen homes of nearly exact structure and form. Our house has three bedrooms, a dining room, living room and a two piece kitchen. Off the kitchen door is a flat, uncovered wood porch made from tongue and groove pine and is always freshly painted a workingman gray. We share the wood deck with our neighbors. The view from the porch is the back of the house across the alley. The porch doesn‟t come out far enough to see up the alley, so we weren‟t out there lounging much. My mother uses it to sneak a cigarette when we are at school or perhaps to hang a wet mop or dish rag. My mother exhales her smoke at the house across the alley thinking this would be her view and her home for life. Most of the block


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have these common area porches. The porches are in various stages of wear. Some were not to be trusted, some sagged from time, and some were not there. Some have fences and some hold grills, mops and trash cans. My father takes great pride in his porch; it is always solid and freshly painted. My father installs a black iron fence deathly afraid that one of us would wonder onto the porch and fall to the alley below and break a neck. The alley behind Stenton Avenue was the social center for the children of the block, while the front porch was reserved for the adults. The sociable neighbors, my father included, would sit on the front porch on mild evenings and study the happenings on Stenton Avenue. They would comment on the hitchhikers or pedestrians, eyeing them from block to block with a wary eye. My father would shake his head at the young men with long hair. At night, when the alley grew dark and the eyes of wild creatures came out, we would


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abandon the alley and join our families on the front porch. We would play car games: the child who could count the most station wagons won. They seemed to be rare in these parts, station wagons. In the suburbs they could be put to good use for grocery shopping and hauling all things suburban – rakes, lawnmowers and pool supplies. My mother‟s mode of transport is her feet and a collapsible vertical wire basket with two stone hard rubber wheels to haul the groceries back and forth from the grocery store. Motorcyclists loved to cruise Stenton Avenue. The bikes would roar up the avenue forcing us to cover ears from the exposed purposefully loud engines. I guess these bikers wanted to be heard from. Windows would shake, and neighbors would complain. Once they stopped at the traffic light, we would run to the corner and egg on the bikers to pop a wheelie once the light turned green. Few could or would entertain us with such a stunt. I attend Saint Benedict‟s school and church. To insure all families would be


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represented at the Sunday service, and to insure a hefty Sunday collection, all students were required to attend mass as a class. Which meant the parents would escort them to church. We were all designated to a specific place in a specific pew, boys separated from girls. We are required to wear the school uniform. Once in church, a head count would ensue. “Check to see if your neighbor is here,” the nun would say in a soft reverent voice. Her voice seemed softer on Sunday‟s than during the school week. She‟d smell of some perfume, it was GAME DAY. Some conspired easily with the sister and would look to see who wasn‟t present and not putting money in the basket. Like sentries, the nuns sprung their softened mew from pew to pew. Those students who dared be absent were required to produce a note the following Monday morning explaining their whereabouts at Sunday mass.


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First thing Monday morning, time was taken from the business of education and devoted to the church absentees. What possibly could have kept you from mass on Sunday? I remember one poor soul whose mother had written a note explaining her absence from the Sunday ceremony. She was a little black girl. I can honestly say the fury of the sisters was non-prejudicial. Their wrath when directed, equal to white and black. The note explained that the girl had attended a birthday party. As was the practice in the deluge of guilt the nun shared the notes contents with the class. “So, you attended a birthday party in New Jersey,” the nun began. The little girl sat like a stone with her hands interlaced atop the desk. A birthday party on a Sunday? The Lord‟s Day. What were they thinking? Columns of heads turned to see the little girl whose chocolate pudding cheeks were now a shade lighter. She began to squirm in her hard wood one piece chair and desk.


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The nun berated her until the girl‟s eyes found the floor. That measure of shame is sufficient. All is forgiven and forgotten after the trip down guilty lane. There would be extra chores in the classroom for the little black girl. These were not the modern order of nuns. They wore their collars tight and their rosary beads loose. I remember one time a beefy nun, unhappy with our collective behavior, whipped her rosary beads on top of a desk. CRACK! The class jumped in unison, and beads exploded and bounced on the floor and desks from corner to corner of the classroom. Some of us scrambled to get control of the bouncing beads, and others were fixed in their seats, not knowing what to do. “Look what you made me do!” she says between clenched teeth. Sister‟s reddened face stands out against the white frame of her habit. Students came gingerly to the nun‟s desk at the front of the room carrying the loose holy beads. The nun stared us down and


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waited until the last bead was returned. The beads were collected, and the nun quickly placed them in the top drawer of her desk. Like all good sisters, she has a spare set in her desk, and she quickly snapped them around her waist and adjusted them accordingly. She is a rosary slinger, back at the ready. My father made sure we attended Sunday group mass. It was like urinating after you awoke in the morning. You were going to go. One day I was dismissed from school and got in the wrong line. Each student was assigned a line designated to where they lived. Some went down Godfrey avenue another line down Broad street and of course one line was for students who lived near or on Stenton Avenue. Well I got in the Godfrey avenue line and as the line moved off from school students found their home and I found myself wandering lost around an unfamiliar neighborhood. Two black ladies noticed me walk past their house several times and finally stopped me and asked where I lived. “I live on Stenton Avenue.�


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“What block?” the ladies asked. “um 21….something. I don‟t know.” “What‟s your telephone number.” “Um… Waverly 7…..um I don‟t remember it.” “Come on up on the porch and lets find out where you belong. Your mother must be worried sick.” My mother was worried sick but she was gratefully relieved when she received a phone call and walked up to the black ladies house and found me and the ladies on their porch sharing cookies and glasses of milk. The ladies got my last name and found our telephone number in the telephone directory.


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Chapter 5 One Easter Sunday, fresh from the priest‟s sermon at Saint Benny‟s, I was about the neighborhood showing off my new Easter suit with some friends. I was fired up about what had been done to our Jesus and properly stoked with sugar from the Easter chocolate. I along with some friends walk with big sticks out of eyesight of my house. If my father had seen me playing in my Easter suit I imagine he might fashion his own a wood cross and hang me up like Jesus on the cross. My friends and I fantasize about striking down those persecutors of our Jesus. I stab our makebelieve swords into the ground as if Roman soldiers and other unnamed co-conspirators are lying there helplessly. We were in a froth of glorious might and will. After the fray, I see I‟ve dirtied my shoes and pants. Knowing the lashing that would come from my father, I quickly return home and change.


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The cost of new Easter suit and youâ€&#x;re out playing in the street. I clean most of the dirt off my suit and shoes and find a hanger to hide my Easter suit in the bedroom closet -way in the back. I rearrange some clothes on hangars to further cover my Easter suit. I hear nothing more from it. Jesus was watching over his little soldier.

The neighborhood on Stenton Avenue is a mix of ethnic backgrounds that include one old German lady, Irish, Italian, and African. There is also a Hispanic family on the street. Most people are second or third generation American. We are first generation. My parents of course were off the boat.

Our neighbors on either side of our row house are the family Mence on one side and the Jonesâ€&#x;s on the other. The Mence


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family have children our age, and the Joneses were an elderly couple. At Christmas we exchange gifts with the Mence children. I always dread the exchange, as our Pollyanna gifts always seemed to be small cheaper toys while we receive from the Mence‟s the latest toys designed by clever businessmen. I was embarrassed that our gifts didn‟t measure up. But, my father has eight to feed. And there is a piece of ground waiting to be crowned. So money is tight. I didn‟t know. The Jones were the closest thing to grandparents we ever had. I would never know my grandparents. They didn‟t live long enough to gain the title. Besides, even if they were alive they would be on the other side of the world on the emerald isle. And with my father‟s plans an excursion to Ireland is financially impossible. My mother‟s father was an all Ireland footballer in 1915. Not soccer but the brutal Irish football of tackling and elbowing. And that it is said hasten him to grave. I must have


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gotten the football mentality from my grandfather. I see the Jones‟ as our adopted grandparents, though they probably don‟t see us as grandchildren. Retired, they spend their summers at the New Jersey shore. A couple of summers we are invited down to stay in a cramped boarding house. My father would never be able to spring for a week at the shore, what with his plans to build his own house. We swim on the beach in North Wildwood, New Jersey for free. No beach tag required. (Today it is the official Irish vacation spot at the Jersey shore) Our fair Irish skin burns and my mother has a heck of a time lathering on the sun tan lotion. I don‟t know why they called it sun tan lotion as we never seemed to tan, only turn red. My mother holds on tight as she lathers the lotion on as I strain to break free like an undisciplined dog to a bone. My mother would need to lather me quickly. My excitement at swimming in the ocean is overwhelming.


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Further compounded by the short summer season and rare times we come to the beach. My mother chase after I slip from her grasp helped by the slickness of the Coppertone. She‟s after me halfway down to the water to complete her coverage of suntan lotion. And I‟m not the only one. My mother has five to look after and smother in Coppertone. She wins in covering me but the salt water washes away any protection benefit. Later that night, lying in bed I am chilled from the sunburn damage. My mother comes to us with another skin cream and gently rubs cold Noxzema on all her children‟s red skin. My mother is grateful for our slumber, as we never stop running from morning to night at the shore. My mom is extra cautious at the shore. Water and wanes don‟t mix well without oversight. Mister Jones has a small boat and he offers to take us out in the bay for a ride. He let‟s us take the wheel for a short time. Far enough out from the shore so we can‟t do any damage. I want to zigzag across the bay and


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attempt to get the hull out of the water, but the experienced hand of Mister Jones reigns me in The water sprays over us and our white captainâ€&#x;s hats with anchors above a black bill. Sleeveless wet undershirts cling to us. A day or two later, we are given permission to use the boarding house community fishing rods. We are at the bay to fish for the first time. I have and never will it seems catch a fish, but my brother Jimmy lands a summer fluke. It is memorialized in a now famous family black and white photograph with scalloped boder. My brother is in his captainâ€&#x;s hat and sleeveless tee shirt, squinting in the morning sun, with his arms straining from the weight of the summer fluke dangling from the end of his fishing rod.


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Chapter Six At the top of the alley behind Stenton Avenue, there is a barbershop with a large plate glass window in front and the traditional rotating red and white rotating barber pole that identifies its business. Around the alley corner is the wall of the business that we use to play chink, a kind of handball game and sometimes we play Buck-Buck. The man who owns the barbershop is not to be taken lightly. His sweet smelling perfumes, tonics and oils contrast with his mean streak. On occasion, he would run from the shop chasing wall-ball or chink players with a leather strap because of the hubbub and noise thatâ€&#x;s bad for business. I can only remember once being in the barber shop for a haircut. During the pre building time my father cuts our hair to save a little more money. My father cuts our hair with manual clippers. The hair


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clippers are designed (in theory) to squeeze thereby transferring the squeezing power to the blade to cut hair. Speaking from experience these do not cut hair. They may pull, entangle and uproot your hair but, they certainly do not cut hair. My father assumes the manual clippers are similar to one of his tools in his self made wood tool box. He uses the clippers as if planning door. He starts at the bottom of the neck and begins to squeeze to generate cutting power. And like his carpenter plane he leans on it. When my father finishes my neck feels like the bottom a newly flush oak door. My father alters nothing in his tool manipulation and reasons the neck is strong enough to take a little pressure. My neck so red and sore I look like I have sunburn. My mother dips into her Noxzema jar and softly spreads the coolness across my neck after haircut night to soothe the burn. Compounding this is the oldest bed sheet in the house is pinned around my neck tight as a driven nail. The sheet is secured with a safety pin and slows blood and oxygen to my brain.


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And add insult to injury my father is yelling to keep still and stop moving your head. Like most men of his generation my father is able to do many tasks but, I discover he would never make a living as a barber.

Opposite the barbershop is another a brick wall. The wall is covered with a rough mortar finish that is ideal for handball or Chink. At the back of the barbershop, in spite of the barber, teens would play buck-buck. Buck-buck is a game that requires sixto twelve-man teams. The team that “had wall” would line up one behind the other, perpendicular to the wall. The first kid on the wall was the anchor and the rest fell in behind him, bending at the waist. Once they were set up, the battle began. The object of the game was for the opposing team to collapse the chain of humanity on the wall. Each opposing team member got a running start and as they approached they would scream, “Buck-buck number one a coming.”


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The runner sprints full speed, like a track person in the long jump. But, instead of landing on their feet into soft sand, they land and lead with knees, elbows, and tail bones digging into the backs of opponents in an attempt to break or weaken the collective will of the opponentâ€&#x;s chain. Once an opponent landed, spastic wiggling, jumping and grinding would begin with any appendage or available digit. No time limit is ever enforced on how long you could rake the backs of your opponent, but somehow we regulate ourselves without a referee. Then the next one a coming would strike. The chain would sway as the succession of kids landed on backs but, it was never in jeopardy until at least the seventh or eighth kid had landed. We were all a bit skinny in those days before cable television and video games. Running the alley kept us lean. As the number of attackers dwindled, the hits would become more vicious. The last ones a coming were heavier boys. If the chain broke, a mass of humanity would collapse to


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the concrete alley floor and the fights would begin. I watch older kids play and couldn‟t wait until I was older to be the top buck-buck team of the alley. I didn‟t know my father had other plans for my youth. My early years wouldn‟t be spent in the alley fighting and playing buck buck. I would play in parks and streets lined with big oak trees. I‟d play little league baseball and CYO basketball in covered gymnasiums and football on fields (mostly) free from dog shit. Football would not be like that cacophonous cluster on the Doggie Diamond. It would be funded, organized, equipped and coached. We would have cook outs on a picnic table fashioned by my father, once the miracle was pulled off in the summer of 1967.


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Chapter 7

I remember one summer day I walked out of my house and into the alley to see what playmates I could find for the day. When I got half way up the block towards the barber shop I see it, but I don‟t believe it. It‟s massive. And more thrilling than when I first saw the beach in New Jersey. An alley neighbor had purchased a circular above ground swimming pool at my generation‟s toy store; Kiddie City. The pool lies awkward sitting slopped on the alley in front of the neighbor‟s garage. Some kids are invited in to cool off. I was not. There was some talk of No Shanty Irish, I believe. We were not fit to swim amongst the country club set of the alley. I watch all summer as the pool is offered


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to the established ones. As the summer stretched to August and waning daylight signaled the start of another school year the owner offers me a swim. After inhaling my dinner I find a towel in the hall closet, ignore the one hour rule not to swim after eating and head up the alley to the pool. When I arrive, the neighbors are splashing away with an air of superiority. “Can you wait till we‟re done?” said the boy. “It‟s too crowded.” I waited, and waited. When they finished their frolic, I rose up from my subservient squatting position with the anticipation of entering the pool. “That‟s it!” came a call from the little kitchen window off the balcony. The parent closes the pool for the night. The children all plated their eyes and smirked as I turned and walked away. I walk home amongst the lightning bugs and make feint attempts to catch a few before I reached my door.


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“Pay no attention to them,” my father would say. But it was hard and it hurt. My mother is home with us during the summer, and the good taxpayers of the city have provided us with recreation at nearby Rodney Park. Part of the facility offered a cooling station on hot summer days. It was a high semi circle wall. At the top of the wall a perforated pipe is mounted with pin size holes that leaks water to cool us standing at the base of the wall. On good days, usually in the early summer months, the perforated pipe would have good water flow, and it was entertaining enough. But it wasn‟t a pool. As we got older, my father would hear us discussing the day‟s events. Perhaps a scrap had ensued that day and my father would dispense some fatherly advice. “The three (my two brothers and I) of you should go down there and kick the living shit out of them and I bet it would be a month of Sundays before they‟d mess with you again.” I follow my father‟s advice on occasion.


Joseph T. O’Donnell

A month of Sundays is a lot.

My father had a friend Pat Mc Devitt. He lives in Glenside Pennsylvania. When we move from the city Mister McDevitt invited us to come swim in his built in pool anytime. And when I was a eleven or twelve my father sprung for a Flourtown country club membership for the whole family. The country club had an Olympic size pool and they didnâ€&#x;t care what country your parents came from as long as you paid your membership dues.


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Chapter 8 In pre-construction days, my father would sometimes take us to Aubrey Park after work. It was a small park located a few blocks away. My brothers and I ran in the park like it was a giant meadow. There were trees and stone walkways and stone arches that gave the impression of leading to some exotic, Garden of Eden but all paths led to another congested block. “Get used to the trees boys you‟ll be surrounded by them in a short while.” We kick the football around and explored the trees. Once, we discovered a dying tree whose bark was white and dry. We pretended the flaky dry meat of the tree is


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boneless chicken. We stripped it off of the dying tree and pretended to chomp on it. All meat at our dinner table has a bone attached. It was the old Irish way, where there was little time to pare the meat from the bone and the grocery stores had not yet begun, as a rule, selling de-boned meat. I think my father believed the bone possessed some unseen nutrient that must be sucked dry because he would gnaw on bones like an alley dog to get the very marrow within. Beef, pork, and chicken on the bone. Finely hidden fish bones on Friday. In the summer my father assigned me to collect mint from the alley. Yes! the concrete paved alley produced a natural mint. Not even concrete could dissuade mother nature from finding a way. The mint grew up between the alley floor near where metal posts once held a long gone and never to be replaced chain link fence. It grew every summer without aid of a green thumb to coax it. Tea is the drink in my fatherâ€&#x;s house, and it was drunk in the winter hot as could be stood. The


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tea so hot my father needed to pour it into his saucer to help it cool and then slurp it off the saucer. In the summer, however, it was drunk in a cold state. And no batch of my fatherâ€&#x;s iced tea is complete without the mint. As if to make me earn a taste of his secret blend, I am sent up the alley to fetch the mint off the fenceless post and between the cracks of the alley cement. Unfortunately, the mint grew quite close to the manor where the West Oak Lane alley country club set frolicked and held swimming pool privileges. I march up the alley to retrieve my fatherâ€&#x;s mint. To my horror I see the pool in full swing. I pretended not to notice them, and quickly make a beeline to a flourishing stalk of mint growing wild up the fence pole. In an attempt to accelerate the harvest I pull the entire stalk out by the root. My hand slipping on the vine from sweat. I feel stares from the swimmers at my back. I pull out some more herb add it to my small bushel, and turn to walk home. Then they began.


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“Shanty Irish, too poor to buy the mint at the store. Got to pick the dog piss mint.” They tease. I pick up my pace and make off to our house in record time. The taunts fade, but their words stay with me. I feel myself turning warm. I arrive home to my father anxious to have the mint for his freshly brewed ice tea. “Dad?” I said, laying the fresh bouquet of mint on the table. He quickly took it, keeping it away from his body to the sink. “Why don‟t we buy mint at the store?” “That‟s perfectly good mint for nuttin, Joseph!” “But the kids say the dogs pee on it.” “Not at all, just need‟s a good douse of water is all.” My father washes the mint a little extra this day. A few flicks of his wrist, he displays the freshly washed bouquet in his thick hands. “See, look at that color now. It‟s as fresh and green as ...as... lamb skitter green the color of Jack Meehan‟s cap.”


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My father tends to the mint stripping off leaves and then some for later brews. I am puzzled. What shade of green is Lamb skitter green the color of Jack Meehan‟s cap. I don‟t know and I am not so interested to inquire. But the way my father says lamb skitter is must be good. Lamb skitter! I never find out what exact shade is lamb skitter green. No doubt it was some shade known but to him. Perhaps the color of a lamb‟s wool after it slides down a wet Mulnamin Hill staining its backside green. Then in an attempt to clear the grass from the valuable sheep‟s wool a friend‟s cap; Jack Meehan is used to wipe the backside of the wee lamb staining the good Meehan‟s cap. As I consider this hue of green the once dirty mud-spattered mint (and God knows what else) invades my nostril with that one of a kind distinct sweet minty smell. The stinging words of my peers fade as well.


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We are the black sheep of the block. For the most part we stick together. We travel in our Sept, like the ancient ones in Eire. Our guidance came from the nuns and priests who preached the righteousness of good deeds. Love thy enemies. Apparently not all the neighbors‟ kids follow that practice. My father would repeat his philosophy on the solution. “The tree of yas (my two other brothers) should go down that alley and kick the living sh...” My mother cuts him off at the dinner table. He continues on with his thoughts on the subject. “...I‟d bet it be a month of Sundays before they mess with you again.”


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Chapter 9

I remember one shining moment in the alley that, albeit short-lived, raised the respectability of our clan. My sister Teresa had hopped on a neighborâ€&#x;s bike for a spin around the alley. We have no such luxuries as bikes. A bike is status symbol. A bike is unbound freedom in the alley. I am so envious of the few kids that own their own bicycles. They have such unbridled freedom on a bicycle, even if they were only allowed around the block. You could escape to the other end of the alley or wheel around the block for precious solemn minutes. You could watch stationary kids watching you glide by them at warp speed as colorful streamers attached to the ends of the handle bars dance in the wind. Or perhaps you could ride out of


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the alley to Stenton Avenue and do wheelies when the bikers came to the traffic light. Every year I would ask Santa Claus for a bike but, after a few years I gave up. It was obvious that the stark Pollyanna gifts we exchanged with our neighbors were proof enough no bikes were in my immediate future. Not even if I collected soda bottles for ten years could I afford a bicycle. . With money I earned cutting a neighbors lawn the first thing I bought when we arrived at the new house was a bicycle with banana seat and chopper handle bars. I paid a neighbors kid five dollars for it.

My sister, not accustomed to this bicycle or any other, took a spill and the bike landed on top of her. In the fall, her ankle had become lodged between the frame and the arm pedal. It is a horrible sight. Two lengths of heavy gauge metal clamp her ankle in an


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immobile position pressing on either side. I try to free her but; every attempt only brings pain and cries from my sister. It is metal on bare skin and bone. Luckily my father was home working in the garage and he heard the commotion and my sisters now wailing scared cries up the alley. I see my father running up the alley. He is dressed in his plaid shirt and green Dickies. He is running fast and desperate. He arrives at my sisterâ€&#x;s side, both knees on the rough concrete. The kids playing gather around. The boys and girls on their bikes come to sliding halts to catch a glimpse of the drama. My father makes a quick assessment of the situation, not unlike an emergency room surgeon. Soft words come from the man who has recently proposed a clan beating for neighbors kids. His worn hands caress his little girl and he tells us to stay with her. He runs back down the alley and disappears into the garage. The crowd grows larger and parents watch from the safety of their alley porches yelling to their kids to stay back.


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One of the neighbors states she will call the Fire Department. My father has no intention of waiting for help. My sister cries out as the shock subsides and pain arrives. The unforgiving metal against bone and flesh has no other recourse without an action. My father sprints back to my sister with hacksaw in hand. The alley has become a natural arena; the houses on either side provide the gallery. Children gather even closer at the unfolding drama. My father arrives, he wastes little time. He makes one more glance and assessment. He finds the mark on the thick American made metal and his arm begins slowly until a groove forms. Once he has a guide he pumps his arm furiously like a piston in a machine. With the epinephrine dump now surging through his veins, he unintentionally jerks the bike and sends my sister into more agony. He maneuvers his legs and pins the bike to the alley floor with both knees. The bike is now victim. The crowd leans in for a closer look. Once the bike is steady, he finds the mark again and the piston action of his arm begins


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anew. This time the bike is frozen while my father pumps his arm. Metal shavings appear along with sweat on top of his smooth brown head. An aroma of potatoes and cabbage seep from his pores. Now a tongue slips from his mouth as more shavings appear. The action is fast and furious as the blade sinks further and further into the metal. The metal shavings show progress but the American cast metal is proving to be a challenge. He is most proficient with a saber saw on lumber. The hack saw blade he uses is old because he rarely has use for it. He is a carpenter. The saws he uses come in various models for fashioning wood and drywall not steel and metals. Finally, after a minute of work, the pedal begins to bow away. There is enough room to relieve my sisterâ€&#x;s ankle. My father loses the rarely used hack saw blade and begins to bend the metal up and down like pumping water from a well and it snaps off. My father throws the bike with hatred, as if it


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had a soul and heart and had deliberately attacked his daughter. Damn thing. He is comforting my sister as he arm lifts her off the alley floor. He stops and bends with daughter in his arms and pinches his saw. It is by instinct he picks up his saw. Never, by no means ever, leave a tool behind your ass. He curls his daughter in his arms and soothes her with words. The hacksaw dangles from his hand as he walks back down the alley to the house. I touch my sister and she hides her face, embarrassed by the episode. I watch my father carry my sister down the alley, lavishing her with kind soft words. After the excitement, a fire truck appears in the alley, but they are too late. The saving has been done. My father yells back to us to “stay off those damn bikes.” “Wow,” one kid said. “Your father is strong.” Offers for bike rides, pats on the back and general invitations to play came as a direct


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result of the fierce and able exhibition from my father. I thought it may even get us a pool invite. No. Not that year. I take a quick spin on a neighborâ€&#x;s bike but stay up alley away from my fatherâ€&#x;s sight. All glory is fleeting, and this is certainly true in the alley. The respect of the alley remained a daily battle. But I always remember that proud moment.


Joseph T. O’Donnell

Chapter 10

Had my fatherâ€&#x;s lot been found in the city I imagine it would have been full of the refuse normally associated with tighter budgets, smaller tax base, and cramped living quarters. I see in my neighborhood some small areas have become collection sights for old tires, rusty metal shopping carts, old washing machines, front ends of cars, and metal trash cans whose bottoms have long ago rusted and fallen out. My father tends to his suburban lot. The lot holds only a stray toy or the little trash that got away from the trash collector the previous week. No big-ticket items like in the city. Those stray items are quickly policed by my father. He collects stray toys and bikes and places them in a pile on the front corner of


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the lot, closest to the street so when child or parent discover lost items they can come to my father‟s lost and found. I wonder if my father ever considered pilfering a small toy left on his lot for weeks without a voice to claim it? Perhaps an obvious abandoned play thing that one of his own children could put to some good use? Not a chance. My father however is known to pull over in his car next to a field of August corn and detach a half dozen or more cobs for the dinner. But never a child‟s toy. The corn he reasoned was God‟s seed any way and was meant for all- no matter who sowed it. Besides after several months the lost and found is no longer needed\, parents inform their children that they should steer clear of the lot now because it‟s owned by a man. The green grass that grows wild without the aid of fertilizer is in need of trimming on occasion. It requires his attention while he waits and saves more money. It is a daunting task compared to the grass back on Stenton Avenue. We have a lawn in the city. It is city


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sod roughly an eight-by-eight foot square patch surrounded by a concrete apron and wall and two sets of steps that run up to the front porch. My father cuts the city sod with hand shears. He would be on his knees squatting and moving as he makes his way clipping the city lawn. What a ridiculous event my father must have thought-cutting ones grass. At home in Ireland you cleared entire fields with scythe and hoe and what was missed was quickly finished by cows and sheep. But that was a lifetime ago and he now bends and squats snipping blades of grass altering the shears from hand to hand to stay ahead of cramps. And now he has a plot of land half the size of a football field, heâ€&#x;d need to use his feet, gob, hands and his toes to stay ahead of the cramps. The grass on Grove avenue grows wildly unchallenged. He has a solution to the unkempt thicket. He wants to keep his lot respectable. The thought of the hand shears is economical but not practical. He thinks about it though.


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Sure. It could be done in three days, section at a time. A lawnmower would be needed eventually. But he has let the grass to an awful go of choke. A lawnmower wouldn‟t handle the wheat choke that has now risen. Besides, there‟s no money for a lawn mower. No, he will find another way to cut his lawn. So it is that he decides on a course of action familiar to him. To maintain his lawn during the dream season before the house is built and to keep up appearances with the future neighbors, my father turns to a trusted old-world tool. It is the scythe. The scythe is now in the hands of my father, a reaper of some notable good. It‟s a tool that has been used on all five continents in the last thousand years. Though I don‟t believe any one on Grove Avenue have had a need for it the last few decades. His scythe bows in the middle to ergonomically match the motion of its intended use. Two handles are bolted to the


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main wood base for grip and when it lies flat on the ground one might compare it to a lounging woman laying on her side. The blade is over half the length of the core frame. The blade is razor sharp from fine passes of a file. And according to my father, like many of his tools could, Cut the hand off ya! The scythe develops a wide back and shoulders, and when held at the correct angle, cuts a generous swath. It is one of many peasant tools that hone the rhythm and makes for good stamina. And perhaps this tool among others should take its bow for nurturing the development of generations in the arts, music, dance and sport. In the age of jet engines and when television is showing us bombs raining down on Indochina and advancement in electronics, TV are everywhere and a promise to keep to an assassinated president to walk on the moon approaches my father takes grip of his scythe. My father finds his rhythm. Back and forth with the scythe, cutting great sections of


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grass. Slashing the tool into the grass, my father cuts a swath through the roughage. A soon-to-be neighbor strolls with his gaspowered mower, stopping to untangle grass buildup. My father swings away. Later heâ€&#x;ll rake the fallen choke in sections as the scythe is not equipped with a mulching bag like the neighborâ€&#x;s mower. There is a brown leather shoulder belt to help keep your swing on plane. Like a golf swing training tool. The tool designed to capture and unleash the rhythm and power of your hips, shoulders legs and back. The design and symmetry of the scythe fits the hands and body naturally. My father is a machine and looks like he may have had a good golf swing. Was my father recalling his Sunday morning golf before the family began? Stand up straight, bend the knees, good grip, good smooth scythe takeaway, boots firmly planted, heels down, hip turn and head still. Make solid contact, drive through the grass, and take a divot.


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About a thirty inch divot should do. Miss hits or vibrations are not a concern, as any tool my father held would need to be pried from the grip. What were the neighbors thinking behind their curtains? First this man has bought the lot and sealed the end of the kids‟ playground. He drives a big box 1950's era Ford and says very little to anyone. Every month he comes up here and swings that ancient and awful looking tool……The neighbors must of thought him a determined man. He carries the scythe from the row house lashed atop the bubble fender Ford, as it will not fit in the cavernous trunk of his car. He wades into the thicket, and with eyes ablaze, begins his takeaway and follows through. Take away and follow. Take away and follow. The neighbors cringe at how proficient he is with it. Keep the children in today. My father waves the late afternoon away, oblivious to the stares. The house gets bigger.


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In his mind, he is building it. Whoosh. Whoosh - the grass falls and in its place a house will rise.


Joseph T. O’Donnell

Chapter 11

The garages under the cookie cutter row houses of the alley are all the same. They are large enough for one car, and usually stored everything but, the car. I remember one summer day a terrible accident happened. A boy, not much older than I was observing his uncle working on his car inside the garage. His


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uncle had just returned from Viet Nam. The uncle had left the car sit in the Garage during his Army tour and was anxious to have wheels under him. The Uncle walked away for something and the car some how exploded, igniting the interior of the garage. The boy would never see his September classmates. He was struck in the face with a large piece of metal that had been sitting on top the engine. My mother had heard the explosion and ran out to see the neighbors huddled at a safe distance from the garage now fully involved in flames-the boy consumed. The Fire Department arrived and brought the dead boy out. My mother told me what she saw. His clothes were burned off him and he had a gash across his face. His face was a mass of undistinguishable black and red. The smell of the burned flesh evident, onlookers covered their noses with handkerchiefs and pieces of fresh washed clothing were hurriedly taken off the clothes line to save them from the inevitable ash and debris cloud of freshly hung laundry.


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It was a horrific death for anyone but, more so for a child. It happened a few houses away, across the alley. It could have been one of us sticking our nose in the door of the neighborâ€&#x;s garage that sunny summer day but, for the grace of God. Tragic as the death was, it was not the worst part of the story, as my mother explained to me years later. A few days after the boy was buried, my mother was out in the alley hanging laundry. On any sunny calm morning you could look down the alley and see multi tiered and armed laundry poles standing erect, held in place by pre drilled holes in the alley concrete. It was a forest of clothing trees. The mother of the boy was out in the alley hanging her laundry. After hanging the laundry, my mother thought it appropriate to approach her and offer condolences. The smells of the charred manmade materials were still present. The garage boarded up as a reminder to all who passed of


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the tragedy. My mother approached the neighbor and offered her condolences. And to my mothers shock, the woman snapped around with wet laundry in hand and a cold wet heart and said to her. “Why did it have to be my son? My son! Why couldn‟t it been one of yours?” she said without remorse or hesitation. My mother, stunned, her eyes moistening, her lips trembling from the words, turned and walked away. I‟d like to think the woman blurted out such a statement out of shock or grief but, from what I remember of this woman it was likely a genuine feeling. I suppose the women would expect that the lowly Irish would be more understanding of an off spring‟s death. That we are familiar to such tragedies of mortality and would simply breed another. Every day I passed that garage I thought of the boy trapped inside. The place gave me the willies. The day after the tragedy, my father trashed every old can of paint


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thinner and flammable liquid in the garage. Old paint brushes were thrown out, reluctantly. Tools were rearranged and stored high on shelves in the garage. It was another log on my fatherâ€&#x;s fire. It was another reason to get out of this place. The alley walls were closing in and now it seemed they were on fire.


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Chapter 12

Do you know why the Irish are such dreamers? Itâ€&#x;s because there are only sleepy dreams in Ireland with no chance for them to become reality. Reality would lie west for my father in America. My motherâ€&#x;s fate was sealed when the Donegal man took one look at her on her American holiday, chatting with


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friends at the Commodore Barry Irish Club in the Germantown section of Philadelphia. Like millions of others, my father made the move to The Great Country. He didnâ€&#x;t think of the things he would miss: the smell of the peat burning, a walk on the lane, the food, fresh off the hoof and pulled from the ground. The butter and milk fresh from the teet. My father was not a man of great education. He made it through Donegal national school, which I believe is the equivalent of ninth grade in the United States. He made up for this with passion. He had passion for his family and work, with a dream grabbing at him until it could be realized. His circle of friends consisted of Irish Americans, either directly from the island or married to someone who was. He liked the dances at the Irish Center in Germantown. Most of the Germans that settled the area, long gone. At the Irish Center there was networking and friendships. They are like minded people who work in the trades for a living and help each


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other sort out the country. Or at least try. The people he met here would come and lend a hand to build his house, when the time came.


Joseph T. O’Donnell

Chapter 13

My father unknowingly trained for this impending episode of h hunger, dampness and cold. Labor was life and all would be well after a day on the hill when he would return home for a slice of soda bread lathered in sweet butter and blackberry jam. Perhaps a peat smoked spud with a dollop of butter would energize him to go on. The food warmed and infused by the sooty peat stove and all washed down with a cup of hot tea. He held true that the spuds and tea would see him through once again.


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He had only to worry about himself back then. Now it is different. He has wanes to feed and clothe. His children and other children are referred to as wanes. The word also means to fade and the rough edge of sawed wood board or tree. Hmm! We are American wanes and despite his effort to keep us Irish both in food and fashion it‟s an uphill battle. We are becoming indoctrinated Americans. Cap‟n Crunch has recently been promoted to his new rank and he‟s all over the television. We are thrown into the giant cauldron of American consumerism. A concept and force my father has not anticipated. My father believes everything for sale in America is crap. Except Ford and Chevrolet, Stanley hammers and Sears Craftsman tools. He underestimates the power of carpet bombing tactics of American marketers and the stress they can cause when wanes don‟t have their perceived needs. He hasn‟t the budget for bikes, marbles, toys and sweets.


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He is not aware of the social concept of one becoming a product of ones environment. He certainly hasn‟t been Americanized after twenty years along in the country. We are in want of American food and clothes and toys that have extra sums attached to them. We play American football on a diamond shape field with American kids and we butt heads because we don‟t seem to fit in. The bombardment of the television ads cleverly slotted on Saturday mornings between the cartoon marathons has us properly in trance. But, there are little enough sums of money to purchase clothes and nutritious food. Basic staples he will buy but, little else.

He is committed to the madness of building his shelter and he will have no wages when that begins. But it doesn‟t seem to matter to my father. We‟ll get by. You can always get by, no matter the degree of go. Even an awful go. God, drive and discipline will see it through.


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For this is what he must do. The wont inside him is now growing into an obsession. The man is King. His house, his Kingdom. .


Joseph T. O’Donnell

Chapter 14

I remember my first trip to the lot. It was a great spring morning. I sat with my brothers and sisters that Saturday morning on our living room floor with our noses pointed at the television watching cartoons. On Saturday mornings you can find cartoons on all three stations. Can you imagine the cartoon marathon on all three television stations? My mother works around us cleaning and dusting. The front door is open and the fresh spring air flows in and envelopes us. The spring air blows through the house and all the way up Bethlehem Pike to the suburbs. My mother interrupts our cartons and says. “Shut that off now. Your father will be home soon, and then we‟re going up to the lot” My mother says this while in motion cleaning and dusting.


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“The lot? What‟s that?” “You‟ll see. Now turn that off and get some clothes on.” My father is at work on Saturday morning, in the tradition of his birthplace; he would work a half-day on Saturday to earn a few dollars before the Sabbath. Perhaps by design of the Catholic Church I wonder, keeping hands occupied and the devil and drink away. My father would not dare speculate or question it. His religious indoctrination is complete. And it has seen him through this life, albeit a hard life thus far. And he will carry it with him through the task ahead. My father is home, drops his lunch pail and thermos on the shiny speckled Formica kitchen table and he screams at us to get ready. We bound the steps like gazelles thru high grass, and dress fast. “We don‟t have all day,” he says. We have only half a day. I sense my father‟s good spirits and we are anxious about this


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mysterious lot. I am excited because we‟re going for a drive in the country. My father is behind the wheel of the bubble fender Ford parked in the alley. Horn blasts echo down the alley and up the grey painted floor back porch and through the kitchen window. I hear his mildly muffled screams and imagine his unseen head poking out the window of the car so he can get maximum volume to his intended listeners. We pile into the bubble fender Ford and we‟re off. There are four of us in the back seat, the youngest my brother Patrick, up front with my mother and father. There are no seat belts or child safety seats. In the back seat we begin to settle territorial rights. My mother gives us a look that speaks volumes. “Don‟t start.” The windows are down and spring air blows my hair, but it is too short and barely moves. My sister‟s long red hair dance wildly in the air. The stale air of the alley and the city is behind us. As we progress north away from the city,


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the air seems cleaner and softer. My father has an arm in the empty window, exposing his tan line that ran from the middle of his biceps to the tip of his finger. My father seems to be the only one who tans as he works under the sun year round. I see his eyes framed in the rear view mirror as he cruises out of the city. He is oblivious to me staring. His eyes dart and focus then dart again. His eyes look more relaxed as we progress out of the city. My father‟s head is on a swivel as we proceed up Stenton Avenue then onto Bethlehem Pike, past the city limit, and down into suburbia. He was checking every dwelling and business and commenting on its strengths and weaknesses. “There‟s a wee stone house for sale.” “Flowers for sale, roses $.99,” my father sang. The elbow in the window straightens, his finger points sometimes or a hand rides the wind. I look at the back of his neck from the


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back seat. Intersecting and curved lines snake on the back of my father‟s neck. Like rings that would mark a tree‟s history. I sense at this early age, the dissecting road map on the back of his neck is a direct result of the roads he has traveled. My father‟s good spirits continues as he slows through town, Flourtown, Pennsylvania. Perhaps on any other trip in the bubble fender Ford he would be screaming and hollering. But not this day. My mother takes in the sights of her future hometown. We pass an A&P grocery store and my mother is informed by my father that an Acme grocery store is located at the top of the street. That‟s important as she does not drive and the market is close. That will be easier when she deploys the wanes in columns two abreast and trail our formation toting the collapsible metal shopping cart with the stone hard rubber wheels. Here in the suburbs they drive to the store in their second car. Well, she would manage.


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My father turns left onto Grove Avenue. The street is directly across from the Flourtown Fire House. I crane to get a last glimpse at the candy apple red fire trucks swarming with volunteer Firefighters scurrying over their trucks. Anticipation grows in the backseat, the young Sept absorbing every sight. I turn to see what is ahead. My father points out the lucky twin homes he was working on when he discovered his piece of land. I think my father had a great fondness for those two sets of twin homes. Sort of a reminder that it was these homes that somehow were responsible for landing him here. We have turned into a forest- we are driving below a canopy of trees. More trees collected than I have seen in all my six or seven years. The trees give the street beautiful shade and intermittent streams of sunlight dart into the cavernous bubble fender Ford. My father leans the car to the curb and stops. I look out the window and see the lot.


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The red and white stripe sign protrudes from the middle of land, it reads, SOLD. Comly and Paul. My father debates whether to pull the sign and decides that the sold sign will serve as a deterrent rather than a hindrance to the neighbors‟ kids who for years now have claimed it as the unofficial Grove Avenue playground. Now they will be wary of trespassing. SOLD. I see the maples guarding the giant meadow, but soon lose interest as a mighty weeping willow tree catches my eye with its long flowing branches hiding something beneath. The lot is a great football field, rectangular like a real football field, not like the doggie diamond in the city. We are out of the car and warily stand at the edge of the lot. The branches of the Willow tree sway like a woman‟s long blond hair in the spring breeze.


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“Can we go in Dad?” I asked cautiously, as if it were sacred ground. WHICH, TO MY FATHER, IT WAS. “Go! Go on. It belongs to me now.” We attack like the Marines at Inchon, like horses from a starting gate. We attack it like the ocean before my mother could get the Coppertone on us. I make a bee line for the willow tree and climb into and up high as I can. Then I pretend I am Tarzan and swing from the vines. My brothers and sisters do the same. I come out of the tree and my brother replaces me trying desperately to go further and higher into the weeping willow. For children, like adults it‟s the first one to discover that get the accolades. I find the back of the lot and peer over the neighbor‟s fence. I stretch my neck left and right, high and low but, I can‟t see what I am looking for. There is no alley and the house behind the lot seems miles away. No alley. Where do the kids play? The house behind us is painted yellow and seems like a farm to me. The yellow


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house and lush green grass make for a colorful combination. There is also a garden of roses and vegetables in the early stages of flourish. The houses back in the alley are a perpetual dull gray and black sided shingle not unlike the dead screen on our television set once the cartoons are turned off. I climb one of the two maple trees that guard the lot to see how high I can go. My mother warns me with extended finger (for emphasis) not to go “another inch” up the tree when she spots the electric power lines bisecting the maple tree. I raise my arms in victory, each of us take turn claiming glory. My father is busy about policing the lot while my mother grows a little grey watching our unabashed climbing and running. In Ireland, in another century perhaps, we may have fought, lived and died on such a piece of land. My father walks the perimeter collecting trash and branches. This will become a familiar sight in the years after the house is built. After a long day at work, my father would come home and have his meal,


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accompanied by two cans of Schafer beer and perhaps a shot of Old Grand Dad whiskey to clear the throat and relax the sore and worn muscles. Then he‟d be out tweaking something with the house, pruning a bush, deweeding a garden, or ridding the property of loose foreign matter. He was in constant motion. Freedom in Motion. After we tire of the lot, we all settle under the great willow tree, its branches swaddling us. It gives me the sense of being in a cave or a fort. A rare place not available in the alley. I have heard from kids in the alley that great tree forts have been constructed in far away lands (the woods next to the junk yard) complete with rope ladders and windows to spy advancing enemies below. My mother and father come to the tree and push away the swaying branches to see us up, on, under and in the tree. “Can we keep the tree for making a fort, Dad?” I inquire. “That‟ll be coming down, Joseph. That‟s about where the kitchen will be.”


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“But can‟t you build around it so we can keep it for playing?” My siblings joined in my argument. A private smile is shared between my parents.

Over the next two years we make a few more visits to the lot. We play in the trees and meet some of our future neighbors. It is a great day when we visit the lot. We climb trees and play as we like. My father scythes the grass, hammering wood stakes, and running string lines. He checks dark and light shaded blue papers that come tightly rolled in their own container. The container is handled as if some ancient mysterious scroll of history lay rolled up inside. So important the hard cardboard cylinder with protective cap is never tossed into the trunk for transport. The cylinder sits up next to my father in the front seat of the car or perhaps entrusted by one of the older wanes until we arrive home. I see my father a little more anxious now as the months


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pass. I can see this, even at eight years of age. He snaps if interrupted at a task. So we stay away when he is occupied with the funny blue drawings and tasking about at his lot. The warning is reinforced by my mother. Most of the plan is drawn out on paper. Much of the logistics, supplies and intangibles are between his ears. And that takes great distance of thought and focus. There is another problem my father must deal with. You see, not just anyone can decide to build a house. Permits and licenses must be obtained from Springfield Township Hall to insure the builder is qualified and apt to such a task. My father knows that his word to the township is insufficient. His word to build a fine strong house that will meet and exceed any code on the townships books will not be enough. He is able and qualified to build his house however, he is not administratively certified. He finds a way around this administrative detail. He has a contractor friend named Thomas Sweeney to act as the general contractor. Mister Sweeney is one of those in my fatherâ€&#x;s Irish pipeline


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and agrees to be the titled and certified contractor of record. Thomas Sweeney is well aware of my father‟s ability and character to build a fine house. He should know as he has employed my father in his own business on several occasions. But, it is in my father‟s heart, head and hands that this house shall rise. Thomas Sweeney is a younger man with knowledge of the American system of building and securing permits and receiving and distributing government permits in furtherance of such an enormous deed. Mister Sweeney has built himself a nice house around the corner not two blocks away. My father cannot imagine why anyone would build a house if he hadn‟t the skills and ability to do so. My father could never imagine such a man. Nevertheless the township must protect its citizenry and town. The township is satisfied and the permits are issued in the name of Thomas Sweeney, certified contractor.


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Chapter 15

In the spring of nineteen sixty-seven my father loads us into the bubble fender Ford and races out of the alley. We are going back to the lot. This time the frolic and excitement is subdued. In part from familiarity, and part for the changes that are taking place on my fatherâ€&#x;s empty lot. I notice the changes immediately. The lot seems bigger and something is missing. A stump rises from the


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ground what once was the willow tree. The tree is now a midget mesa eighteen inches high. The thin branches that once dressed the willow are bundled in twine for disposal and the bigger pieces will burn this winter in my father‟s stone fireplace. We weren‟t long at play in the maple trees before I hear a large slow moving truck thundering up the small incline of Grove Avenue. A large flatbed truck arrives with a bull dozer on its back. It is an exact replica of the toy dozer one of the kids has back in the alley. I wish I could show those kids my Dad‟s big dozer. There is some discussion between the driver and my father, and then the man climbs on top of the chained down dozer and checks a few gauges. My father‟s voice is muffled as he is yelling something at us in the lot. I thought nothing could muffle my father‟s screaming, but the dozer‟s engine seems to be winning. His arms wave at me in spastic cuts of the air that left no doubt that I was to evacuate the lot immediately. My father tends to string from


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the measured stakes that outline the foundation. We find sanctuary at the top of the lot in the street. I wait and watch for the show to begin. The long and large diameter exhaust pipe on the dozer pushes out batches of thick black smoke. The rolling beast slowly starts to move and gingerly shimmies down a reinforced ramp from the truck that brought it here. The awkward machine tracks hit the black top of Grove Avenue and leaves great dirt tracks on the street from some other piece of land it serviced. It maneuvers at jerking angles and raises up its large shovel. It comes over the lot and makes its way towards the great willow stump. The machine makes great jerking motions, and with each lunge batches of black smoke intermittently disperse into the air as if a beastâ€&#x;s laboring breath on a cold day. It slips its shovel under the roots, lifting, and pulling. I sneak a little closer to get the full effect. The


Joseph T. O’Donnell

back blade of the shovel has trapped the stump, and the roots are broken and finally pulled from the ground. Massive pops not heard as the dozer is too loud but, they are felt and seen. Then, with one last tug, the dozer reverses and tears the stump from the ground. The bulldozer man deposits the stump at the curb and we converge on the wondrous underbelly of the tree. We converge on the newly formed hole as my father confers with the dozer man. Our sadness for the dearly departed long hair willow soon fades, as the unearthing of the stump had littered us with great colonies of bugs and worms. There are some screams from my sister as we pick up the bugs so she can get a better look at them. There are copious bugs and earthen worms. Some have armor shells and some wiggle. Iâ€&#x;ve never seen so many bugs at one time. On Stenton Avenue the only such wildlife could only be seen after heavy rain water logged concrete sidewalks and flushed out the worms.


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My father, once finished with the man, was at us, screaming. “Get- away from that dirt, now will you?� The fresh bugs are dropped at the first syllable. We retreat to the great twin maples for refuge. From there we watch the second stanza of the bulldozer man.

My father reattaches string to the stakes save one open end. There is more discussion between my father and the dozer man, and then it begins again. The blade of the dozer dips into the dirt. The dozer jerks back and forth as it grabs the earth and shaves away the green grass exposing clean brown dirt. An hour passes and the hole takes form. The dozer with each passing falls lower and lower into the eroding dirt and forms a hole. The hole of our future basement.


Joseph T. O’Donnell

My father sways like a lone bee as the dozer man continues. He‟s fiddling with his stakes and policing debris while inspecting the work of the man who has deflowered his ground. It was the foundation of it all, a place of future memories being born. I couldn‟t possibly have understood the significance of the moment. My brothers and I only imminent concern is who has the best vantage point in the maple tree. In a few hours, the dozer disappears into the new hole. I have a thought that my father‟s new hole would make a fine swimming pool. It would be five times bigger that the one my neighbors had in the alley. And I would invite all to join me for a swim. And it appears after review of the hole that some water has already been added. But from what source I do not know. There is no running spigot yet. My father has been introduced to this fact and stares down at the muddied hole as if he is witnessing a plague in action. The digging dozer has punctured the natural water table below the surface. My father calculated or thought the water table to


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be much deeper. And it seems he has no way to stop it from filling with water. He has his foundation dug, the first step in the physical construction of his house. The dozer man has finished. My father confronts the bulldozer man with some cash and in a playful run the man steers the beast towards my father when he sees my father‟s intention. My father wants to pay the man but, the bulldozer man will not take the money –my father insists with another thrust of his hand. The man ignores him and says. “Build your house now Joe. And good luck!” The Irish network is open for business. My father is angry with the man because he doesn‟t want anything for free. But the man has control of a bulldozer under him so my father relents. Some day my father will pay the man with his skill. But for now, the bulldozer man has left behind his contribution and house warming gift. My father cleans up the peripheral mess that comes with such machines and we head back down into the city. My father is in a glum


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state. Relieved at the no cost dig but concerned about the water filling up his foundation hole. I know this because on the trip back down into the city my father is quiet as a mouse.


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Chapter 16 We continue our lives back in city. Sunday group mass, school, the doggie diamond and the alley. We wait for the next visit to see things added and things gone. The foundation is dug, my father can go to work. Thatâ€&#x;s what he thought. But the foundation is flooded. He rents a pump and starts pumping muddy water out of the foundation hole and into the street. The process has reddish brown clay and water flowing down the street. Later it will dry and leave its tail down Grove Avenue. Neighbors appear at their curbs shaking heads at the muck coming from that manâ€&#x;s lot. Hoses in hand neighbors wash away the mud from their curb. My father hopes the pump will rid him of his water problem. It does not. And in coming years water will become a minor nuisance in the basement. My father begins to realize why no one has picked this fine lot for development. My father undaunted reasons he can deter the water with a window well.


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Because his lot lies on an angle one of the basement windows on the high side will be subterranean. He has six short months before winter. It is fair enough time for perhaps half dozen skilled and ambitious men to build a house. But he is one. And not water, air, fire, pain or annoyed neighbors will deter him. This is his lot in, on and of life. He has a window of opportunity and before he has chance to start the window has already started to close.


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My father is all focus the next visiting day. Mortared gray cinder block rise up from the great wet hole. The block shores up the mud walls, and the form of the basement is apparent. The floor of the hole is familiar brown red dirt and puddles are plenty. My father curses the slop and wishes he had brought a pair of Wellies back from Ireland so he could traipse inside the wet hole knowing the proven Wellington boot would keep his feet dry. My father checks plumbs and lines and slogs on in regular work boots.. My father has arranged some modest scaffolding to assist his footing. He has spent half the morning humping the brick to a workable position to make the work go easier. He butters the brick at each end and on the block already in place. He butters brick much thicker than the morning scone. He gingerly sets one brick upon the next then taps it into place with the butt of the trowel, scrapes the excess, and moves on to the next brick. Each brick adjusted to toe the level string line.


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I am called upon to loosen the sting line. He hasn‟t even a soul about to untie the line except us wanes who happen to be here on the weekend. “ATTABOY, Joseph! Now, let me have it.” The little help we could give makes me feel good. Had this been any other building site, there would have been men crawling over the structure, employing their trades. My father toils alone. He is a craftsman wearing many hats; figuratively speaking as he hasn‟t the need or funds for a hard hat. Days later, wood joists are secured to the firm cinder block wall. Three two by twelve planks are nailed together to make a wood beam that must be laid through the center for support. The beam is several hundred pounds. My father is forced to seek the help of those Irish immigrant friends who have helped him in the past. And ones he has also helped. The Irish immigration network is activated. And all the payment required is that you were asked, because you were trusted and


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skilled. And a handshake and a thank you usually framed. Tanks a million! And the men would be gone. And in the years to come they will be rewarded with each ones company and stiff high balls when the house is done. The beam is on a pulley system and worked into place by my father and trusted associates. My father goes back to work alone. Over the stretched uncovered beams my father dances. The sub floor is not down, so he is forced to maneuver on one and three quarter inch wood joists. He must make sure all the joists have a tight fit and are secured and level before the sub floor can be fastened. He walks with a single purpose, securing and leveling, oblivious to the risk of falling into the wet pit below. This is not difficult to a man who spent his youth on the steep climbs of Mulnamin Hill, where you learned how to climb like a mountain goat chasing livestock and chasing your dreams. The hammer swings freely and


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from all directions to secure the support beams. With the joists in place, and likely for decades to come, my father turns his attention to thick sheets of plywood for the sub-floor. One by one, he lifts them up to the waiting joists, creating a path of plywood sheets that stretch across the width of the house. With each lift comes an expulsion of air. “Aihhh.” The Celtic kiap, as if summoning ancient ancestors for strength and resolve. “Aihhh.” Then, with sheets in place, he hauls up the tools: skill saw and level. His carpenter‟s belt, complete with chalk line, thick carpenter‟s pencil, pouch full of nails, a heavy cardboard box of more nails and the good Stanley hammer dangling from his heavy canvas tool belt. As the adjustable ladder is too long for the short stretch from the ground, he has fashioned a temporary hand-made ladder from


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some pieces of wood. The ladder will also be used in other jobs as the house rises. His toolbox is also made from heavy plywood, with a piece of round, dovetailed nicely into either end for the handle. My father builds things he needs. He won‟t buy them. He needs to feed his children, send them to school and pay the bills. And buy more lumber and material. The tool box holds the remainder of his prized tools. The ones not needed regularly or two big to fit in his tool belt: hammer with hatchet attachment, six foot level, plumb bob, carpenter‟s square and various hand saws. The plywood is loosely fitted atop the floor joists. Measurements and cuts are made. My father uses the chalk line to make his mark. He‟s consented to let me up the home made ladder and hold the chalk line at one end so he can snap it. He stretches it taut. “Hold it like you mean it.” He says. So I hold the end of the line as hard as I can, my


Joseph T. O’Donnell

finger nails turn white but, I stay on line and between his V shaped pencil mark. I learn quickly to hold tight because when my father pulls a chalk line youâ€&#x;d think he was trying to pull you right out of your ever tightening buster brown shoes. My father pinches and pulls the line up and lets it go. The line explodes sending a straight line cloud of chalk dust into the air that dissipates as fat as my father snaps the line. When the dust settles a magical bright blue line appears. This is really cool for an eight year old. He has his straight line and makes his cuts. Then we are forced out of the workingmanâ€&#x;s way.

Once the cuts are made construction adhesive is applied, the floor is put into place for fastening. The nails come out and the hammer swings. Nails dangle from his mouth and between fingers. My father starts, not by striking the head of the nail, but by striking left or right of the nail onto the plywood. The strike serves to get the proper feel and rhythm.


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Two taps left or right of the nail head for momentum and measure. Then, when the rhythm is right, the hammer finds its mark. The nails disappear into the wood, driven until Kingdom Come. The nails are pinched with thumb and index finger. They fall loose to the floor in his wreck less abandon to tack down his floor. He moves on his knees (no knee pads) from one to the other tacking the fitted sheets. The hammer is heard again hitting the plywood for measure, followed by the dull thud of contact of hammer to nail head. With the sub floor down thereâ€&#x;s a sense of accomplishment, but it fades quickly as there is so much more to do.


Joseph T. O’Donnell

Chapter 17

When I go to my father‟s lot it is an all day affair. Once the man starts the engine to the bubble fender Ford in the alley behind Stenton Avenue and decides to head north nothing could turn him around save a tool needed for the day. And that was a rare occurrence since he never “Left a tool behind his ass.” Being there all day was sometimes fun and sometime you were just bored playing with the same old discarded refuge. One thing for sure, at some point you would need to pee. There is not yet a functioning toilet bowl. Nor is there a port-o-potty. The only private area of the growing project was the sub floor covered basement. I suppose we could have used the neighbor‟s toilet, but we didn‟t ask. Memories


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of the denied alley swimming pool crept back into my thoughts. And being Irish Catholic independents we were taught to rely on ourselves and not unduly impose on others. Had we been bold enough to ask we would have been happily received? But we did not. So we improvised. Jesus! Would I be standing on the porch of the neighborâ€&#x;s, pinching my thighs to hold off the flow, and then be refused entry? My father, with all the details in his head let slip the role of sanitation engineer and out house operations. Hell-bent on the building, he thought nothing of the simple call of nature. I come to my father pinching and contorting my pelvic region to help stem my flow. My father advises me to follow him. I follow behind my father listening to his musical clanking tool belt. He makes his way hurriedly to the lumber pile and throws pieces aside until he finds what he is looking for. It is a two by twelve wood plank about ten feet long. He lifts it from the pile Aihh! And I am too close to him and he nearly clips my head


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when he swings it around his body. He has the long plank cradled under arm and he finds the rough opening of the basement door. He slides the plank down what will be a retaining wall opposite the doorway. Then he feeds it down until the end disappears into the black hole that is the basement. “Now”, he begins, stepping on the plank to test its worthiness. The plank bows to an acceptable give from my father‟s playful bended knees bounce. He actually looks like he may be enjoying himself bouncing up and down. The ride lasts seconds and he leaps off. “Okay, walk down there and pee. And be careful where you aim!” I look at my father trying to understand what he has said. The basement is sealed off from light from the snug sub floor my father has put down. Not even the brightest of Springfield Township summer days can penetrate his sub floor. Later yellow pine tongue and groove floors will finish the floor.


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There are no steps. Not yet. I test the plank as my father watches. I step onto the plank and make an attempt to produce the same give my father had demonstrated earlier. My skinny ass barely moves it. I walk the plank like a mutinous sailor to a watery grave. The end of the plank I would never see because where it ended I would never want to see. The first thing that hit you was the damp smell of the watered ground. So about three quarters of the way down the plank I stop and bend my torso to get under the top of the basement door cut out. I am hidden just inside the door and let fly into my fatherâ€&#x;s already dampened trouble. So dark I could only hear my evacuation hitting the mud. When I finish I carefully manage my way up the plank. I emerged from the doorway I mind my head and then scurry to the top of the plank. The hairs on the back of my neck rise for fear an imagined monster from the deep black would grab me and take me under the mud. My father would use the lavatory as well. He would need to. He would drink two cups of tea before he left the house in


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the morning and bring another quart thermos for the day. And between that he would suck water from a neighbors garden hose. He has no such imaginative thoughts as monsters under the mud. He urinates off the plank. His only thought is what comes next in his project. When he finishes his business he zips up his fly on his green Dickeys work pants and is straight back to work.


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Chapter 18 With the sub floor down my father has a flat surface to work from. Flat even surfaces and unobstructed areas are rare. It seems as I watch my father carpenter about, little room is available to wield the hammer and saw. Most tasks deliver my father to an off balance or otherwise unnatural position. At this early stage his house looks like a flat deck grounded river barge. It is rectangular and flat but it has no raised wheel house that would indicate the shipâ€&#x;s control. This shipâ€&#x;s control is being directed by the little bald man who crawls over every inch of his ship. I am allowed on top of the relatively safe flat surface of his river barge.


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My father says to stay away from the unprotected edges. He allows his sons Jimmy, Pat and I on top of the first floor while he is away preparing something for the next step in the process. I run to the end of the floor and look out over into a future back yard. A breeze not felt on the ground level is apparent up here. The breeze almost feels as if you were adrift on some great body of water.

Eventually, all the floors of the house will be sanded by hand. An electric sander was an item of luxury. My father, on his knees, will coat them all three times with varnish. In the coming years the family knees will greet the candied floors for family prayer and other acts of contrition. The prayers said after supper. My father would yell to gather us. And all could hear from the basement to the second floor. “Margaret, Jimmy, Joseph, Teresa, Paaa-trick, Annie. Get down here and say your prayers.”


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We would assemble in the brown paneled TV room with the fireplace and face the furniture on knees, using the pillows of the various seats to rest our hands. My father would start. “In the name of the father...” The lot of us began to quickly bless ourselves in two counts when four counts were needed. Because my father prays like he builds. Fast, hard and to the point. “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee...” And we responded in kind. “Blessed is the fruit of thy womb Jesus... now and at the hour of our death. Amen.” There would be ten of those or more, depending on what was troubling my father that particular day. It could have been a number of things – our homework, grades, our behavior at school, or a sparse paycheck. Perhaps his assimilation issues with American consumerism.


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As my father orates the Hail Mary‟s he couldn‟t wait for our answer. He would trail off then interrupt us before we finished our half of the prayer. “Now and at the hour of our dea... Hail Mary full of Grace...” he would orate faster and faster, as if speeding the prayers on the express lane to God himself. Do you hear me lord. The prayers rolled off his tongue like the thunder of his hammer, one after the other. His prayer briskness two fold. One he believes absolutely in praying. And secondly, if he must pray it must be done rapidly because his knees ache like never before from the mounting years of labor.


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Chapter 19 I watch my father at the skil-saw one day. This is a saw that will actually cut the hand off you! This was true. Heâ€&#x;s lopping off the over hang ends of the sub floor with the skill saw. I collect the small pieces that drop to the ground. I find an old hammer and nails to practice my hammering with the discarded


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pieces. Unlike my father I am not bound by awkward limited space or impossible angles to let freely swing the hammer. The hammer I use is rusty and lying in a heap of old tools retrieved years earlier from some job site or the trash. My father is a trash picker. He will salvage almost anything. It is not a negative stigma trash picker, but rather a compliment to his thrifty resourcefulness. I would not dare use his good Stanley hammer. Besides you could never get close enough to it as it was never far from his side. I try nailing some wood pieces together. I may be called upon to assist my father and I am in sore need of on the job training. I pinch a nail between thumb and index finger, and slowly tapped the head to get it stuck in the wood. I do not wield the hammer as practiced as my father. I reason two hands are better than one. I wanted to wail on it in a proper rhythmic fashion, like my father. Two raps on the wood nearest the nail for rhythm and then WAM! Iâ€&#x;d sink the nail. It looked easy enough.


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I manage the tip of the nail in the piece of wood. I wrap both fists and skinny fingers (meat hooks my father refers to my digits any time I manipulate my hands on something he fears I will break, Get your meat hooks off that will you!) I haul back on the hammer stopping briefly behind my ear then come forward towards my target. I strike down anticipating burying the nail and securing the two pieces of wood. Nail or operator error sends the nail end over end into space. Could of took the eye from your head. I look around for witnesses. Or more accurately the most important witness. No one is about except the birds and squirrels as I retrieve another nail. I try again with the same results. After several attempts, I finally nail two pieces of scrap wood together, but the nail is in a grotesque bent form from head to point. It looks as if a train ran over it. I walk my handy work over to my father for inspection. He has a coat of saw dust on his head and right forearm from the spitting skill saw. He takes a look at my mangled nail head and squeezes his face. He pulls the good


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Stanley hammer from his tool belt and removes the nail with the claw end of his hammer. He straightens the nail, places the two blocks on the ground and proceeds to bury the nail cleanly. The two blocks are together once again as he shows me once again the action. Then he tells me to keep trying. He triggers the skil saw again indicating he has work to do. I am cut off from the noise it makes. He stops the saw again and hollers “don‟t use all that wood. I need some of it for shims.” There are thousands of little jobs to be done, and my father needs to do them all. Training me in the art of nail driving is not one of them. I wasn‟t able to do much. I pitched in where I could. My brothers Jim and Pat seem to have inherited the mechanics gene. I fetch tools, hold chalk lines, and attempt to open stacks of lumber. We pick up trash and sweep the new sub-floor of fresh sawdust. The sun bounces off the wood floor up into my eyes as I sweep. The light colored plywood sub floor reflects


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the sun up into my eyes just like at the beach on a hot summer day.


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Chapter 20 Stacks and stacks of lumber come to the site in pre-cut various multi length sizes. They are bound by metal bands. My father can snap the metal bands with one twist of his claw hammer. In an attempt to assist my father, I decide to exercise some personal initiative and try cutting the metal bands that bind the lumber. I attempt to open a stack of lumber with the old claw hammer. I twist and maneuver the hammer under the metal band pulling and pushing with no success at freeing the belted lumber. Soon my father will return looking for band-less and free lumber to continue his work. I look up to see if he approaches and listen for the sound of large and small penny nails dancing an Irish jig in his leather tool pouch. He is not on the move. Though I know he will return. Heâ€&#x;ll always return. Before I can free the hammer


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from the metal band my father approaches and he is beside me in no time. He has left the tool belt behind on top of the barge and in my occupation I am not warned of his approach. My father rescues me. He‟s annoyed though. He needs every minute of fair weather to build his house. He hasn‟t the time to unscrew children‟s mistakes. He pops the metal band with great annoyance. He‟s annoyed at my mistake and the cheap tool he must manipulate because I have nearly fused it to the metal band. The process of building the house begins to wear my father thin. There isn‟t enough time in the day for him to get everything done, let alone to train grade-school children in the ways of the carpenter. If I try to help, but didn‟t move fast enough, there was yelling. If we were performing a simple task poorly, there was yelling. If we performed well, there was yelling, with an attaboy. There were too many details rolling around his head, and each one needed his


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undivided attention everyday all day. He as choreographs the whole show. And my father is writer, producer, director, actor and stagehand. He is the audience. He has a timetable. It‟s spring 1967 and he wants us in the new school at Saint Genevieve by opening day in September. By Thanksgiving Day he hopes to be sitting by the fireplace burning the flesh of the willow tree. My mother wishes the man would show more patience with his children, and tells him so. Sometimes when my mother opined her dissatisfaction with his treatment of us my father would ease up and briefly attempt to instill some of his craft in me. “Ya take it in your hand like that, ya see,” he says to me, in thick Donegal accent, refusing to change his brogue or for that matter, any of his Irishness after twenty plus years along in the great country. He shows us how the different tools are to be laid in the hand. Then, for instructional purposes, he


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performs the task with expert precision. He has catalogues of stored skill in his muscle memory from years of practice. And any one of these tasks can be retrieved on demand. I attempt the task again, with either modest or little improvement. On a bad day, the tool is swiped from my hand without words. I walk away frustrated. I hadnâ€&#x;t yet grown hair on my balls, and my father can not fathom why I havenâ€&#x;t the wherewithal to pick up the tool tasks as directed. I am eight years old and I want to help but, I also want to play and be a kid. My father has no time to understand. My father subscribes to the same philosophy as his father. On occasion, he would make us jump up and take on the world. He did this by yelling, screaming, and pissing us off. It got the adrenalin going which, in turn, would make us better worker bees. I approach his age, living in The Great Country, I can see why he was like he was. Who could blame him? My Father has six wanes to feed and clothe a mortgage on the


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city house and a house to build with a looming autumn deadline. He and my mother want us in our new school for the new school year. And autumn is as far as he wants to go because if winter catches‟ him the tools will turn cold. The lumber will feel like steel. The clothes will be layered in the morning and restrict his hell bent movement. The sun will settle early and rudely over the horizon and take precious daylight from him. And finally if the cold catches him the tea in the thermos will cool sooner and that! simply won‟t do. Cold tea you see is for summer. Where mint must be gathered and added to the tea no matter what the neighbors kids say. Another daily fear gripping my father is the money running out. He needs to finish before winter comes and his head spins with construction details and his only help is part time help and unskilled off spring of elementary school age.


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Chapter 21

I watch my father work. I see total focus and commitment. He rarely lets any disruption or unnecessary distraction between his ears. If he does, he clears his throat and with a stare that can have only one meaning; STOP! Whatever you are doing and leave me be. When my father leaves the lot, the cicadas are whining as he puts the last of the tools into the bubble fender Ford. He arrives home to the city where he barely notices us fresh from the bath and ready for bed. My father places his lunch pail on the table and opens the refrigerator looking for a his dinner prepared many hours earlier. My mother is at the lunch pail picks it up to check the contents. It has become a daily ritual. My mother checks the weight and feel of the stain flecked lunch pail. Since her husband has started this madness he


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has lost weight and perhaps a touch of his mind. And the reason is he is too busy to stop and fuel his body. Some days my mother finds the lunch pail containing the same wax paperwrapped ham and butter sandwich inside the lunch pail that she had prepared that very morning. The sandwich has not been disturbed in the least. The evidence shows the butter has melted inside the wax locked chamber and has gummed up the bread from the heat. Not even hunger pangs or for that matter the chiming of the Angelus would cause my father to deviate from his house building. The tea thermos however is always empty. Tea time is like his tool manipulation, practiced daily. The tea sustains him on days he forgets to eat. Just like when he was a boy on that hill outside Glenties in Donegal. My mother is deathly afraid the man may keel over from lack of nutrition. “Ya didn‟t eat your lunch again today?” my mother questions my father.


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“I had the scone and tea.” “You need to eat, Joe. You‟ll be falling over from the want of food.” “Not at all, Put that back in the ice box and I‟ll have tomorrow.” “Sure the butter has melted and stuck to the bread, it‟s no good now! My father is tired and famished. He has a warmed plate from the oven and has a mouthful of spuds so he cannot or will not answer my mother. He gives her a look mashing the spuds with his teeth. My mother reluctantly discards the sandwich. The ham is saved. Perhaps tomorrow he will eat it.

My father is not a big man. He barely stands five foot six and weighed eleven stone. (Fourteen pounds per stone) He has a laurel of hair from ear to ear and a bald pate. He packs a lot of spirit into his small frame,


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and what he lacks in funds and formal education he makes due with what he has; determination and experience. He has a wild temper that when he scolds spittle accompanies the words. A man of such energy needs sustenance.


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Chapter 22 I remember the adjustable wood ladder. The ladder is stained and scarred from past assignments. It is the heaviest tool on site. Heavy and awkward, that ladder is, but my father carryâ€&#x;s it around from place to place like an empty bucket. Aluminum ladders are in production, but the cost of such a thing. This was a heavy-duty wood extension ladder with metal hooks that gripped the rungs into place when it was extended to the desired height. We wee laborers on the site are of no use to him when it came to the moving of the


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ladder from place to place. When he needs it, he reaches one end. Aye! He pushes the opposite end against the foundation wall. Then he works his way up the rungs of the ladder as it rises. Once the ladder is vertical, the little Mulnamin man would bend his knees and reach between the rungs placing a scarred shoulder in a comfortable position on one of the rungs. Then he would straighten his small frame and the bottom of the ladder would lift just enough to clear the ground. Aye! It was up in the air like an awkward circus prop. I watch the feat in amazement. I give him a wide berth and look up into the bright sky, squinting and wondering what it would be like to ride on top. I am amazed because when the ladder sits horizontal on the ground Iâ€&#x;m not fit to lift it an inch. When my father steps off with his ladder his empty hand swings freely, as if taking a stroll through the park with little concern or strain on his face. He places the ladder down against a beam or wall and scurries up it like a cat with its tail on fire.


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Chapter 23 In the late spring of sixty seven the work becomes fast and furious. We attended school during the week at Saint Benedictâ€&#x;s in the city. My father is out of the house before we stir and home late, taking advantage of Daylight Savings Time. When we wake and come to the breakfast table before school the only evidence of his existence is a crumb-filled plate that held the scone or toast and a tea cup and saucer. The saucer ring holds a cold form of abandon tea. He hasnâ€&#x;t the time to wait for the tea to cool so to expedite he pours tea in the saucer so it cools faster. Then he tilts the saucer and slurps


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the tea from the saucer and out the door he goes. My father misses Sunday‟s mass. I hope the nuns won‟t query me on Monday morning about his whereabouts. My God! My father would have to produce a note. He would need to explain to the charged clergy that he is building his own house and wants and needs more space for his family. He wants a garden to grow vegetables. A garden to tend in the coming years to remind him of his youth and natural ties to the earth. The nuns would need to understand. Wouldn‟t they? He would need to explain that he is the only one about and he needs to do an awful go of work. That he is committed to this project and there is no turning back. Perhaps the nuns would understand that my father is not unlike that other famous Joseph the carpenter.


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Chapter 24 There is always something new – something formed, something dug, or something supplied for the task ahead. There seems to be a great inexhaustible amount of lumber delivered weekly from Ridge Lumber over in Norristown. These are the days before Home Depot and Lowe‟s had mushroomed up. My father says to me one day. “Try and get those bands off that lumber will ya Joseph.” I tried the claw hammer method, again but, found myself after a few minutes with the tool tangled in the band. My father watches me and hands me a pair of metal fabricator shears. “See what you can do with them, Joe.” The cutting action of the scissors slices and wounds the metal band. It‟s unlike the sudden popping of the hammer claw my father


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has become so well at doing but I find it works well for me. The scissors are sharp and heavy unlike the scissors the nuns would distribute for Friday afternoon art class. The art scissors are dull light scissors used for cutting construction paper. I need both hands to squeeze these heavy scissors. I think to myself, “This is a proper tool for the job.” I tear off, slicing and wounding every stack available to me. I am a slicer and dicer. “You want this open, Dad?” I say with shears at the ready. “All I got to do is squeeze. “No, no. Don‟t touch that, that‟s for the house. It‟s got wires in it.” In my zeal I nearly cut through a pile of conduit that has been staged by the electrician. My father stops me in time from slicing the encased wire that will carry the power from the breaker to the lights, lamps and outlets.


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I am reigned in and, enthusiasm intact, I find things to cut and slice from the refuse pile. There is nothing like finding out you are good at something and your helping your father build his house the attaboys come and the juices of confidence are stirred. The bundles of wood are band free and my father swoops in lifts what he needs, Aihh! And he„s off to fasten it to the house. He targets the stud pile and grabs half a dozen at a time hauls them to the next stage of construction. A square, hand saw and skill saw are pre-deployed atop the flat, airy, sundrenched sub-floor. He squeezes the trigger of the skill saw to test the juice that the electrician said would now flow like the water of life itself. Some pencil marks and chalk lines are visible on the floors. Heâ€&#x;s looking at those dark blue papers, splayed out on his floor held at each corner with scrap wood to keep them from rolling back into the shape of the tube that holds them. The blueprint papers have straight lines with arrows, circles with


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numbers, single letters, and long shaded and stripped bars with numbers under them. My father skims through the half-dozen funny blue papers and finds what he‟s looking for. He studies the papers like a General study‟s a battlefield map. My father has room to work, room to saw and swing the hammer unabated. This has him in great spirits. No odd angles to fret and the footing is level, for now. Now is carpenter time. My father will cut his lumber once but, measures twice. A fine philosophy for any endeavor. He has the ability to match any peer. The skill saw whines and makes fast work of measured studs. The sawdust shoots out the back like nobody‟s business. My father is surrounded by studs from the pile. The skill saw deposits sawdust on my father coating his right side. It sticks to his chin stubble and arms and makes its way down his pant leg and onto his boots. It sticks to the ring of hair around his head and on the bald spot, giving


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us a vision of what he may have looked like with hair. It sticks to his mustache, nose and ears. It sticks easy as sweat pours from him acting as adhesive. He is oblivious to the build up of dust covering him. He cuts one piece after another like a madman. He makes some cuts balanced on his knee or on extended arm, with no support at all. His cheeks clench and his tongue occasionally spills from his mouth, until the spitting dust forces him to tuck it back to safety. He finally breaks for a moment, notices the build-up of sawdust, and spares a few seconds to de-dust himself. He scrapes a palm over his head and arm, sending the sawdust upon the ground like winterâ€&#x;s snow. He wears no safety equipment. No eye or ear projection. No hard hat. He does wear a steel toe boot though. The boot essentially is a tool that he wears on his feet. He uses the toe to kick and coax uncooperative studs, stones, sheetrock and a few wee asses on occasion.


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Chapter 25 Immigrant friends arrive on a bright Saturday morning to help my father and their friend. They‟ll be no American born friends or colleagues helping today because he has none. Many of these men never bother to get a United States Passport. The plumber and electrician is American born but, have Irish surnames and have come recommended by known and trusted Native Irish. The men are Big Jimmy Sweeney, Bill Mcilleney and the shore handed and talented carpenter Pat Doherty. They are all Irish, immigrants, all men of my father‟s station. They speak English but, some of their language is foreign to me. My father and his colleagues speak of huge tasks as an awful go. As an awful go of work to be done. The meaning is that there is much to do and one pair of hands will not be enough. The awful go


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of work this morning is the first floor wall frame is ready to rise. The frame assembled earlier in the week lies horizontal but, needs to get vertical. My father takes charge. “One, two, threeeee....strained, and an aihh! The aihh morphs into an eeeee! On number threeeeee…. The frame begins to rise. In the years to come this help will not be forgotten by my father. They will be invited to the great house once it‟s finished and share company, news, conversation and stiff highballs. I am there at the raising of the wall along with my two brothers Jim and Pat. He includes us in the lift. He places us near an adult to shore up the lifting. Window and door frames are fashioned into the framing. It doesn‟t appear to be that heavy. It is just some two by fours fastened Isall. Soon I realize that the combination of all those assembled pieces has significant weight.


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The frame rises slowly until it passes the knees and then the chests of the adults. Legs and backs strain to get it erect. The crew gets ahead of me, and all I can do is stretch finger tips to the rising wall. I dash to the base plate to get hands on and save face with the group of men at this important event. It goes without saying that every man‟s/child best effort is required. The wall goes up and sways at the top as it reaches its station. “Hold what you got,” my father say‟s to his crew. I hold, white-knuckled, at the bottom, as my father dashes through and around the wall frame. He taps the base plate two by four with a hammer to coax it up to the blue powder chalk line. Oh, I say to myself. That„s what that chalk line was for.

My father is moving like a show dog on the serpentine course, in and out of the studs that will form his new wall. My father today is best in show.


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He hammer‟s furiously with nails spilling from mouth and pouch at his hectic pace. His colleagues want to help but, they must hold the wall in place so he can secure it. His laserlike blows have extra precision and focus as capable men of his station are watching. There is some teasing from his temporary crew about his furtive movement but, I don‟t think my father pays it any mind. He buries nails into the wood like a machine and I feel the frame begin to stiffen and steady. The wall has the ceremonial feel of a cornerstone. Save the basement block, this was the first wall up. It represents virgin territory. It represents no turning back. I‟ll have it built. There is only one place to go now. Up. And up the wall went. Two eight foot two by fours are angled and secured to the wall frame and the sub floor for even greater stability. With the braces in place, he signals for his guests to let go and, except for a bit of wobble at the top, it stands alone. It is the first wall of four. My father


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takes a steps back and giveâ€&#x;s himself a moment. But is less than ten seconds, there is work to be done. An awful go of work to be done yet. My father would build three more walls and wait for the weekend for the Irish friends to come and lift them into place. The sawdust flies, the hammer rises and falls. Another layer of dust coats him and another wall rises. Aihh!


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Chapter 26

Back in the alley behind Stenton Avenue, with the weather warming, we break out the football and head straight to the freshly scraped Doggie Diamond. Every spring the doggie diamond field was clean from the winter dog deposits. The bottles, trash, and feces had been raked out and disposed of. The grass is properly trimmed for a perfect football field that is shaped like a diamond. The diamond is like a spring oasis from the alley gauntlet. We take over the freshly cleaned field to commence the football and roughhouse play. Kids make their reputation here so the tackling is rough. While we try to look like stars on the pitch and thump our chests the girls of the neighborhood play


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hopscotch and jump rope across the street. They scratch out numbered hopscotch tablets on the sidewalk with loose concrete pieces or sometimes real chalk. I don‟t know where in the world they get chalk. I thought only teachers and nuns could have chalk. The black girls are doing the double Dutch rope jumping. They tilt their heads ever so slightly to avoid the whipping rope racing above their head and move their feet simultaneously. They pinch the side of their plaid Catholic school uniform so the skirt won‟t rise. They do a bit of showing off as well. Pet owners and their pets are forced to the sidewalk that borders our stadium. The dogs, unable to run on our field, are banished to the strip of grass between the street and the sidewalk. When I run with the football near the strip of grass I must not only avoid opponents but, the freshly produced dog shit. My father complains that too many of these Philadelphians own dogs.


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“What the hell do they need a dog for?” There‟s no sheep to round up. No cattle to herd. Back in Ireland, of course you needed a dog to get the work done around the patch. My father couldn‟t understand that dogs in America were needed here to protect property and keep their owner company. Needless to say, we had no dog. No purpose a dog! If a neighbor‟s dog did wander onto the playing surface, we were in our rights to yell and chase the animal away without reprisal. Children at play yield to no one. All we had was the diamond and the alley. It was our day care center, our playground and summer camp all in one.


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Chapter 27

Before my father started to build his house there are episodes that motivate lifelong ambition. The horrid comment from the mother of the boy burned alive in the garage was one. Another incident I remember was about a single man who lived up the street and who was rarely seen by anyone. He was said to have been robbed and beaten down at the Jersey shore one summer, and that he was never quite the same. His house was near the middle of the block, and it frequently crossed our path as we plied the alley. One day, we discovered the man had moved out. Improperly, it seemed. He abandoned his house. Abandoned the taxes and mortgage he owed. The house was empty and the man gone. There was no “no trespassing� sign warning alley rats to steer


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clear. Stories started amongst the adults that the man was trouble. All this got our attention. Like a body not kept in shape, a house not lived in sags and shreds. On this abandoned house, the back porch sagged like a lion‟s belly after supper. The windows that weren‟t smashed were smoked with dirt. The shingles on the side of the house were peeling and curling and trash swirled up at the bottom of the garage door. The man had left his oncegreat American dream. “A sad state of affairs,” my father said one night at the dinner table, peeling a spud. And that‟s all he said. The house up the pike was on his mind now. I can only guess what he thought of the man who‟d abandoned his shelter. Jesus, it wasn‟t that long ago in Ireland that peopled died in a cottage made from the ground that surrounded it and thrown off their property by the crown‟s emergency men for wont of the shilling for rent. Abandoning a house now in America where


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any man can make a living! Must get us out of here! Well, curiosity got the better of us. A few of my friends and I entered the house one day. We entered the basement door off the alley. It was dark, but since we all lived in the same cookie cutter houses the layout of the basement was similar to our own houses so we could feel our way around the basement and approximate where the steps would be. We found the steps and made our way up to the kitchen. It was like a haunted house, littered with pieces of the man whoâ€&#x;d once lived here. Upstairs in the kitchen, we found silverware still in the drawers and plates in a dark china cabinet. A few food caked pots lay in the sink from the last supper and perhaps a few other meals. A mirror looked back at me in the dining room, raising the hair on my skinny neck and down my spine. The only light was eerie streaks of sunlight from slit open drapes. The house smelled awful as no heat or cooling had been introduced for many months giving the house a distinct musty smell. I dare not


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remove any booty from this expedition for fear of explaining myself if confronted by my parents. We explore the house from top to bottom. I rummage through a kitchen cupboard when I hear a commotion and laughter coming above me. I race upstairs toward the laughter and find my alley mates in the bathroom. The source of the laughter is an oblong piece of human waste in the bathtub. Flies dance around and then we hear a noise coming from the alley and immediately I think itâ€&#x;s the cops. We look at each other as fear and wide eyes reflect in the bathroom mirror. We trip over each other heading for the door. We explode into the alley, wailing in laughter at our encounter. That is the first and last visit. The powers that be came to board it up. Everything was locked inside. Sad thing when a man abandons a house. One house nearly burned down and another abandoned. Jesus, whatâ€&#x;s next?


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Chapter 28 One of our summer activities included trips to the patch factory. But to get to the factory you had to navigate some dangerous terrain. Across from the corner Rexall drug store was a junkyard and beyond the junkyard was a small parcel of woods where we would sometimes sneak to hang out. On the other


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side of this urban forest was another alley. We had to navigate the forest on a well-worn path for nearly two city blocks. This was back country. Friends who could afford them wore Daniel Boone hats with the tails swaying across their upper back feeling the trail blazer role. I went hat less. On the other side of the forest lay another grid of Philadelphiaâ€&#x;s extensive alley system. At the opposite end of this alley sat the patch factory. We had to pass the junkyard where the junkyard dog would be heard barking, but never seen. It was a thrill in itself just to get a rise out of the dog. Following the dogâ€&#x;s bark, I would hear the owner telling the dog to heel. I passed the first requirement to advance to the patch factory. The second part was to walk the path of the forest until you reach the next alley. The patch factory was a city block long, full of stationary workstations with giant Singer sewing machines manned by workers that made cloth patches for everything. They made patches for company logos, schools, and


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clothiers. Behind the patch factory was a dumpster that we called the Big Trash as opposed to the small trash. The small trash was rows of normal size trash cans that sometimes held some goodies. The large dumpster however was a treasure chest to be opened anew on every trip. Upon arrival at the factory there would be a mad dash and uncaring leap into the dumpster. Then the search and rescue for the latest patch wear began. The Big Trash contained the misfits of the patch shop, sometimes tossed out with the garbage, food and coffee cups. Yards of sewing thread of every gauge would entangle us. After the search, we would gather our collection of the discarded patches and begin trading them like baseball cards. There were series of single names and large oval patches with company logos designed to be sewn onto the back of coveralls and work clothes. The large patches were rare. So market conditions put a premium on these patches. One large patch could command multiple smaller patches or unique ones with color or design.


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We soon tire one day and wander to the front of the patch factory. What drew our attention is the rumor that some of the kids from Narragansett Street were hobnobbing with the pretty factory girls who worked the big singer sewing machines inside the patch factory. I watch as the girls enter the front of the factory and some were in the company of my peers from Narragansett street. I was a little intimidated that they were so bold at seven or eight years old to be holding the arm of such women. The boys of Narragansett street had a cleaner, safer more rewarding experience at the patch factory than those of us from Stenton Avenue. Some of these boys were older and bigger too. So that in itself was intimidating enough. A gentlemanly custom was being practiced by the boys from Narragansett Street. When girls arrived for work they were dropped off by husbands, mothers, fathers and boyfriends, or some just appeared from around the corner and down the street. When they reached a certain spot on the block, a


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Narragansett Street boy would sneak up from behind and offer his arm to escort the lady across the street or to the front door of the patch factory. The ladies were in their teens and twenties, and seemed to be genuinely impressed. For me, nearly seven years young, the girls were inconsequential. Yeah, they were pretty and smelled nice and we‟d have bragging rights if we were lucky enough to land a real pretty one but, the real reward for escorting a lady was on the back of the shiny lunch truck that sold sweets and treats. If lucky, an escort would sometimes collect a donut or tasty- kake off the truck as a tip. Well, the Stenton Ave gang wanted a piece of the action. Eventually, we muscle our way in and I got my chance at a girl. We muscled in by going were Narragansett boys weren‟t. I locked on to a girl walking down the street and approached from the front. I must have been down wind as her aroma engulfed me ten feet away. She smelled better than the flowers on my father‟s suburban lot. She was blonde and her hair came to the


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bottom of her neck, just above the collar of her shirt. Just like my third grade lay teacher Miss Lynch at Saint Benedictâ€&#x;s. I stare at her bouncing curl. She makes the first move, grabbing my arm, and adjusts it so it was parallel to the cracked sidewalk beneath us. She, in effect, is escorting me. Training the future patch factory escorts. The escort ended at the front door and I was rewarded with a pat on the head and a “thank you young man.â€? As no treat is offered, I lose interest in this evolution of pre-teenage awkwardness. We try a few more times, but the trek to and from the factory with little chance of reward doused our spirit and it ended that summer before we moved.


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Chapter 29

Compared to the row house and the alley, my father‟s lot was a different world altogether. A different worold altogether! The smell of fresh-cut grass seems ever present to linger, along with the whining summer cicadas, crickets and locusts. The name of the street my father has found his oasis is Grove Avenue. The very name Grove, reminds one of a kinder and gentler place. The air is somehow calmer, the grass more fragrant. Flowers and trees seem very natural and permanent. The traffic on Grove Avenue is far less than on Stenton Avenue. Even the ground seems softer and more receptive than the overused turf of the Doggie Diamond. It‟s night and day from our present home.


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At the front of the lot, where the twin maples stand guard, birds would dart from tree to tree – maples, fir, pine, and trimmed hedges offer excellent nesting and cover. Back in the alley, the wee sparrows have only the telephone wire to perch on. I wonder if the birds have a foreign father that mighten want some space and room for the chicks. And have the gumption and skill to build a nest and move his entire flock off the telephone wire and into a new tree or bush up here in the suburbs. Should I let the birds of the alley know of this great arboreal oasis? Wouldn‟t they be more comfortable here in the thick lush? There are large mosquitoes and bees, not to mention the crawling beetles and water bugs that have taken up residence in the puddles created by my father‟s intrusion into the water table. Rain water and spilled water from batches of concrete mix. The living zoo habitat is made complete with gray squirrels and an occasional foraging opossum in search of scone crumbs left by my father.


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I remember I once tracked mud up onto the barge that would become my father‟s first floor. I picked it up on my Keds sneakers. I brought it onto to the sub-floor, unknowingly smearing it on the floor. My father tried to control the mud because eventually it would dry, crumble underfoot, and join the billions of other dust and dirt particles hanging over the site. To me, it was wet mud, and I couldn‟t think forward and fathom it in another state. There is so much dirt and dust about I couldn‟t understand. “I told you not to bring that muck up here!” He scolds. His screams quiet the crickets. “Might as well be idle.” Might as well be idle. This was a familiar sentence to me. It meant, “Why bother at all! You‟ll never learn.” It was, in his eyes, the worst that could be said of man or beast. Idle. Like the bump on a log. Useless as tits on a bull. It meant that the accused was incapable of learning or listening. The brain in idle gear


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and not registering. I didn‟t know what the words meant then, but my father‟s tone and delivery signal it wasn‟t good. Of course what was really bothering my father was not that I tracked mud about his great structure but, just his nerves fraying from the awful go of work this day and the months ahead of him? I walk away from him at the word “idle.” I got out of the man‟s way, found a seat under the bird sanctuary, and scraped the remaining mud from my ever tightening sneakers. He could track as much mud as he wanted because he was too busy to be cleaning boots every time he stepped on and off his growing suburban barge. And he has the sense to know where not to step. Do as I say and not as I do. I drag a twig between the grooves of my Ked”s sneakers. Suddenly a large yellow bee lands on my ankle. I freeze in panic. The bee turns in measured arcs, scouring for something. Surely a bee that size is a direct result of the many fruit trees and lush flowers


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they gorge on here in the suburbs. They are nourished handsomely every day of the week from the acreage of flowers. The bee is the length of my little finger. I fear bees because I thought if you got stung you die. I don‟t see many bees back in the alley and certainly never this large. I don‟t move and I have stopped breathing. The bee continues it‟s probing small arcs on my ankle, and its proximity is too much for me. My father beats away at the hammer but, I never hear it as tunnel vision holds me. I let out a scream that surely jolted the already annoyed neighbors. I can hear my father‟s carpenter‟s belt approaching. The nails in his pouch doing the Irish Jig. The half dozen tools on and in his belt collide announcing him. “What‟s the matter?” “The bee,” I said, pointing to my ankle as if it had tunneled under my skin and was working its way around my body. “Is just a bee isall, Joseph.” He waves a hand. The bee circles and is gone.


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I begin to breathe again. “C‟mon up and help me on top, he say‟s to redirect my attention. Are your shoes clean now?” he adds. His words are comforting as the old man had called on me to help him. Not five minutes earlier, he‟s screaming at me like a madman because I mucked up his sub floor. Now I‟m on top working with my father again. He hands me the end of the chalk line and walks away extending the line until he reaches his mark. “Hold it tight now! He says. Give it a pinch and let it go.” I pinch the taut chalk line, raise it and let it drop on a V pencil mark. My father pinches the line and lets it go again for good measure. “Attaboy let me have it now.” He rolls the line up into the triangle metal box. And all is right for now.


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Chapter 30 The walls and rooms are taking shape. The house is a maze of tacked two by fours ribs waiting for the fitted sheet rock. I begin to see how the house is coming together. It makes some sense to me. My attention span does not last long. My father plows through his work like an electric skil saw through a broom handle. My brothers and I dart between framed studs in a newly devised game of tag. Our goal is to see who can hide the best amongst the uncovered wood framing. In early June, the sun hangs in the sky a little longer. My father is grateful for the extra day light. After a long day at the site my father arrives home and my mother examines her husband for damage, scars and injuries. Then she checks the lunch pale for content. The thermos of course is bone dry. She doesnâ€&#x;t bother to lecture him on skipping lunch because they


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both are too tired to discuss it. She‟ll place the sandwich in the ice box for the next day. Any way my father eats like a horse when he comes home for supper-the lead star of his plate is of course, the spud. My mother has another concern besides her husband‟s nutrition. She has for weeks that he should be more careful in the sun. His bald head, neck and arms are brown as the skin of an Idaho spud. But there is a hint of red, suggesting that he bakes daily with no cover or protection. Above the sleeve line his skin is milk white. The curse of his birth, as well as his children‟s. We turn cranberry red from the summer sun. For millenniums and more, our inherited ancestral skin has known only the cool and damp climate of Ireland. Covered up for so long our skin‟s pigments react accordingly. Ireland just a stone‟s throw from the top of the world. Now, suddenly thrust into this sub-tropical climate of Pennsylvania after a thousand years on the Island Eire our skin


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gets an awful go of burn. We are exposed. The sun is no friend and my mother knows it. My father heeds his bride‟s warning and rubs some suntan lotion on. He put in on once. He is so preoccupied he never remembers to apply it in the morning. Imagine my father taking the time to lather himself with Coppertone like an American man of leisure. If the sun had dropped from the sky and landed on his head, I don‟t believe it would have stopped him from his building. There are some old dried up flimsy paint hats in our garage but, since the fiery death of the boy in the alley garage they were disposed of. He can get painter hats for free when he buys paint, along with the flat stir sticks but, this house won‟t need paint for a month of Sundays. It is a skeleton at best, with no skin yet to paint. My father‟s answer to combat the sun‟s rays is a line of hats not seen on other construction sites. I come upon him, bent and


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twisted in the framing of the future first floor powder room. He calls it a powder room. I think that makes sense because all the powder and dust that covers it. He is at familiar awkward angle, smashing his hammer on to nail heads to secure yet more studs. He has a hat on his head. He is away before I can get a good look. He soon returns hauling more lumber. I focus on what he has donned upon his head. It has a rainbow of color. The hat is brimless designed specifically for the bare spot on top of his head. The design of the hat is similar to a Muslim Kufee. The colors of his cover are what attract me. As I get closer, I see Snoopy, then Linus. The mother (I donâ€&#x;t know her name) from family circle funny papers is stained in sweat. Dick Tracy is there, too, and Little Orphan Annie. He is a grown man with a hat made from the Philadelphia newspaper cartoon section. A fashioned oval skullcap to block the sun. To buy a hat – no sir! Magine the cost of such a


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thing. He needs protection from the sun, is all. I reach with a wary hand to touch it and my father hands me his hat resting on his knees. The paper hat‟s sole purpose is to keep the damaging sun off his head. He makes the hats, when he remembers, from stacks of newspapers now sitting in the corner of the future dining room. They are not always made from the comics section. Sometimes I could read yesterday‟s headlines if you were so inclined. You could read about our boys in Vietnam. You could read about another Kennedy or the Reverend Martin Luther King fighting for his people. You might be able to read something about burning cities and draft cards during this summer of nineteen sixty seven. You could possibly catch something about the weather or the surging Saint Louis Cardinals. There is no brim to his hat so his neck and face still redden like August tomatoes. When he returns home my mother coats his neck with cool creamy Noxema to soothe the fire.


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The hats are made a couple times a day as they turn to soft machete and tear from sweat. So along with the tools and equipment my father packs in the bubble fender Ford stacks of old Philadelphia Bulletin newspapers accompany him. The hat making lasts a week.


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Chapter 31

The Philadelphia Bulletin newspaper is delivered in the afternoon by industrious delivery boys. It arrives at the house long before my father is home. When he has the


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energy my father enjoys reading the paper. In a few years time the paper route on Grove Avenue will be mine. But my father and I bide our time. Who in their right mind would deliver their newspaper in the morning? As if I had the time to sit and peruse the paper before work. Makes no sense at all. The proper time to read the journal is when the work is done for the day so one could leisurely read every morsel offered. My father comments on the stories in the newspaper. Sometimes he is impressed, other times he is not. And when a story would grab him he would comment to whoever was about. Or perhaps he may save the little nugget of knowledge to share later with friends over Sunday highballs. “I saw a piece in the paper,” he‟d say. Then if a story had mighty significance he would say “imagine.” But it came out as magine. The Irish imagine. Can ya magine?


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When my father came home at night his dinner plate wiped clean he would proceed to reach for the journal to enjoy a few moments of reading. He would rarely finish before falling asleep in the chair of his choice. My mother would take the limp paper off his chest and urge him off to bed. He would say to us when we were fighting bed time, “Get to bed will you. You‟re not fit to bite your own finger.” My father is worn thin from the day‟s work not fit to bite his own teeth. Some nights, when he had an extra cup of tea, he would have the energy to lick and heal his wounds from the battles of the day. Perhaps watch television from the three channels available. We along with most of the Philadelphia listening area had a staggering three channels to choose from. It was a cornucopia of entertainment and news. And soon there will be VHF and that number will double to six. According to my father Red Skelton is the funniest program on Television.


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He likes Jackie Gleason too. But the television program Bonanza, with Ben, Hoss and Little Joe, is his favorite. I donâ€&#x;t think he cared much for the new son, Adam. Where the hell did he come from anyway? I think he could relate to Benjamin Cartwright even though he was an American. I think he appreciated the go it alone, build it alone life style of the Cartwrights. They were their own men and built everything they needed for the Ponderosa. And perhaps he would learn a few parenting tips from Ben, who like my father, has three sons, until Adam came along. When he watched television my father would pick slivers of refuse from his hands. With well-pointed tweezers and cuticle pincer my father would begin first aid. I would watch him sitting on the floor. My father takes a break from the television. He never called it a telly like so many Celts and Brits do. He reads the newspaper and wants to move on to the next page but, the fresh paper is tight from the heavy machine that folded it. He


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thumbs at the pages, but canâ€&#x;t get them apart. The hands, thick and swollen from work, struggle to find the finesse for the simple task of turning the page of a newspaper. His fingernails are no good to him because he nibbles at them and all ten are in a constant state of nub. And then he might start gnawing on his childrenâ€&#x;s nails. He figures a way to turn the pages of his journal. He always found a way. Just like with his house when he needed ingenuity, he would figure it out. To part the paper he directs a simple puff of air from his mouth to the leading edge of the tight pages. He must gauge his puffs of air because if done too hard too many pages will separate. If done too lightly no page will separate. So my father expels breath and it collides with the leading edge of the newspaper. Then he increases or decreases the wind velocity and adjusts his mouth to a proper aperture until the targeted page floats apart. Then he has one of his swollen digits inside to turn the page. I watch him and he stares back at me with no expression. His back


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is firmly against the chair, sore from the days, weeks, and years of labor. My father reads on. Magine!


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Chapter 32 Echoes of hammer blows resonate through my father‟s structure. I can‟t tell where my father is because fitted sheetrock is tacked to framing and it hides him. I complain of hunger and the hammering stops, reluctantly. It is lunchtime. I retrieve my father‟s lunch pail and thermos from the bubble fender Ford. Stuffed inside the pale are several sandwiches, some Tastykake knock offs and juice for me and my brothers. There are ham sandwiches for my father and peanut butter and jelly for us. Some days a thick slice of my Mother‟s raisin scone smeared with butter and jam accompanies the sandwiches. The jam and raisin scone the daily fruit intake for my father. Maybe an apple some days but, they hurt his teeth so he avoids them. My father is frustrated that he must eat but settles in for a ten minute lunch break. He sits on a plank of wood supported by two thirty inch homemade saw horses made from two by


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fours. He swings one leg while the other toes the dirt. Along with the bread and ham, my father swallows fresh saw dust from the morningâ€&#x;s work. He is focused between bites of his sandwich eyeing recently posted lumber. He has no words for us. The sandwiches come encased in wax paper with crisp air tight overlapping folds. The expert folds of my mother keep them fresh and away from the debris and dust of the work site. My father mumbles looking at the newly posted lumber. He can converse with fashioned wood. He can relate to it. He understands wood and how it can be shaped. Not so much us. A wood post wants not a thing but, to be fashioned. Well, children, too, want to be fashioned. But he hasnâ€&#x;t the time, not these middle months of sixty seven. My father slurps tea from his thermos that is only a few degrees cooler than when my mother steeped it hours earlier. There is no saucer to pour the tea into to cool, so he lets


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the tea cool in plastic top that accompanies all thermoses. The tea softens the scone helping it breakdown so it can get along to his gullet. He curses the need for food as it cuts into his time. To make it worse his children have discovered the tremendous sandwiches called hoagies and cheese steaks and we hound him to buy us these high caloric and glorious sandwiches. My father has company one day. His name is Big Jimmy Sweeney. He is not to be confused with Little Jimmy Sweeney or Fat Jimmy Sweeney or Old Jimmy Sweeney or the other Sweeney. Big Jimmy is a massive man with a massive appetite for food and highballs. He hails from Glenties, County Donegal, like my father and makes his living plastering. He wears all white, like the plaster he works with. He has pencil long thick black curls ringing his receding top. When he works, he reminds one of those eccentric music conductors. His black curls


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flail about sweat dripping off the points of his hair as he conducts his symphony with plaster. I once read that there was a king in Ireland named Sweeney, who thought himself a bird and lived among them in the treetops. This Sweeney, also, climbed up high on scaffolding, plastering away at the ceiling of the front porch. I wonder today if the Sweeney I know is related to Sweeney of the birds. Big Jimmy set off to buy his lunch. He had this luxury because, for whatever reason, the big man and his genteel wife Mary never knew parenthood, and he treats himself to lunch. Sweeney brings back a couple of bags from Campbell‟s hoagie shop filled with TastyKakes and hoagie sandwiches. The owner‟s son of Campbell‟s hoagie shop, Brad Campbell, will coach me in football in two years time. We devour the sandwiches and chocolate cupcakes. Then for extra treat individual apple and cherry pies. Even my father enjoys the crumb cake with his tea. My


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father canâ€&#x;t believe we have fallen for such foreign grease ball food. I have a new motivation to accompany my father to the lot. The trips to the lot may involve a hoagie or TastyKakes. My father obliges us, but in time stares and throat clearings would hush our requests. My mother, the peacemaker, found a bakery outlet that served cheaper TastyKake knock-offs and filled the lunch pail with them. Like my father, Big Jimmy kept busy with his work. Although he has no children, he is, unlike my father, patient with me. While my father is in the eye of a cyclone, one day, I went to see the plasterer. I wander over to find Big Jimmy in a fit of work himself. There must be something in that water on Mulnamin hill. His black curls drip wet and his white shirt has perspiration circles under the arms. Mister Sweeney mucks plaster under the newly constructed front porch roof. He slaps the plaster from a pan onto a fisted mortarboard, and then transfers the mortar


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from the board to the underbelly of the porch roof. He asks me if I want to give it a try. He has the patience for children as is the case when ones without sometimes wish they had. Sweeneyâ€&#x;s compensation will cost my father only an inordinate amount of highballs someday. I gladly accept and manage the mortar board for a second. The board is easy to control when plaster- less however, once the plaster is on board the weight shifts and it becomes difficult to steady. Recognizing my weakness, Mister Sweeney puts some plaster on a trowel. Big Jimmy quickly realizes that it is about to fall onto my face and his black curls. He catches it in time and quickly incorporates the plaster into his work. Without words, I crawl back down the scaffolding, confident Iâ€&#x;d been a big help to him.


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Chapter 33 Just like my father my patience begins to fade. My father has tolerance by the boat load for his project. It takes from him and heâ€&#x;s off balance from the dizzying details. The curse of youth is beside me; I am not able to see the forest for the studs. The daily grind takes my father farther away. He falls deeper and deeper into the challenge before him.


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Even the possibility of sampling TastyKake knock-offs or fresh hoagies are not enough to keep my interest. I choose to stay home in the alley and the doggie diamond for a respite. My father is forty-seven years old, and is still climbing ladders and carrying his own tools and materials. He isnâ€&#x;t the modern day American forty seven. Many first world forty seven year olds look like and feel like they just left their late twenties. Much of the labor has been replaced by automation, fitness centers and jogging paths keep them looking and feeling spry. My father is not crossed trained in other less physical work, nor would he want to be. My father is the Irish immigrant laborer of forty seven years. He appears to be older. He consumes the beer, butter and bacon that soothes and comforts but, will slowly sneak into arteries and do its damage. It is the only food he knows and heâ€&#x;s been eating it for over forty years. The road traveled takes bites from longevity.


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A generation earlier in his home country he would have been thought a senior citizen. My father‟s only thought was for the next day‟s work. He is a late bloomer in this land because of his late start. He is at the lot every day. He could scurry the ladder like a twenty something and bury sixteen-penny nails in two blows. He can carry bundles of lumber and rock on his scarred shoulder while ascending the ladder. His focus so great, his drive so strong that any minor disturbance has him explode in anger. We learn not to bring up the TastyKake question anymore. TastyKake money could be used for the gasoline he burned everyday in the fat fender Ford. His back is sore and his hands swell, but I never hear him complain about pain or work. The friends that help come and go. My father needs to finish plan A so B can complete their work and get out of the way for C. When I was bad my father could control my behavior by simply pulling his belt through the belt loops of his trousers. The belt would need


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not flog me as the air whishing sound of the belt being pulled through the belt loops sends shivers through my body. I notice the whippings subside this summer as the man is just too tired for that activity. In the summer of nineteen sixty-seven, the world around us is a boil. We know nothing of Vietnam, the troubles of my father‟s homeland or Abbey Hoffman stirring up the college kids. The troubles in Northern Ireland pitch and sway in the streets of Belfast. The only troubles I have originate with my father. The boils of the world I am oblivious to. While the Marines at Keh San in the Republic of Viet Nam engage in massive fire fights, I pound nails into discarded wood. Draft cards burn in Central Park while we explore the newest addition to my father‟s house. The Philadelphia Seventy-Sixers are the NBA champs of the world, but I don‟t notice. President Lyndon B. Johnson is over in


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Glassboro, New Jersey, meeting with his Russian counterpart Aleksi Kosygin to discuss ballistic missiles and nuclear disarmament. A South African doctor, Christian Barnard, performs the first open heart transplant. Aretha Franklin releases “I Say a Little prayer for you…forever …forever. Had my mother knew of this song perhaps it would be her favorite and most appropriate for the times. For her husband “to say a little prayer for you! The Spectrum in South Philadelphia a future sports and concert Mecca breaks ground this year of nineteen and sixty seven. It all goes undetected on my radar. My only angst is my father who I believe will live forever, screaming at me and then telling me That a boy. In 1967, the Israelis are warring for a homeland. My father has similar want. His west bank however is west of the Wissahickon creek and does not require missiles and tanks to conquer. Just hammer, nails, saws and levels.


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My fatherâ€&#x;s west bank is no less important to his people, which currently consist of six children and one bride. My father is in the throes of a pre emptive strike that like the Israeliâ€&#x;s it will deliver him into a home land. In the military axiom of such a strike he has an achievable aim and the means to do it. He gathers intelligence for his mission. This intelligence is gathered from fellow likeminded Irish and his own experience. It is obvious in the new space and security he imagines for his family. His only secret is a ghost contractor and his exit strategy is to get his people out of the alley. ASAP! For the wont of space and opportunity, my father carves shapes and builds a new home. He has purchased it at a fair price in a land that for the most part was altogether different then his birth country. He took it the only way he knew how, with the talent of his hands, friends, steel will and Sunday high balls.


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Nothing could stop him from building that house in the summer of 1967. Not a stampede of wild horses. Not the lack of money. Not weather or time.


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Chapter 34

There is a bar graph at the bottom of the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin newspaper, the preferred journal of the Irish American working man and registered Democrat. The graph depicts the letters KIA, MIA, and WIA. They are awful tallies from that war in China. I am convinced at seven or eight years old there is only one Asian race and country and they are Chinese. A man on the television, with his Sunday suit and hair in a constant stay of Bryl Cream, reads the latest news from Indochina. Behind and to the right of the newsmanâ€&#x;s shiny hair is a similar graph like the one in my fatherâ€&#x;s newspaper. My father peeks around the corner of his paper to listen in. He makes no comment, because he has little understanding why young men were


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dying over there. And he‟s lucky he hadn‟t come to the Great country sooner and started a family. He might have had a son or two in that bloody fight.


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Chapter 35

My father was born April 10, 1920. When he was a boy he had, not much. If there was any hangover felt in Ireland from the great stock crash of „29â€&#x; in America my father hardly noticed. There was no money before the depression so it made little difference to him after. While others of his generation would soon sling M1 rifles on Pacific Islands and mainland Europe he slung hay and farmed with scythe, hoe and hand. He gathered spuds and rounded sheep and a cow or two on the windy shore of Gweebarra Bay. My father left Ireland shortly after the war for England and then made his way to Canada, finally settling in Philadelphia. While others fought the Germans, Italians and Japanese my father fought and worked for a piece of land.


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He dreamed of arming himself with land, lumber and the tools to complete the deed. And for the next twenty years that‟s what he did. As the veterans of WWII came home they went to schools to learn the way of prosperity, business and trade. My father had no such appetite; he led the only life he knew. It was simple. Hard work, go to church, keep hands occupied and weekend highballs with friends. When he was a boy, prosperity in the hills of Mulnamin meant milk, meat, spuds, brown bread, eggs and butter. Having enough to eat is survival and prosperity. Survival to some, my father included, is also a dream kindled of a land across the ocean that could get a man his own house made from fine stone, brick or other natural material that the Great Country could provide. If one was willing to take a chance to change their sky. In The Great Country America, to struggle is unfashionable. It‟s equivalent to poverty. For


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my father, all he wants is his house and a job. He wants his piece of the world for his own. And now he has reached the final phase to build his four corners in Flourtown. In the alley talk swirls amongst the children about fathers. At the time I wish my father was more like the rest of the kids‟ dads. Most of the neighbor‟s dad‟s are not immigrants. They have been Americans for some time now. Stories are swapped in the alley about father‟s daring deeds on the field of battle. One kid claims his dad‟s wooden leg is a result from battle in Germany. My dad too has a battle wound of sorts. It is a large bursting star shaped scar on the round of his shoulder and upper arm. My father received his wound early one morning in the barn on Mulnamin Hill when he was scalded permanently from an upset pot of boiling water. The assailant was a terrified cow scurrying to its feet after delivering a calf. There is no purple heart awarded for wounds received inside the narrow confines of an Irish


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country barn; especially when the wound is caused by scurrying livestock. I keep this a secret when the subject of war stories arises on the alley floor. When my father‟s grandfather and his grandfather were alive, boiling water was not only used to cook spuds but was also a great short term weapon for the draconian life of an Irish farmer. The boiling water used against the emergency men and bailiffs who came to take houses at the behest of the courts and land lords. The emergency men plying their trade of eviction were welcomed with boiling water (or porridge) from desperate farmers. The scalding water launched from behind the chimney on top of thatched roof. Or, perhaps if constrained for time and not prepared to lay in wait atop the roof the manor‟s men were met at the doorway with the morning‟s sticky and scalding porridge. Irish Napalm.


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The last defiant effort to save a manâ€&#x;s house from the grasp of a bloating crown. Land Lord. Oh lord of my house. I was a little embarrassed my father hadnâ€&#x;t fought in the great war for the great country. This made me even more different. But had I known the history of my family in the old country, I could have boasted. I would have told the alley gang that my clan had a history of soldiering. Generals and Viceroys, they were. I would explain Viceroy was not just a popular cigarette, but a powerful emissary. In Spain and Italy and other corners of the world my family represented their homeland. I would brag that our surname is attached to an Avienda in Madrid, along with a park and subway stop. The street named for Leopold who was granted Spanish citizenship, took a Spanish wife and granted a Viceroy for his service to the Queen and Spain. My Sept has lead men on and off the battle field. I would tell them (had I known) daring stories of battlefield victories and


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undefeated warriors. How they fought brave and vicious in their homeland and abroad down through the last four centuries. My fatherâ€&#x;s passion and fight was for the land. Instead of fighting for island airstrips and beachheads, my father fought for his four corners in Flourtown. I watch him raise a house. I watch him lose some battles but, the war he seems destined to win.


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Chapter 36

Had a real estate agent wanted to list my father‟s impending house for sale they would write in positive glossy prose and informed potential buyers that it was, a new, unoccupied, single family, four bedroom two bath, two car garage, two powder rooms, twostory dwelling with a full, half finished basement located on a quiet street in the heart of Flourtown. No realtor will ever write such description. Nor see a nickel in commission, at least not this century. Some Real estate agents catch wind of my father‟s property and begin to nosy about. They speak directly to Mister Comly, the man who sold the land to my father. The realtors want to know who the builder is and what‟s the asking price?


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“There is no asking price.” Comly tells them. It‟s not for sale. He plans on moving his family into the property in the fall.” “Who‟s the builder?” “A man named Sweeney, Tom Sweeny.” “Sweeney already has a house around the corner. What‟s he need another house for.” “I don‟t know? He„s the listed builder though.” “Hmm, who‟s the guy I see working on the place? Is he an employee of Sweeney? ” Comly raises his shoulders. “I think I‟ll have a talk with the little man I saw working `there.”

The realtor shows his face the next morning at my father‟s lot. My father is adrift on his barge marking erected studs with centered X marks from his pencil. The X‟s will be drilled center through so miles of water pipes and bundled wire can pass through the studs and be out of sight when walls cover them. He uses a manual drill


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to open up the studs. The drill operates by turning the U-shape handle forcing the big screw bit to turn into the soft wood for a perfect uniform hole. My father turns to see the real estate man and immediately thinks he‟s from the township looking for permit fees or perhaps Mister Tom Sweeney the registered contractor. Perhaps the man has questions about the conspiracy between my father and Tom Sweeney. My father aches and he is tired but, the newness of the day has him mentally alert. My father does not stop his work while he converses. “Nice looking property sir.” “Uh huh.” My father is cautious with men in suits asking questions. “I understand you are occupying the house.” My father is relieved that he is not from Springfield Township zoning board. “Yep.”


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“Would you be interested in putting it on the market? It would fetch a pretty penny.” “No I would not!” The bit burrows through another stud sending wood slag adrift. The man morphs into real estate man and tries his best pitch. My father continues his work as the man continues to talk…. The real estate man thinks he‟s perfectly in his right to initiate conversation with my father. The real estate man doesn‟t realize he faces a man which considers his inquiry about taking his house away and selling it as preposterous as asking to sell one of his children. The man takes a stroll around the back to get a feel for what the house may become. He returns to my father and interrupts his work for the second time of the day. And he‟s done so all within five minutes. My father rises up with his manual drill. He holds it at the U –handle. The large drill bit points towards the realty man dangling in my father‟s hand.


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“This house is not for sale! Please! You will need to go now! I have a lot of work to do.” My father‟s tone has reached the ledge of tolerance and patience. It‟s not quite the tone used for children never the less, it is not welcoming. The man is insistent that he take his card in case he may change his mind. (My father? Change his mind? Oh that is funny.) My father walks away ignoring the man and his business card. The man tries again. Before he can finish talking the man must flee. My father trails after him like a bull after the matador. He has the drill in his hand because you never leave a tool behind your ass. “The house is not for Sale!” my father yells one more time. The deflated wounded agent has reached his car on the street. In his hasty retreat he has not minded his step and once on the street he discovers his black leather dress shoes caked in wet red clay. He debates whether to clean them there on the street or


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wait until he returns to his office. He chooses the latter and speeds down Grove Avenue towards the safety of his office. A trail of my father‟s red clay spins off his tires in retreat. My father is back to work. You want me to sell this house when I got a house full of wanes with no room to grow. You think my wife wants to walk blocks on end to buy groceries.

A few more real estate agents try to leave their card and get similar treatment. Can‟t blame them though, the house would have sold itself, in a heartbeat. Especially in the summer before the schools open. Then a quick and easy commission for the real estate parasite, with no details or flaws to hide as is their practice. (Home owners, buyers and sellers know what I mean.)


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My father will be in the presence of a real estate agent for one last time, when he settles the Stenton Avenue property. And then for the remainder of his days he will, thankfully not need such low life blather scythe company. Lucky these agents werenâ€&#x;t about when my father was cutting the grass with the scythe. God knows what would have happened.

My father must have contemplated these offers. The sale of the house would have been enough to pay off the construction loan, put a nice down payment on a property and perhaps buy a nice cake and sodas for my brotherâ€&#x;s and I approaching Catholic confirmation party. But, something is happening that he hadnâ€&#x;t figured on. You see the house is his. Not his by deed or mortgage. Its something more important than a legal document. It will be his house in all the old connotations that this meant. Many men say they are having a house built as if they toil


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daily at its creation. When in realty they are waiting its completion by the builder. But this is his creation. His sweat, his pain, his workhis offspring. His way out of the alley. This thing, this house has become an appendage or perhaps more important it is his punched ticket to Change the Sky. And years later he would talk about moving back to Ireland when his wanes were grown with their own wanes; that would be easier said then done. This house, this new baby would need to be surgically removed from him. And that, would just hurt too much. Yes, he would be the deed holder of the property. But more importantly he would be the creator of this for all eternity. Like an actor has stage, an artist has canvas, a writer has words it will last as a monument. My father doesnâ€&#x;t think of such heady things. It is a natural wheel from within. He has promised his bride Lily more space and shorter commutes to the grocery store with the stone hard two wheeled folding wire basket. He


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never imagined that in a few short years my mother would be a licensed driver. And how could he not notice his children bursting with exuberance from that fat fender Ford when driven to the lot. And conversely how noticeable it was that the alley behind Stenton Avenue was suffocating him and his family. Like an artist who refused to sell his master piece my father was by no means, in any way, shape or form, selling this property.


Joseph T. O’Donnell

Chapter 37

The houses on Grove Avenue are all different. There are no cookie-cutter homes here. This is not the Levittown project up in New York where Mister Levitt built homes assembly style for the WW II generation. On Stenton Avenue, everybodyâ€&#x;s house looks the same. My father is building his own house. A house he will stamp and personalize. In Ireland, the houses are basically the same because of limited materials. Here in America, there are lumberyards and hardware stores full of whatever you desire. Hardware stores stock


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all types of windows, junction boxes, wire, and all manner of building materials and products. There are boxes and boxes of fasteners. There are large cement trucks that deliver yards of concrete. Grove Avenue has a great garden variety of houses. There are ranch style, two-story and one-story homes, Dutch colonial and Tudor style homes, duplexes and twins, homes made of brick, stone, wood, and asbestos siding. There are no row homes. The closest things to a row home are the few sets of attached twin homes. There will be no porch hopping here, yet neighbors are close enough to satisfy socialization needs. It is a melting pot of homes, a microcosm of the country itself. My fatherâ€&#x;s simple design will certainly not upset the block. Perhaps enhance it. Perhaps it will raise a hint of jealousy amongst the neighbors toward a man who owns two pairs of work pants a few work shirts, two dress shirts, one Sunday suit and a twelve- year-old car. It will eventually rise


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nicely between the two maples. It seems originality has its place here. A perfect fit.


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Chapter 38 The maze that is the first floor is beginning to darken as my father breaks the seal on yet more piles of sheet rock and tacks them to the awaiting studs. The studs disappear. There is no room for error now. There are rooms forming and a wane can be forgotten or lost behind the walls. A perpetual cloud of dust from wood, plaster, sheet rock and dry mud hangs all around the site. Even after the hammering, cutting, and sawing are done, the dust can hang like faux smoke from a horror movie. My father is in the middle of it, taking it all in, scurrying about fashioning skin to wood bones. The house is beginning to sprout up. The seeds are taking and later it will bloom and it will eventually be harvested like an important crop. It will provide nourishment for our souls. It will come to bear the fruit of my fatherâ€&#x;s labor. The joy of harvest will come in the accomplishment of it all. A house


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built. Owing to no one, save the small loan from my mother‟s cousin and the bank for materials. There will be room for his children to play and a garden to plant and tend. Perhaps some mint could be planted in the new garden so sons would no longer be needed to subject themselves to humiliating alley kids. There will be spacious parks and ball fields for us to run until dusk. The doggie diamond and alley will be left behind. “Good riddance!” My father will later say. I‟m not so sure. Apprehension is building in me as we will soon leave the known for the unknown. My father chases us off his house, not out of the house, because it isn‟t yet whole. He chases us from the choking dust. He breathes it in with little notice. One day, I was up with my father while he was burying little sheet rock nails as quick as lightning. It‟s easy to bury these short sheet rock nails, but you must take care as sheet rock is more fragile than studs.


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My father shows me how on this rare day of patience. “Just want to leave each with its own bowl. He points to a buried nail in a piece of the sheet rock. “Like a bowl of stir-a-bout.” In our house stir-a-bout is cooked cereal. Whether it be oatmeal, cream of wheat or wheatina they are all called stir-a-bout for obvious reason. I laugh as my father makes the comparison. I understand, but most of the tasks, I do not. The hammer rhythm is also a bit different than with heavy penny nails into lumber. With lumber, my father gets measure by bouncing the hammer beside the nail, leaving a slight dent from the head of the hammer. With sheet rock, he explains, “you couldn‟t do this or you would punch a hole through it.” My father shows finesse and restraint. The wild swinging of the Stanley hammer is tempered by the less delicate building material. Damaging sheet rock means more


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cost. On occasion, he did damage a piece and he would mumble something about fixing it later with spackle. Magic that spackle.


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Chapter 39

Back on Stenton Avenue after a day at his site my father contemplates his project over stew and buttered potatoes. One half dozen steaming spuds are stacked on a plate. Under the spuds etched on the familiar plate a little boy turns a wheel with a stick on a cobblestone street. In the background are the shops of some nineteenth century European village, complete with a sign that reads “Ye Old Curiosity Shop.” People walk on the street as the boy spins his wheel with a stick. It‟s a nineteenth century Dickinson holiday scene. The depicted appear prosperous and carefree. They carry parcels of food stuff, waving to shop owners and neighbors. Multiple limp and slaughtered fat geese hang outside the butcher shop. My father stabs the spud with his fork


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and examines it as if an ancient revered icon, which in fact is what it is. How many spuds had he swallowed these past forty years? The Incans of Peru who first cultivated it millenniums ago treated the spuds in similar fashion. Do you know that Peru has over three hundred types of potatoes? Magine. My father gawks at the spud held in the air with his fork. Steam runs from it. A knife peels away the skin, his thumb guides the peel loose from the boil. The peel is discarded on the plate for later consumption. “It‟s the best part of the spud. The most vitamins, veetimins” my father says. He mashes it with a fork and puts a large dollop of butter in the center and fiercely incorporates the two staples with the back of his fork. He does not want to hear from his children while he is thinking. “You‟s haven‟t eaten you dinner!” he screams. “Shut your gob


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until that plate is clean.” He points a finger as he grinds on fibrous stew meat as he instructs us at the table. Then silence. The silence brings deep inhalations of stress from my mother. For my father, the silence allows his project to enter him. He is seated here with us at the dinner table but, he is back at the lot, in the midst of the lightning bugs and mosquitoes. And the whining cicadas. The spud helps him think and focus.. Spuds I believe may be the Irish Ginseng. The scalding temperature of spud does not deter my father from forking them to his mouth. Perhaps he reminisces about his days in Ireland when one could play “potatoes and point.” The practice would have the daily spud consumer point a forkful of spud at the curing Christmas ham hanging from the rafter in the small one floor cottage. Then a small prayer is said imagining the salts, fats and flavor of the ham magically infusing the spud all the way down from the rafters. Then when the spud is


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consumed the flavors of the ham and the imagination of the mind work overtime to a glorious satisfying taste. Magine. His eyes dart to his six children at the table. My little sister Ann Marie less than a year old sits playing with her food in her high chair tray. My mother pays more attention to her. The high chair has seated all five of us over the years. Bread wipes my fatherâ€&#x;s plate clean, revealing the scene on the plate. The boy with stick and wheel is back. When the dinner plates clear, he calls for a pencil and my mother wipes her hands and finds a pencil in the chipped ceramic tea cup by the radio with the speaker covered in cloth. My father cleans a spot on the Formica table. He takes the last draw from the Schaffer beer and pushes that aside. Shapes and numbers appear on the table while he mumbles and looks up at the ceiling. My father calls the zero number a naught.


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His stubble is revealed as he looks skyward and his forehead wrinkles from either a building detail or imaginary ham. The table serves nicely as his work book, calendar and agenda. He has seen this house already built in his mind and he reinforces it by drawing out the next dayâ€&#x;s figures. He tilts his head and focuses on the figures. He ponders every angle and possibility. Satisfied, a wet thumb easily erases the pencil from the magic Formica table. He wipes clean his thumb on his Dickey trousers and crosses his arms and clears his throat, Ahem. His eyes find the kitchen ceiling. Whatever he is constructing in his head is unseen by any of us. But to my father his thoughts and figures are plastered on the kitchen ceiling. .


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That's me in the middle with the red bow tie. Soon my father would find the lot then wait until the money was saved then he would start to build. Below: The Formica table my father used to write figures, tasks and schedules. After committing the information to memory he wiped the pencil marks from the table with a wet thumb.


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Joseph T. O’Donnell

Figure 1 My father after the great house had been built in the great country.


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Figure 2 My Uncle Danny far left Below: My father and Uncle Danny on the last trip "HOME"


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Figure 3 My father's birthplace. on top of Mulnamin Hill, County Donegal. The Gweebarra Bay in the background.


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Figure 4

The road to Mulnamin Hill Glenties County Donegal, Ireland. Gweebarra Bay in the background. Where my father walked off the hill to the Great Country. Bottom: the entrance to my fathers birthplace


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Joseph T. O’Donnell

. Figure 5 My mother and Father in the late 1970"s. Below: My father worked on his house even after it was built. The garden with the “dert” vegetables can be seen to the left along with his home fashioned one piece picnic table.


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Joseph T. O’Donnell

Figure 6 The back of the house and the front. The two old maples still stand guard on Grove Avenue, Flourtown Pennsylvania.


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Joseph T. O’Donnell


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My mother watches us watching him. My sisters help my mother clear the table. My father retires to his newspaper in another fruitless attempt to read the entire journal. And what he reads in the newspaper he canâ€&#x;t magine that heâ€&#x;s being indoctrinated by the editors and writers. To him it is the world brought to him and he assumes incorrectly all that which is written is true.


Joseph T. O’Donnell

Chapter 40

Today I wonder, what the hell was driving my father, anyway? I don‟t think Freud could have gotten it out of him. Besides I think Freud was right when he said: “The Irish are the only race impervious to psychoanalysis.” Was it peer pressure of other immigrants who had “escaped the city”? Or was it the lyric truth from that Irish song “Irishmen‟s courage is far bolder when far from home.” Or is it as simple as the want of space, the natural progression of human endeavor? Perhaps, like all Irish he had a story to tell. And he hadn‟t the skill to tell it or write it. But he could build it.


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My father watched some of his Irish peers leave row homes in the city. He had gotten out of North Philadelphia to West Oak Lane, which was a step up presumably from the two bedroom apartment he lived in above the tap room. The tap room he owned called the All Ireland Bar. My father co-owned the pub before I was born, when he was a younger man. My father‟s business partner was Scotty from – where else? – Scotland. Although Scotty was not Irish, he somehow fit in with my father‟s crowd. Irish, Scot, and Welsh working men were all interchangeably accepted because of their common proximity to Ireland and their common dislike of the owners of their countries. The bar, however, was not a particularly good place to have an Irish pub. The pub was situated in the middle of an Italian neighborhood. Perhaps a Vino and pasta bar? My parents and older sister and brother were unable to register at the neighborhood church, as they did not speak


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Italian or Latin. Scusi, Questo non posso. Grazie, Ciao. So my parents said arrivadercci and moved to the house on Stenton Avenue. The house with three bedrooms and one bath for eight of us. The Italian neighborhood experience was just another bit of scuffing up that no doubt provoked my father into this building. Or was it the history lesson of his homeland? When in the previous century a million starved in Ireland. Was it the famine stories? At the Glenties National school my father drilled in the awful history. The Irish huddled in their shirlees, driven from their thatch homes searching for food. They were too sick to lift a wasting son or daughter. Their mouths foamed and their lips and stub teeth were green from unwise attempts to devour grass. The British carried on with their lucrative food import/export business while the Irish starved. The stories of the land my father came from were deeply ingrained. He


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was only a few generations removed from the injustices of his homeland known as, The Morta Gord. The Irish once caricaturized by the newspapers as monkey like creatures to the ruling class and derided for their consumption and idleness. Not for the want but, rather the lack of opportunity and position. A hundred twenty years ago the Irish lay with their bodies ravaged with typhus and black leg, body sores, shrinking intestines, and drooping skin. The ports of Ireland open only for export of food and grain, yet closed for import to feed a starving people. My Irish, his Irish ancestors not far removed lay huddled and dormant in their makeshift shirlees. So weak they are not fit to bite their own finger. When Fathers died by the roadside, trying to get home from the workhouse with a kerchief of food to feed their children. A mother waits and hopes for his return. I read a story once of crown emergency (evictors) men who came to take down the house of an evicted family. The former occupants were


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asked to help dismantle and burn down their own house, with the promise of wages to buy food. When the evicted family were through with their pillage and burn, their home reduced to ash they stood in anticipation of their wage. The emergency men turned and walked away, snickering at the powerless former occupants of the house now burned to the ground. Was it this history that motivated my father? Was this house a tribute to that generation whose sacrifice and horrid squalor would motivate generations to follow? The Green Islandâ€&#x;s "Greatest Generation". In this new land and house in honor of those unfortunate generations that came before him. He would take his advantage in his time and place, thanks to the shirlee dwellers and the ones before and after that. He was building a house but, had it become more than a house? He was building a future for himself and his family. And if a catastrophe should find him he would at the very least have a mortgage


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free roof over his head to ponder his plight. I really donâ€&#x;t know why my father built this house because my father wouldnâ€&#x;t say. Freud you see. My father does not pour his heart out to an eight year old son. To him this was the only way to go. And he never complained about the enormity of the deed.

Cheers, lads and lasses. And to you, children of Skerbeen.


Joseph T. O’Donnell

Chapter 41

Building his house took great work ethic, and initiative. Some of it had rubbed off on me. I would pitch pennies, shine shoes, and collect and trade soda bottles for coins. Quarters were big coin. Dimes and nickels were average, and pennies were small coin. They added up though. I didnâ€&#x;t make the trip up to his growing house every day. I tried to make a little money for myself and the family. Well mostly for candy money and maybe someday I could buy my own bicycle. My father so frugal scrimping for twenty years never imagined I would need a few dimes for candy. Sorry to say saving everything I earned all the time did not really stick. But I was willing to work, as long as there was a reward at the end of the day. I


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tried to save a few coins, but there seemed never to be enough. Our family had a small, yellow shoeshine box, made of sturdy metal. Its handle doubled as a foot rest that had raised notches to grip the shoe when polishing. I grabbed the shoe shine box for my new enterprise. Lucky for me the box was not one of my fatherâ€&#x;s trusted and daily tools. Underneath the footrest was a cargo hold for assorted KIWI polishes made right in my home state of Pennsylvania. I also had two brushes, one for black shoes and one for brown. I also carry saddle soap. I rarely use the saddle soap as I never met anyone in the alley who owned a saddle or for that matter a horse. I box also held rags for buffing. The shoe shine box emitted a distinct waxy industrial smell. The low start up cost of my business meant that I could enjoy pure profit. I didnâ€&#x;t think about the cost of polish or brushes when


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I started. The polish always seemed to be there. My mother thought it was a good idea to be introduced to the world of business. On the day of my grand opening, my mother warned me. “Don‟t go too far out of the alley now Joseph.” “I won‟t, Mom. I‟m going to make some money for the house,” I said with confidence and fibbed a tad. I made my way to the alley and up the street. I see some competition. Some of the kids who gave me the idea to shine shoes are tugging on tap room patrons coats as they enter establishments. Although we are competitors, we stick together. I learn an early lesson in class and age structure. Most of my friend‟s boxes are made from worn and stained wood. My canary yellow box, although stained with hues of polish is eye-catching. I think it gives me product recognition in the market.


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It is late afternoon and working men make their way to corner taprooms. I make a few dimes the first week and stash them away in the dining room top drawer. The next week, I find my co-independent contractors in good spirits as customers are tipping well. The workingmen who frequent the tap room come to wash away the strain of the day and dull other pains. Technically we are not allowed in the bar at our age but, since we are men of commerce the proprietors of most establishments donâ€&#x;t enforce the age restriction. When I enter the bar my eyes go down to the bar stool foot rest. I am looking for the guy with shine-able shoes. This takes time because I see many work boots(not shineable) hanging off bar stool supports. The tap rooms all reek of beer and other strand food odors. They are all dark and cool. It is a relief from the summer sun beating down outside the door. The doors creak when opened and the floors are always sticky. Large glass jars with pickled pigsâ€&#x; feet and hardboiled eggs sit on top of the bar for patrons to


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enjoy at 25 cents a piece. I can‟t imagine eating something that looked like a lab experiment suspended in formaldehyde. Papst, Blue Ribbon, Ortliebs, Schmidt‟s, Schaffer, and Ballantine beer signs cover the walls. A man in the bar tells me to meet him at another bar up the street and the man here, he points to the man next to him, would like to get his shoes shined. The man further explains to give them a few minutes to get to the next bar. I look at my friend. We shrug shoulders. The two men leave swaying and snickering Upon my arrival at the designated pub, I am startled by a loud yelp. “I‟ll have a shine, son,” the man said. Some laughs break out as I pace across yet another sticky tap room floor toward the man. My Ked‟s stick to the floor as I make my way to the customer and I swear the frog legs in the glass jar are swimming. I see the customer who‟s request I‟ve come to honor and approach him. The man turns to another


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man who swivels around in his stool and presents me with shoeless sockless feet. His nice shine-able shoes are sitting on top of the bar, the socks stuffed inside. I thought perhaps he wanted his shoes shined off his feet. Instead of handing me his shoes, he places a white vein foot on the top of my shoe shine box. “There we are”, he says. Now, do a good job. These are expensive,” he said. Laughs snort out from around the bar. I am confused and idle. I do not know what to do or say but the barefoot man and the other patrons encourage me. I take out my polish slowly, looking at the patrons who seem determined for me to get to work. I apply polish to his bare feet and his toes curl. The man is more pickled than the pigs‟ feet swimming on top of the bar. I cover both feet with polish to just below the ankle. I debate if I should use the buffer brush. The man is satisfied and throws me a quarter. Perhaps this would have been a good instance to use the saddle soap. I am not sure. There is a round of wild applause for me and


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the bare foot man with polish on his feet. During the applause barefoot man put his shoes and socks on over the drying polish and returns to his drink- obviously not his first of the day. The bar is in a roll of laughter and backslapping. I gather my wares and trek back over the beer-stained floor; I get congratulatory pats on the back. After a day‟s work I make my way home and find my mother in the dining room. “How was the polishing business today?” she inquires. “Good.” I opened a hand to show my change. “Oh my! She says. Very good Joseph. Now put that away so we‟ll have it when we need it.” I place the money in the top drawer of the sideboard for safekeeping. I keep ten cents and one nickel for my favorite candy Mallow chocolate cup. A working man needs to have a treat for his labor. I enjoy those Mallow chocolate cups.


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After I place the Roosevelt dime in my pocket I inform my mother of my day. “I polished a man‟s feet today, Mom.” “You mean his shoes, Joseph.” “No, his feet! A man asked me to polish his feet. He took off his shoes and socks and placed his bare foot on the box and I polished his feet, except the bottoms,” I said matter-of-factly. My mother stares at me in silence, wringing a dishtowel and wondering if the paint chips she caught me consuming when I was a toddler have done their damage. She stares at me for a moment. “Joseph,” she said sternly, “Don‟t go back there anymore. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, your father‟s right. We got to get out of this place.”


Joseph T. O’Donnell

Chapter 42

My father is breaking seals on more bundles of sheet rock. In his hands the sheet rock move in awkward gyrations on their way to the stage. If one ignores my father „s feet and fingers one might think an aberration from the woods once owned by William Penn had risen and levitated sheet rock onto my father‟s home. My father can not see around the large sheets as he carries them, unless he turns oblique. He never seems to trip or run into an obstacle. From my perspective this is impressive as I struggle with the weight of various materials let alone carry them from point to point without running into something. My father places a piece of the rock against the wood ribs and toes the bottom against a waiting footer. I put a bony hand to the sheet rock to help keep it from moving. I


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fear the great weight of it would crush me if it fell. Many of the materials around the sight are heavy and have a mind of their own. If you have not the wherewithal strength and skill to manipulate them, well, you might as well be idle. I dig my shoulder into sheetrock and gain terra firma. As I pin the rock to the studs I sneak a quick peek at the state of my ked sneakers. Thankfully They seem relatively free of muck. “Not too hard, Joseph. You‟ll crack it. Hold what you got,” he said. Me! crack a wall? Maybe I could. My father finds his marks with hammer and nail and the piece is in place. “Watch out,” my father says slightly muted because his gob contains a half dozen nails ready to spit out. His strong arm pit odor reaches my nose. He hasn‟t the time to shower every night! Not every night. And I think he has told my mother not to buy any luxury items such as deodorant until Autumn. The first blow of the hammer finds its mark and the nail disappears. I hold on, and hold my


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breath flinching in anticipation of the next vibrating and dusty hammer blow. When the nail seats into the sheet rock and lumber a small bowl forms around every nail head. My father measures, scores and cracks sheet rock over a knee with such proficiency I think he could do it with his eyes closed. Today the cutting and tacking goes well he is lost in thought and content. He could forget about the voluminous details that lay ahead and become a contented carpenter. Safely floating in this glorious state my father‟s solitude is evident in song. The lyrics are either of calculations or Maggie Pickens. “Six and seven eighths is what I need.” “Six and seven eighths is what I shall have,” came the chorus. He repeats it half dozen times. It is a short song. But, it reveals rare joy in the building of his house. When he was boy in the undulating hills of Mulnamin, he repeats a similar song while tending grain, goat and garden. Whistle while you work if you will.


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During these rare times my father let‟s himself enjoy the craft of carpentry – measuring, cutting, shaping and fastening. Lost in the details, the world forgotten. He is Joseph the Carpenter, happier than a child in a sandbox. Another song that might be sung is Maggie Pickens. Young Maggie is a Lass who stands on a pier waiting for or waving goodbye to a boatman or perhaps boatmen. I am not sure of the complete background of Miss Maggie Pickens. My father‟s blood flows and fatigue leaves and energy replaces it for a short time he lets fly with song. All collateral jobs of purchaser, builder, contractor, budget director, cement man and trainer and babysitter are forgotten... Maggie Pickings on the shore...Maggie Picking dancing... those eight words repeated over and over again like some Buddhist chant to see him through. And when we were lighter and younger and he hadn‟t a house to build we dance on his knee to the sound of Maggie‟s Pickens dancing.


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Maggie Pickingâ€&#x;s on the shore...Maggie Picking dancing... There is no radio or music while the house rises, his singing not withstanding. The birds will sing, cicadas will whine in various cascading pitch, but no other lyrical sounds will be heard. Anyway there is only one good radio back at the house to listen to. Who would think of buying two radios for one house? Besides, what station would he listen to? WFIL? WIBG? top 40? The only good music to be found on the radio in Philadelphia is the Tommy Moffitt Irish hour and that is tuned in only on Sunday afternoons after mass, eggs and properly done pork.


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Chapter 43 It is a time when a man measures his life. Some call it a mid-life crisis. It begs the question whether a particular individual has accomplished his goals or if he/she feels happy and fulfilled with his life. Has he/she covered his or her bases – family, church, friends, work, and self-worth? The blueprint for this theory is explained by psychologist Abraham Maslow in what would become known as Maslowâ€&#x;s pyramid of self actualization. Maslow theory held that there is a hierarchy of needs in


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human beings in order to reach happiness, contentment, and self-actualization. I don‟t know if that means golfing every day, running a fortune five hundred company or sewing garments or building a house. I don‟t know. Self-actualization means different things to different people. But, I think my father could relate to what Maslow said. And self actualization was defiantly getting outside the cramped row house and alley on Stenton Avenue. I look at Maslow‟s model as it applies to my father. It is a pyramid shape guide leading from wide base to narrow point. The first plateau on the pyramid, and the first need that must be met, is survival. For my father the survival is natural. We are fed, clothed and under roof. He is off to a good start according to Mister Maslow. Another tier of Maslow‟s Pyramid is relationships and social interaction. Well he doesn‟t talk to us much but, he does talk to my mother, his Irish immigrant friends and on occasion he scolds uncooperative and


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newly fashioned lumber. And I believe from my young vantage point he enjoys the camaraderie of like Irish at the Irish Center and at home when high balls are served. Another of Maslow‟s theory is the need for acceptance through skill or deed. Well this stands out in the application of Maslow‟s theory. The skill is being applied nicely thank you. His skill and want are on display for all to witness. He is building a house you see. Interesting how Mr. Maslow tied his theory to an edifice, albeit an ancient pyramid. Build a career, build a family, build a community, build faith, and build a future. Build a house. My father would agree in principal with Mister Maslow. I don‟t think my father ever met or heard of Mister Maslow while seated at the Glenties National School, but he surely was right in step with his theory on human development. But I wonder if Mr. Maslow‟s pyramid theory should have caveats attached for immigrants who pack up and board ships to


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new worlds? For those who take a few steps back before they can go forward? Perhaps my father was building his own pyramid similar to the Pharaohs of Egypt. The Pharaoh‟s however a much more egotistical plan. My father wants some space and a garden to toil in. The Pharaoh wants immortality and room for all his worldly possessions for the afterlife. My father wants a garden and some room for his kids. It didn‟t matter to the Pharaoh how many slaves‟ backs it took to complete the pyramid. Only that it was built. My father too cared little about the things he ordered himself to do. The pharaoh‟s pyramid needs to include tomb, so when the great leader expires he‟ll preserve nicely and remain for eternity. The Pharaoh also builds a place of worship in the pyramid. And he knows the pyramid must have a walkway that lead to a grand pavilion. My father has no tomb to build inside his Pyramid nor place of worship. The worship is done at church and sometimes in


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the home. Yellow pine tongue and groove floors that shortly would meet our knees in family prayer. And, of course, our great pavilion lay in wait for summer barbeques is just a fence jump away in Fort Washington Park. Whatever Mister Maslow had reasoned was important in self actualization a large amount of my fatherâ€&#x;s self actualization is wrapped up in this house. The house itself is basic shelter where you can draw water from the spigot and cook spuds and stew in the kitchen. Friends would show up on his site and work for free, knowing that someday my father would return the favor or that my father was cashing in on previous rendered help. The social need is fulfilled by their company. As far as work is concerned, well, that is what he was doing. He has taken two decades to learn how and save the money and realistically that wasnâ€&#x;t enough. But the clock is ticking and though probably not totally prepared, prepared enough he is. He took skills learned from


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others and applied them towards a dream for himself and family. And perhaps he had a little of an ancient Pharaoh‟s ego, knowing that the house would stand for generations after he was gone. The Pharaoh of Flourtown. A house built. Dun. Self- Actualization. Was this my father‟s mid-life crisis? The time in life that brings some to buy a motorcycle, boat, red sports car or ....God forbid….a redhead. If my father had any midlife crisis issues, they wouldn‟t be satisfied with a new bike or boat. He would never spend money on anything but, what he needed. Perhaps it is the building of this house that satisfies any Irish immigrant mid-life crisis.


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Chapter 44 My father‟s lot is located in Flourtown, a small village in Springfield Township, Montgomery County Pennsylvania. It is a stone‟s throw from the city border of Philadelphia. The history of Springfield Township dates to before the American Revolution. Springfield Township and the Village of Flourtown may invoke visions fertile fields, flowers and great tracts of fruit and hardwood trees. And it is. My father‟s piece of land is less than one acre. Part of the piece formerly owned by Mister William Penn lay just north and west of Philadelphia. Mr. Penn sought refuge to the sacred land that the Quakers would come to embrace as a sanctuary from the religious persecution of their homeland. And the Native Americans were here before the European settlements. They would have made their homes like my father. They would have settled not for the wont of space


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from an alley or city. There were no cities to flee. The Natives would have come to fish and drink at the creek that still flows. They would find deer, turkey, bear and rodents to hunt. Perhaps the Native family may have sheltered under a pliable weeping willow like the one my father had turned into firewood. I now wonder, but could not care less that summer of sixty seven. In the years that follow, Mister Penn‟s former parcel is sold many times over. It is divided, taxed, sectioned by the ones with the most gold and sold to the coming America. The land scheduled into towns, cities and counties, townships and boroughs. Some villages keep their names and pay taxes for the privilege. Before World War I my father‟s land was once part of the Whitemarsh Park, now renamed Fort Washington State Park, Flourtown is named for the great flour mills that once dominated the area. When I first heard the name I thought the word Flourtown meant F-l-o-w-e-r town because of all the flowers and the green foliage that grows out


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here. It could have been easily called F-l-o-we-r-t-o-w-n as I see it and no one could argue otherwise. There are more flowers and trees in one block than twenty city blocks. There is room for a flower to grow‌.and at least one more house. The Farmers of the seventeenth and eighteenth century would come from their fields by horse and buggy to sell their grain. The grain processed in grist mills powered by the nearby Wissahickon creek. So much grain and flour about the name is bestowed on the village. To accommodate the haulers and growers of grain, a business and service industry flourishes in the form of hotels, restaurants, tanneries, blacksmiths, and of course, watering holes. Later the railroad will come and all but, eliminate the horse and buggy way of life. The quest for his house has landed my father to this parcel in Flourtown, Pennsylvania. Like the Native before him my father takes his place on this land no less reverent than those who lived before him.


Joseph T. O’Donnell

Chapter 45 The tire of the green wheelbarrow is softening under a load. The damp ground makes the trek all the more difficult as my father strains to maneuver the scuffed and stained barrow through the mud. The wheelbarrow is the perfect helper to my father. The barrow asks no questions and its only protest is a silent soft wheel. It doesnâ€&#x;t track dirt in the house ...well only if my father allows it to. Like lumber it cares not for


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TastyKakes or hoagies and needs not stop for food or drink. The barrow saves some energy for my father. It has limited space to fit materials and sometimes materials such as planks and lumber will extend over the barrow. The barrow serves as a mixer of mortar and carrier of all things. It carries stone and gravel. It will carry tools, tacks, nails and sometimes the lunch pail is balanced on top as an after thought. Today the barrow has been chosen to haul buckets of spackle from the deep trunk of the bubble fender Ford to the barge of my fatherâ€&#x;s dreams. The interior walls are up and are in need of spackle and tape to hide seams. There are no permanent stairs or steps. There is only a long heavy two by twelve plank to gain entry aboard my fatherâ€&#x;s growing appendage. The plank reminds me of an animated picture in my Catechism book. The picture depicts Noah standing with a tablet counting off pairs of animals in an extended


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queue and uniform procession boarding the ark. The coming house looks like a box with its tongue hanging out. The plank is unstable and bounces as my father crosses it. When I tiptoe along the plank, my father yelps at us about breaking our necks. My father stabilizes the wood entryway by placing leftover cinder block from the basement wall at key points under the plank for support. With a confident motion my father lifts the handles of the green barrow-one of the few items he has not made himself-and the legs of the green wheelbarrow lift from the mud. He approaches the plank and quick peeks around the barrow to check wheel barrow tire alignment to the plank. My fatherâ€&#x;s arms are locked at the elbow, his hands firmly wrapped around the splintering worn handles. He must take sand paper to the barrow handles every fortnight to avoid picking even more slivers of wood from his hands. The wheelbarrow will be tested over the next several months. It passes every brutal test my father puts it


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through. Aihh! My father expels breath as he strains. His chest leads the way forward seventy degrees acute. He is between walking and jogging his legs strain from the weight of the awkward cargo. It is not unlike carrying jittery livestock on a Mulnamin hillside. Weight and gravity both work against him. The weight in the barrow only a few stones lighter than the man pushing it.. “Aihh,� The Celtic kiap leaps from within him once more. My father meets the plank and wobbles a bit, he fights to steady himself and proceeds up the plank to his work station. The plank bends from the weight of the barrow but holds steady enough and I see immediately why the cinder blocks are used for support. He unloads the contents of the barrow at the flat surface of his house and begins the first of many applications of white creamy spackle against his walls and seams. And he will apply more


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spackle and sand the dry multiple layers of spackle to such smoothness that no one could tell where the sheet rock started or ended. Chasing dogs and livestock up and down the hills in Mulnamin was never a problem. But now, time is catching him. The fact is the man is forty-seven years old. Fortyseven! And it‟s all just starting for him. And he‟s not the American forty seven year old. He‟s an old world immigrant forty seven year old. He eats the food he ate as a boy and it‟s nineteen and sixty seven and he has no intention of changing his diet. Nor will he exercise the heart thinking is he is in fit order as he works harder than yoked oxen. He‟s not some American indigenous forty seven year old where most wear and tear come from the golf course or pushing a lawnmower. In a few years time, my father will be fifty years old. And he will be an Irish immigrant fifty year old. With the great deed behind him and the body will want to collect. The Great Country takes pounds of flesh from the workingman.


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Where butter, bread, bacon and beer are the comforts that help soothe aches and pains and the psychological soothing between the ears. And these same comfort foods also secretly conspire s to slowly gum arteries of the fiercest of men, my father included. And you May as well be idle to change him. But somehow I think he knows what he eats and how he works is harmful. Something inside tells him that. An instinct that he relays a warning to his children, especially the boys about the importance of getting educated. He tells all his sons in a fit of rage. Youâ€&#x;ll be digging ditches the rest of your life if you donâ€&#x;t study those books!


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Chapter 46

The plumber, although not Irish born, is of Irish ancestry and he comes recommended from Tom Sweeney the „official contractor‟ of my father‟s house. The plumber has completed laying pipes of various sizes for various purposes. The electrician has similar Irish roots and has run miles of wire. Freshly soldered copper pipe follow the basement ceiling and then up the walls to future spigots. Two other copper pipes run parallel then perpendicular to the wall and up to the bathrooms and powder rooms. They lead to another copper pipe that rests inside a delicate metal ribbed collar at the base of the floor that will be filled with hot water to heat the house. My father likes the heating system, yet curses the ribbed collar that dents too easy. But, it is what the market and budget offers. The collars


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need to be covered by six inch light metal baseboard immediately because my father works like a bull in the china shop. And he has a clumsy son about who believes all is indestructible. My mother is quite excited about the heating system. It is the latest in home heating and offers the benefit of radiated heat. Itâ€&#x;s heat that will radiate quietly through the house like an unseen peat stove. Sadly it will not emit the calm sooty aroma of peat. On Stenton Avenue we know only squat square shoulder radiators. They dominate the small rooms of our row house like welded down furniture. They take precious space from the small rooms. The radiators come with a full metal frame that covers them. My father has made some frames for the radiators from wood, but the wood absorbs heat rather than radiate. So he designed a cover with a combination of wood top and metal grate that stifled the heat. He likes the function of radiators, but not the look. So, the covers of the radiators are removed to allow for more heat to come out


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and to be more efficient. That does not last long either when we were tots we come to his bouncing knee, before the building, and dance to a Maggie Pickensâ€&#x;s song. Close inspection reveals scalded skin and other scars from encounters with the radiators. And my thick Irish skull is dented on many occasions from grab assing around the cast iron radiators. The big radiator in our bedroom on Stenton avenue is used for hanging clothes. My mother will sometimes drape damp clothing over the radiator to let dry or place wet shoes and rubbers on winter days. Now, my father will have his heating system tucked down along the wall. Where floor meets wall and the pipes are handsomely covered by six-inch metal baseboard. Now our grab assing and collision with radiators will soon be over. Only the comfort they bring will be noticeable. The system is in all the rooms of the house, save the basement. An electrical fuse box is positioned on the wall of the basement and uncovered electric outlets are found low on the walls of


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floors above. In some cases, there are two to a room. The outlet boxes fit into the sheet rock slots my father had carved out. Thick wires snake from the service panel box in the basement stapled against the joists then disappear up to the rooms of the house. Wires dangle from the ceiling center in the kitchen and bedrooms. They are covered with wire nuts, awaiting union with lamp fixtures. My father will choose and purchase the ceiling lamps for them. He wonâ€&#x;t dilly dally over color and style for the overhead lights, only function is required. The electrician has been good enough to make hot some more electrical outlets. Certain outlets have been turned on for portable lighting in the basement and to eliminate lengths of power extension cord for the skil saw. Walls now block all of the natural light that was prevalent in the early stages of building. Autumn approaches and heâ€&#x;s the only one out here. The creeping winter cold will not stop its cycle, nor will the


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man. The long precious summer days are hardly long enough and they are fading.


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Chapter 47

My fatherâ€&#x;s work site always seems to be littered with debris from the building. The debris from the cutting, sawing, molding, breaking, and drilling is everywhere. Messy is perfectly acceptable out on the house site, as opposed to back at the house on Stenton Avenue where we are reminded to clean our rooms. At eight years old, I can relate to messy. At the work site, we can throw our trash anywhere. The thinking here is not that my father is a sloppy builder but, that there is no time to be wasted on trash and debris when there is real work to be done and daylight is burning. You can also spit anywhere as well. My father rids his nostrils of saw dust and debris without the aid of a snot rag. He spits a


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lot for he has swallowed a lumberyard of dust over these many months. Spitting is extremely cool at eight years of age. Eight years is just about the age I learned that spitting was an event; Even a weapon, in some cases. Yes, messy is okay because it shows that the real business is on the work at hand. It means the focus will not be interrupted, nor will time be wasted for the refuse to be immediately attended. Man of purpose is building a house. My father uses little inclined wooden planes that were born from the many leftover pieces of lumber that surround him. He calls them shims and they are used to tighten, fill, straighten give support to and level framing and other tasks. He quickly decides where the shim needs to go then grabs a scrap of wood to make his shim. He would find the other hammer; the hammer with the axe blade on his belt, and expertly cut the shim to the right size.


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Some of the larger discarded wedges get my attention. With a thick carpenter‟s pencil, I draw wheels on them and pretend that I have my miniature matchbox car, like the kids back on Stenton Avenue. Vroooom. Matchbox cars were the popular toy of the day and many of the kids of the block collected them. I did not have match box cars to play with of course because every cent was spent on the house. I asked my father one day if he could buy me some matchbox cars so I could play with the other kids. My father responds without hesitation. “I don‟t want you playing with matches,” He cared for our safety, nutrition and health. Match box cars were off his radar. There‟s only this house between his ears, in his heart and soul. He is like the robot on the television program Lost in Space …matchbox cars! …that does not compute. The shims serve both my father and I well. I make do with imagination. The shims


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disappear behind walls or pounded under studs until level or flush, and no one is the wiser.


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Chapter 48

With this giant and crazy scheme to build his own house, my father encounters injuries. Some injuries are permanent, most are temporary, and all are tolerated. One of the semi-permanent souvenirs marking my father is a purple semi-circle at the base of his left thumb nail. The injury could have occurred a dozen ways. His fingernail pinched between wall and frame, caught in the paint-stained, extendable wooden ladder that rose like the sun. Or the injury sustained perhaps by his voracious, hell-bent hauling of materials. And maybe, no carpenter worth his salt would admit to but, perhaps he smashed his thumb with a hammer blow. Perhaps late in the day when fatigue was beyond repair and he rushing to finish before the day goes dark, he


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loses concentration and pounds the thumb with the face of the hammer. Maybe. One day I inquire about the seemingly permanent purple stain under his thumb. “Just a wee bruise is all, Joseph,” he says. He takes time to check his own meat hooks for more shrapnel. There are splinters and not just wood splinters. Splinters come from all the material he works with. Wall board, frayed cord, dried cement. All the material he handles somehow splinter and morph into small tipped spears that find their way in and under his skin. When he arrives home he finds his worn chair and a set of tweezers to remove the daily shrapnel from his skin. He won‟t feel the skin pierce when it happens in real time at the throw of building. It comes later when he arrives home and realizes the trauma and damage. His mind and body relax and the day‟s wounds revealed. He places whatever shrapnel he finds onto the day‟s Philadelphia Bulletin Newspaper. Sometimes he would ask for help from his bride.


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“Lily, give us a hand, will you?” The words are a request, the tone an order. My mother willingly obeys. She has seen the man change these past months into a raging house builder. He is a soldier returned from the front. He is distant, focused wounded and traumatized from the deeds done. In his request my mother pulls her duty and senses he needs to regain some normalcy. My mother approaches warily, as she knows all too well the friskiness of the little Irishman. Even when exhausted. Like shocked prey that wanders too close to the predator, he has my mother in his clutch and pulls her to his lap. My mother screams. Then she laughs and screams trying to break free from my father‟s arm lock around her waist. She is caught in his small powerful grip and like all prey she attempts to free herself. It is useless. She complains she needs to tend to the kitchen, chicken or wanes. I watch my mother‟s playful struggle and wait until she requests help. When she does my brothers and


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sisters and I come to her aide. All my father wants is a hug. He wants a few seconds of normalcy from the daily grind. We break my father‟s grip. He releases my mother who runs to the kitchen aided by her rescuers. My father turns to his hands and begins again, removing the refuge from his swollen hands. My mother returns later. She takes a seat in his lap the tweezers firmly in hand and begins to search his hand for splinters and other imbedded foreign matter. A sucking noise hisses though my father‟s teeth as my mother buries the tweezers a little harder to exact some playful revenge. And more subcutaneous particles are removed from his swollen brown hands. There are no complaints. It was just part of the routine. Jesus had the nails go right through the palm and then tacked to the wooden cross. This doesn‟t compare. After my father‟s daily triage a dozen or more pieces of salvaged debris sit on top of the Evening Bulletin. My mother retrieves soothing balm to help his hands recover. He


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scans his hands on both sides. Confident that the nightâ€&#x;s triage is complete my father folds the newspaper to form a slide chute and empties the pieces into the trash can. He returns to his chair, clears his throat, and begins to read a piece in the paper. The hands now tender and swelling make it difficult to turn the page so he delivers a puff air to the edge of the newspaper and the pages float apart to reveal the world.


Joseph T. O’Donnell

Chapter 49

The house is forming. My father is frantic at cleaning up the barge at night to ready it for the next day. Fatigue crowds in after the sun has long set. His mind numb from the rigorous physical and cerebral work. The site is now a blemish in the neighborhood. If he feels a bit guilty about making the mess, it doesnâ€&#x;t show. No turning back. Back on the block, we spend our summer nights on the porch watching the cars pass along the street. Stenton Avenue is a busy four-lane highway a few blocks west of Broad Street. There were many people out on summer evenings. While fireflies dance and teenagers drink beer in the dark alley and in


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the lot behind the junkyard, we are only allowed on the front porch. There is only one light in the alley and it was clear down the other end near the barbershop and the buckbuck walls. I have no problem staying out of the alley at night. We are fresh from our bath and smell of Ivory soap and we are allowed outside because it was summer. We were safe there with my Father and Mother so happy to be off their feet. It was a time of simple pleasure. My father sits in a shiny, emerald green suspension lawn chair, feet crossed at the ankle. He might have had a shower and smelling of Ivory soap. My mother engages a neighbor who nurses a cocktail six feet away. Years later, I learn the neighbor was being physically abused by her husband. My father sits with his chin tucked nibbling his cuticles and spitting them out on our small patch of grass below the front steps. My father observes.


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“Now there‟s a man who knows where he‟s going,” my father said to us. The mannerisms of the soul crossing our domain gave my father ample evidence that he was a man aware of his station. I didn‟t have a clue where I was going yet. My father is a man of confidence, perhaps even a bit cocky when he is building. Working in the trades demanded bravado; lest he be sent down to do Dert work. He has problems teaching us, as all he knows is What his father has taught him. It was strict and swift discipline, on Mulnamin Hill. And predictably it is handed down to the next generation. We learn confidence and chutzpa on the Doggie Diamond playing bone crushing football. On the diamond, near to fear we were not. In my father‟s presence, near to fear, we are. We enjoy the warm summer evenings on the porch. We play games with the neighbors kids. The kids from the block would join in sometimes on the steps of a chosen


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house for a game of station wagon. Whoever could count the most station wagons is declared the winner. It is a simple game for a simple time. Station wagons are rare in these parts. In Flourtown there are plenty. Perhaps when we move to Flourtown the game will change from station wagons to 1950's era fat fender Ford‟s. Pick out the 1950‟s era Ford in Flourtown and you win! It‟ll be a low scoring affair. The kids with the swimming pool play with us and all seems forgotten. I make sure a scrub clean my knees before I go out so I won‟t be considered shanty Irish. My knees always seem to collect the most dirt. It must be the praying and playing. One of the girls on my block grows up and marries a Philadelphia Police Officer. The police officer will be slain by a drug addicted thug robbing a dunking donuts in 2008 on Broad Street not far from Stenton Avenue.


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If my mother had managed to save a few coins from the week‟s grocery, she would walk us up to the Tastee Freeze ice cream stand across from the doggie diamond and buy us ice cream. My father complains. “Sure. There‟s ice cream in the freezer.” “Don‟t worry. I have some money saved,” my mother would say, hurrying us away before the man could rise to soapbox posture and rant on about the cost of things. My mother would also bring candy back from the drug store when she went on trips for medicine or Kent cigarettes. My father would never know. She bought Kit Kat chocolate wafers because they could be broken in pieces and shared with all the chicks under her wing. Walking we did a lot of since my father used the bubble fender Ford to get back and forth to his house. Besides, my mother has no driver‟s license. My mother is tasked minding the six of us each and every day, all day. Each of us is more demanding than the next. When we move, we move as a clan, we


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move in enmass to shop, visit friends or go to the playground. We walk two abreast along the sidewalk. We are nearly a squad. I would avoid the cracks on the sidewalk because legend has it that you can break your motherâ€&#x;s back if you step on a crack. My mother follows us pushing the stroller and dragging the collapsible grocery cart. A two handed move easily practiced by my mother. In her purse, she carries her S&H green stamp book. S&H stood for Sperry and Hutchinson the creators of the system. In the 1960â€&#x;s they printed three times more stamps than the United States Post Office. Green stamps were issued for purchases then redeemed for items in a catalog. My mother religiously kept her book in order to save as much money as possible. My mother handles her book like it was money. One day, my mother summons us to get dressed and meet out on the front porch. We collectively sigh, for that could only mean one thing; one of our long walks. Going to the


Joseph T. O’Donnell

playground was much anticipated, but the trek not. My father is long gone away at banging, hanging and shaping his house. I stand on the porch and look down to the street waiting for the rest of my brothers and sisters. A car waits at the street. The man behind the wheel is writing something then cranes his neck to look up on the porch, and then craning his neck again. My mother locks the front door behind her and takes the lead down the steps to the waiting car. “Okay. Let‟s go. Everyone inside,” she says. We look at each other and hop in the car. It dawns on me. We are going for a taxi ride. What an unbelievable and exciting surprise. Chauffeured to the grocery store or the playground? I could care less where we‟re headed. We settle in our seats in the funnysmelling car. And we are off to? Somewhere. We explore the inside of the taxi but, hold our tongues. We are guests and one thing we were taught is how to behave when you are


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a guest. The nuns, priests and parents see to that. We soon inquire respectfully of our destination. “It‟s a surprise,” my mother says turning back to watch our response. We erupt in wails. The driver twitches at the outburst of joy and my mother raises a hand in warning. We are off Stenton Avenue and proceeding down Broad Street. Before long we arrive at our destination. It‟s a large building with a large sign that reads: NOW SHOWING MARY POPPINS/ PUSS‟N BOOTS. I have never been in a movie theater before today. We dart from the taxi and look at all the eye catching signs on the marquee. My mother has stashed some Kit Kats in her bag and during the movie we munch them down all the while gaping wide eyed at the screen. The theatre is welcomingly- cool as winter. My mother eyes the row of open mouths, as we take in every syllable uttered on the


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magnificent screen. On the way home we break out in song. A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down... The medicine go down...Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious... She saved months for the cab, candy, and movie. I think she was the one who had the best time, watching us so excited. It was a few hours escape from the alley and my preoccupied father on a summer day.


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Chapter 50 My father is constantly reminding us of the dangers at his site. He protects us from the heavy, sharp tools and other areas of concern. There are scaffolds, ladders, temporary steps, planks, trees and now a second floor to fall from. At eight years old it is difficult to control curiosity. My father is at an all time of focus. I can get away with more and more. I slip away and find something to climb. My hope is that this place will be my playground for life, but I sense my grand playground is slowly closing. That idea begins to fade. Too much house is built and it limits climbing opportunities. If one could steer clear of upsetting Father for the day an eight year old could entertain himself.


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New and unfamiliar hazards lay in wait for unaware wanes. Some disappear while others are born. A casual walk through the growing house could cause serious bodily harm. A large rectangular hole for basement stairs yawns like a giant monster ready to swallow anyone who doesn‟t mind their step. The second floor has risen and some flooring is down, but not yet tacked into place. A temporary stair case is made to access the second floor. They are solid enough – better than the plank of wood that accessed the first floor. I make my way up the interior steps when my father is too busy to notice. Many forbidden things I do while my father is in his throws of house builder. My father‟s screaming and yelling is for our protection. We can hardly know at the time. His hollering colder than a winter‟s stone.


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Chapter 51 Summer begins to wane and my fatherâ€&#x;s patience thins like skim coat. Autumn does not wait for anyone. Nor does winter. Not even my fatherâ€&#x;s screaming could alter seasonal change and the pressure is mounting. There is little comfort in building a house in the cold. The back and bones creak when you rise from bed, extra time is needed to shake the cold, dress warm and bulk y that limits movement. Time is needed to defrost the car windshield. In the cold, materials and tools stiffen and are less pliable. Iron and steel tools hold the cold while piles of lumber absorb morning dew. The easier of the seasons is summer and Autumn. This my father knows from his experience and he will fight fatigue to finish. Sometimes the neighbors are about and they hear my fatherâ€&#x;s hard echo through the


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unfinished house. No one is about and they theorize the man must be talking to lumber or himself. This is reinforced when they notice the old bubble fender Ford is in its familiar place on Grove avenue. His muffled undecipherable words bounce off fresh lumber and drywall then float out through glassless window frames and doors. Muddy waters bleed into the street on bright sunny days. Perhaps an observer traveling this street might think a strip mining excavation is in full progress. I become bored. The reason for my boredom is nothing new has been added lately, except more interior walls and the second floor. And the places I could go are covered and no longer accessible. I want to see progress fast, and it isnâ€&#x;t going fast enough. I want to see sinks that work and toilets that flush. I want to see all the little things that make a house a home. A lived in house with closets filled with clothes and spigots running hot and cold. My bed made


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with sheets and sneakers stashed under the bed. But my father seems to be light years away from that. On visits with my mother I tell her in jest that the sinks are in. My mother would rush up to the second floor, anticipating the new double sink and toilet, but only support frame is visible. “Don‟t worry, Joseph. They‟ll be in no time.” What‟s taking so long?

I think my father may have put a psychological Celtic spell on me at this young age. I‟m not cut from the carpentry cloth. I don‟t think he meant to but, there it is. I try my hand at carpentry twenty plus years later as an adult and I seem to have not progressed as my father warned.


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I bought my first house in Collingswood, New Jersey. The house was built the same year the keel of the S. S. Titanic was laid. The price was right and it was on a nice, tree-lined street with plenty of kids on the block for my son to play with. I thought since I was older, wiser and had more patient I would perhaps enjoy the work of fixing, shaping and modernizing my first house. Perhaps I might find solace in the craft of carpentry while keeping the devil away from unoccupied hands. My wife and I love to cook so we decided to remodel our kitchen. It was a good place to boldly go first. My plan is to remodel a kitchen, not build an entire house. One room was all I had to do. I had one kid to worry about, not six. The only similarity to my father‟s project and my kitchen was that I boldly announced to my wife that the new kitchen was a go. If nothing else I had my father‟s gofor-it attitude.


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I set off to rehabilitate my kitchen. I soon realize that first and foremost I need to purchase tools. My current inventory of tools can fit into a large Super Slurpee cup. I buy my tool box at Home Depot because it seems that all the hardware stores of my youth with their faded and warn wood floors have been replaced with warehouse size poured concrete floors. I have no ambition or skill to fashion a tool box as my father needed to do. It would have taken a month of Sundays to fashion a toolbox. I have no dead line to meet so my son can get to a new school on time and the weather outside will not factor in remodeling my interior kitchen. I draw my plan for the new kitchen on a piece of paper garnished from one of my sonâ€&#x;s old black-and-white marble school notebooks. My father had an architectâ€&#x;s blueprint and a real plan. I have a rough drawing. Showing the fearless attitude and focus of my father, I begin. The old kitchen in my new house has layers of lives and history.


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There are layers of wallpaper and paint, carpet and tile. The former occupants of my house are witness to the majority of the last century. My house was built the same year White Star shipbuilders laid the keel of the SS Titanic in a Belfast shipyard. I have a pencil behind my ear...sixth and seven eighths I sing. My wife watches the project shaking her head. She is forever after my five year old son, who wants to help and play, just like me when I watched my father build his house. My wife chases after him while I scream and yell. My father is back amongst my family in spirit. My younger brother Patrick, the one with the carpenter gene, stopped by one day to check my progress. He is two years younger than I but, a generation ahead in the ways of hammer and nail. “Looks good so far,” he said, craning. The dust hadn‟t yet begun to settle. “How‟d you get that wall down?”


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“The sledges hammer,” I said, nonchalant. Like dad would have done it?. “Why didn‟t you use my Saws-All?” “What?” “The Saws-All,” he said, motioning the tool‟s action. “You cut in sections and then rip them out. It cuts down on the dust.” “Oh.” “Holy shit!" You must‟ve stirred a lot of dust,” he says with a visualizing pain on his face. “Uh, a little,” I say quickly, looking for a way to change the subject. Had the interrogation gone further and an inspection conducted of the house, it would have revealed that dust was ringing the bathtub upstairs. The blades of grass just outside my door are lightly coated with dust. The ants in the basement are blind from it and less dust could be found in the turbans of the marauding Bedouin tribes of Arabia. Thank goodness my brother Pat promised to lend a hand, as well as my friend Fran. Actually, I would be the one lending a


Joseph T. O’Donnell

hand. Since the two of them were the skilled labor and I the unskilled laborer. I keep plenty of beer on hand and feed my two-man crew well. With my brother, I relive the days of my father and pretended he is still with us. We imitate my father‟s funny sounds and fearful threats of rectification to those who maintain their present behavior. Might as well be idle. Take it in your hand like that you see! Maggie Pickens on the shore Maggie Pickens dancing…., get your meat hooks off my tools... The terror my father instilled when he built his house is reversed into a source of laughter. My brother draws his initials in construction glue on the back of new drywall. We leave our mark as small as it is. I am, for two months, like my father. Though not as skilled as my father with the hammer and nails, I am willing. With a few dozen remodeling jobs to practice on, I‟m sure I could get better but, I am not inclined to. I‟ve


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gained insight into the cost of such projects, how they absorb every waking moment, and how they extract small bits of sanity from you and take away from family time. I counted on Fran and Pat to show me the majority of the work. With the knowledge of remodeling a kitchen I canâ€&#x;t conceive of how my father did an entire house. The remodeling of a kitchen is so small in comparison. When the kitchen is done I feel a tremendous relief and accomplishment. I try not to think about the cost of such a thing. I try not to. My father tried not to think about the cost. But he had to. He had to think of everything.


Joseph T. O’Donnell

Chapter 52

My father‟s new kitchen on Grove Avenue is twelve by ten feet. The kitchen is nearly the size of his three room house on Mulnamin Hill; and four Stenton Avenue kitchens could fit inside my father‟s new kitchen. It is big enough to put a country table in and have space to cook and move generously about. The food will be cooked in proximity to the table and not off in another room that hangs over the garage with a view neighbor‟s house across the alley. This kitchen will have proper duct work for ventilation and two double hung windows that look out over the green yard and trees.


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He‟ll install counter tops where his wife Lily can knead the scone and line up school lunch pails to drop in the sandwiches assembly line style. There‟ll be a closet for the dry foodstuffs and an alcove home for the refrigerator. There‟s a space from the top of the refrigerator to the ceiling just large enough to hide a small man. And on future Halloween afternoons my father will lay in wait on top of the refrigerator and under the ceiling as we arrive home from school he‟ll give all his children a proper scare to prepare us for the coming evening. His kitchen will sit quite alone from any on the block. Beautiful floor and wall cabinets will line one wall with ample storage. On Sunday mornings, after mass, the smell of scalding pork bellies and eggs will fill the air. The house will have four bedrooms, two full baths, two half-baths, a basement and an unfinished attic. His own master bedroom with bathroom. A marble seat attached twenty four inches from the floor in the corner of the


Joseph T. O’Donnell

shower stall for him to plop his ass on like some Roman Caesar and let the water run down him after a day at work. A SEAT IN THE SHOWER! Heâ€&#x;ll never use it. NEVER. And he would never think anyone would comment or label his Herculean feat with a stout magine. Our neighbors and his friends may have. I know I do. Magine. What about you, dad? You build your own house while feeding and clothing the six of us with no income. You have five of us attending Catholic school when public school would have saved you money. But you would not give in. And you have the mortgage to pay on the city house. And it is mainly just you and your toolbox out there in Flourtown everyday. The tool box made from the thickest of plywood. A piece of round fitted and glued at either end for a handle. The only modern power tool the box would ever see was the


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Craftsman skill saw for lopping off lumber. You have the basic tools only. A few trowels and a trusty rusty barrow. You have a variety of hand saws. Bore drill, level, and square. The folding wooden measuring stick and measuring tape, chalk line, thick carpenter pencil and hammer. That pointy thing that buries finish nail heads into wood until Kingdom Come. Magine!


Joseph T. O’Donnell

Chapter 53

A stained plank bridge spans curing concrete steps. The steps run from the backyard, up onto the porch, and then to the kitchen door. It had become the main access into the house. My fatherâ€&#x;s experience recognizes that his hell-bent moving, shaping, traipsing, fashioning and hauling of materials will eventually scratch, dirty, or chip the pristine front of the house. So my father let it be and came and went by the back of the house through in the kitchen door. Materials for the second floor and beyond came up the plank through the kitchen door to the various areas of the house now


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taking form. The kitchen floor looks like a Dodge City Saloon but it can take the wear until the linoleum covers it. Time is short. The handmade saw horses and a piece of plywood make a nice picnic table for eating lunch. My fatherâ€&#x;s cold ring of tea can now be found on the plywood lunch table. China cups and Saucers wouldnâ€&#x;t last ten minutes out here. My mother encourages us to travel with him to the site for we would protest if not fed and at least remind my father that he should stop and eat as well. So I make more trips to the house as autumn approaches. My mother knows her chicks would demand to eat and we were there to wave a hand across his steely stare and roust my father from his trance to stop and eat.

My father pulls wood framing away from the back porch. The framing forms a mold for concrete poured a days earlier. The mold is held together by large metal threaded


Joseph T. O’Donnell

clamps specially designed for such endeavors. He pry‟s off the first piece of the frame and discovers air pockets have caused minor blemishes that would need to be filled in with mortar mixed in the trusty wheelbarrow. That‟s the thing with building. You build shape and mold, step back and admire your work only to discover you need to do more. The two-by-fours and two-by-twelve boards are removed and I could see the form and understand his design. I wanted to be the first to walk the steps, to try them out like the first day of summer at the beach. Despite minor pock marks the porch has hardened nicely. My father‟s silence indicates this. The cement encrusted lumber is stacked aside to be used later for the front steps and whatever else. The steps flowed down from the back of the house and were tight against the kitchen door. Without thought I attempt to walk the new steps.


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“Stay away from those steps Joseph!” my father belts out. I nearly jump out of my Keds. They must not be walked on until they cure. Do you hear?” Yes, I hear, along with the rest of the good people on the block. His neck muscles I can see swell and reveal two large veins on either side. I dodge the long boards now swinging wildly in my father‟s hands. And I think what ailment have the steps caught if they need to be cured? Later in the week, the steps are officially open. I guess the steps are now cured from whatever ailed them. My father‟s caution came from not wanting to repeat yards of poured concrete. “I‟m not a concrete man,” he mumbles. He looks like one to me.


Joseph T. O’Donnell

Chapter 54

Perhaps if he had waited for us to be a little older and stronger we could have done more to help. God we tried. I know now my father couldn‟t have waited. We were already starting to wander from the alley. Aihhh! They‟ll be caught up in that alley trouble and beyond for long. Sure it‟s no place at all to raise a family. I can‟t wait. Not at all!


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I recall one time my father was in a panic one Sunday, looking for my older brother Jimmy who wondered away from the alley and could not be found. An immediate prayer to Saint Anthony was said, and then repeated. My father set out to find him in the car. Saint Anthony please says a prayer because someone/something is lost and cannot be found. Chant and repeat silently until prayer answered. The entire family is in the bubble fender Ford, cruising several of the alleyways looking for him. My father is livid and worried. We spot my brother playing in a distant alley my father turns the wheel down the alley. He is in a rage. My brother is hauled into the car and we were off, my father screams about listening. I remember another time when some kids my age from the alley had gotten word that two rival teenage gangs were setting up a rumble to settle a score. One of the groups, somehow it was determined, were our allies,


Joseph T. O’Donnell

although we had never met them except to watch and root for them when they played buck-buck at the top of the alley. We are the junior gang trainees destined to fill their ranks in a few years. It is unofficial conscription. Locality and familiarity makes good units and soldiers. I don‟t remember taking an oath after or before I was recruited. We would not able to take part in the fight, as we are too young. We are tasked with collecting weapons for the impending battle. As is sometimes the case in war, you fight with what you have. In our case, the preferred weapon of choice was soda and beer bottles. The bottles are everywhere. You can find them in the alley, behind the junkyard and in rusted metal trash cans. The bottles can be deployed several ways. In theory they can be filled with gasoline and launched the way of the Russian General Molotov intended or broken at the neck to reveal the teeth of the glass and carried into combat. In reality no serious damage was ever recorded. As far as the Molotov‟s went, they were usually thrown against the junk yard


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brick wall to the delight of the thrower and the crowd. Our enemy has nothing to fear from the Sixty-Sixth and Stenton Street recruits. But we were into our task. I was a good soldier. I went with our leader and did as I was told, as the protection of our home alley was at stake. We find our way to the lot behind the junkyard where the mean dog barked. We collect glass bottles and stage them in a pit long ago dug by another generation of soldiers. Most of the bottles would never leave the pit. We are, in a way, recycling before it would become widely popular in twenty years. I knew the money to be had in them bottles. Had I no Catholic guilty conscience I would have commandeered them for cash. I knew some soda bottles were redeemable for a penny or nickel at the drug store on the corner. But I dare not touch such a cache of weapons for such a selfish end. The boast of all out war on Sixty-Sixth Street seemed to have fizzled. Stand down orders are received. Peace due to darkness is


Joseph T. O’Donnell

declared throughout the alley and the weapons of glass destruction (WGD) stood down. Most of the bottles in the coming months are broken by us hurling rocks and watching the “no deposit – no return” bottles explode inside the pit. We exchange some the returnable bottles to the drug store for pennies to buy candy. If we had stayed, my father knew the trouble would have escalated. First bottle collecting, then bottle redemption followed by bottle throwing, bottle breaking. Then perhaps bottle tipping and then the bottom of the bottle. It was time, my father knew.


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Chapter 55

My father would sometimes strip away a little of our confidence. This was partly from his own frustration, brought on by the great leap he made from city block to suburban lot. Magine, from rural Irish plot to urban Philadelphia. “I never seen kids as stupid as ours,” he says to my mother, but we hear it too. Then he would compare us to the other children of Irish immigrants. Today when I hear the word stupid, the “S” word, I admonish the speaker. I hate the word. It stripped a little of the confidence. However, in my father‟s defense, I must admit, I was not the sharpest tool in the box. In fact, had I been one of his tools I don‟t think I would have made it into his toolbox. I‟d have been left back on the shelf of the


Joseph T. O’Donnell

garage that never held the car. Now, I wonder if it was a form of Attention Deficit Disorder. ADD. Always Dreaming, Dad. I suppose my father also recognized my ADD and treated his diagnosis with the back of his hand or a well-worn leather belt. Perhaps the thorn laden shillelagh would come out and be introduced to the back of my legs. But, to my father‟s credit, there were also times of praise and playfulness. Sometimes he would tighten his face, causing his forehead to produce wavy ridges that appeared and disappeared with the squeezing and release of his face. We would run our hand up and down the ridges of his forehead feeling the alien feature which reminded me of prune face- the archenemy of Dick Tracy. I also remember an incident that humbled my father and awakened in him a new appreciation for his children. When I was maybe eleven or twelve years old, we had been visiting a friend of my mother‟s, a woman she had worked with at the National


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Biscuit Company (Nabisco) as cookie packers when they were both fresh faced unmarried immigrant lassies. My motherâ€&#x;s friend had four children and was married to an employee of the Nabisco Company. I liked coming to their home because part of the visit would always include lots of the Nabisco sweets and cookies. Trays of various kinds would be laid out for us to choose from, and we didnâ€&#x;t have to ask permission to take some. They had a nice house with a big backyard to play in, and their children were our age. They were Irish, of course. The usual atmosphere was different this day, however. The cookies were there as usual and some extras adorned a dinning room table to appease the many children and families that had gathered. But something was different. We were told to sit down and be quiet. These orders were easily filled when my father issued them. For some children, stuffed with sugar laced cookies minding a still posture was too much to ask. They were quickly and quietly corralled and led away. But the parents


Joseph T. O’Donnell

would not scold or holler in the usual manner. They were quietly shushed and escorted outside or to an empty sofa seat. It reminded me of wee ones gingerly removed from the church during mass that could not stop crying. A priest had come to the home. A priest in the house was a sure sign that something needed blessing or was amiss in the household. The priest greeted my motherâ€&#x;s slumping friend. I sat on the couch, occasionally stepping a few feet into the dining room to clutch some cookies and stealthily and quickly slide to my seat to enjoy the sweets. No one was correcting me for eating too many cookies. I could hear the cookies crunching between my ears from the deafening silent house. And I was sure I was making quite a racket so I softened and slowed my chewing. My mother came to me after returning from the second floor of the house. She sat next to me on the couch and put her arm around me. My mother milked the top of my


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arm. I looked up at her and she said nothing. My mother dabbed her eyes. The adults were taking turns walking upstairs to some event unfolding in one of the bedrooms. When they returned from the second floor some found the front door and the porch and wails of grief came pouring back into the house. Finally, seeing me observing the somber atmosphere, my mother said, “Be quiet as you can, Joseph. Patricia‟s not feeling well and we don‟t want to disturb her.” I stopped chewing and just bobbed my head, as I didn‟t even want to whisper. I then attempt to break down the cookies in my mouth using only my tongue and saliva, as I was sure the whole house would hear my cookies so loud crunching between my ears. And then they would stare at me for being so inconsiderate. Or worse be the first one to have their backside warmed from a parent‟s hand. No hands come to the backside. Quiet is the theme an d I follow accordingly.


Joseph T. O’Donnell

My eyes turn towards the stairs and my father trudging slowly down the steps presumably after his visit to see Patricia. His shoulders are forward, his head down. He dabs his eyes with a kerchief and turns his body to the wall to let others pass him on the steps. He, too, went the way of the front door and returned more composed. He said nothing. Sure, it may as well be one of my own up there in that bed, but for the Grace of God. Little Patricia is dying. Leukemia had spread throughout her body and by all accounts it is a dreadful wasteful end. Patricia is ten years old. It was a quiet ride home. Patricia died a few days later. My father attended the funeral. I remember being treated differently after that, for a time, anyway. There were cupped hands around my sistersâ€&#x; chins and cheeks, even words of encouragement to me and my brothers. My father humbled from that most uncaring and unkind disease. We were so


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lucky. For the most part we were all healthy as horses.


Joseph T. O’Donnell

Chapter 56

I return to the lot, it is more house than lot. It is nearly a house. The early time, some 120 days ago, when I thought I would have a place to play forever has now been replaced by a house. My father has been very busy. Black stones, the size of large German cockroaches are delivered to create some semblance of a driveway and to help stem the tide of muck and mud. The stones roam on occasion and my father kicks them into their rough border with the tip of his exposed steel toe boot. When my father walks on the stone driveway, the sound reminds me of crunching cookies. The loyal wood planks are dismissed for now. My father has expertly pre positioned materials and tools inside the house so he can avoid unnecessary steps. He spends hours prepositioning his tools and material. Then every


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night he would pack it all up again. There is no lock box to stash material and tools, he trusts the Flourtown folks. The concrete steps have cured and are set until Kingdom Come. The wood planks join the growing pile of discarded building materials. Circles and stripes of smooth dry white spackle are everywhere on the sheet rock. They wait paint. I have no idea that the spackle has been smeared on three days straight followed by three days of sanding to get it smooth. I look at my father and his work. He is in constant motion and has no time to admire, so I admire. New things appear, temporary and permanent. A temporary guardrail, fashioned from a piece off the refuse pile, now runs along the steps from the first floor to second floor. Perhaps the rail is for us. To steady ones self while walking up a proper Christian step. Bed rooms with closets, though raw, are clearly taking shape. The room with the fireplace has a coat closet and a powder room. And in a salute to Pennsylvania The keystone


Joseph T. O’Donnell

state my father has centered a piece of slate, shaped in traditional keystone form top and center in his fireplace. A six inch by five foot piece of granite forms the mantle above the fireplace. He hasn‟t been able to burn wood in any house he has owned in this country. Soon he will. The toilet functions, but not the sink. We can urinate indoors now. Brown paper covers the powder room window over the toilet to block the neighbor‟s unavoidable view of bathroom breaks. Some light fixtures appear where once bare wire nuts hung. The fixtures bought in sets on a whim from some hardware store. Only stock fixtures on sale are purchased. (Back then Stock was still pretty good quality.) The basement floor is now a sealed cement tomb and everything under it is sealed forever. EVERYTHING! The furnace in the basement is placed on a two foot by two foot brick pedestal six inches high. My father puts the furnace off the basement floor for fear of the water. The plumber with the Irish name but no Irish birth certificate has


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soldered the necessary pipes that will carry the hot and cold water to the spigots above. My father has also covered up a square in the basement wall with saved cinder block. The opening used to accommodate the cement chute that poured the heavy wet concrete into the basement. My father has reached the roof. He lifts the three-quarter inch plywood sheets up the ladder and has them arranged as steppingstones against temporary blocks nailed to the roof joists. Once again my father balances on beams twenty feet above the ground. At this height he cuts and fits plywood to his roof. He dances and works oblivious to the chasm beneath him. With the plywood tacked down, the house darkens even more. Then, after tea and scone lathered with butter and jam he takes to the ladder with bundles of shingles and black paper for waterproofing his roof. He has two squares of shingles on his shoulder ascending


Joseph T. O’Donnell

the ladder. He will make several trips up and down the ladder. Aihh! After the plywood is tacked, I am allowed to help carry shingles up the ladder. Donâ€&#x;t tell your mother! I am slow up the ladder, and scared. My bodyweight at the age of nine hovers in the seventy five pound range. The shingles are heavy and if their weight decides to shift on my shoulder I would most assuredly follow it straight to the ground. Or worse, damage the shingles my father paid good money for. Good money is right. Dollars were never spent so well. I take each rung on the ladder almost sideways, as the square bulk of shingle wrapped in heavy paper resting on my bony shoulder demands it. I manage few ladder ascensions, the weight and awkwardness of the shingles scares me to death. My father senses my reluctance and assigns me to carry the lighter rolls of water proof tar paper. I manage the ladder much better with the tight and light rolls of tar paper.


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I enjoy the view on the roof. I can see the trees thick with leaves but, soon they will fall. I don‟t want to be a leaf and fall from the roof. It‟s a unique prospective on top of the roof. You can see close up what was once out of reach. Bird‟s nests and squirrels look different up here. Perhaps my father would sneak a quick peak at the leaves and notice the slightest of color forming on them. Reminding him of a deadline to keep. My father is nervous with me on the roof. Roofs are dangerous enough for adults but, add aloof wanes? Could be disastrous. On the roof you are at a constant steep pitch while concentrating with material and tools in hands. Had my mother learned that I was being trained as a roofer she would have screamed bloody murder. Once on the roof I pop the plastic bands of the squares and carry three or four individually shingles to my father. A package of shingles is called a square but, they are in the form of a rectangle. I don‟t bother to inquire why. He has tacked all the waterproof


Joseph T. O’Donnell

paper down and I do inquire about it. It looks so flimsy. “That‟ll keep it dry,” my father explains. He is Joe the roofer, now. Perhaps if my father was a builder of medieval and Roman times he would gather with friends and neighbors under the spindly tree and celebrate with a “Topping Off Party” to recognize the special moment of a new lid on his house. But my father has as no such celebratory notion. There‟s loadz more to do. With most of the house done in the raw, bare walls are in need of primer and paint. Floors, walls, ceilings, baseboard and trim all need to be coated with shellac, varnish primer or paint. He would prime and paint. Some additional appliances and fixtures arrive at their new home. The painting is not necessarily a priority, but my father is conditioned to get on with it. The kids can be of some help with this, as the paint does not require tools that‟ll cut the hand off you. All that‟s required is the dip of the brush followed


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by the splay of the brush on the wall. Simple enough right? The kids only paint at eye level and below, though. The gallons of paint, mixers and sealants arrive and I canâ€&#x;t tell one from the other. My father has them sorted and knows exactly what each product is for. He wonâ€&#x;t let me near the toxic and sticky varnishes and shellacs, nor will he allow me to paint on a ladder because not paying attention to your feet mighten cause you to fall and breaks yer neck. He hates to paint. To him it is the complete opposite of carpentry, it is a mindless endeavor. Just like when he is constructing with hammer and nails on the ladder, his body is bent and contorted reaching a paint brush into unfinished corners and high trim. A paint roller makes quick work of the ceiling and walls, but his eyeglasses become speckled with the splather of paint causing him to stop to clean them. Heâ€&#x;s annoyed that he must stop


Joseph T. O’Donnell

every so often to clean his new eyes. The school year is approaching. It is mid-August. He has ten rooms to prime and paint and eight floors to shellac and finish. And the house on Stenton needs a few things done and the tuition for the new school and the old school must be paid. More fixtures and appliances will arrive and need to be installed. The day‟s fly by and he must be thinking. Do I have enough time or money? Toilets and sinks are flushing now and water runs from stick shift faucet handles that you could find on the new 1967 Shelby Mustang. So close now. I think my mother detects an uptick in my father‟s mood as the summer erodes away. My mother arrives with us to the site. She follows me upstairs her hand firmly on the new permanent wood railing. Her head is on a swivel looking up and down as she slowly ascends to the second floor. The stairs take each foot fall as if marble. The steps


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absorb all weight no matter the area of the step. There is no creaking or wear. Nor will there ever be. My mother admires what her man has done to date. She reaches the landing. She peaks her head down the two corridors that lead to front bedrooms. At the top of the stairs I take her by the hand and tell her to close her eyes. For months I have been teasing her that toilets and sinks have been installed. But, each time she visits no “Facilities� are operating and she playfully scolds me when she steps into the bathroom and finds only a hole and a four inch pipe flowering up from the bathroom floor with no bowl, bath or sink. I cry wolf no more. The double sink, toilet and tub are installed and working. My mother screams with delight. Two at a time, we can wash our face or brush our teeth. Lights ignite but, not all are covered. The permanent rail and banister that will hold wet towels in the future is in place on the second floor outside the big bathroom. The smells of shellac and paint fill my nostrils. The doors swing tightly on their


Joseph T. O’Donnell

hinges and window frames that just a few short weeks ago contain no glass, now have glass. Weeks earlier the window frames were open voids that I climb through pretending I was part of Vic Morrow‟s infantry squad on the television show Combat. The doors, some so tight, my father must remove them to plane them down. The windows so tight I can‟t slide them up without assistance from my father. I try to open the back door and it takes both hands on the door knob and me with my weight on my heels to break the seal. The front door is not to be touched, accessed or even looked at by wanes, so it isn‟t. My father won‟t allow us to come through the front door. Not yet. I think it may have been some superstitious Irish curse to use the front door before the house was ready. The front door is very heavy and is equipped with top quality hardware that shines like gold. My father spent the extra money for proper presentation. And the use and abuse the door will take in the coming years. He wouldn‟t consider some


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wild bright green or yellow color for the front door like the doors in rural Ireland. No, here he accepts the American simple elegance of a solid white door with brass finish. The end of summer is here.


Joseph T. O’Donnell

Chapter 57

In early September 1967, I, my brothers and sisters return to Saint Benedicts School in the city. My father is not able to complete the project in the allotted time. Of course, most men would have allotted more time and more money. And more hands. It will take a few more weeks of work, worry and Monday Novenas to move us in. Word is spreading around the alley that we soon would be moving. There is little fanfare. Schoolâ€&#x;s in session and we are busy enough. The Doggie Diamond is getting great use after school and on weekends. I get a little nastier out on the doggie diamond pitch. A few weeks before we move I was out and about from the alley on a discovery


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mission with an alley pal. We‟re on my friend‟s bike and we are a distant four blocks from my house. May as well been Timbuktu. We went all the way to the top of the hill near the bowling alley on Stenton Avenue. It was a weekend and my father was busy with paint and varnish along with the hundreds of details associated with finishing his new house. I am sitting on the horizontal bar off my friend‟s bike, legs dangling. I make a conscious effort to keep my legs from tangling in the spinning wheel. We descend a downhill stretch of Stenton Avenue and not content with the speed the driver pedals faster. I fear that I have been away from the alley too long. I worry that I‟ll be missed by my mother. If caught outside the alley boundary riding wildly on a bicycle I‟ll be lashed by both tongue and belt. The bike swerves from every downward push of the pedal. My friend pushes down on the pedals faster and faster. We gain the speed and we are properly enthralled. Lost in the speed and rushing air I forget about my dangling legs and my heel


Joseph T. O’Donnell

catches the spinning wheel and pitches us and the bike forward like dirty laundry water out a window. It happened so fast I didn‟t know what happened until I awake a minute later. People were around me and a few minutes later an ambulance arrives. Luckily we land close to the curb and out of the street and traffic. I am cracked up good. When I regain consciousness, I start to feel the blood dripping from my head and mouth. A push of my tongue reveals that something‟s amiss. Along with my cracked head and ripped pants, I have chipped my front tooth. Clean as a whistle. My front tooth has been reduced one half, and the pain arrives. We are given care in an ambulance and then sent on our way home. We walk the crippled bike and ourselves the three blocks back to the top of the alley. I say goodbye to my friend and I arrive home in front of my mother. She‟s in a fit of care and comfort. Her hands check for holes, missing digits and bones that shouldn‟t move. Satisfied with her inspection she steps back to take a look at me.


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My lip is doubled it‟s normal size and a bandage covers one side of my forehead. I look, I imagine, what she feared may have happened had I had fallen at my father‟s new house. Perhaps I would have been safer this day at my father‟s site. I was given some medicine and ice for the swelling. My tooth throbs in ocean waves and I can not sit on one cheek of my ass. My father arrives home to inspect my gob. With one hand on top of my head and the other cupping my chin he tilts my head back and sucks in air through his own teeth. It is the same sucking noise he makes when my mother pulls debris from his hands. He runs his tongue across his own teeth imagining my pain. Magine! “That‟ll learn you from riding those damn bikes that way!” he says. He smells of the house. This night his odor has a hint of varnish. “We‟ll have to get to the dentist,” my mother commands.


Joseph T. O’Donnell

“And how we would pay for that? Not now. Later.” my father commands. My mother fears no one, not even my father, in doing what is right for her children. An emergency dentist appointment is made and I am mercifully given injections of Novocain to stop the throbbing of my tooth. But the repair of the tooth would come later. I feel guilty, as I have caused house funds and time to be diverted to my teeth and gob. Not now. We are set to move in weeks. My father has reached a new level of tizzy from the minute details that were springing up. There‟s the settlement of the old house and the painting of the new. His middle boy has teeth to fix and he is trying to line up a caravan of vehicles to transport all our worldly possessions to his new house. There are beds to disassemble and boxes to pack. Children need to be watched, and one year old Ann Marie needs extra care. I wear my broken tooth like a badge of honor. I would greet the new house,


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neighbors, priests, nuns, coaches, teachers, and schoolmates with half tooth. It makes me look tough, that half tooth. Up from the city I will come half tooth and all.


Joseph T. O’Donnell

Chapter 58

A dozen paint cans are stacked on the freshly cured concrete basement floor. I think back a few months at the once mud floor when it was an awful go of muck, when it was our lavatory. Now it is a sealed tomb. Different colors of paint are mixed to create acceptable hues; off-white, blue, pink for the girlâ€&#x;s room, bone, and light peach in the living and dining rooms. A pail soft yellow hue for the kitchen. My father stirs the various shades like a lab scientist, testing the look by stabbing his new wall and waiting for it to dry. Like everything else in this project, my father stretches. The inside of the paint cans are scrapped with a brush until they are clean as


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his dinner plate. The house reeks of paint, varnish, shellac and paint thinner. Every subsequent visit reveals a coffee can full of assorted brushes soaking in thinner. The coffee cans must have been salvaged from some far, far away place, as there is no coffee drunk in this house or any other house. My father the painter rolls and brushes paint against his new walls and trim. He keeps a rag dangling from his back pocket to halt wandering paint. His thought process is different, though. He paints quickly in mundane strokes to cover his walls and ceilings. His green Dickie pants reveal the color of the day, and days past. His glasses become speckled over and over again from the gallons of paint he has splathered on the walls. The small Celtic grunts, so familiar with the carpentry and labor could be heard again when he reaches high to paint the corners of the room. Aih! My father has an itch on his back he cannot reach and must stop to scratch it. With paint


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brush fisted he finds the corner of an unpainted door frame. He twists and bobs his torso accordingly until he finds the spot in need of a scratch. He climbs back up the ladder and continues the painting. The only ventilation from the onslaught of the paint and varnish is an open window with orange stickers on the glass that describe their ratings, insulation attributes, and dimensions. The windows are separated into six panes by wood frames. Each one of the wood frames need primer and paint. My father paints the delicate wood frames of the window; his tongue position alternates between his teeth or hangs out of his mouth in concentration. Time is winding down. The house is nearly ready for occupation, but not nearly complete. It is Halloween, 1967. We are set to move the next day. All Saints day.


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Chapter 59

I went trick or treating for the last time in the city. As if it were an omen, I have an incident. I am dressed as a bum or train hopping hobo, the same costume as the previous three years and the years to come. It is an inexpensive Halloween costume. A burnt cork smears my white face black in an attempt to depict a traditional hobo beard. My father says I look as good as Red Skeltonâ€&#x;s hobo character. I wear old clothes and a coat and kerchief knotted to a stick. My ensemble is not a stretch. I had only been “trick or treatingâ€? a couple of minutes when I arrive at the top of the alley. I pass the entrance to the alley and someone grabs my treat bag from behind and bolts down the darkened alley and disappears. I am trained well by my parents and I am frightened


Joseph T. O’Donnell

and I do not pursue my attacker down the dark alley. I am left with only the reinforced paper handles of the bag in my hand. I am in shock. I stare at my hand and the tattered handles of my bag. I return to the front of Stenton Avenue stiff from the shock of the assault. I grip the handles of my former treat bag as proof of my story upon my return home. Comfort and support come my way from the kids on the block. There is a big commotion as witnesses corroborate my story. I couldn‟t speak. Candy is a real treat and rare these days, and this candy bandit has swiped my candy supply which should have lasted until Thanksgiving Day. The other parents want to call the cops, but my mother won‟t have it. She wants a clean move the next day. A candy cooperative is ordered by other parents whose children reluctantly drop part of their candy stash into my new bag. I get the stuff nobody likes. Like ginger snaps and very little chocolate. The gestures from the kids and parents help soften


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the incident and the shock soon fades. Iâ€&#x;m back out trick or and or treating. My burnt cork beard is smeared from tears. I really look like the sad Red Skelton hobo character now. The next day is All Saints Day. Itâ€&#x;s a Catholic holiday so no school. The next morning I take a walk around the block and step into the alley. It dawns on me that I may never visit the alley again as a resident. My days of football on the doggie diamond are over as well. The long walks for groceries and the play ground will soon be just memories. A wind swirls debris against the columns supporting the back alley porches. I see the remnants of my orange and black trick or treat bag. I know its mine because it has the large smiling pumpkin face and the handles are missing. And soon, so shall I. My Halloween bag swirls in the wind caught under one of the overhang porch supports lifting, falling and turning in a circular motion to the whims of the wind. My Halloween bag


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is at the mercy of the swirling alley draft. The bag not unlike my father caught and stuck in another kind of draft until he found the courage to break from its grasp. I turn and walk back to the house for the last time thinking Iâ€&#x;m in my own helpless draft and unable to do anything about it.


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Chapter 60

I canâ€&#x;t imagine how my father felt that day when a few of the Irish immigrants showed up with a car, pickup truck and a van. It was nearly five years from the time he purchased the lot until a house rock steady was fashioned and complete. Twenty years since he walked off Mulnamin Hill. Now he is a few hours away from the crowning crescendo. We load the truck, van and the bubble fender Ford with our possessions. We make numerous trips up the pike before we would finish that night. The wanes and the immigrant friends load and then wait for the car or truck to return to load again.


Joseph T. O’Donnell

My father supervises the unloading and loading at both houses. My father must have made at least a half dozen trips to and from the houses. A neighbor comes to watch wee Annie while my father and mother make settlement with the new owners of Stenton Avenue house. My father has scheduled the closing for the city house on the same day as we move out. They gather at the same Formica table where my father had scratched out problems, dimensions, Figures and tasks for the new house. The buyers of the old house on Stenton Avenue are named White but, they are black. We continue to move furnishings and boxes out the front door and into the various modes of transport. The White family moves their stuff in the back door. The family White have children our age and we exchange glances but, thatâ€&#x;s all. The moment allows no time for chit chat. Frantic as we are with the loading and unloading.


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My father screams orders between signing settlement papers but, somehow there is a softer tone to his direction. They are not the mad curdling spitting wails he is known for. Somehow his voice carries a ring of impending and exuberant joy. He has also tempered the screaming because the family White is present and he doesn‟t want them to change their minds about buying the house. Mister White may not be inclined to buy a house from a screaming mad Irishman. He‟s moving to his new house tonight! To a house he built, a house that rose from an undeniable constitution. We occupy the House White but, by legal means it is now the White‟s house as the papers are signed. No one seems to care over this technicality as we move about our business as do the family White. My father wants to get to his house, so we need to get out of the White house so they can


Joseph T. O’Donnell

do their unpacking. And like everything else my father does he pushes the moving of house hard. The pace never slacks and we were almost there. My father is excited and raging through the house. Today my father wears the mover hat. The fifty-six boxy Ford sags under the weight of household goods stuffed in the trunk as it sits pointed west on Stenton Avenue. I sit on the front step of the vanishing house watching the Ford carry a load away to the new house. I wait its return. A delicate lamp shade can be seen in the rear window. The same rear view window that more than a decade earlier framed my mother and father as they waved goodbye to everyone on their honeymoon. I wonder about the days ahead. Theyâ€&#x;ll be a new school, new house, friends, foes, coaches, priests, and nuns. Another vehicle arrives and we start anew. It left full and came again. We try to ride up the pike in the back of an open pickup, but we are forced into the safety of a covered car.


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The day has been long and we load the last of the items. We say goodbye and good luck to the family White. We push off from Stenton Avenue for the last time. We head north and west up Stenton Avenue and arrive at forever. It was an exciting time. Better than the day my mother took us to see the movie in the taxi cab. Better than that Saturday morning when my dad interrupted our cartoons to drive us to see the future site. It was better than the first day at the beach. We were on our way home. We arrive that All Saints day after dark. It‟s been dark for hours. Somehow my walk around the old block that morning is a distant memory. Replaced like a new wind. My father‟s house reminds one of a portrait, the door a mouth, the windows are eyes and the stone front projects the creature‟s persona. I open my father‟s reluctant front door. My father comments that he may “need to shave that door down a bit.” Everything is so tight in


Joseph T. O’Donnell

the house, including the doors because my father will not “heat the street” from drafty doors and windows. I cross the threshold drop a box of household items and I‟m away running through the house. I don‟t get far as my father is screaming. Old screaming, not like when the family White was in ear shot. He calls for all able bodied off spring to keep unloading the car. We put stuff everywhere in the house. We haven‟t been here in weeks. I feel light headed from the fumes of freshly applied paint, shellacs and varnishes, some still tacky to the touch. To me the smells equate to new. Unpacked and packed boxes litter every first floor room. My father takes some beds upstairs for assembly. For he knows soon our excitement will fade and not a one, would be fit to bite their own finger.Time to hit blanket highway. Lamps familiar from the old house come to life in the new. The lights seem brighter; their beam reflects off yellow pine floors like


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yesterdayâ€&#x;s Halloween candied apples. The house is a shiny new castle. There are blinds and curtains on some windows but, not all. Some electrical outlets are missing cover plates and my father warns us to stay away when we wander too close. They will be capped by the time we awake the following morning. The kitchen is lit up like the sun. There is a center ceiling light and a task light over the sink flush in the soffit. Tomorrow the soft light will illuminate mother and our newest baby Ann Marie during bath time. Every step is solid. Every wall a force of strength and every door swings, reluctantly. I make my way upstairs to my bedroom where I find my closet. Itâ€&#x;s about three times the size of my bedroom closet in the city. And the closet doors slide along some high tech rail system with ball bearing castors that must have been designed by NASA to roll out the Gemini spacecraft. And there are two doors that access each end of the closet by passing


Joseph T. O’Donnell

one another on the rail system. I‟d never seen a sliding closet door before. I look for the broad shoulders of the radiator and none is present. Down where wall meets floor I see its replacement.

My mother puts baby Ann Marie down to sleep. She has waited warily for a safe area to place her. Perhaps wary of her hell-bent husband who mighten have; in his ferocious focus, pack the baby up in a box. My mother finds the box with the bed sheets. It is now approaching can‟t bite our own finger time and my father orders us to bed. He takes a role call. “Margaret Mary, Jimmy, Joseph, Teresa, and Patrick.” Baby Annie sleeps through my fathers bellowing voice. Annie luckily because of her age prolongs the day when she will need to answer. My mother takes the baby as far from my father as possible.


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My father has a guilty look on his face, briefly and then he‟s calling for us again. The last syllable of each name is given distinct emphasis, like when he was angry at us. But, tonight the emphasis has a happy ring to it. “ „Marg- Ret! „jim-mmy! „jo- seph! „tree- sa! „pat- trick!” “Patrick?” All hands accounted for except one. Patrick is nowhere to be found. My father quips, “Maybe he fell off the truck.” My mother is not amused and a roomto-room family search is conducted. “He‟s here!” my father calls out from my bedroom. Patrick is found asleep behind the NASA inspired sliding closet doors. His palm lays flat on the newly varnished floor. The closet wall holds up his head. My father reaches for my comatose brother. My father lifts my brother Patrick from the closet floor and my brother‟s palm peels from the newly varnished sticky floor


Joseph T. O’Donnell

leaving a perfect hand impression on the floor. Tented arches and swirls are clear as any finger print card. . “Aihhh. The wee Toby,” my father says turning to the rest of us. “The rest of yas won‟t be able to bite your own fingers iffin you don‟t get to bed.” We scurry away like frightened birds to trees. The house is cold as are the bed sheets. We jump into bed for the first time without getting tucked in as my mother is otherwise occupied. My Brother Pat‟s hand print serves as a permanent reminder of the night we moved into the new house and when my father‟s immense project came to fruition. Hand to God. Hand to varnish. My father mumbles under his breath about the wet varnish. He has, like the rest of his endeavor cut it close. So close that this All Saints day he has made settlement on one house, moved his entire belongings into a new house. We all went to bed. My mother and father stay awake putting their bed together.


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The house holds the lot of us. The upstairs hallway will see countless arrivals and departures. The attic will hide something new, something old, like the mind. The kitchen a transforming place of raw to sustenance. The basement quiet and cool. The bedrooms are symbols of dreams, sleep and sex. The rooms of any house symbols of our beings.


Joseph T. O’Donnell

Chapter 61

My father scrubs himself in his new private shower complete with his new Roman marble corner seat that he will never use. Perhaps he installed the Roman seat thinking when he was an older man it might come in handy when he could shower himself easier on the seat of his ass. A kind of pre positioned geriatric shower aid. My mother is alone amongst the boxes stacked in her new house. She walks cautiously avoiding boxes and comes to her new formal living room.


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She looks around in wonderment. The trim is new and shiny. The baseboard and walls are no older than our new wee Annie. The shopping is less than a block away. The house and floor beneath her solid, the man who fashioned it more so. She whispers‌. He did it. He actually did it. It has also been twenty years along since my mother came to the great country with the intention of spending a few months holiday. She has gone from a farm girl in Killashandra County Cavan to an apartment above the All Ireland Bar to the row house on Stenton Avenue to the suburbs and a brand new house. The toil she has endured with the six of us and that hell bent man has come to a head. A tear forms in her eye. She hears a strange clicking noise coming from the baseboard heat that carries hot water traversing through it. It is a small racket that in a weekâ€&#x;s time will never be noticed again. For now it is sweet music and compared to the square squat shoulders of the standing radiators from the


Joseph T. O’Donnell

house on Stenton Avenue a blessing. She bends a sore knee among the boxes and scattered belongings and finds a dry piece of varnished floor. The image from the alley porch never to be seen again. The black scalloped shingles of the house across the alley will fade away. She finds an old sheet to cushion her knees. She looks around, inhales the smells of all her tomorrows and becomes light headed from the moment and the varnish. The fumes from the various sealants and paint assault her. But never was their a more glorious woozy. Jesus he did it‌he actually did it. She executes a quick sign of the cross. Thank you, Lord. Our father who art in heaven...... In the twentieth century, there were two total solar eclipses. The first happened in 1957. The second occurred November 2, 1967, the first morning we awoke in the new house. The same morning we would arrive at Saint Genevieve Catholic School in Flourtown, Pennsylvania. The Sun, moon, and earth line


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up in proper plumb, suspended in space without footer or header to support them. My father may have wanted, had he been able, to check them with the carpenters level or plumb bob. The moon intercepts the path of the sun casting the cone shadow against the planet, we slept. I„d like to think in some small way the heavens sent a congratulatory salute to my fatherâ€&#x;s toil and sacrifice. From the heavens came the salute and its own Change the sky.


Joseph T. O’Donnell

Chapter 62

And so the house was done. And so is the money. The money my father allotted for the great house is dun too, with no new prospects for replenishment. He is in need of wages.


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Stews and spuds, my father surmised, would see us through till he could find work. Our dinner meat is a marathon of chew and chicken. Lots of chicken. Even my father would complain about our diet. “If I eat any more chicken, I‟ll start crowing like a rooster.” My father dives into any food put in front of him, as a rule. He is from a generation that any food is better than none. My mother makes many a stew with barley and cabbage. Its great natural healthy food but we sometimes turn our noses up at the blandness and frequency. I pick at my food with less enthusiasm then my father. He would say from the head of the dinner table: “If you were in Ireland you‟d a be glad to get it.” My mother wishes she could be like Jesus and turn a loaf of bread into dozens and a single fish into schools. Clothes are needed and the loan payment would need to be


Joseph T. O’Donnell

addressed monthly. My mother can stretch a dollar only so far. My mother is beside herself now months living in the new house. Bigger house, bigger bills, bigger cleaning. My mother packs our lunch everyday for school. She attempts to make our clothes but, they are rarely worn. We get some hand me downs from Immigrant families but they never seem to fit. And to make trousers and shirts for six growing kids is unrealistic and impossible. She has come to the conclusion that she must make some practical choices. My mother decides on a solution. She makes a conscious decision and she will tell no one. Not even the unofficial builder of her new home would be told. She would call on the taxpayers of the state of Pennsylvania for assistance. For her children she must seek aide. The dole is looked upon by my father with disgrace and not a consideration. Had my father known of my motherâ€&#x;s plan to get gold


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from the state, she would be commanded to “put that idea right out of her head.” My father will never know. She will receive several months of state assistance. My mother receives the state checks in the mail in the late morning. We would all be at school and my father would be out looking for or hustling some temporary work. She would gather Annie in the coach, walk to the bank and cash it straight away to rid herself of any evidence that checks were arriving at the house. With the check cashed she walks home and stashes the money covertly until the next grocery shopping day. The envelope in which the check arrives is torn to bits; its remnants stuffed to the bottom of the rubbish can to conceal the Pennsylvania Keystone State envelope letter head. The Food shopping is usually done Friday late afternoon when my father would hand over a little cash from some odd job he had taken. Then he would drive my mother to the store drop her off and return “in


Joseph T. O’Donnell

three quarters of an hour. Not forty five minutes or an hour. Three quarters of an hour. It was hard to get those fractions out of the carpenter‟s head. Besides, who needs more time than that to shop for chicken, spuds, bread, vegetables and fruit. My mother is anxious when she departs the Acme market with numerous sacks of groceries. She watches my father for any evidence that my father is wise to her little secret. My father notices nothing as he has no idea of the price of food since he never steps inside the market. The sacks are loaded into the car and they make their way home. Somehow my father never took notice of the multiplying grocery bags in mother‟s possession. Or perhaps he did but, said nothing to avoid disappointing his wife who he knew was right. Grocery receipts would never be seen by my father. They too went the way of the Keystone State letterhead torn and dispatched to the bottom of the rubbish can.


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When my father landed a union carpenter job with full benefits and a decent wage my mother had the assistance stopped. When the house was done, I thought my father was done. He was not, nor would it seem he ever would be. I thought my father would be content with tinkering around his house or garden until deep into retirement. But it seemed there was more to do. The driveway is still a sea of black stone that when you walked on crunched like peanut brittle under teeth. The stones tend to wonder from their place from use and children throwing them. Most garages on Grove avenue are for one car, but my father decided to build a two-car garage. This baffled me because who in their right mind would have two cars to fill a garage? You only need one car of course to get to work, so what would you need another car for? Besides that we only have one licensed driver in the house and no one slated


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to receive one for years. My mother is terrified of the motor cars. It‟s not that she was never exposed to cars before in Ireland. She was. Her first car experience in Ireland was as a young girl growing up in Killishandra, County Cavan. She would sneak off to her friend Bridie‟s house whose parents owned and operated the only general store and Post Office in town. The pair of them would push the family car quietly and undetected from the front of the family store/post office. Then once out of earshot of the house, Molly would start the engine and my mother would jump in the front seat and join her. Then cigarettes would be lit, windows opened while Molly struggled to keep the car on the road. The car directed into town and the dance hall. Perhaps the sinful act turned my mother against driving. Or maybe it was the speed of the Americans and their incessant rush that frightened her from the road. Whatever the reason my mother would not get a driver‟s license until well into her forties.


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My father would teach my mother to drive. A very unsuccessful and stressful endeavor. She later finds a neighbor to help her along because my father taught driver education like he drove sixteen penny nails, hard and loud with no compromise.


Joseph T. O’Donnell

Chapter 63

My father has his garden. He grew familiar subterranean vegetables – kale, turnips, carrots, onions, beets, and potatoes, of course. The Dirt Vegetables. The familiar ones. If Mister Abraham Maslow is correct in his theory that recognition was tantamount to coming full circle in a man‟s life my father is close. But who in America, save a handful of immigrant friends, cared about my father‟s crowning achievement? The Immigrants knew the awful go it took to complete, for some have walked in my father‟s shoes. Perhaps a few neighbors respected his accomplishment, but would never walk in his steel toe boots. But, they were not the ones he needed recognition from. No, to really complete himself my father would need to go deep into the past to the ones that knew him as a boy.


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He needs to return to the ones who once saw him gazing at the shimmering bay and dreaming of his own land and home. The one‟s who knew him as a wiry little boy and determined young man who, at the age of twenty-six, walked off Mulnamin Hill to a new world. He decided to return to Ireland. He had made some trips “back home” over the last twenty years, but they were solo runs of nostalgia, and most were solo trips as air fare for his wife was not doable let alone with children. Now he would return with photographs of his house and his six children. He started saving for the trip. The airfare would be the bulk of the expense as we would stay with newly discovered relatives. It is nineteen and seventy-two. We have been in the Flourtown house five years. I overhear my father talking to my mother about his concern about funding the trip. My father finishes his words and drew down on a beer. I was older now, nearly fourteen. My father pauses to take another pull of beer. I


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gaze around the kitchen thinking of how we could secure the funds for the trip to Ireland. I cut my neighbors grass, but the tap rooms and shoe shine business has dried up here in Flourtown. Without much thought but, wanting to help, I blurt out my idea. My father inhales his beer through his nose and looked at my mother, gagging. My mother throws down a towel on the table to gather my father‟s discharge. My mother seems to be amused as well. All I said was that we should sell the glasses and cups inside the kitchen cabinet. So after the carbonated beer stopped burning his nostrils my father responded: “And what would we drink from?” my father countered. I was at a loss for words. I had been trying to help, but I suddenly felt like I did in sixty-seven when I tried to help the screaming carpenter. Not the sharpest tool in the box. Without selling our cups and glasses, my father somehow saved enough for a trip in August 1972. Six wanes, Mom and Dad, all walking through the big airport in New York.


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The words from public address bounce off the titanic glass walls. A man took our passports and waved us through. My father‟s passport contains photographs of my brother, sister and me. We are decked out with flowery ascots, groomed hair, my father in suit and tie. We have shared passports that contain photographs of myself my father and my two brothers. A group passport of the men of the family. My mother has her own Irish passport. My how times have changed. When we arrive in Ireland, we are greeted at the airport by my mother‟s brother-in-law, Hughie. Hughie, tall and lean with a worn face greets us warmly. When Hughie speaks to my parents, they understand him. I could not, save a few words. There are eight of us. My father rents a car that would seat four adults comfortably. Our first stop County Roscommon to a little village called Creggs. It was the home of Hughie and Molly, my mother‟s sister.


Joseph T. O’Donnell

Molly and Hughie lived in a small farmhouse with three bedrooms and six children. They have a large piece of land. They treat us like the long lost relatives we are. Yanks. They set up a caravan on their broad land for us to sleep and it is great fun. They call it a caravan because it is similar to what some gypsies use to caravan around the island. We would stay up late talking with our cousins without any threats from parents. The sky does not sleep until almost half ten or eleven in the evening. I find that funny that ten thirty is described as half ten, along with a host of other foreign words and ways. Half ten, wouldn‟t that be five o‟clock? We were not long in Creggs, as my father is anxious to see his boyhood home and a brother Danny. However, I was in Creggs long enough to be pitched out of a field over a barbed fence by a mama cow protecting her calf. And in the process I rip my pants ass end open. After a week at Aunt Mollie‟s and Uncle Hughie‟s we pile into the rental car and started north and west to Donegal.


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Nothing seems to upset my father on the road to Donegal and Mulnamin Hill, and we are grateful. We were howling with laughter at the scenes that pass outside the window. Children are dressed in funny colorful clothing with old rubber boots (wellies) up to the knees and a donkey carrying an old man stares at us predictably when cultures collide. We shrink into our seats when someone glares at us in our fancy car. My mother gets a big kick out of watching us cackling at the oddities of her country. My father pulls the rental car behind three colorful tinker wagons in lazy convoy formation. The tinkerâ€&#x;s coach is shaped like an over size beer barrel. The Tinkers seem to be in no hurry. Their wagons are pulled by a single thick horse. The children are a sight. Children our age, muck on their boots and faces. They wear colorful dresses and vests. Their belongings hang on the outside of the wagon along with a tethered cow. My father waits for an opening and guns past the clanking caravan. We gawk at them like an


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exhibit and they return stares. There is another explosion of laughter from the rear seat. I see a smile crease my fathers face. “They need to be watched.” My father says. Soon we find a small town and a restaurant for a pit stop. I make my way in with my mother. “Excuse me, sir. Is there a bathroom I could use?” The few men seated at the bar turn and smile at the accent and the request. “Der‟s no batroom, but if ya must relieve yourself there‟s a loo, if you like.” He points with a towel in hand. I hear patrons seated at the bar snicker as I walk to relieve myself. “A bath?!” the locals chortled. Once in the car, the story is relayed to my father, and another grin appears on his face. He is relishing the cultural mix. We are as Irish as the locals in body and blood but chasms apart in the social indoctrination.


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We soon arrive in the town of Glenties and make a quick stop to meet my aunt, my father‟s sister Bella. She is quiet and reserved. I don‟t recall anything about her. Then we are off again out of Glenties and up into the hills. My father is ablaze in anticipation. An unpaved y-junction approaches and he barks out. “Which way?” as if asking for our help. The y-junction approaches faster and faster. We scream as if on the down slide of a roller coaster. “Which way?” my father repeats. The lot of us in the back seat bouncing like a rotating basket of bingo balls. No seat belts. To the left lay what one might consider to be a safe and experienced road? To the right a road lined in tall grass, heather, and berry bushes. “Which way?!” my father screams again. “Right! Turn right!” we scream in unison. This was better than any coaster ride. “You‟re not taking that roooa...,” my mother screams as the tall grass fills the


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windshield briefly. My father guns the engine and once past the entrance the tall grass disappears and a road of some semblance of a path appears. We are in an aroused state of excitement; the rough road increases our back seat bouncing. My father is more in control because he has the wheel firm like one of his tools and knows this road because he walked it a thousand times before today. My father breaks out in a song. Not Maggie Pickens but, a snappy ditty. Just like when he was in a fit of Carpenteria. Low grass rises from the middle of the road and two worn brown strips of earth serve as tire guide. The road is built for bicycles or animal powered carts, not overloaded rental cars. Heather and berry bushes pass us on either side. The berry bushes the same ones my father harvested for jam. Later he tells us the heather is used to make brooms to sweep the Dirt from the house. I sense there is something over the tall grass behind us and I stretch to see. I am finally in the mystic land Iâ€&#x;ve heard so much about over the years.


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“Wait! Wait!” my father said. “Now look back at that sight.” We turn to see in the distance a shimmering bay surrounded by green cliffs. The famous Gwebbarra bay sits under silver and white clouds as silent slow moving waves crash onto the beach. We continue up the road. My father points to one of the deserted cottages of his former village. “That‟s Hugh Boyle‟s place. And over there, that field there we shared with the Sweeney‟s, of course.” He continues to reminisce and his words spill out his memories. He is as chatty as perhaps at one of his a high ball sessions back in Flourtown. I get a feel for the man. I see where he has been reared. The road comes to an end and I feel deflated, but my father doesn‟t stop. We pass some large brush and my father tugs the wheel hard right I hear my mother scream again. We head down a steep path no wider than four shaved sheep abreast. We come to a rust hued


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gate with a simple sliding bolt. I hear a dog bark somewhere. “Go open it up,” my father say‟s to me. I jump from the car and immediately find the road beneath me damp as my father‟s house foundation once was. I nearly slip and fall in my new clothes purchased just for this trip. I slow my movement and reach the gate. I struggle with the bolt but, finally get it to move and the gate moves as soon as the bolt leaves its cradle. I push the gate open and stand to the side and watch my father pass me in the car. He yells to me to close the gate and follow him. Never leave a gate open transfers easily to never leave tool behind your ass. After securing the gate I fall in behind the car for a short twenty feet and watch the red break lights brighten. My father pulls the car into a small courtyard and stops. We arrive on Mulnamin Hill and the house where my father was born. My father is triumphant soldier returning from a conquered distant land.


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Mulnamin Hill lies northwest of Glenties and the Loch Nacrdaghy. To the west lie Meenalagarand, Derkbeg and Strayboy. Stray boy! What an appropriate name for a place and country known for wondering citizens who populate other lands. A train that ran between Fintown and Glenties closed down the year my father immigrated. Mulnamin Hill was once called Tyrconnell, named for the Sept that inhabited the rock-rich land near Gweebarra Bay. Mulnamin is not a village or town but, rather a gathering of cottages close to life sustaining fields and peat deposits. One half dozen cottages with no distinct boundaries sit on the rocky land and in small valleys. Some are abandoned. Or they appear to be abandoned. They are not. Just quiet, just like they like it. We open the car doors gingerly. We are greeted by Flossy, a black and white sheepdog whose body is contorting spastically with each bark. Strangers have


Joseph T. O’Donnell

landed and the dog lets his master know. My uncle Danny is out to greet us. “Sit you dewn there and rest a bit!” Uncle Danny commands the dog. The accent has me standing in astonishment as I have only heard my father say dewn when he means down. My father and his brother embrace and shake hands. My mother greets my Aunt Annie with moist eyes. Along with my brothers and sisters I stand frozen in the small courtyard area between the house, barn and peat shed. My sister Ann Marie hides behind us because flossy the beast is alien in so many ways. A thirty inch mortar-less stone wall rims the property. Steep rocky hills pitch up away from the house. Some grazing cattle peer down at us mildly agitated at the commotion in the small courtyard. My cousin, Michael, couldn‟t take his eyes off my bell-bottom pants.


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My pants are dungaree with inlaid brown suede where the bell forms at the bottom of my pants. Real cool in seventy two. “Will ya send me a pair when you get back to the States, Joe?” “Aye,” I said. Trying to adapt to my environment. How would I mail something to Mulnamin? Flossy quiets but we stay clear of her as we don‟t know how to handle a dog. My only experience with a dog was the one behind the junkyard wall in the city. And come to think of it I don‟t think I ever saw that dog. I just heard it bark and growl. Like a sentry called to stand down, Flossy sits on her hind legs and watches our movement. Her tongue waves dripping. My uncle Danny has more pronounced features then my father. He should have been on an Irish travel brochure with a cap and pipe alerting tourists of Irish charm. Danny points to the metal corrugated roof of the peat storage house.


Joseph T. O’Donnell

“I just finished it this spring,” he says proudly. How many times had my father thatched and patched that roof as a boy? Danny is extremely proud of the metal roof that will not need repair until he‟s long gone from the hill. Danny and Annie‟s one floor house is a stone whitewashed rectangle with four windows. Inside there are low ceilings and the rooms merge with one another. The bedrooms are the only rooms sectioned for privacy. There is a cast iron stove for burning dried peat. Later I learn peat is dirt pulled from the earth, shaped in loaves and dried for cooking and heating. The distinct odor of burning peat stays with me. I can hardly believe them when they tell me what burns in the stove is dried earth. There are four round removable plates on top of the stove that can be removed with a special handle insert that allows for loading and stoking of peat. Under the stove top is an oven


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with a swinging door. That is where they bake their brown bread that when I smear with fresh butter I can not stop eating once I start. The stove is used both for cooking and heat source. There‟s another bedroom for my two cousins James and Michael. A third cousin Christine has long walked off the hill to become a nurse. I watch Uncle Danny load the stove with a couple of the black peat bricks. It was if I was watching my father. Uncle Danny wastes no time when he opens the door feeds the black bricks of dried earth into the stove then quickly closes the stove door with quick and efficient movement. I watch my Uncle Danny and I see mannerisms of my father. Quick and efficient the way learned. We don‟t stay long in the house because the great vast of land has our curiosity. It is ten times more exciting then the day we rambled on my father‟s lot in Flourtown. Aunt Annie picks fresh peas and pulls potatoes from a rock-free patch just up the hill. I didn‟t know how I would adjust to the food. I


Joseph T. O’Donnell

was a bit of a picky eater. The main meal is taken early in the afternoon, and breakfast consisted of brown bread smeared with berried jam and butter and served with hot tea. The berry in the jam picked from the bush that line the Mulnamin road is not like anything I have tasted in America. Aunt Annie prepares the meal and I watch the plates come to the makeshift table that accommodates all of us. There is meat, mashed potatoes and, to my horror, peas are served as a totally separate unit. They are not mixed, covered, or folded into the accompanying foods like my mother would do back home. And my mother is distracted in conversation with Aunt Annie and it appears she will not be in position to assist me. To add to my stress the peas are an uninviting shade of green that remind one of dull miniature soccer balls that have lost their stitch. The peas are the size of large marbles. At least in the States the peas are frozen and properly preserved with chemicals and dye to keep them green. You would think in a


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country known for its green hues they would somehow get their peas to an acceptable robust blush of green. The peas are not processed; they are picked, washed maybe, cooked and served. I watch my father begin on his plate. First he inhales the smell that most assuredly brought back memories of his youth. I begin on my plate not wanting to disappoint our hosts or anger my father. I slide one pea into my resisting mouth. My top and bottom teeth scrape the fork as I pull it out of my mouth. I am hungry for all the climbing and running about on my uncle Dannyâ€&#x;s steep property. Incredibly, the pea is palatable and tasty. After only a few attempts, I am eating the peas by the fork-full, free of meat and potato camouflage. The peas alone taste like rich buttery pills. Hardly comparable to the frozen green peas we get in the United States. My mother smiles as she watches me devour the wholesome food. I have never tasted peas like that.


Joseph T. O’Donnell

My sisters share Uncle Dannyâ€&#x;s house with my parents. My two brothers and I are quartered in the barn above the livestock. The first night in the barn, my brother Jimmy discovers a crack in the floor and the hoofed ones below could be seen and are not four feet away. We take turns looking at their movement. At night, above the beasts, we settle into sleep. Our eyelids fall despite the all encompassing odor steaming from the barn below.


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Chapter 64

The days in Mulnamin and nearby Glenties are filled with visits from neighbors, distant relatives and pubs. There are so many of our Sept with the same last name, I can‟t keep track of who was who. I keep it simple – first cousins, aunts, and uncles. In the pub, my father approves the consumption of one lager and lime beer. It is half beer half lime juice. My father and Uncle Danny tell stories of their youth, and men of their age join in. I sit quiet, sipping my beer and lime feeling a little buzz listening to the stories. My father breaks out photographs of his new house. Compliments come in varying degrees. Ah! It‟s grand house, Joe. Ahs lovely. The size of it! Magine!


Joseph T. O’Donnell

I take a walk along the beach at Gweebarra Bay and find the water too cold for swimming. Disappointed, I watch the locals thrash in the bay waters, cooling off from the seventy-degree mid afternoon Irish summer swelter. One afternoon, my father arrives back at Dannyâ€&#x;s courtyard in the rental car. Heâ€&#x;d been gone the whole day, visiting the town and doing a little shopping. He makes his way back to the boot (trunk) of the rental car and pops it open. The boot should not be confused with the bonnet (hood) of the car. His short arms reach in the boot and retrieve a small refrigerator, the kind used in college dormitories. My uncle stands arms folded trying to figure out what his young brother has got there. Ever since the barons of Tyrconnell warred and settled this area and published the names of their rank and file and listed their armaments and weapons in their garrison, the hills of Mulnamin have never seen such a thing. For the last ten centuries and more all


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perishable butter has been kept fresh by dropping its form into a cold spring. Uncle Danny like all on the hill adopts the same practice. Up to this point Danny has placed his butter into a tethered metal box punched with holes and dropped it into a moving spring to keep fresh. The milk is an exception as it is drunk as is, just a few degrees cooler than when it sloshed about the cows utter. “The cost of such a thing,” Danny tells my father. In Danny‟s fifty-plus years, he has never seen such a thing. The first few nights with the refrigerator in the house is difficult as the noise from small humming motor keeps Uncle Danny awake. Whether it was the actual noise or the uneasy presence of the contraption I‟m not sure. Too soon our vacation is nearly over. My father is packing the car with little thought, his mind elsewhere. Uncle Danny comes out of the house and stands in the courtyard watching his little brother preparing to leave. Flossy, sensing a departure wails


Joseph T. O’Donnell

anxious barks. Shivers run up my spine as the brothers embrace. My eyes hit the ground as the scene overpowers me. My father is not the type to cry but, this day he did. Danny says he will visit America and his brother‟s fine home. My father tells him he will help him get a passport. Danny never did find the time or money. You just can‟t pick up and leave a farm to travel across the ocean to visit with your brother. We are never all together again in this lifetime. This trip is special because of our innocence and my father coming full circle in his life. He is satisfied that he proved himself abroad and made a life for himself, humble as it was. My father returned home to show off brood and photographs of his lovely house. He is as happy as I had ever seen him. We pile into the rental car and drive up the Mulnamin road. Danny waves a final time and closes the red rust gate. I watch my father from the back seat. I see his eyes reflect in the rear view mirror. He is wiping his eyes as we make our way down


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off Mulnamin Hill. The mood in the car is solemn, a contrast from our arrival. We sit quiet in the backseat. We are still. All eyes are on the rare state of my father. It is a never before scene of emotion. He drives slowly on the worn brown strips of mud that is his road. Slowly, his eyes dry and the speed increases with a better road beneath him. They change their sky but, not their souls; the ones that cross the ocean.


Joseph T. O’Donnell

My father loved his homeland. But, he found his own piece here in The Great Country. My father was forever toiling with his house until the day he died on July 14, 1981, two weeks after the wedding of his eldest daughter, Margaret. He was only sixtyone, nine months short of social security and retirement. He had gotten his piece of the American dream, small as it was. Imagine the work it took. Magine you did, Dad, and build it you did. You changed all our skies!


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Thank you for purchasing my fathers story. A portion of your purchase will go to woundedwarriorproject.org and habitatforhumanity.org If you would like to comment, critique, praise, bash or otherwise opine about this story please send your words to tenbook2@yahoo.com Or visit me on face book: Joseph T. Oâ€&#x;Donnell and search ten book 2.


Joseph T. O’Donnell

A final thought: A home is like a mountain. It lifts eyes and spirit, who dare to see.


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