... and just when you think you know who everybody is.
It was expected. For over a year now she had been losing her faculties. Her memory was gone. She frequently mixed the generations in the family. “Who’s Nettie Delaney?” Joe had asked his mother. “Nettie Delaney?” his mother responded with a puzzled look. “Yah.” Joe answered. Nanna says she’s my godmother.” His mother heaved her shoulders and let out a single laugh. “You’re godmother is Auntie Eileen. Nettie Delaney has been dead for over fifty years.”
This is how it had been for over a year now. Totally screwed up but never seemed confused. She delivered her statements with authority and in her lickety-split County Cork brogue. Joe’s mother and her sister, his Aunt Eileen, would listen in quiet amusement when she jumbled up the generations. She’d pick up on their suppressed levity every once in awhile and would respond with a highly annoyed look. When their brother, Joe’s Uncle Bill, was part of the group he didn’t share their amusement. Hands in his pockets, he’d wanly shake his head while he exhaled a single expression, “Christ.”
"Everybody" Joe's mother said. He was asking about his cousins from New York. He wanted to know which of them would be coming to the funeral of his grandmother who had slipped away the night before.
The New Yorker relatives had a hierarchy. Uncle Jimmy, his mother’s brother would be leading a group consisting of his wife, Aunt Florence, and three daughters, Joe’s cousins, Bernadette, Mary Alice and Jane. The cousins were about 6 or 7 years older than Joe, were married and had kids. Their brother, Jim Junior, was at school and couldn’t come. Too bad, Jimmy, Jr. had vacationed a couple of times with Joe’s family in Malden. They were pals.
And not only them.
There would be other New Yorker relatives coming. Joe had only a vague memory of some of them. When his mother was relating the list he was stopped cold by the name of one of them. His mother’s cousin was Danno O’Mahony. She called him "Cousin Danno.”
He mispronounced the family name when he asked his mother about him calling him O’Mahoney. His mother gave him a flat look and said, “No, not O’Mahoney… Ma-ha-nee. Danno O’Mahony.” Without a word about the name’s overwhelming Irishness he nodded to his mother and repeated the correction, “Okay, O’Mah-hah-nee.”
“He works with Uncle Jimmy at the Mirror,” she continued, “he’s a re-write man.” His mother said she wasn’t sure what the re-write job entails. For sure it wasn’t anything like Uncle Jimmy’s job. Jim Hurley was the rod and gun editor of the New York Daily Mirror the Hearst paper with a daily circulation of two million in New York City and environs. Uncle Jimmy was big time.
He had a very unusual relationship for a sports writer. Ted Williams the cantankerous left fielder with the Boston Red Sox liked him. Williams loved fishing as much as he hated baseball writers.. It wasn’t unusual when the Sox were playing the Yankees in New York for Ted to give Uncle Jimmy a call to talk about bone-fishing or some other facet of the sport.
Uncle Jimmy preserved the relationship by acting like he never even knew there was another sport called baseball.
Definitely not from around here.
Joe always referred to his New York family as his classy cousins. They lived in places like Westchester, Rye and Pelham very much unlike his hometown of Malden, Massachusetts with the factories that produced Converse Rubber sneakers, Devoe and Reynolds Paint, Cuticura Soap and Friend’s Beans. From what he could see this never made any difference to them. They weren’t just nice, they were wonderfully nice.
After the funeral mass there was a party to fulfill the wishes of Nanna Hurley who had demanded that, “Yee hold a time after yee plant me.”
There was a crowd but it was easily accommodated by his Aunt Eileen’s sprawling house in Stoneham. Joe had been given a very important job. He was to handle and serve the drink orders. On his next birthday he would be 24, out of the Army and attending BC on the GI Bill. Even though he was mature enough for this responsibility his Aunt Eileen had to fill him in on the proper protocols. They were based on the unspoken reality that all the men would be in the kitchen and all the ladies would be in the living room. His customers were expected to be almost exclusive ladies.
Learning to talk the talk.
He was to watch for empty glasses and when they occurred approach the lady and said something like, “Can I freshen that for you Aunt Florence? Or “You’re falling behind cousin Mary Alice.” Never, ever do you say, “Do you wanna nother drink?” He gave Aunt Eileen a calm dismissive wave to show he was on to the game. He’d take the empties out to the kitchen and give the refill orders
to Uncle Henry, his Aunt’s husband.
This was a group that stayed with hi-balls, that is big clear glasses with a shot or so of whiskey poured over ice and the filled with water or soda or the like. After the ladies had a few he didn’t have to be so alert for empty glasses. The needing lady would just hold her glass up in the air and he would go over, grab it, and take her order given with the added modifications like, “Not too much water, Joseph. ”
He noticed that all the men were not situated in the kitchen. Cousin Danno was staying with the ladies. An ordinary-looking fiftyish guy he was wearing a dark gray vested suit. His hair was what was different. It was trimmed but stood up in an unruly bush.
Cousin Danno was standing not quite in the middle of the large living room but definitely in a place of attention. He was a hit with the ladies. With a teasing manner that hurt nobody his comments would produce almost explosive peals of laughter. Even the stately Mae Collins, a large, stocky lady who was given to dark drapey, velvet dresses and rimless glasses and who never laughed at almost anything, responded with a pinched-up face and shaky giggles when Danno told her that, “she looked as lovely as two cherries floating in a bowl of buttermilk.”
No two ways about it, Joe thought to himself, Cousin Danno is a funny guy.
And then on the other hand.
When he went into the kitchen for the refills he remarked to Uncle Jimmy that Cousin Danno was a riot. He was absolutely dumbfounded when his gregarious, easy-going uncle screwed up his face and said with a venom, “He’s a god damn communist!”
This was a surprise that took the air out of Joe completely. First, he was rocked by Uncle Jim’s spiteful attitude. Second, he felt that this was an unfairness beyond belief. Finally, he was deeply disappointed that his Uncle would make such a charge.
The party broke up late afternoon. Hugs and kisses all around, Promises not to wait for something like this to get together again. It was a lousy day. Uncle Jimmy’s flight had been cancelled. Joe would drive him to South Station. He asked Joe if they could go over to Medford to see the Car Barns first. Joe said sure but couldn’t imagine why. When they got there his uncle rolled the window down and gave a long look. “How about that.” he said wistfully.
Although it was on his mind he never asked Uncle Jim about Cousin Danno and the Communists.
Thank God it’s Friday
Fridays of second semester, sophomore year turned out to be a deal. His last class ended at 1:20 after which he would go to the enormous cafeteria that was the ground floor of Lyons hall. He’d find the small group of boarders who’d be remaining on campus over the weekend. At least a couple would be vets like him. They would be eating the school-provided meal that was part of their boarding plan. Barney Oldfield said it was the only thing he ever ate that was worse than Army food.
Almost always one of them would suggest a swap. Joe’s brought-from-home self-made tuna fish sandwich for the school meal. Even though the sandwich was soggy from being carried around all morning Joe always said no.
By two thirty he had said his good byes and was on his way to his job at New England Life. It was a big insurance company situated in a huge ten-story building located on Boylston Street in Back Bay Boston.
As a student he couldn’t have had a better job. Quarter of five to quarter of nine, were the Monday thru Friday hours required of the one person who had the responsibility. The job itself was an all-time no-brainer. If he finished early he could leave. He’d wave goodbye to the cleaners. He’d just grin at some wise crack about his early departure from the security guard as he walked past him in the lobby.
After he found a parking space on his early Fridays he would immediately head for New England Life’s library. It was for the employees and had all of the Book-of-the Month stuff plus other books which carried an interest. The library itself was set up like a Colonial sitting room. Sofas, stuffed sitting chairs made things comfortable for the visitors.
The only customer.
At 3:30 on Fridays Joe was the only visitor. He always sat in the same stuffed rocker that had a table next to it. There was always a copy of Time Magazine on the table. New England Life was a frequent advertiser in Time. The copy Joe would be reading was specially delivered to advertisers to arrive before the issue would appear on the news stands.
Joe sunk into the chair as he snatched the Time Magazine off the table. It smelled of newness and the cover had a stickiness to it. This is how Joe caught up with what was going on each week. The cover featured some jowly-looking guy who was doing his best to look serious. Joe almost paid no heed to the title line which said something about the House Un-American Activities Committee.
He always read Time the same way. He’d go through the whole issue page by page. If a story was of interest he’d go back to it once he had looked at everything. He didn’t make it this time. About half way through there was a double-page spread with a headline saying “House Un-American Activities Committee takes on newspapers.” There were individual photos that ran all the way down the left hand side of the page, across the bottom, and then up the outside of the right-hand page. Each picture was of a guy sitting at a table behind a microphone, he appeared to be talking to a bunch of guys, each with a microphone who were seated across from him.
Woah…wait a minute.
The pictures weren’t all that big. He was already to turn the page when he noticed the wild-looking hair on the guy in the fifth picture from the top. Joe could feel the instant freezing feeling that was flowing into his entire body. He’d stopped breathing. When he had a breath again it was an exhale. As he did he said secretly to himself, sweet Jesus!
The caption line under the picture said it all.
“Danno O’Mahony twenty two tears a rewrite man for the New York Daily Mirror
refused to testify whether he was ever a member of the Communist Party.”
Stunned, he sat there looking up a far wall. So, he said to himself, Uncle Jimmy was right, Cousin Danno is a God damn Communist. Joe couldn’t make Cousin Danno and Communist go together. He thought Danno was a helluva’ guy for as little as he knew of him. To picture him as some kind of a secretive guy skulking around looking to do bad things didn’t go with the guy who had caused the ladies such merriment at Nanna’s party.
Joe was gradually decompressing from his moment of astonishment. He did feel bad for Cousin Danno, Communist or not. The contradictions to the family began to emerge. Joe had been in the field artillery in Korea. Wow, he said to himself, one member of the family shooting at the friends of another member of the family. After a reflective pause he gave in to a snicker when he said to himself, sounds like us.
For sure Cousin Danno’s stonewalling of the Communist question would ruin him in the newspaper business. All of this for not saying whether he was ever a Communist.
Joe though about how the troopers never called them the Communists in Korea. A tough little captain who Joe would see once in awhile when he worked in Fire Direction, called them, “the Reds.” For everybody else they were the Chinks, Joe Chink, or Old Joe Chink. Every once in awhile and usually to be funny, someone would call them by their real name, The Chinese People’s Volunteers. The North Koreans never even got a mention.
Joe thought of where he was now that the Korea thing was over. He was going to college on the GI Bill. He had a car, and a nice one. He had two suits, and a sport coat and a pair of slacks. He had a pair of Florsheim scotch brogue shoes. He had at least six dress shirts and three sport shirts. Some nice ties. He giggled to himself that even with all this new stuff he was still wearing some underware that he was issued in the Army. God they made good stuff.
There was one thing he had now that he had never, ever had before, money. He saved it all the time he was in Korea. The total went up as he was promoted. Even when the combat pay stopped in August his promotion to sergeant made up for it.
He got a mustering out pay, $300 each from the state and federal government. He had the Army send money to his mother every month while he was in. She was a saver, too. She put that money in a savings account and gave it all back to her astonished son when he got out.
Even after he had paid a thousand bucks for his car he had a bank account with $3,400 in it.
Joe sat in his chair after his little reverie still holding the Time Magazine. And who, he said to himself, gave him the opportunity to acquire all this stuff? I’d guess you’d have to say the Communists. He gave in to a quiet, shaky, little giggle when he said to himself. Hey, I can’t say that they were’nt good to me.
December 5, 2014