Friday, February 10, 2006


In Which The Man is Alive...

I couldn't very well end the week on such a heavy (and long!) post, so...

I'll spare you the burial and skip to the gathering up at the Legion post. Once the liquor started flowing, so did the stories (although at least one participant required no liquor to tell his story). And as the stories were told, my grandfather came back to life. Indeed, he came back bigger than life, as I heard things about him I had never heard before. I'd only ever known him as my grandfather, so in some ways his death enabled me to know more about his whole life, to discover facets to Diamond Jim (the name is starting to stick) I hadn't had the opportunity to see when he was alive.

I wrote down several of the stories almost as they were being told. Two stood out as my very favorites, although they were also two of the tamest stories of the dozens I heard, so I hope you won't be bored reading one of them now.

(I'm joking, of course. You think I have an eventful life? I have thus far lived a pale shadow of life compared to my grandfather.)

I believe you're all acquainted with the teller of this tale. Maybe I'll share my other favorite next week:

First time I met your grandfather? That's easy. It was Thanksgiving, 1962. I was 19 or 20 and your mother and I had just met the summer before. She had dropped out of college at Framingham because she was sick of the old man holding it over her head. Oh, how he'd bitch about the expense. Three hundred dollars a year tuition--including room and board. He never went to college, see. Your grandmother did, and she wanted her daughters to go to school. But not him. Thought it was a waste of money. At least that's how he painted it to your mother. He was no saint, now I'll tell ya.

Anyway, she worked summers as a chambermaid up at the Red Gables on the lake. That fall, when it was time to go back to school, she cashed in her train ticket and got a job waiting tables at the Market Basket, where the bank is now. She had an apartment with another girl over on Main, her name was Sharon, and Sharon worked with my sister--your aunt Brenda--so that's how we met.

Where was I?

So, your mother invites me down for Thanksgiving dinner. First time I'm meeting Jim and Kay. I wanted to make a good impression, so I put on the nicest clothes I had: a pair of brown corduroys and my good white shirt. Well, it was my only white shirt. And on Thanksgiving morning, I'm all set to drive down, but I can't find a clean undershirt. Had to wear an undershirt under your shirt, you know. Couldn't find one to save my life. So I finally find this one t-shirt. It was white, but it said "Pellerin's Boat Shop" in big black letters on the front. Could see the lettering right through my shirt. So I got the idea to put it on backwards, see. I don't know what I was thinking. Guess I figured I'd just keep my back to the wall or something.

So I drive down and meet the family. And in about the first 5 minutes, Jim decides he doesn't like the look of me. He starts calling me the Farmer from Cow Hampshire. And when they found out I was Methodist and not Catholic, by gorry the shit hit the fan. You could see your grandmother harrumphing and making Significant Eye Contact at your grandfather. I get up to use the bathroom--and you know how their house was, the bathroom was right off the kitchen and dining room and the walls were so thin you hear a turd drop anywhere in the house. Not that that's what I was doing, but, anyway...

So no sooner do I close the bathroom door than I can hear your grandfather bitching to your mother. "Who the hell is this guy? Is this serious? What the Christ? He's not a Catholic, he's got no steady job (not true, by the way)." And then your grandfather says, "What in the name of God is he wearing under his shirt? For all I know it could say 'Deer Island Prison' on it!"

Well, it weren't the most auspicious of meetings.

When we announced we were getting married a while later, that didn't improve relations none neither. In fact, your grandfather made us go see the Monsignor up at the church and he paid the guy to try and talk us out of getting married. Well, not paid, exactly. You know what I mean. He was always giving money to the church and any time the priests did anything, they had their hand out, and your grandfather kept their palms well-greased.

And my God, if I thought your grandfather was bad, I had no idea what bad was til I met the Monsignor. If you caught every good-for-nothing prick in the rest of New England and stuffed em all in the same sack and stuffed that sack into a priest suit, you'd be about halfway to what this fella was like. And holy-o Jesus was he ugly. Homelier'n six rows of assholes struck by lightning. No wonder he was a priest. Probably wasn't getting much work as a gigolo.

First, he has his secretary tell us to come at such-and-such-a time, and then when we did, bastard made us wait almost an hour. Then he comes into his office all in a huff, like he was in the middle of cigars and poker with his old pal God and we interrupted him. And he's in the full regalia--the robes and the big cross on his neck and all that business--and there's me in my sport shirt and dungarees. And he gives me the eye and says to your mother, "This? This is what you want to marry?"

Well, your mother, as you may be aware, she has a little temper, and she got a little riled, but you know, he's the Monsignor and she didn't want us going to hell just yet, so she tells him how we've talked it over and how I was willing to convert to Catholicism (and I was. I figured I could be a lapsed Catholic as easily as I could be a lapsed Methodist). But that didn't matter to him, no sir. He just keeps looking at me and says, "I hear you have no steady job (by that time I was going to school at the Tech for my welding degree and was doing odd jobs at night). You don't have two nickels to rub together. What do you have to offer her?" And this goes back and forth for a while and finally he puts his hands together and says he doesn't think he can permit us to get married in his church. HIS church.

Right then, I'd had enough. So I stood up and said, "Mr. Monsignor, if you hadn't taken a oath of celibacy, I'd tell you to go fuck yourself."

I don't know whose mouth dropped wider, your mother's or his. But I stormed out of there and your mother had to follow me, which isn't the usual order of things, let me tell you.

Well, it didn't take but five or ten minutes to drive back to your grandfather's, but already the Monsignor had called the house, told Jim what happened and told him what he told us: He didn't feel he could allow us to be married in HIS church.

Even from the street we could hear your grandfather roaring. And your grandmother's telling him to lower his voice. When your mother and I walked in I was expecting him to yell at me for the go-fuck-yourself remark, but that wasn't what he was mad about.

"That gawddamned self-important stuck-up son of a bitch! Who in hell does he think he is, telling ME he won't let my daughter get married in our own parish? HIS church? The fackin' nerve! I've given that sticky-fingered prick enough money over the years that I should be holding papers on the rectory!"

He went on for a bit, while your poor grandmother's saying, "Jim! Jim! The language! Not in front of the children!" Meaning me and your mother.

And then he notices me and strides over to me. I thought he was going to hit me or something, but he grabs my hand and shakes it. "Gawd luv ya!" he says. "Only man I ever met with balls big enough to tell that SOB to go screw himself. I didn't even know you knew what 'celibacy' meant!" That was your grandfather. He treated me decent after that, but he always had to have his little dig.

So I ended up coming out of that situation smelling pretty good. But your mother was some upset. So was your grandmother. She figured we'd have to get married at City Hall or something--she was dramatic like that. But your grandfather, he had other ideas. He says to your grandmother, "I'm calling Father Dick!" And your mother and grandmother, they both start squawking at the same time. Your mother is saying, "Oh, Daddy, don't!" and your grandmother is saying, "Jim, you KNOW not to call him that!" And he's already on the phone and telling them to pipe down, facrissakes. He leaves a message and hangs up.

Now, I didn't know much about Catholics, but I knew a Monsignor was like a holy lieutenant or a captain or something. He outranked a regular enlisted priest anyways, so I didn't see what this Father Dick could do about it. See, I didn't know the name was a private joke of your grandfather's then. But a little while later, the phone rings and he picks it up and says, all very proper and respectful, "Good evening, Your Eminence, thank you so much for returning the call."

Turned out "Father Dick" was some muckety-muck in the church your grandfather knew. Bishop of Boston or something. Which I guess outranks a Monsignor. And beats a straight flush, for all I know.

The very next morning--and I mean around 7:30 AM--the phone rings and it's the Monsignor, wanting to know what dates we had in mind for the wedding.

Your grandfather had quite the spring in his step after that phone call, now I'll tell ya.

I have to admit, after all the shit he'd given me, I was some surprised how he'd pulled strings for us. But that was your grandfather too. It was okay for him to give you a ration of shit, but God help the sorry bastard who tried to give you shit when he was around.

Anyway, that's how we got married. Your grandfather made sure we had quite the ceremony, by gorry. Of course, when our car burst into flames outside the church, I think he wondered if it was a sign from God, but I guess that's a story for another time...

Holy crap, the ellipses are genetic!!!

Fabulous story :D Your dad rules all.
As they used to say at every Irish wake I ever went to, "I'm sorry for your troubles" Your Grandparents were married by, Cardinal Cushing, very impressive. Father Dick indeed! Richard Cardinal Cushing is the stuff of legend in the Boston area, Southie gave him sainthood years ago. I was Confirmed by him in the early 60's & he was like a force of nature, rather scary for a bunch of 6th graders. He was the "Family Priest" to the kennedy clan & it would seem the Magazine clan as well. Southie is quite the place, I have family there myself & your take on the accent made me howl it was "wicked pissa" as we usta say.
Hey there MM, very entertaining tales you have told this week. Between you, your brother, and your father, there's no shortage of sharp wit in your family.
fantasitc story MM! Papa was one hell of a man indeed!
Your blog is perfect reading for a snowy Saturday evening. I hadn't been here for a few days, so I'm playing catch up on your (compelling, as usual) stories on a cold Nor'easter night.

Strangely, I wrote about my mother's 2001 funeral (and her amazing traveling "cremains") today. I find it fascinating to see how the passage of a life inspires stories...
Another wonderful post, as usual. Keep 'em comin'.
You have storytelling in your blood! Can't wait for the other one.
Oh, my. As with one of the others here, I was confirmed by Cardinal Cushing. From all of the stories I had heard about him, I expected him to be twelve feet tall with fire coming out of his ears. To a Catholic boy in Boston, he was almost as legendary a figure as Jesus himself.

Great story, as usual. Your Dad is one funny SOB.
Sounds like you have a genetic predisposition for righting wrongs and getting what you want by dealing with the Really Big Important People. Your whole fam knows how to work the system and it has trickled down.
obviously your gifted turn of phrase is genetic. "Homelier'n six rows of assholes struck by lightning" i'm SO stealing that!

'diamond' jim sounds like a very appropriate name for someone with so many facets. i'm glad you've gotten to discover a few new ones.
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