Mike and Father Mac

Posted: May 24, 2015 in creative writing, Life, love
Tags: ,

I thought so much of Mike. My son was named after him. But I had kept it a secret and was going to tell him after my son’s birth. Unfortunately, through the years Mike had acquired many ailments. Some brought on by alcoholism and the others probably the reason for his drinking. He had rheumatoid arthritis, heart trouble and his lungs were ruined by Camel cigarettes. I can only imagine his liver. He died at age 47, just a few days before my son was born. He died in his sleep. No one realized how sick he was, even Father Mac.

Father had been saving and planning a trip, a pilgrimage really, back to his homeland for years. He had just arrived in Ireland a few days when he was reached by telegram and told of Mike’s death. Of course he felt he had to return to the States to support Mike’s family during this sorrowful time although Pat, Mike’s wife, told him that she understood entirely if he didn’t return early from his long-awaited and looked forward to journey. He insisted on returning. What ensued was the most unusual funeral ever in our small town and probably only a few like myself understood.

To know Mike, you would have to like big band music, jazz, understand early Big Daddy paint art and appreciate a soul that truly believed he could do anything and could prove it to you. His gift was that he could make you believe you could do anything, too. Mind over matter was his mantra.

Mike could play the drums in a way that reminded you of Gene Krupa, his Sing, Sing, Sing solo was spotless. When he taught me to set up the trap set, I learned that the only way to hold the drums in place was by nailing them to the floor. He could have been a professional. The 60’s music that I listened to was crap in his book but he did appreciate the drummers and finally admitted it to me one day when I was a few years older. Mind you he didn’t teach me how to play the drums, only how to set them up. He could tell I had no rhythm and that can not be taught. Besides, I wasn’t necessarily interested. But he taught me so many other things. Things that I still use to this day, almost 50 years later.

He was in the radio and television business. This was back when a guy could make a good modest living at it. But that wasn’t all that he could do. He was a damn good teacher. I worked for him all through high school and I learned electronics from him. It wasn’t formally called this but I served as his apprentice and he was my mentor. The summer before my freshman year in high school, my father being a smart man, sensed that I didn’t particularly want to follow in his foot steps in the construction business and asked Mike to take me under his arm and try to teach me something useful. He knew I had a great interest in electronics. I’d been building electronic projects for years in my room at home. He was worried I’d burn the house down if he didn’t get me out of the house and under a more watchful and knowledgeable eye where I wouldn’t hurt myself or the family. Dad and Mike were long time drinking and fishing buddies and Dad knew what I was getting into going under the influence of a man like Mike. He had a lot of respect for him, as Mike did my father. It wasn’t long before I was making TV repair service calls. I was 14, before I even had a driver’s license. When Mike was unable to drive, I’d go down to the local pool hall and recruit a driver to haul my young over-confident ass door to door repairing sets. This was necessary because Mike drank a lot and on many occasions was unable to drive . I loved working for him and his wife. I loved the shop. For the next four years, I spend all of my time after school, every weekend and 40 hours a week in the summer working there. They treated me as part of the family.

Father Mac was a couple of years younger than Mike, in his forties, a Catholic priest, an Ex-Golden Gloves boxer, played the piano beautifully by ear. He knew every Barbra Streisand album on the piano by heart. He was the stereotype and caricature of the red-headed Irish Catholic priest. A very well-educated, outgoing and popular man in our community.

Mike was not Catholic but his wife was. Thus how the relationship began. I also had little to do with religion, but like Mike I was raised a Methodist by my mother. In the Methodist tradition, I occasionally went to church but maybe only on Easters and Christmas. Father Mac, as we all called him, dropped by the shop a lot. Mike and his wife lived in the back of the store and Father could socialize there with his friends in peace because Father drank a lot also. This was no secret in our small town. It was excepted by most of his Catholic congregation and only shocked the Methodists and Baptists and at first me also until I got to know him.

At the beginning of my senior year in high school Father, knowing how strapped my Mom and Dad were for cash, and suspecting that I was mostly supporting myself, gave me a note addressed to a large men’s clothing store in Des Moines. It simply said “Give this gentleman anything that he wants.” and he had signed his name. I had Carte Blanche in the store. Don’t get too sentimental. He knew my Dad was strapped for cash because he had won a $500 bet from him a few days before. Later I learned in a movie that Jimmy Hoffa used the same kind of note on the back of his business card to help people out and to get them to join the Union. I identified with that having actually been given such a note as a kid.

Mike, always mindful of my education, thought I should learn the fine art of boxing and protecting myself. Who else but Father, the former Golden Gloves fighter, to teach me. Along with electronics, bartending and gambling, learning to box made absolute sense. One evening as I was in the shop replacing a fly-back transformer in a customer’s set, Father appeared from the back and asked if I’d like to learn a little about the gentleman’s sport. I stood up from the floor that I was working from and Father began showing me a few moves by shadow boxing. As he demonstrated and I followed, he accidentally tagged me pretty hard in the side of my jaw. It stung a little but he apologized and we continued. And then it happened again with a pretty good slap to my cheek. I had been in many fights growing up in a pretty rough end of town and already knew a few moves, so I firmly punched Father squarely in the nose. The blood gushed from his face, surprised me as much as it did him. He goes running to the bathroom to stop the bleeding. The blood was all over is shirt, white collar and the crucifix that he wore from around his neck. I felt awful. Mike heard the action and was laughing his ass off about me hurting the priest. I thought I was going to Hell for sure. Oh the blood! And on the crucifix! That was the last of the boxing lessons. Father said I knew enough about protecting myself. For weeks after when we would meet, he would back off and say laughingly “Now John, don’t hurt the priest!”. Everyone had so much fun with that one. Punching a priest in the nose did more for my credibility than anything I could have ever done while I was a teenager. In that circle anyway.

A lot of stuff went on in the back of that shop those few years and I witnessed them usually as their bartender. All of this drinking, betting and one-upmanship went on with great fun and in the end everyone usually came out even. I enjoyed the time immensely. This was where I met World War II vets that never spoke of war but wore it on their faces, in the confidence and the hard games they played. As I look back, without realizing it at the time, Mike, Pat and Father Mac were of the first Beat generation. Now I realize from my having listened to their conversations and sometimes heated discussions and hearing of their escapades from their old friends that dropped in from all over the country – it was very much like reading a Kerouac novel.

Oh, now the funeral. Mike’s mother was still alive and insisted on a Protestant funeral. Mike’s wife of course felt Father Mac should officiate. So they compromised. Mike’s funeral would not be performed in the Catholic church but at the more Protestant funeral home. His mother’s pastor and Father would share responsibilities and Father would only give the eulogy. It was the most honest eulogy that I have ever heard. I wish I could have written it down.

It started out ” My dear friends, I have been placed into the most unusual of situations. Here I am a Catholic Priest, conducting a Protestant funeral for a man who proclaimed himself an atheist”. And it just got better from there. The Methodists were shocked, the Catholics did the Sign of the Cross and we agnostics only sat and smiled, “Right on!”

Such was the life of John.

  1. Wow! What rich and enriching memories, J! This brought smiles, laughs…and tears in my eyes. Thank you for sharing Mike and Father Mac with me! These are the kinds of people that make life worth living! Everyone needs a Mike and a Father Mac in their lives! And each of us should be a Mike or Father Mac to someone else!
    HUGS!!! And hope you’re having a happy, safe Memorial Whee-kend!!! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • After spending my teen years with these guys as an influence, I should be pretty screwed up but I actually turned out pretty normal. or should I say just less weird than most. They must have done something right. 😀 Whoppie! an extra day of Whee-kend on Moanday!! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

      • Well, I think they (and the other influences in your life) did a GREAT job! 🙂
        I appreciate the real people in my childhood and what I mean by “real” is the people who were just themselves and didn’t fake or pretend to be what they were not. I learned a lot about life from them. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

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