Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Remembering Jack

Jack at Francis Gate
during our tour
The last time I spoke with Jack Flood was about a year ago.  It was April and the last of the snow was melting.  The call went something like this, “Dave, Jack Flood, what are you doing Saturday?  I want you to take a ride with me.”  Those of you who knew Jack know that could mean a lot of things.  He continued by saying he wanted to drive around the Acre with him before he started to forget things.  It was a command, and a plea. 
We met at his house and, as in the past, he had his dining room arrayed like a small museum.  His family made the Acre and St. Pat’s home since their arrival in the 1800s.  He displayed programs from the school, ribbons from parish events, and even stained glass from the 1904 fire.   They were his prized possessions.  It was the story of his family told in mementos gathered over lifetimes.
When it was time for the tour he insisted on driving.  We got into his ark of a car and I fastened my seatbelt.  If he wanted to stop, he would in the middle of the street.  Where there was no parking, he parked.  The rear end of the car bounced over more than one curb.  He was the tour guide, and I was along for the ride.
To be honest, Jack and I did not always see eye to eye.  He was always more than kind to my kids, could chat forever with my wife, and a friend to my Dad.  But more than once we disagreed.  The two of us truly loved the history of St. Pat’s and the Acre.  I love to research and gather facts.  But Jack had a different way to tell the story.  He lived much of what he told, stories about the Brothers, summer nights with fiddlers on Broadway, the Acre Shamrocks baseball team.  While I quoted sources, Jack spoke from the heart.  Jack loved to tell the story of how the downstairs altar fell through the floor after the 1904 fire.  Not true, it was moved there, but it was a great story and Jack never stopped telling it right up until this year.  Quite recently some visitors to the parish shared the story with me with amazement and I asked if I had heard the story.  When I questioned where they got it from.  They said it was a great older gentleman with a head of white hair- Jack was at it again.
The tour went on for about three hours.  Every building, every corner, every doorway had a story.  Some sad of sickness and poverty. Some joyful of returning home after the WWII.  Some amusing- being forced by his mom to carry a bouquet of flowers to school for the May Altar, or where a bookie would take his bets.  I couldn’t believe the wealth of info that was inside that head of shocking white hair.  I was the student at the feet of the master.
As the afternoon progressed his energy began to decline.  We stopped at Francis Folley, the bridge over the Pawtucket Canal on Broadway Street.  He stood there looking down into the water.  Though his body was there, it was obvious his thoughts were back 80 years ago- a young man jumping off the red bridge with his buddies.  He pointed to a hole in the wall of the canal and told the story from the 1930s when an uncle of mine was returning home from Cookoo O’Connell’s bar very much drunk.  My uncle looked over the side of the canal and fell over into the swirling water.  Jack and his crew dragged him out using the holes in the canal wall as grips to lift my uncle to safety.  Jack looked at me and said, “You know he was a real bastard.”  Jack always told it like it was, and in this case Jack was right.
When it came time to end our journey he asked if we could do this again some time.  Sure, no problem.  But the months passed and the dance of time stops for no one. We never had the chance to travel that road of memories again.
Needless to say, St. Patrick’s Day was the best day of the year for Jack.  The image I will have for him forever is the green hat with the giant green tie.  Often when you talked to Jack, he’d tell you about his many trips back to Ireland and the ancestral home which he held so dear and visited so many times with Sharon.  And now he has made the final journey.
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam (May his soul be at God's right hand.)


  1. Jack is part of centuries of storytelling in which 'reality' is seen at getting in the way of 'truth' and the marvelous fabrication that is imaginative and, because it enhances the telling of a good story for the sake of connecting with others, it serves the purpose of 'shortening' the burdened road. His gift of imagination is celebratory.

    My Back Yard

    How blind and cold I’ve been
    to think my father would not burn
    through the leaves of autumn.
    He tilted his gray soft hat,
    slid the rim between his bent
    index knuckle and thumb,
    and smiled with his marvelous eyes:
    Stick around the yard Danny. I’ll be back later.
    His square, cocky shoulders
    turned the corner as I raked the leaves.

    Goldy the ragman snorted down Lyon Street
    with his horse and wagon.
    Arr ranks, arr ranks, arr ranks,
    he shouted as he shuffled along,
    sniffing the temperature for the coal man
    and the Italian man who shook the window
    with sounds of vegetables in his cart,
    Cu cukes, tomarts, summer squash, potarts,

    and the knife sharpener whose sparks
    warred with the air as he pumped his feet
    to make the grinding wheel spin
    with the tzzzzz tzzzzz and the glowing
    sparks scattering in air, and vanishing
    like my father. I shivered as I raked the leaves.

    Gallagher the ice-man slashed and struck
    a block of ice with a shiny pick.
    He handed me a saber-toothed chunk,
    cold and jagged with silver crystals.

    My eyes glazed when they all melted away
    and disappeared around the corner.
    The chill left when there was nothing
    between my father and me, only sticks
    of wooden matches, a pile of dry leaves.

    I bow low, close down to the ground,
    kneel, and strike a match. The back yard
    is fabulous with the aroma of burning leaves.

    --Daniel Patrick Murphy