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We Were Irish, Don'Tcha Know

In 1948 Booger McNulty's coal yard stirred constant gossip among the citizens who lived in the little bungalows on the narrow blocks in my far corner of Chicago. That was more than 60 years ago, a time when families took Sunday walks and went back home in time to hear Jack Benny on the radio. A Sunday walk didn't cost a cent, a price my parents could afford.

My sister and I always had to tag along when my parents took their Sunday walk, and every time we'd pass Booger's place, I'd hear my mother ask my father what could possibly be on the other side of Booger's 10-foot fence. Hoping to avoid a conversation, my father would always say he didn't know but he believed it couldn't just be coal.

Back then, every kid in the neighborhood wanted to climb that fence and look around. But Booger didn't tolerate visitors. According to the boy whose buttocks caught a chunk of coal from Booger's slingshot, there was nothing on the other side of that tall fence except for pigeons and a lot of coal.

In the bungalows surrounding Booger's place, immigrants from everywhere slept off beer and garlic when they weren't working, which was pretty often, according to my mother. My father always worked, digging graves with the other men, most of them, like him, from Ireland. He dug graves because in his previous profession some big Bulgarian broke his nose, after which my mother ruled no more boxing. He'd been undefeated until then.

I was ten in 1948 and I'd climb Booger's fence whenever I was certain he was gone for the night. Once inside the yard I'd climb the piles of coal until I got tired and then I'd go home and take a bath before my father saw me. My mother never let my father see me cloaked in the soot of Booger's coal and she always made me promise never to go back to Booger's again.

But on Easter Sunday in 1948, I went over Booger's fence a final time. My mother had taken pains that morning to get me dressed for the Children's Mass and sent me off with a caution to be good. I always went to Mass, every Sunday,
and I would pray and sing the hymns and usually I was good but this time the weather was so nice I decided to go to Booger's instead. He wouldn't be there on Easter. It would just be the pigeons and me. But I was gone for hours that day, and since no one knew where I was, a furor in the family flared up, as I'll explain later.

At school on Monday, Timmy Duffy, unlike me a favorite of the nuns who taught us, told me that every other boy in our class had made it to the Children's Mass on Easter.

'And where were you? ' he asked. I told him I'd been sick and that I figured with all the polio going around, I didn't want to cripple anyone on Easter. Timmy accepted my explanation because we were all still praying in school for our classmate Mickey Kane, who had spent a year, so far, in an Iron Lung.

'And so, ' said Timmy, 'even though you weren't there to help, we sang as loud as we could on Easter, ' but that was something our class always did to keep the nuns in the aisle from paying us a visit.

I may have sung no hymns that Easter but I probably looked pretty spiffy scrambling over Booger's fence in my new blue suit, white shirt and tie. I had a wonderful time in the sun with the pigeons careening in the air and my imagination soaring up there with them.

I was free to climb my favorite pile of coal, toboggan
down on my duff, and then climb a different pile and toboggan down again, far more fun than any sled in winter. Hours later when I got hungry, I went back over the fence and headed home for dinner.

Every Easter Sunday that I can remember,
we'd have ham and yams, Brussels sprouts and rutabaga, favorites of my father from his youth in Ireland. But when I got home that day, we didn't eat right away after my father saw me. As I recall, his reaction was more
Neanderthal than usual.

'Molly, ' he roared to my mother, with his hand gripping the back of my neck, 'the little bastid says he went to Booger's! He never went to Mass! '

And then, despite my mother's protests, he grabbed a belt from behind the attic door that had been hanging there for years, waiting for a felony like mine to occur. I knew right away what I had to do and so I dropped my pants and bent over at the waist as far as possible. Without a word, he stropped my arse.

I didn't cry, gosh no, since tears would have brought additional licks. We were Irish, don'tcha know, so we didn't cry and we didn't watch English movies on TV, either. The accents of the actors would remind my father of the Black and Tans, the English soldiers sent to fight in Ireland after the uprising. They imprisoned him on Spike Island, off the coast of Ireland, when he was just 16. They grabbed him barefoot in a stream sneaking guns to the IRA. In 1920, Irish boys ran guns for the IRA barefoot through the bogs and streams, provided they were big enough to carry them.

Decades later in Chicago, a stranger, dressed like a Mormon on an urban mission, rang our bell and told my father he was from the IRA and had a medal for him in honor of his service 40 years earlier. The man said 'It took a while for us to find you.' My father hung the medal in his closet next to the tan fedora he wore to Irish wakes. He always went to Irish wakes, even if he didn't know the deceased, hoping to meet someone 'from home.'

So there I was that Easter Sunday, standing in our tiny parlor with my pants napping at my ankles, bent over at the waist and with my arse in the air, like a small zeppelin at moor. My predicament was the result of a wonderful morning at Booger's and a terrible afternoon at home. Now,60 years later, when that Easter Sunday comes to mind, no matter where I am, I whisper, just in case he still can hear me, 'Pops, I haven't missed a Mass on Sunday since I got that Easter stropping. I guess I learned my lesson.'

And then I tell him, as politely as I can, that if he can get a pass from wherever the Lord has stored him, he can verify
my Mass attendance with my wife and kids, the last of whom, a son, moved out on us last Christmas Eve,2010, even though the boy had promised his mother and me a ride to Midnight Mass in his new Hummer. Two feet of snow we got that evening.

My father would have loved that snow. Back in '67, when we got 30 inches of it, some of it in drifts as high as Booger's coal, he was just delighted by the winter scene, so much so that he had the two of us shovel frantically for hours, albeit in our usual Trappist silence.

When we got back in the house, he told my mother, with more than a dollop of flair, that the hairs in his nose were frozen. Thank God my mother had his tea ready, steaming hot, as it should be, in its cozy next to his favorite chair. And she gave me lots of cocoa, swirling hot with a zillion marshmallows floating on the top.

Now every New Year's Eve at midnight (and this has been going on for years) , I can see in the labyrinth of my mind those same marshmallows swirling when it's time for me to raise my glass and toast the past- Holy Week 1948, the week my butt survived Booger's slingshot and my father's belt.

'Praise the Lord, ' I shout, 'and pass the ammunition.'

As the years go by, fewer guests know what I mean when I offer my toast. But most of them never had a chance to hear Jack Benny on the radio. The young ones always ask where I got my old fedora. A couple of them have even said I should have it cleaned and blocked. But most of them, I'm certain, even though they went to college, never saw a relic. They think this old fedora is just a hat.
Donal Mahoney

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A Body Found Dead Under A Lincoln Park Bench.

A body found under a deserted Lincoln Park bench...
Leaves ruffled into a nice neat pile.

Cacooned looking becomes this scene...
No denial.

Cold and wintery gust's...
Blows about all Chicago's powdery dust.

No kid's kites fullfills the Chicago park's skies...
No new death's or even many lies.

Tap, tap, tap as is heard the hammering pounding noise...
No sight of a girl or even any boys.

The wintery day is only accompanied by roofers working hard and into the early dissolved dawn...
A doe is spotted among the park's clumps of trees but without 'nary a rare seen fawn.

How long has the maggots and bugs been feeding on the rotting stiffened carcus? ...
Only time and a lone hoot owl in tree above knows how long or what because.

An obituary in next tuesday's newspaper will have to be witten by a heart broken mother at the sudden
loss of a recent missing daughter...
I hope the slimmier critter that killt that girl runs outta time.

Is the killer a man or a woman? ...
I don't know if the police have yet as caught 'er.

Or him maybe even maybe...
I just hope he does not run off and join the Navy.

A shed out tear...
Dripped freshly by guilt fed fear.

No word of love left the lips of that suddened saddened mother...
Only sadly forlorn fed anger did she impart to her daughter, while divorced from a long absent unhusbandly father.

Now this mother's days will be long and clouded with only room for doom and gloom...
Her days(of this new now lonely mother) will want and have to be swept clean with a blackened saddest broom.

Lonely futured sad days spent travelling to a lone lost grave...
A mother grieving as a saddened and guilt fed knave.

To move on in life, she'll have to buck up and become real brave...
For, until she admits to guilt, she'll be forever enshrouded under an umbrella of guilty shame as it's helpless slave.

There is no happy ending here...
Only sadness is heard by deaf ears in griefly guilt-you hear.
Michael Gale

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All Is Well

On October 20,1828 started the journey of a man,
and a life of many ups and downs began.
Horatio Gates Spafford named was he,
and throughout his life, many trials he would see.
In Chicago, he settled into a lawyers comfortable life,
where he met a wonderful woman named Anna Larssen, who in 1861 became his wife.
And soon three daughters and a son were added to his family,
but tragety struck little Horatio at the age of four, in 1870.
Taken at a time before his life had barely begun
for scarlet fever had claimed his young son.
And no doubt, everyones hearts were pained,
but with time Tanetta was born, and Annie, Maggie, and Bessie, another sister gained.
In October 1871, through Chicago swept a great fire,
and for the thousands now homeless, things looked dire.
But although much of their wealth the Spaffords lost,
their mission was to help the needy, at all cost.
For two years through the struggles, many helped they,
and did their best, to keep their tears at bay.
Then decided the Spaffords to go to Europe, in 1873,
there was an evanglist friend named Dwight Moody, they wanted to see.
So to New York to catch the boat, the family went,
but Horatio was needed back, so ahead his family he sent.
He kissed his wife, and told his girls to be good,
and that he would join them, as soon as he could.
So the girls boarded the boat on November 22,1873,
along with 311 others, for the long trip across the sea.
But early that morning, two boats did collide,
and of the 316 aboard,266 died.
Then on December 1, nine days later, a message was read,
and Horatio learned, that all his children were dead.
Hard to imagine, the depair he must have felt,
at such a terrible blow, life had dealt.
But he carried on, and his wife he went to see,
taking comfort knowing, that safe was she.
Must have been a long voyage, filled with grief,
but Horatio Spafford held fast, to his belief.
And as they past, where the boat went down,
where so many perished, and his loved ones drown.
He found a verse withen, to help console,
and realized 'it is well with my soul.'
somebody else

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Sweat Corn.....The Other Girls...Around...



A GIRL....
360 degres ALL AROUND....
AY! !


like 'WE ARE THE WORLD'....song













Atef Ayadi

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Poems On / About CHICAGO