My St. Patrick’s-related festivities came to a close March 22 with tasting whiskies and shopping for trinkets at the Celtic Fest held at the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates.
The marathon of mirth started March 13 watching a fireworks show with friends at my local in East Dundee.
In between all the revelry, my father passed away, out in Nevada on March 18, after having a heart attack and congestive heart failure earlier in the month.
For St. Patrick’s Day, I had mailed him a copy of “The Quiet Man” that he never got to see.
No just any copy. This Half Price Books special was a dual language version, so you could watch it in Korean if you were so inclined. The blurb in English on the box called it “An inspiring true story of service and honor at West Point.” For some reason, there are Arizona-style bluffs on the cover, too.
I’d like to think Dad – at least the one I remember from better times for him – would have found it amusing.
Maybe not. Either way, if you ever had the opportunity to meet Robert James Danahey, you’d see that my cracking wise was inherited from him – even if his quips were more of the old school, Bob Hope style, than I’d admit to making myself.
“I’m practicing girth control,” was one of his favorite lines when ordering food. That sort of material. Material that seemed to work well with waitresses and nurses.
He claimed his being a smart ass wound up getting him booted out of the ROTC at DePaul and sent into the military back in the late 1950s. That didn’t turn out too bad for him, though. Instead of Korea, he wound up in Paris.
I wish he would have told more stories about his escapades, but my Dad really wasn’t one for regaling with a tale. That was my Mom, who could recap her day down to the number of buttons on the blouses of the cousin with whom she spent the day and other minutia. There are phone bills somewhere that provide evidence of such.
When I was very young and blonde we vacationed one summer in Hayward, Wisc. The fish were caught were mostly perch or sunfish, which were filleted, frozen and placed in half-gallon milk cartons which had their tops cut off.
The prize catch was a muskie he beat to death against a laundry pole – which is to say we weren’t the outdoor types.
One of the nicest things I remembered my father doing was painting green stripes on my canvas gym shoes which I wore as a bench warmer on the heavyweight squad at St. Lawrence O’Toole school in Matteson.
It was when Pro Keds had started the designer gym shoe craze. I may have been kidded about my home-designed shoes, but now I think it was kind of neat how Dad customized them.
Of course, he and my Mom were gracious enough to drive me to all the games, taking other teammates, in the family station wagon. My sister and brother, too, got taken for music lessons, or plays or whatever it is we wanted to do, as long as we did something.
That support extended to when I got out of college as well, when I lived at home for way too long as I found my way to being a writer.
The sense of family obligation extended to caring for grandparents and for several elderly woman referred to as aunts, which, genetically or not, they were for the roles that they had in keeping the Danahey family together when my dad and his two brothers were kids.
What South Sider can’t relate to having to drive with a car full of such relatives in the summer heat, the windows barely cracked open, no air conditioning, the perfume smell mingling with cigarette smoke on the way to and from Holy Sepulchre Cemetery?
Those are just some of the stories I’ve been remembering the last few weeks or so.
See, my sister and brother-in-law thought my dad was going to pass ASAP after the heart attack March 2. So much so that I headed west March 3 to see him. With the weather here that day a wintry mess and the comedy of errors flying can be, I left home at 6 a.m. Chicago time and got to Reno about 8 p.m. their time. My bag took a side trip to Denver before getting in more than an hour later.
My Dad surprised everyone and recovered enough to get released from the hospital that Wednesday – albeit with an oxygen tank and hospice service set up to visit him at the place where he was living in Reno.
My two uncles and one aunt from the southwest Chicago suburbs made the trip, too, as did my brother from the Bay Area.
My Dad was strong enough to take to an auto museum and out to dinner that Thursday – a pleasant, small-scale family reunion.
My uncles decided to fly home Friday, so they said their goodbyes Thursday night.
I stuck around until that Sunday, March 8 – after spending the night with my dad and his caretaker Saturday night, making sure dad kept his oxygen tube under his nose and periodically checking on him.
Sunday morning, we went for a walk. Me pushing him in the wheelchair under a clear blue sky, the foothills in the background, we stopped for a bit by a pond to watch the ducks and geese.
We talked about which waterfowl tastes better, because with me, it pretty much always comes down to food or a feast of some sort.
Mom could cook duck, Dad remembered, but it’s tough to get right – goose even more so.
We made our way back. He had a visit with a hospice nurse, then he and my brother-in-law took me to the airport – but first to get lunch. Dad had what passes for a Chicago style hot dog in Reno.
After they dropped me off, I found his oxygen level meter in my pants pocket, so they returned to pick it up.
That “oops” moment led to the last image I’ll have of my dad, driving off in the passenger seat of an SUV, wearing the cap I bought him in November before my mom passed.
My sister and brother-in-law rearranged their home to allow my dad to move in with their family for what turned out to be the last couple weeks of his life.
I returned to the Chicago suburbs and went about my business, emceeing the Irish parade in “DublinDee” on March 14 with my buddy Shay Clarke.
I brought gifts to pass out – silly little leprechaun hats for dogs; a shamrock shaped loofa; cabbages; potatoes; carrots (which I gave to a horse unit); a dish towel; and, of course, a box of Lucky Charms.
I made silly jokes at will, sang part of the script even, called the parade the Tournament of Shamrocks, confused the event with Columbus Day, and bantered with the passers-by, falling in and out of an purposely awful Irish accent in the process.
Walking the concourse at Sears Centre March 22 I was up to pretty much the same thing. During the whiskey tasting I claimed one brand tasted like elfen socks (I was inspired by the Celtic music playing). I bought a book of phrases for making out in Gaelic. Best fest buddy Tom bought me a towel designed to look like a kilt.
All of which seemed a fine way to pay tribute to my father.
Often when Dad would call me, one of his favorite end lines was “Keep fooling them.” I’d modify that to “keep fooling with them,” as it’s a good thing to let some folks in on the joke.
Either way, from now on Thanksgiving will be a time to remember my Mom, and the Irish Thanksgiving that is the St. Patrick’s season a time to recall my Dad.
And if there is such a thing as luck of the Irish, mine was being able to get to say goodbye and I love you.
Great little story Michael. I know that you Dad enjoyed reading it as well. He looks down lovingly on you and all you do. He is proud of you and loves you very much. Thank-you for sharing this with your readers. I will always be a fan.
So enjoyed reading your loving tribute to your dad. Having lived right next door to your folks for 7 years (I’m Joe’s landlord), I realized early on your dad was quite a character! He was one of those tenants I will always remember. Hopefully he, together with your mom, are in a better place. My sincere condolences to you & family-
Awesome tribute Mike
Wise cracker? You? You jest? 😉