All Saints’ Day is November 1st. Not sure why I am writing about it today but sometimes I’m prompted and I just need to get things down on paper. And out of my head.
So All Saints’ Day it is.
I fondly remember my young years at a Catholic school where we could dress up on this day. As a saint. Little boys with ropy belts tied around their baggy robes and little girls with scarves on their heads.
Most of us remember the date. You had Halloween and then All Saints’ Day. Two dress up days in a row.
But it’s not the only reason I remember November 1st.
My father had a friend named John McG.
They worked together but were unlikely a pair as you would ever see. Dad grew up in Ireland. John grew up in a hardscrabble section of Providence. At the time, my dad was the father of teenagers. John had three little boys. My dad was twenty-two years older than John. He could have been his father. But he wasn’t. Dad had known John’s own father. Probably before he even knew John. We were closer in age to John than my Dad was to him.
My dad was sort of a no-nonsense kind of guy at the time. Maybe a bit of stoicism in there. John was all emotion. Loud, irreverent, funny and lovable. When John was around my Dad changed. He was lighter and laughed a lot.
Because when John was around everyone changed. Felt lighter. And laughed a lot. He was devilish and quick-witted. Dad said he would tease the women in the office or wherever he went and they loved it. Even my mom laughed like a woman years younger when John was in our house.She got such a kick out of the things that came out of his mouth.
Because everyone was just a little bit in love with John McG. Girls and guys.
He was attractive. Maybe not drop dead gorgeous but something that brought you closer. I think his personality made him really, really good-looking.
Dad started bringing him around on Saturday mornings. They were Teamsters so it was usually after a meeting. Or maybe a blood drive.
It would be early and I would still be in bed. But I knew the moment John entered the kitchen. Our house was tiny but I would have known even if I lived in a mansion. The house almost shook. You could hear the talking and booming laughter. And there was a unique energy in the house. Like Springsteen sang, “I check my look in the mirror” and make my way downstairs toward the light. Not begrudging interrupted Saturday morning sleep but begrudging the fact that I didn’t have advance notice.
Maybe in some way Dad and his kids felt John was a conduit for the generation gap that existed between us. John could say anything to my Dad and get away with it. He would tease him about his teenagers.”What are your kids doing tonight, Pat? Dating? Smoking pot?” Who would say those things to my DAD? And get away with it? John would and could. Absolutely irreverent. You had to know my dad. He didn’t swear or discuss anything untoward. And John had no boundaries with my Dad. Like we did.
You would think that maybe my brothers and I might have been jealous of this guy my father loved so much. And maybe if John were a different person we would have been. But we loved him, too. So there was no room for jealousy.
He was half Irish American and half Italian American. I think his mom died when he was younger.
When he was scheming my dad would tease him and say,”That’s not the Irish in you.”
And John would tease Dad right back.
I remember when he wanted Dad to come visit him at his home. To see the house he built. It was a real log cabin in the woods of Rhode Island. That sounded pretty neat. So Dad, Mom and I took a drive one weekend. I was also curious to meet John’s family. To see what kind of girl had captured John. To meet his sons.
She was lovely and sweet. Italian-American. Pretty with a nice figure. I still remember the jeans she had on more than thirty years ago. Because they had zippers at the bottoms. Near the ankles.
And then the three little boys. Very young and adorable. And the light of their father’s eyes. You could see it. One of them had gotten into a spot of trouble that day. Something to do with an errant ball and a neighbor’s window. John gave the little fella a stern talking to in front of us. But once the kid was out of sight John was grinning impishly. There was no question of his love, pride and tenderness for the family.
I asked him the names of his two dogs. He said, “Oh, that one is Toothless and the other one is Useless.”He was just so funny.
Seemed John had it all and that he deserved every single bit of it. No one would ever be covetous. Or begrudge him anything.
Time passes. It’s 1986. I will marry on November 15th. It’s going to be a very small party. Thrown together fairly quickly. There really wasn’t room for all the extraneous folks that usually attend bigger weddings. So, it was a list of mostly family and very close family friends. An invitation was mailed to John and his wife.
Then came November 1st, 1986. All Saints’ Day.
And everything changed.
A light went out.
John died in a car accident on his way home early that morning.
My dad had been with him in the evening. They had a drink and then my dad went home. After telling John to do the same. Probably left with a “See you soon!” or “See you Monday!” My dad came home, most likely finished up with the nightly news and then went to bed. He got up early to go golfing. Not knowing that he and John were no longer sharing the same world.
John was thirty-three years old.
It feels odd to write that number since I am now forty-nine years old and Dad will soon be eighty-three. A lot of years have passed.
When we came home that day Dad was sitting in the living room chair. He had returned from the golf course and had gotten the news. My mother went to him as he was reaching out for her arm. And he sobbed. And sobbed.
I had never, ever seen my father cry. I had only ever seen his eyes tear up and that was once. When his mother died and I caught him just staring out the living room window into nothingness. I assumed my father did his deep grieving in private. But this was something entirely different.
My heart hurt so badly when I heard about John and it literally broke when I saw my father that day.
You see, he loved John McG.
I still think of John every now and again. His name still comes up.
When we had a surprise 80th birthday party for my dad a couple of years ago, one of my brothers said, “John McG would have been here today. God rest his soul.”
John was no saint. That’s a tough status. He was human. And he made mistakes. Just like anyone of us.
Just wish it didn’t have to end the way it did. Especially to someone who was so very alive.
We always read about people who walk into a room and absolutely nothing happens. And then there are the others. Not a lot of them out there. But when they walk into a room something happens.
That was John.
I heard that his wife never remarried. Not sure why. She had three young boys and she was a young and beautiful woman. I wondered sometimes if it was because there was just no one out there that could have filled his shoes. Or filled his space. Or loved those boys like he did.
Dad retired, was blessed with grandchildren and softened with the years. I see him cry now. He has a hard time saying good-bye to me and/or my daughters when we leave him. But it’s good. He enjoys his life and his family.
I will always remember John McGinn on All Saints’ Day. It’s not the day the music died. It’s the day a light went out.
May he rest in eternal peace.
John P. McGinn