He quit eating. He no longer accepts sips of water. He’s not talking anymore. The priest came by and did what priests do.
Dad is resting comfortably and waiting patiently for his time here to be through.
I already wish I had paid more attention to his stories. I remember a little bit, I think.
On March 13, 1924 Thomas Moran was born to Irish immigrants (Delia and Patrick Moran of the County of Roscommon, I think). He was born at home in New York City on 66th Street, I think. There were seven of them. I don’t know the birth order. He was somewhere in the middle. “Agnes is the baby,” he always said.
Dad was closest to his brother Chris. They played and ran the streets together. He respected and looked up to Eddie. As a kid, Dad thought Andrew was a double crossing rat because he ran with the Italians. As an adult, Dad was proud of his brother Andrew. His sisters too. His sisters were real smart cookies, he always said.
Times were hard but my Dad’s father always had a job. A clerk in the courts, I think. With pride, Dad told us “My father always had a job.”
Dad got his own first job at the age of four. I know, I know, that’s hard to believe. We always told him, “There’s no way, you had to be at least six!” But he said it’s true. He said he was four. He bought paper shopping bags in the garment district for two cents apiece. Then he sold them to the uptown ladies for four cents. He usually started with just two cents, just one bag, so there was a lot of running back and forth. He knocked off work when he had enough for some candy and a movie. Usually about twelve cents. It’s hard to believe but I’ve seen the little kids selling Chiclets in Mexico and so I think, well, maybe. Maybe he was four.
He attended St. Vincent Ferrer grammar school on 65th Street. Years later he was in attendance at a business meeting with bigwigs. Getting acquainted, they were having the Where did you go to school?conversation. My Dad’s turn. “St. Vincent Ferrer,” he answered with pride. Blank stares. My Dad realized they were talking about college. Red faced, my Dad stared back. Like, haven’t you guys ever heard of St. Vincent Ferrer?
In the summertime Dad and his brother Christopher, along with their buddies, swam in the East River. Typically they would swim over to Rikers Island. It was about a mile, I think. They would rest on big rocks at the shore’s edge before fighting the current on the way back. One day a cop with a billy club came along and yelled at them for being on Rikers island. He poked at them with the billy club, sending them back into the water before they were fully rested. They were swimming along when Chris shouted “Tommy, Musc is drowning!” Musc was short for muscles, the nickname of their skinny friend. Dad swam back to Musc and Musc flailed and grabbed and almost pulled Dad under. Dad hit him hard in the face and told him to knock it off. He told Musc to be still and hold onto his shoulders. Musc did and Dad kept them afloat. He swam toward a tug boat and waved for help. The tug boat guy threw them a ring, pulled them aboard and cursed them out for causing so much trouble.
Dad’s brother Chris died in his early twenties. Something with his heart. Something to do with a Fever he had as a kid. Later, Dad named his first son Christopher.
One summer, when Dad was about eight, he was sent to a Boy’s Club camp somewhere upstate New York. He hated it. The woods scared him. After a couple nights, he ditched the place. He hitched a ride to the train station and hopped a train back to New York City, hiding from the conductors all the way. When he arrived back home on 66th Street, his mother hollered and told him to go get her thirty-five cents back from the Boys Club.
Dad’s friends called him Shorty. They played in the streets and on the rooftops. They played with sticks and rocks and marbles. They beat up, and got beat up by, the Italian kids. That is, when they weren’t all in church together.
For confirmation, Dad took Aquinas to be his middle name. Thomas Aquinas. He joked that he chose the name to keep the nuns off his back. The truth is, I think, that he was trying to be a good Catholic.
Dad’s brother Eddie entered a contest and guessed how many jelly beans were in a jar. Eddie’s guess was the closest and he won a bicycle. It was red and it had a odometer, a bell, a horn and mirrors. Eddie gave the bicycle to Dad because Eddie was a brainiac and he had no time for bicycles. He was studying Latin at a fancy Catholic high school. They gave him a scholarship because he had such smarts. So, Eddie gave the red bicycle with the odometer, bell, horn and mirrors to Dad. Dad got a job delivering telegrams. Decades later, Dad was still in awe of Eddie’s smarts. And, he was still grateful for that bicycle. It was a real beauty.
Dad quit school and enlisted in the Navy as soon as he turned 17. Nothing heroic, Dad insists, things were really heating up and he quick joined the Navy so that the army couldn’t snatch him up. Boot camp was run by a skeleton crew. The new recruits were all lined up and the guy in charge asked if any of them knew how to call cadence. Dad, having marched in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade three times, with the St Vincent Ferrer flutophone band, stepped forward and said he knew how to call cadence. The other recruits laughed because Dad was short, weighed about a hundred pounds and looked to be about twelve years old. Then Dad demonstrated his “hut two three” talent and for the rest of boot camp he got to call cadence whenever they marched. They marched everywhere. Dad felt like a bigwig.
He wanted to be on a big ship but that didn’t happen. He spent time on little boats in Newfoundland. He and his Navy friends caught so much lobster, they ate only the claws and gave the rest away to people on shore.
He spent time in Okinawa, patrolling close to shore in a little boat, scared to death that something or somebody would jump out at him.
He got real sick with a stomach bug and was hospitalized in a Navy makeshift field hospital, alongside guys with real war injuries. He remembers an officer walking through one day, nonchalantly tossing medals onto the beds of the injured guys.
One day the guys came running. They yelled “Tommy, Tommy you’re going home.” He rode a big ship back to the States. He won a lot of money playing poker with the ship’s sailors, mostly in the form of IOUs. He has a little black book with all their names and how much they owe him, still.
Once in the States, California I think, he rode a sleeper train back to New York. He shared a compartment with a big tough marine. They became friends. The compartment had one set of bunk beds. After two nights and several stops to pick up more servicemen, the conductor (or maybe it was a military guy – not sure) walked through yelling “the train is full, double up!” Meaning, two to a bed. Dad got a kick out of how the big tough marine was afraid of doubling up with a stranger. The marine whined and begged “Tommy please. Sleep with me Tommy please.” Dad called him a big baby and told him to move over just before two new guys came in to join them in the tight space.
He worked for a small hotel in the Poconos. The chef dropped a beautiful chocolate cake onto the floor. Dad started to clean it up. The chef stopped him, scooped the mess up with a big spatula, spooned it onto plates and gave the desert a fancy French name.
He met our Mom at a dance in New York City. They got married six months later. They honeymooned on Long Island at a friend’s place. They called it the birdie house.
They moved to Queens. Dad worked at the A&P until he got on as a toll collector. They had three kids. Kathy, Christopher and Linda. They got all dressed up on Sundays, went to church, all that jazz. Linda died. A sad story, not mine to tell.
Years later, they had three more kids. At a frantic pace, Roger, Nina and Jeanne were all born in under three years. Irish triplets.
We moved to Long Island. Dad drove a Volkswagen Bug back and forth to work as a toll collector for Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority.
His work ethic got him promoted to bigwig. They called him Lieutenant. They gave him a badge, a gun, a car and a blanket for covering bodies in deadly crash situations. Sometimes, he let me skip school and go to work with him. We would visit a few bridges, check on things and look over some papers. Then we’d knock off early, go to Coney Island and shoot water into the mouths of plastic clown heads. It was fun.
Fast forward, here we are. Dad’s resting comfortably and waiting patiently. I could go on but I’m not trying to write his life story, just a few random memories.
Besides, have you read The Giving Tree? Yes? Well then, you know the story.
No? You haven’t read The Giving Tree? You should, I think.
I wrote this on December 14, 2016. Dad passed peacefully on December 15.