Tag: For the Book

Fourth of July, 1981, A Reminiscence

| July 5, 2021 | 0 Comments

When everything changed

Forty years ago, I had my first Fourth of July in Washington, DC. It was a transcendent day and marked one of the most significant turning points in my life.

I had come to Washington in January with newly elected Congressman Barney Frank. After 12 years working as a grocery clerk in the Stop & Shop Supermarket in my Boston neighborhood of Roslindale, after 8 years of bumbling my way through undergraduate college finally eking out a BA in Politics from UMass/Boston, after countless foggy nights drinking with the boys in the Roslindale Pub, I found myself sitting on the Washington Mall in the shadow of the Washington Monument in the bleachers within feet of where The Beach Boys were about to take the stage for their Fourth of July concert. I looked out over the 100,000 unfortunate souls who did not know Jim Dolan, meaning they had to watch the concert in the mud from the rain earlier in the day.

Dolan was Barney’s chief of staff and was like Milo Minderbinder from Catch-22, always scheming to get into the most exclusive events in Washington and elsewhere. Somehow, he had gotten Barney’s entire staff, including interns, backstage passes to the hottest event of the year.

I was not a fan of The Beach Boys. As a sixties rocker, I considered The Beach Boys lame and outdated. But when they began to sing Well, east coast girls are hip I really dig those styles they wear…” I felt chills. I looked to my left and their sat Rita, my then future wife, and it was at that moment I think I fell in love. I remember it like it was yesterday. And it comes back to me whenever I hear California Girls (which is a lot). Here is an audio recording of the whole concert. I just discovered it while writing this post and it brings me to tears.

Back to Dolan who had stage-managed the day to the max. After The Beach Boys concert, we made our way to the Capitol lawn where he had secured prime real estate to watch the second big concert of the day, the National Symphony Orchestra annual Fourth of July Celebration, followed by the fireworks behind the Washington Monument.

On that day forty years ago, I was still buzzing with disbelief, not really understanding how I’d made it from Rozzie to DC. I didn’t know what lay ahead. Looking back forty years on, as amazed as I was to have gotten from Boston to Washington, I’m even more amazed today with how my life has unfolded. Still beside Rita, with two amazing kids, Danny and Bridget. Danny had the good sense to marry Kaitlyn, a life partner who has made him a better man. And Rozzie is not only my childhood neighborhood, she’s also my dog.

But, most of all this is the year of Kieran, Danny and Kaitlyn’s son and my grandson. Sitting on those bleachers 40 year ago, I could not have conceived of myself as a grandfather. I might even have been horrified at the thought. But here I am and it’s awesome in the true meaning of that overused word. I’m filled with awe to have this perfect child in my life.

As I write this, I’ve reached out to the people with whom I’m still in touch who were there that day. Mary Beth Cahill, younger than me, but was my first and best mentor. She also convinced Barney to take me to Washington with him. Patty Hamel, Barney’s first office manager, from Southie, with whom Rita and I have lived parallel lives. We were both Irish Catholics from Boston’s lower middle class neighborhoods. We were destined to be lifelong friends. Rich Gilgallon (AKA da Coach), was my drinking buddy and we’re both lucky to have survived. By the grace of God, we did. Whether we deserved to is another question. Fortunately, He is a forgiving God.

I honestly don’t know how to end this reminiscence. But in the writing, I’ve come to appreciate what really matters in life. It’s the people around you. A good life is defined by the people you love, friends and family. The fact that I can call up these friends of 40 years and we can share this memory is a true blessing for which I am enormously grateful.

And grateful doesn’t begin to capture the feeling I have about Danny, Bridget, Kaitlyn and Kieran. Each is a gift beyond measure.

So, for anyone who has read this far, forgive the schmaltz. It’s just where I’m at today. Feeling blessed.

Happy Fourth!