THE OTHER ALAMO
O'Connor's was the only Irish Pub in my hometown. It stood there at the corner of Regent and Blake Streets for as long as life.
As a kid growing up in Jackson, Ontario I used to sit outside the green building with the three-foot high leprechaun doing a jig. The word \"O'Connor's\" above it and wait for my grandfather.
Now some forty odd years later, two ex-wives, a bad ticker and just tired, I came back here to stand on these, the dusty crossroads of my memories.
I got out of my pickup truck and felt as if I had stepped back in time. As I stood there, I put my hand over my eyes to shield the sun's rays.
The pub looked smaller now. It was as if the leprechaun had somehow aged as well. His magical charms were less enticing. I dusted myself off as I walked across the road. The strokes of my hand in my mind's eye were dusting off the years of discontent, the heavy dust of the old west like some cowboy getting off of his horse after a hard days ride on the cattle drive.
I stopped myself when I tipped the brim of my baseball cap and said \\\"a howdy mam\\\" to some lady in sweat pants, a T-shirt and a red plaid \\'Kenora dinner jacket\\'. I saw the odd look she gave me. \\\"Stop it,\\\" I said to myself. It\\'s Jackson. No one speaks with a southwestern accent around here. Not that I had ever been south of the Mason Dixon line, but I loved the south. I never went to Texas because I know that I would never come home.
As a child I used to ride around this town on my bike and pretend it was a strong black pit pony. My pony\\'s name was \\\"Flex\\\" and man he could go as fast as my little legs could peddle.
Flex. I had all but forgotten about him. The thought brought a smile back to my face. He was jet black, a piece of frayed rope on the back fender for a tale. I had a good strong rope on the handlebars that I used for a tie up. Oh, and he had a shiny new kick stand. I had a six-shooter side arm, a felt cowboy hat, a black vest and the badge. I didn't have a lot of friends. I was never sure why? As I grew older, I just chalked it up to my high-spirited ways.
There was Jake Abbott he was a few years older and weaker than I. Sometimes he let me tie him up and take him off to jail, which was located in the three-foot space under my front porch, or he would be my posse. We would spend the day in the Bad Lands out behind the \"Woolco\" store until we captured Rover my dog who had always been happy to be black Bart or bad Bart whatever villainous name Jake and I had given him that day. We always made sure we went home at lunchtime for the good hooch and grub my mom served. I laughed out loud as I stepped up on the sidewalk.
There was the day when Jake put on his older sister's dress on my say so. I tied him up took him down to the train tracks and laid him cross ways on them. I called him Daisy and told him to lie there still and I would save him. I looked at my Gene Autry watch. The 12:30 train was late. It wasn't till Jake heard the whistle blowing that he started to squirm and panic. He got the rope snagged in the railroad spike. He started to cry. \\\"Help me Dusty.\\\" Even in his time of so-called despair he still remembered to call me by my given western nick name.
So it came to pass that on that hot August day Marshall Dusty and his steed \\\"Flex\\\" saved the day and Miss Daisy. Jake never played with me again; his mom would not let him. But that was ok, the kid was a little off anyway. Dressing up in a girl\\'s clothes, he just wasn\\'t right.
The door to O\\'Connor\\'s sprung open and that sound took me back into reality like the snap of the hypnotist fingers.
\\\"Watch it dude\\\" some pubescent punk said to me. He had a black band tattoo around his neck, a spike and a ring on his lower lip with a chain hanging from the ring to the belt loop of his pants, which were at least three to four sizes larger than his slight frame required. I gave him the \"hairy eyeball.\" I wondered if the chain was in case he ever lost his lower lip.
My attention shifted from \"lip chain boy\" to the loud hip-hop rap new wave noise that blared out of \"MY\" Saloon. The place was dark, almost black. Gone was the corner booth where Papa would fall asleep after he hoisted a few with the lads. He would sneak me in sometimes, put me on his lap and sing \"Danny Boy\" in the heaviest Irish brogue. I noticed early on that his accent grew stronger the more he drank.
I often wondered to myself above the loud burst of \"cheers\" how an old Madeira Portuguese man that told such sweet stories of the Azores and the fishing village where he was born, could take a taste of whisky and had become as Irish as the place it was bottled in.
His friends used to say on the other side of this door was Virgil Viera. Once he entered the pub, he became O'Veira an old Irish drunk that sang sad songs that brought a tear to your eye once he entered the pub. He told tall tales of his years in Dublin where he hid as a child from the screaming banshees. His hair was sterling silver, his nose was beet red and he was the tallest man I ever knew. My Papa's word drunk or sober stood for something.
As I grew older the way I looked at it was as if I had two grandfathers. A sober Portugese, sweet old man who loved me, and a drunken happy Irish man that loved me even more and come to think of it, I was a lucky child.
My eyes were now adjusted to the dark. I looked around and a wave of sadness washed over me. Where did it go, that last piece of my childhood?
My travel had a purpose each mile I had driven was a mile marker closer to my stand. My Alamo, now the setting was all wrong and the cast of characters were amiss.
I was ten on that Christmas morning, the best of all of them. He gave me the book; I snuggled up next to Papa, the fireplace all a blaze, the smell of Bay Rum on him. He would give me a sip of his spiked coffee when my mom was not looking. For the next few hours the world around me stopped as he read me \"The Alamo\" cover to cover. I still remembered all the names and places and how on the 23rd of February, 1836 in a Fort in San Antonio, Texas where great men with great names like Crockett, Travis, and Bowie, held off for twelve days Santa Anna's Mexican army only to die for what they believed in. My Papa told me that on a hot Texas night, if you listened really carefully, you could still hear their voices crying out from the Alamo.
The day I got the news he had passed on I was in the middle of a high-end deal too busy with the dollar to understand what I had really lost that day. Somewhere along the way I had packed away the stories and memories of that weather beaten old man.
Now standing here unpacking these memories, I remembered being twelve. That was the day when I had traded my badge and stepped across the line to the other side. I became an outlaw. The spoils of my first crime were a warm \"O Vienna," and an unfiltered showdown.
\"So we want to be a man do we lad,\" my Irish Papa said. With smoke-filled lungs, and a buzz of the beer, I took his hand as he led me to the front porch. The wisdom I gained that day was of Cigars, wee shot of whisky, and the importance of the name Glen Fiddich. That warm summer's afternoon amid my rights of passage, I learned to speak Irish, I saw in those watery blue eyes love, not just the love for a grandson but, more the love of passion. A man without passion for his beliefs, for the people he loved, for life, was a man already dead.
\"Can I help you?\" The large black man behind the bar said. He repeated it twice over the octaves of the noise. \"Where's Jimmy? "Jimmy who?\" He said. He smiled at me to reveal a gold upper front tooth. \"Jimmy the owner.\"
\"Ain't no Jimmy here.\" He extended his hand. \"The name is Cliff. I run the place.\" I shook his hand and my head at the same time. "You look mighty thirsty how about a drink partner. \"There were two words that did not belong in that sentence why he chose them I would never know. I just tipped my \"roots\" hat and bid the tall dark stranger farewell. There would be no stand, no moral gunfight here today I left and swaggered back to my truck. I looked at the packages on the seat beside me. The LCBO bag that had traveled the thousand or so miles with me, I had put it there in plain view. Now it had haunted me like a ghost of old. A twist of that seal, a taste of that golden twenty-five-year-old liquid and I would be right as rain, but the meetings all preached about the road to hell, and that was where that first drink started.
I had not been down that road in five years and here at the last chance saloon was not the place to start. This too will have to wait as I fired up my truck and headed west. My little town was full of fast food joints, the \"bad lands's outfitters were the same. The old homestead, my treed fortress, the tire swing was nothing but memories in my mental Rolodex. I blinked my eyes and re-filed the moment.
The old man at the cemetery office looked up at me his eyes just above the newspaper he was reading.
I asked the question, \"oh yeah Viera he would be in Section C.\" He smiled and then went on \"way at the back third row up, fifth grave in. If you go by the Johnson site you have gone too far.\" You know every grave here?\" I just had to ask. \"My job\" he said "has been that way for many years.\"
\"You kin folk to the old man?\" He was standing now over a metal cooler that he had on the counter. \"Yeah he is my grandfather.\" He reached down and almost disappeared into the cooler. When he stood up again, he had an ice-cold coke in his hand. \"Want a pop sonny?\" I thanked him and snapped the top, took a long hard taste. I stood there and looked at him as I whipped my mouth off with the back of my hand like some old bad western movie. He looked back at me and smiled, \"You owe me a dollar.\" \"Neat trick old man\" was all I said, although he did not look that much older than I did, as I laid the loonie down on the counter and turned to go.
I parked, unloaded the truck and found his new home. There was just a name and a life span on the small stone. Only then did I notice the large black crow. He cocked his head in that crow like way and looked over at me, there he was, just three graves over sitting there quite pompously on the "Amen" side of the cross. It may have been just a crow sitting there, on a cross, half way through his trip home taking a short wing rest. Hell, even I have done that before, but to me I took it as an omen, a sign of absolution for not having visited till now.
With my props in place I sat on the lawn chair, put the CD in the little stereo and hit Play. The sweet tenor voice of Mario Lanza sang softy at first. I took out a fine Cuban cigar, a Rubusto, the size he liked with the precision of a surgeon I clipped the end off, wet it with my lips and rolled it between thumb and forefinger as I lit it with a wooden match. The first smell of the dry. I cracked the twenty-sixer of the single malt \"Glen Fiddich.\" It always amazed me how a simple twist of the wrist could take a man by the hand lead to a fun night out with the lads. Or to the \\\"just one more drink saloon\\\" with the devil as a bar keep. As a man, I never found the first but sure asked for one more round with the other. I filled the glasses one then the other. I held one up to the light, the amber shot danced for me. The warm smell would not dissipate. I took a long hard draw on the cigar and closed my eyes.
The range of the tenor's voice was surreal.
\\\"Hey Papa it\\'s me, your boy Pat\\\". The grass opened up its pores and sucked back the whiskey the first shot was the best. "I am sorry old man, sorry for a lot of things\\\". The crow made a loud screech in response. \\\"You taught me better I know. They are all gone now poppa. I laid that hand full of dirt on Ma five years ago come next April and now I am tired too, guilty of past mistakes, saddened by my selfish needs.
The zest for life that you had in you that made you so great". I stopped and poured him another drink. "I had that for a short while but I lost it in the bottom of a whiskey bottle. That and a whole lot more. So I came here to say a few things. I am clean and sober now, been that way for a while, I miss you, thanks for the great childhood and for letting me express myself. How\\'s the whisky taste"?
I reached down and touched the stone with his name on it. The coarse rough texture reminded me of the ever-present stubble on his face. A sudden gust of wind stirred up, it brought with it the smell that preceded a rainstorm. I lifted my nose took a deep whiff and there it was the faintest odor of Bay Rum. After the fifth drink that I had poured for him. The crow flapped its wings pleased no doubt.
"This life I have chosen Papa, or should I say it chose me" as I sat there and remembered it all like yesterday. \"You would take me down to Sal's Fish Market early before the rooster alarm clock. Those fresh crabs they hated me every time. You made stew the best I had ever tasted. I never saw any flaws in you, even when I left home. This sleepy little town saw you as a drunk. I just saw you".
My thoughts were all over the place. The dark shapes married with the happy childhood days and became soul mates one indistinguishable from the other.
I told the man in the suit with the one hundred and fifty dollar tab once that the only time in my life when I was happy was when I was that little cowboy riding the range, the law on my side.
The bottle emptied he had his last drink. I still looked at my first shot. It was warm to the touch now it teased me like the lost love that it was. I had worked hard for this drink. These were the last of my demons exercised. I was sure I was strong enough to have this and walk away I told myself so. I lifted the glass, \\\"to the Alamo\\\". In my mind I tasted it; the golden amber hit my lips. The heat washed thru me a sweet red-hot fire inside. My gut remembered the taste, awakened from a five-year slumber. All ready to put on its party shoes. But a last, that was only ,in my mind, weakness and temptations was a long lonesome highway to Perdition, and I was fresh out of tokens.
For the first time in my adult life I was crying. Tears real tears, I cried out loud for all those years of being dealt cold hands. The Mississippi black cat bad luck, all the other crap had come down to this a memory stamped \"past due\" and a chat with an old man and a crow.
I used my sleeves to wash away the sadness. I drew on the cigar and put it in the gravestone \"enjoy Papa\".
I packed up and walked to my truck. I somehow felt that I now had the best years of my life ahead of me. That whatever the chosen direction, I no longer needed a road map. As I put the last of my stuff in the truck. I looked back one last time all I saw was the crow looking back at me smiling the way only crows can. I wondered if it was an Irish crow. I waved \"bye Papa\".
I slowed the truck as the graveyard keeper hailed me. "You found the right place sonny\"? He stood there looking at me a good many years older than the hills.
\"Yeah old timer thanks". I eased off the brakes as I thanked him.
"See you later". Were my last words.
\"You take good care now Dusty\".