Later that day, when he finally knew she was going to be all right, my father took us to church where, I remember, it was as quiet as dust.
I watched as he knelt and prayed and cried for a while. I had never seen him cry before. We were still too young to know much of life.
When we got back home, my brothers and I started to whine and carry on about being bored and hungry. My father sat in his Lay-Z-Boy, and smoked and looked at us — wondering, I’m sure, what to do next. Ed Holohan was never much of a cook, you see.
But that didn’t stop him from responding to the needs of his whining, sniveling children. He got up from his chair, stomped out to the kitchen and rummaged through the refrigerator’s freezer compartment, like a grizzly bear going after an ice chest. Packages, which my mother had stacked so neatly, came clanging to the floor, just missing our young toes.
He finally settled on a three-pound package of frozen chop meat, which my mother most likely had stored away for a meat loaf or meat balls or some other beef-related delicacy she so easily cooked for him every day of their married life.
Dad ripped the plastic packaging from the frozen meat, and with his huge hands, tried to form this rock-hard hunk of hamburger into patties. But it was no use. The meat would not yield — not even to my father’s iron determination.
But he wouldn’t give in. His children were hungry and he was determined to provide for them. One way or another.
So he stared at us in that tough, crazy way of his for a moment. Then he dragged both us and the frozen slab of chop meat down the basement steps, and into his workshop. He made us watch as he cranked the frozen meat into his “Sears Best” Heavy-Duty bench vice. He then picked up a hacksaw and set to work, mangling the meat into four, man-sized portions.
My brothers and I got very quiet. Maybe it was the hack saw.
Then my dad gathered the chunks of still-frozen meat and commanded us to follow as he headed up the stairs and into the kitchen. He clattered through my mother’s neat-as-a-pin pot-and-pan drawer, flinging utensils across the room like shrapnel. Finally, he dragged out a cast-iron pan upon which you could have fried the entire state of Nebraska. He turned the flame on high and melted a half-pound of store-brand butter in the enormous pan. He then dropped the frozen, quartered, chop meat onto the pan and watched with curiosity as it sizzled, filling the house with thick, black smoke.
My brothers and I huddled together in wonder at such a sight.
My father poked and prodded the meat with a long fork testing to see if it was ready for his young children. When, finally, he thought it was good enough — which to him meant napalmed on the outside, frozen in the center — he squirted a half-bottle of ketchup onto the greasy meat, placed each portion between two slices of Wonder Bread and handed them to us on paper napkins.
“Shut up and eat,” he said.
Which we did.
My father was not much of a cook. Which was OK because we never asked him to do it again.
Mom came home from the hospital, and life went back to normal. Which meant that he worked all day, and she was there waiting with Ring Dings and milk when we came home from school.
My father got dropped off each night by either Mike Schuck, or some other semi-psychotic truck driver with whom he worked and carpooled. He’d sit down for dinner and tell stories of life in his sweaty, hard-working world of plumbing and heating supplies where men did the most outrageous things to each other. He’d tell us these stories until tears of laughter came to his eyes.
Maybe that day he had put a live mouse into John Falciano’s desk drawer — just before asking Johnny to hand him some paper clips. Johnny was deathly afraid of mice, of course ... but that only made the story that much sweeter.
Or maybe that day my father had set-up out, on the loading dock, a mannequin, which one of his semi-psychotic truck drivers had pulled from a dumpster behind Macy’s or B. Altmans. He told his boss, Norman Smolka, that there was a guy outside looking for a job. The guy couldn’t come inside because he was too shy.
And when Norman Smolka asked the mannequin its name and received no answer, Norman tapped the mannequin on the shoulder. Imagine his surprise when the thing did a nose dive off the concrete platform, landing squarely on its plaster head.
And my father laughed until he cried.
And maybe later that day my father set the same mannequin next to Sheedy’s new car, setting it so that it appeared to be relieving itself on Sheedy’s new front fender.
And when Sheedy came roaring up behind the mannequin that day, kicking it squarely in the butt with his size 13, steel-tipped shoe, and when the mannequin’s broken plaster head sailed over Sheedy’s new car like a perfectly placed field goal, and when Sheedy nearly died as a result, my father laughed until he fell on the ground in tears.
And he laughed again every time he told us that story. And he told us that story and others just like it a thousand times. But he always told his stories as if they had just happened. And we never got tired of hearing them.
He was a good storyteller, my father.
When I was a boy and I would be troubled by something or hurting from some minor illness, he’d laugh at me and say, “You’re either gonna get better or you’re gonna die. And either way, it won’t be a problem for you, kid. So stop worrying!”
That was my father’s prescription for troubled times.
I can think of worse advice to give a young person.
These are some of the things my father taught us:
- Tell the truth.
- Don’t cheat.
- Always figure a way out before you get in.
- Never take yourself too seriously.
- Be loyal.
- Speak your mind.
- Don’t quit.
- Have fun.
He also taught us by his fine example how to truly love — because he loved my mother so well for more than 50 years. He was totally unselfish in his devotion to her — and I know in my heart and soul that he watches over her even now — especially now. My mother and father lived a most wonderful love story.
And that’s why we don’t have to grieve too much today. My father lived a full and important life. He loved his family, and he helped his neighbors. He was an uncomplicated and very good man. He had lots of friends.
And he really liked pancakes.
Our faith teaches us that we will most certainly meet again — and we can take great strength from that. This, too, my father taught us, and what a wonderful gift that is to leave a child. To be able to know that for certain ... we will meet again.
I will think of Big Ed Holohan, my father and my dear friend, every time I’m in Pathmark’s frozen food section. I’ll look at that chop meat and know in my heart that the man couldn’t cook.
But he did everything else so well.
We love you, Dad. And we will see you again.
Thanks for making us so happy.
Dan read these words at his father’s funeral Mass, February 3, 1997.