Chapter 16 – Dad on the Scratch Sheet
My dad’s side of the family is 100% Irish. My grandma’s parents were born in County Mayo on the west coast of Ireland and, although they chose to emigrate and start a new life here in Chicago, many of their relatives didn’t and remained back in the old country where they continued to procreate at the stereotypical Irish Catholic rate. Over the years, all seven of my dad’s siblings – as well as many of their children, my cousins – had gone with my grandma to explore our ancestral lands and to meet these distant relatives of ours over there. I’m not sure why my dad never took the time to make a trip over there with his mom – especially before he had us kids – but it was somethin I’d heard him longingly mention more than once during my early adulthood. It wasn’t often or constant and he’d never elaborate exactly why he wanted to go, but every now and then he’d get this faraway look on his face and say somethin like, “I hope I get to visit Ireland someday. I think that would be so cool.”
In 2013, I decided I wanted to make that happen for him. I wasn’t gonna pay for his ticket or anything like that. I mean, that’s not what he needed. He just needed someone to take initiative and get the ball rolling. So, that summer I brought up the idea of goin there in September for two weeks and he said he was down. I figured the next step was purchasing a travel guide for him to look over to scope out some places he might like to visit – it was the 10th edition of Lonely Planet: Ireland – while I looked into flights and car rental. I got those things booked up and, as our date of departure drew ever nearer, I asked my dad which sites, towns and/or counties looked interesting to him so I could start loosely planning a two-week route around the island. He said he didn’t know. He said he didn’t look at the book I got him. Now, I’m not gonna lie – this pissed me off more than just a little bit. I found myself thinking, “How could you not look at the book? What the fuck’s wrong with you? Like, I don’t even care about going to Ireland. I’m doin this for you because this is what you said you’ve always wanted. How ‘bout you take some fuckin interest in it, huh?” I kept my thoughts to myself and just decided to hope he’d do a little research by the date of our departure. Naturally, he did no such thing, but I guess things all worked themselves out in the end.
Our trip turned out to be a clockwise jaunt starting from Dublin and going west to Mayo, Mayo up to Northern Ireland and then back to Dublin from there. Driving on the left side of the road on tight, winding, one-lane-for-two-way-traffic backroads was a bit nerve-wracking and took some getting used to, but we survived. I didn’t have a smartphone back in those days – it’d actually be another two or three years before I’d end up selling my soul like everybody else and getting one – but we at least had a GPS that we rented along with the car that we used to help us find our way from town to town. Every night I’d look in the Lonely Planet for some sort of attraction or town that would be our goal to reach the following day and in the morning we’d punch it in the GPS and head in that direction. In spite of the anxiety my control-freak self had experienced from not having a plan to follow, I’m sure glad I got to go on that trip with my old man. He seemed to like it a whole lot. He wasn’t drinking and was in a good mood the whole time we were there. And I’m glad I got to hang out with him for those two weeks and make some memories with him in all those different places.
Although we saw a lot of cool stuff along the way, the portion of the trip that stands out most to me was our visit to the town of Newport in County Mayo. Before having arrived there, my grandma reached out to some kinfolk and told ‘em we’d be comin through. She instructed us to, upon our arrival, get in touch with Anne and Michael – a couple about eighty years of age whose exact relation to me I don’t understand and can’t explain – who’d meet up with us and show us around town. It was Anne who we met first. She invited us into their family home where we were served tea and biscuits, and chatted while we waited for Michael to get back from wherever he’d been. Upon his return, the four of us climbed into Michael’s vehicle for a tour around the area.
The first things they showed us were the house where my grandma’s father grew up as well as the church that he helped build. Well…he didn’t actually help build it, they explained, but he was one of the guys that helped carry all the bricks to the top of the hill that would then be used in its construction. They then took us to a monument commemorating the soldiers that died in fighting with the British between 1916 and 1923. They said my grandma’s maternal uncle was a soldier and, if I remember correctly, he was sitting at a table playing cards one night when the British stormed in and just blew him away as he sat there. He was 21-years-old. His name was engraved on the side of the monument.
After all that, Michael and Anne drove us over to the local graveyard and started pointing out the final resting places of our long lost relatives. The two of them tried to explain who all these people were in relation to us, as well as give us a brief rundown of what they did while living and how they died. It was a spooky old graveyard with lots of weather-beaten headstones, many tall and in the shape of Celtic crosses. I tried to make sense of all the information I was being given about these ancestors of mine, but I was having a hard time paying attention to the details. I was more focused on my own thoughts about how terribly strange of a situation this was. I mean – thinking about the situation in reverse – I couldn’t imagine any distant relatives coming to Chicago and meeting me for the first time and me thinking it a good idea to take them to the cemetery to point out stones under which lay the rotting corpses of flesh-and-blood relatives come and gone. It’s just unfathomable. But there were Michael and Anne natural as can be, giving their graveyard tour as they must’ve dozens of times before to all the other American relatives who’d come to visit over the years. To those in small Irish towns where things move much slower than in big American cities and the population of the graveyards rival that of the living, I guess death isn’t something to hide from and ignore and pretend doesn’t exist. I guess the fact that we all die plays a more prevalent and natural role in their day-to-day lives and their understanding of our existence than it seems to on this side of the pond.
Before the advent of the internet, I’d heard that back in Ireland the most popular way of getting the news out that someone had died was via radio where they’d regularly read off laundry lists of those who’d recently bit the dust. In addition to deaths, some programs would even include births and marriages leading some to nickname the segment, “hatches, matches and dispatches.” When I say it’s the most popular way of getting the news out, I mean the most popular formal way. Of course, the most common way this sort of news spreads is by word of mouth. Even in Chicago, when running into someone from the Irish or Irish-American community you haven’t seen in a while – especially someone from the older generations who are far less generically American than I and still remain firmly attached to our cultural roots – death is often the first thing brought up. Like, never mind asking how the kids are or asking about what’s new with those who are still living, let’s skip right to the good stuff. Let’s discuss whether or not you’ve heard about so-and-so in the next parish over who offed himself in the house where he and his wife raised a family. Or, since we’re on the topic of wives, how about the wife of what’s-his-face who wasted down to skin and bones in a matter of months before kicking the bucket from pancreatic cancer – did ya hear about her? What a shame, indeed. Or have ya heard about that distant cousin of mine who I’d only see once every five years at family reunions? Yeah…dropped dead of a heart attack a week before his kid’s graduation from college – can ya believe it? Yes, yes, I know – tragic stuff. But not much ya can do. Here today gone tomorrow, I guess.
In Chicago, radio death announcements were never really a thing – during my time at least they weren’t. Here, the way to do it had always been putting a notice in the paper, either the Sun-Times or the Tribune. We were always a Trib family, so that’s the one whose layout and everything I’m more familiar with. The notices in the Trib usually have the person’s name at the top of a two-inch-wide column sometimes with a photo next to it, then the first paragraph explains who they were related to, then the next paragraph is more or less a synopsis of the person’s life, and the last paragraph always includes all the important “game day” information – e.g. what funeral home is the deceased being waked at, at what church will the funeral be held, at what cemetery will he or she be buried and, of course, what day and at what time it’s all goin down.
Many Irish and Irish-American people actually scan these notices on a daily basis to see if anyone they know has passed away and, if so, to gather all the necessary details for the funeral arrangements so they can be in attendance. Like the whole gossiping-about-who’s-recently-died thing, this tradition is not something prevalent among people my age whose families have been living in America now for three or more generations. It’s something that’s more common among the older generations – like, folks my grandma’s age and stuff – for whom wakes and funerals are the most popular form of social gathering. In the last few years before her own passing, it seemed to me like my grandma was going to one of these events every other week. Be it a service for a relative, a friend, a relative of a friend, a friend of a relative, a person from church, a person from the Irish American Heritage Center or a person from the old neighborhood – it seemed like she was always on her way to or coming back from somebody’s wake or funeral.
Although to me attending the service of a relative of an acquaintance I barely know kind of seems like a voyeuristic invasion of privacy, in Irish culture it’s considered less of that and more a way to mark the passing of someone from the community and to show your solidarity with the group during this difficult time in which we’re all confronted by the unpleasant reality of our own inevitable demise. And the turnouts are surprisingly high. These events get so packed that, in the wakes I’ve been to over the years, even for really old people who barely anyone even visited anymore while they were still alive, the line to get up to the casket to pay your respects is usually so long it’s out the door not only of the room in which it’s being held, but sometimes also out the door of the funeral home itself. And then next to the casket – after you’ve paid your respects to the stiff – standing shoulder to shoulder are twenty or so people that are all considered the immediate family of the deceased to whom you’re expected to introduce yourself and shake hands and express your sympathy for their loss. Then after that, everyone just hangs out at the funeral home for hours and chats and bullshits and gossips about who else has recently died or who they think might die soon so they can have another party.
So, returning to the subject of the newspapers for a second… Because of the availability of all the aforementioned “game day” facts and stats and because of how crucial this information is to Irish communities who are literally and not-so-literally dying to go to their next wake and/or funeral, the death notice/obituary section of newspapers in America has taken on nicknames such as The Irish Sports Page and The Irish Scratch Sheet. For those of you who aren’t degenerate gamblers and aren’t familiar with the latter, a scratch sheet is defined as “a racing publication giving the betting odds and other information on the horses entered at a racetrack or racetracks during the racing day.” Unrelated to the details of funerary arrangements but hitting on the entertainment value this page provides for some people that don’t necessarily plan on going to every available wake but still enjoy reading about who’s kicked off and what these recently-dead folks were up to before the eternity they’ll now spend pushing up daisies, the section is also referred to by some as The Irish Comics.
Now, my mom is not Irish at all – she’s the descendant of Germanic people that arrived in the US at the start of the 20th century, half of whom emigrated from Austria and half of whom came from the area along the Volga River in Russia – but somehow, somewhere along the line she too developed the habit of reading the death notices in the Tribune on a daily basis. I always thought it was kind of a weird thing to do, but she enjoyed reading about people’s lives and staying on top of who’s died so she can attend wakes or send sympathy cards and all that typa shit. One thing about this habit of hers that I really liked, however, had been how every time she saw a name that she thought was funny, she’d cut the notice outta the paper and leave it on the table for me to see when I got home from school. Think I even had a couple of ‘em taped up on the inside of my high school locker. Then this one time when I was in college, I got a birthday card or somethin in the mail from my mom and there was a clipped-out death notice inside it for a man named Harold Dick. Harry Dick – can you believe that? Someone was about to bury a Harry Dick and, as long as it wasn’t in my ass, I didn’t really care where it happened in spite of having all the funerary details at my fingertips. My roommate got a good kick outta that one. And the fact that my mom was the one who sent it made it that much funnier.
In the day or two after my dad died, when she was trying to write his death notice, my mom told me that, of the aforementioned nicknames the Irish use for that particular page in the paper, my dad’s go-to had always been scratch sheet. “Lookin at the old scratch sheet again?” he’d say to her every time he encountered her with her nose buried among the dead. I told her I’d never heard him say that before. It was a long time ago, she said. That was back when they were much younger. It was before my dad’s mental and physical health took a shit – back during a time when the two of them used to actually talk to one another. It was weird for me to think back on a time when my parents had actually been friends and equals instead of my dad basically being my mom’s fourth kid to take care of. I bet that back then neither one of them fully comprehended the idea that my dad himself would one day be featured on the scratch sheet. After all, I think my mom was only 19 and my dad 23 when they met. I mean, sure, when you’re young you understand that you’ll one day die, but it feels so far off in the future that it doesn’t seem real. And I bet that my mom never imagined she’d one day be sitting at the kitchen table – the table at which she’d normally read other people’s death notices – with a pen in her hand and a piece of paper in front of her, struggling to sum up her husband’s life in a paragraph or two.
A terribly difficult task to carry out in and of itself, my mom’s writing of my dad’s death notice was made practically impossible while having to deal with everything else on her plate at the time. In addition to making decisions about and finalizing all the funeral arrangements, the days after my father’s death were spent by all of us fielding calls and messages from family, friends, old firefighter colleagues and long-time window washing customers who’d heard the news. In spite of his being a popular guy, I don’t know if it’s normal that so many people reach out via phone and online as had been the case with my dad, or if everyone just decided to try and pay their respects that way because it was uncertain whether or not there’d be a wake and/or a funeral due to the onset of covid. At the time, there’d been a city and statewide ban on all businesses deemed non-essential and all public gatherings were limited to a small handful of people, specifically those that make up your immediate social circle. As you can imagine, these aren’t exactly ideal conditions to have a big Irish send-off with a line of visitors out the door and bagpipes blaring and uniformed firefighters standing guard at the side of my dad’s casket. Whatever the case may have been, the fact remains that our phone had been ringing off the hook and all this shit going on left precious little time for my mom to sit down and concentrate on writing my dad’s obituary.
In addition to the telephonic and digital condolences we received, other people – generally those most closely related to or associated with my immediate family – decided to disobey the current covid restrictions and drop by our house for a visit. One of the first people I remember coming by had been my mom’s brother John. As I mentioned, my dad was four years older than my mom which made him about ten years older than my uncle John. I don’t know what their relationship had been like back in the day, but in recent years Uncle John did not like my dad very much because it’d been brought to his attention what an asshole he was to his sister when drunk and out of control. During his visit – a visit in which he didn’t even enter our house and we kept six feet of distance between us while we chatted out on the front porch – John said in a tone of great sorrow that in spite of his ill feeling towards my dad, he never wanted him to die. He said he just always wanted the guy to treat my mom better. I didn’t say anything, but kinda felt like sayin, “Well, me too, UJ. Join the club. That’s all of us here. He was a great guy and we loved him to death, but – what can I say – he had a lotta problems and could be a pretty big asshole sometimes.”
Sometime later in the conversation, Uncle John proceeded to tell a story I’d never heard before. He said he was in his late teens which meant my parents had already been dating for like six or seven years at that point when my dad called him up and said he needed someone to go golfing with him that day. He said my dad picked him up, and in the car he’d already had a cooler fully loaded with beer and ice that they’d then bring out with ‘em on the course. Uncle John said he was trying to drink at my dad’s pace but couldn’t keep up, got too loaded and could barely walk by the end of the round. I laughed and thanked him for sharing. The thought of those two guys getting wasted together with no one else around and both so young almost forty years back made me smile. It also made me wonder if they’d been playing “dicky golf.” For those of you who aren’t in the know, my dad had once explained to me that dicky golf is a rule him and his fireman buddies used to sometimes play by, stating that if you fail to hit the ball past the women’s tee on your drive, you have to golf the rest of that particular hole with your dick hangin out the fly of your pants. In spite of my curiosity, I kept the question to myself.
The next person I remember stopping by had been my dad’s younger brother Michael who – although we’re not very close and only talk once or twice a year – happens to be my godfather. Like my mom’s brother John had, Uncle Mike told us a story about my dad I’d never heard before. He said that one time, long ago, my dad had taken him and their brother Johnny – the baby of the Lally family – to a Cubs game. I think Johnny was only in grade school at the time, Uncle Mike in high school and my dad in his early twenties or something like that. He said my dad always took the two of them lots of places and said how much they used to look up to him back in the day. He said they always knew they were safe with my dad and this is one instance that highlights that. It wasn’t clear exactly who first noticed or how they noticed, but Uncle Mike said that there was some pervert in the row behind ‘em who had the hots for my little Uncle Johnny. I don’t know if the guy was tryin to touch him or was whispering dirty things to him or just kept looking at and drooling over him or what, but when my dad found out he turned around and grabbed the guy and threatened to kill him if he didn’t leave his little brother alone. Uncle Mike assured us there was no more monkey business on that guy’s part after my dad laid down the law.
After he got done telling that story, since we were on the subject of my dad threatening to kill people at baseball games, I asked him if he ever heard the story about the time back when he and my mom were dating and went to a Cubs game and Dad was waiting in line to use the bathroom and this guy behind him kept bumping into his ass. And, annoyed, Dad turned around and said, “Look dude – you touch me one more time, I’m gonna fuckin kill ya.” Of course, the guy bumps Dad again and – without a word – he turns around and knocks the fuckin guy’s lights out. And of course Mom was like, “What the fuck are you doing?! Oh my God! Can’t we go anywhere?!”
Then after that, since we were still talkin sporting events, my brother Danny asked him, “Do you remember the time you drove us and my dad to the Bulls game and on the way back, I threw up all over the backseat of your car?” He said that he did. Then, since we were now on the subject of cars, I proceeded to ask Uncle Mike, “Do you remember the time – like fifteen years ago, during the dead of winter – that you’d been hiding outside our house at 5:30 in the morning waiting for my dad to come out and start his truck to let it warm up a bit before he drove it to the firehouse and how, once that was done, you waited for him to go back in the house then hopped in his truck and drove it away? And then when my dad came back outside ten minutes later to actually leave and go to work, he thought someone had stolen his truck. You remember that one?” Da Godfather said the story sounded vaguely familiar, but didn’t elaborate. Instead, he changed the subject to how he just went through my dad’s daily routine in his honor. Most people outside my immediately family – me, my mom and my two siblings – had no idea how strict of a daily routine my dad’d had for the five or so years before his death, but that changed after he fell off that roof in 2018 when a few of his siblings started coming around our house to take the burden off my mom and brother and sister in helping my dad walk again and get his memory back.
“Yeah,” he said. “I drove over to the woods and parked my car by the bathrooms over there off Tonty and walked his route. Then I got back in my car and drove up to one of the garbage cans they got there in the parking lot and dumped all the cigarette butts from my ashtray into it how he used to. And then I went over to Nick’s for a chicken sandwich and a chocolate shake. My last stop was the gas station on Milwaukee where I gave the cashier a twenty, bought a pack of Marlboros, told ‘em to keep a dollar for the kids’ charity and pumped the remainder of it into my car.”
I found it funny that my uncle’d had that idea, because me and my family had done something similar just hours beforehand. After a walk in the woods, we too went over to Nick’s, but not to eat. We stopped in to let ‘em know what’d happened.
“Hey Jim,” I said to the Greek guy behind the register whom my dad would call twice a day to put in his order for lunch and for dinner. “We’re Dan’s kids,” I nodded towards my brother and my sister who’d been standing at my side. My mom didn’t come in. She opted to wait out in the car. She never liked how Dad’d get his dinner every day from Nick’s instead of eating her home-cooked meals, so this gesture didn’t have any sentimental value for her the way it did for us. “I’m sure you’ve been wondering why our dad hasn’t been in twice a day for his chicken sandwich and chocolate shake,” I said. “Well…it’s because he had a stroke on Sunday and then passed away the following day.”
“Aw, shit!” Jim spat. The guy was legitimately upset, but I couldn’t tell if he was more upset about the loss of my dad himself or the loss of his best customer who’d been single-handedly keeping the place afloat during covid. “I knew it. I knew somethin had to be wrong when he just stopped comin in here like that. Man…that really sucks.”
One of the cooks who’d been standing nearby overheard the conversation. He was a Hispanic guy in his mid-to-late thirties. He looked at us and said, “Hey, I’m really sorry to hear about Mr. Dan. He was a nice guy. With me, he always trying to speak the Spanish. When I give him his food, he always say to me, ‘Mañana, lunes’ or whatever day that was next, you know? And I say, ‘Okay, Mr. Dan. See you mañana. See you lunes.’”
“Oh, that’s you?” I laughed. “I mean, he always told me about that – the whole ‘mañana lunes’ thing – I just never knew exactly who he was doing that with. It’s nice to put a face to the story. What’s your name?”
“Chris,” the guy said.
“Okay Chris,” I replied. “Well, it’s nice to meet you.”
We didn’t go to the gas station as a family after our trip to Nick’s, but my mom went there by herself not too long after. It’s our usual gas station where everyone knew my dad because he went there literally every day and – even though they’d probably never been seen there together – at least a couple of the people behind the counter knew that he and my mom were husband and wife. One of the women that worked there was just outside the shop having a smoke when my mom had been walking up from where she parked her car at the pump and they greeted one another.
“Hey,” the lady casually began, “where’s your husband been? I haven’t seen him around here the past few days. Everything alright?”
My mom told her what happened and the lady started bawling her eyes out. Even though she suspected something might be wrong because my dad hadn’t been in, I don’t think she was expecting to hear that he was dead. In between sobs, she said that she was sorry. She said he was such a nice man and commented how he’d donate a dollar to the kids’ charity every day. After getting her gas, my mom came home and told us this story.
One other visitor that came during this time was my cousin Jack. Jack is the same age as me, was my dad’s godson, and is the second son of my dad’s younger sister, Peggy. While growing up, Peggy idolized my dad. She was always talking about him to anyone who’d listen. One time when they were kids, Peggy had been going on and on about my dad to one of her friends when the girl cut her off and said something like, “Oh my god! Danny, Danny, Danny – that’s all you ever talk about! Give it a rest already! You’re driving me insane!” I suppose her fondness for my dad must’ve been hereditary, because one of the nicest messages we received during this time was from Peggy’s other son, Michael, who’s about seven years older than me and Jack. He said, “Some of my fondest memories of Uncle Dan revolve around Lally family parties on Agatite. I’d be the antsy little kid trying to sign everyone up to play foosball tournaments in the basement and if I got Uncle Dan on board, it seemed everyone else would want to play. He made it fun and he also made it a legit tourney, as he was the best player. I knew I had to try and get him signed up but I never had to try too hard. Uncle Dan was always up for it. He was cool, easygoing and always seemed willing to hang out and have fun with his nephew. Uncle Dan was a great foosball player and a great uncle. He will be missed.”
As me and my brother sat with him in our living room, Jack was doing some reminiscing of his own about our old man. At one point he said, “Every birthday and every Christmas, Uncle Dan would send me a card with lotto tickets in there. It was like clockwork.” My eyes shifted towards my brother. I knew that he knew our dad never bought any of those cards or lotto tickets and sent them off in the mail to Jack. That was all our mom’s doing. I mean, what she’d do was have Dad sign the card before posting it to make it look like it actually was from him – and I guess it worked – but neither of us wanted to ruin the illusion for our cousin in his current bummed-out state. We just let him continue on about our dad as we listened to what he had to say. Then at one point in the conversation, I asked him if he’d ever heard the story of our parents driving together on the West Side during the early eighties. He said he hadn’t.
“Yeah,” I said. “It was nighttime. Kinda late, I think. Way later than any white person would wanna get caught wandering around the ghetto, at any rate. I don’t even know what they were doing in the area – coming back from a Bulls game, maybe? – but I think they were somewhere near my dad’s firehouse at Lake and Kedzie. Your dad was driving. He kicked his seat all the way back and started doin the gangster lean and had one hand on the wheel and all that shit. And he said, ‘This is how they drive in this neighborhood. This is how pimps drive. Check me out – I’m drivin like a pimp.’ And like, even though he couldn’t see the road over the dashboard to look where he was driving, everyone was initially very amused. But then, while not paying attention, your dad’s front tire hit the median and exploded on contact and they were suddenly stranded in the middle of the road after-hours in this dangerous-ass neighborhood. It was of course at this point that shit stopped being funny and got real pretty fast. Before our dads got out the car to put the spare on, they told our moms to lock the doors. They told em, ‘No matter what happens to us out there, don’t get out the car.’”
“No shit,” Jack laughed. “And then what happened?”
“Nothing,” I said. “They put the spare on and drove away without incident. But they were all very scared and I think that might’ve been the last time your dad tried to drive like a pimp.”
After a few days of seeing my mom struggling to write my dad’s death notice and being unable to get past the first paragraph – the one that explains familial relationships (“loving husband,” “cherished son,” etc.) – I told her that if she wanted me to, I’d take over the responsibility of getting that shit written. Part of me was hoping she’d say no, but she actually ended up accepting the offer. She said she really did have a lot going on and it’d be a really big help if I could handle it for her. I told her not to worry. I said I’d take care of it. As such, shortly after, I went up to my bedroom, shut the door, pulled out the old laptop, laid down on my bed and got to work.
It’s interesting how, being an immediate family member of someone – of my dad – it’s easy to think that he belonged to us. That he was ours and his death is our loss and nobody else’s. When you’re caught up in your own grief, it’s easy to slip into that way of thinking. Sure, maybe people outside our house didn’t care about him as much as we did and weren’t as devastated by his sudden absence, but that still doesn’t mean that he belonged to us. The man belonged to the world. He meant so many different things to so many different people. After receiving so many calls and messages and visits from people who knew my dad from different times and places during his lifetime, as I was sitting there trying to write this thing, I couldn’t help but feel like…how the fuck am I supposed to capture this man’s essence and sum up his entire life in a paragraph or two? Like, I was all too aware just how many people were going to see these words when reading the death notices in the Tribune and how these words are going to live on a lot longer than any of us will, stored away somewhere in some internet database and the thought made my stomach turn. The pressure was on. I needed to do the man justice. I wanted to immortalize him. And lemme tell ya – it was so god damn frustrating trying to do so.
Every time I thought I had a draft that was acceptable, I’d come down to the living room and read it out loud to my mom and my siblings. And every time, someone had a problem with something I said or the way I said it. I would ask questions about what they’d like to hear instead and then go back up and work on it for a bit before coming back down to again test the audience. After one of my earlier drafts, my sister said, “Yeah, sure, what you wrote is nice and all, but I don’t really care about him liking sports or being a good fireman or a good window washer. None of that stuff has anything to do with the relationship that I had with Dad.” So I went back up then came back down and read it again. Still not right. But this time, unlike when my sister said to add on some shit that actually meant something to her, no one could tell me what it was missing. As I stood in the doorway of the living room while they all sat on the floor adhering photos to poster boards that we’d eventually put on display at my dad’s service, I kept poking and prodding and was like, “C’mon guys – what more do you want me to say here?” Everyone was exhausted and my questions were like salt in the wound. At one point my brother couldn’t take it anymore and started yelling at me.
“I don’t fuckin care!” he shouted. “Write whatever you want! It doesn’t matter to me!”
This was very out of character for him. I hadn’t heard him raise his voice probably since we were in grade school.
“Why are you yelling?!” I yelled back at him.
“Why are you yelling?!” he replied in kind.
“Because I always do!” I said. “Everyone knows that I’m the emotionally unstable psychopath in the family that rants and raves and yells all the fuckin time! I love you and I’m sorry you’re upset, but I need you to be the calm one to balance me out! A lotta people are gonna see this shit! It’s gotta be good! I’m tryin to get this shit done, but I’m havin a hard time and it’s not gonna work if you’re yellin at me! I love you, okay?!”
We had a nice gay little hug after that and I ended up going back to the drawing board one more time. I added some stuff, I took some stuff out, I tweaked some stuff and then I slept on it. When I was fresh the next morning, I put on the finishing touches and presented it to my family one last time. No one was blown away. No one thought it was anything special. But they finally said it was good enough to send along to the Chicago Tribune for publication. That wasn’t exactly what I was hoping for, but “good enough” was gonna hafta do. My dad’s notice on the Irish Scratch Sheet appeared as follows…
LALLY, DANIEL FRANCIS
Thirty-year veteran of the Chicago Fire Department Lieutenant Dan Lally, 64 years, passed away suddenly on May 11. He is survived by Sue, his loving wife of 33 years, his sons Tim and Danny and his daughter Teresa. Cherished son of Michael and Marie. Dear brother of Tom (Meribeth), Mary Pat (Mike) Madden, Kathy, Helen, Peggy (Brian) Garrity, Michael and Johnny (Mary Ellen). Brother-in-law, uncle, cousin and friend to many.
When he wasn’t too busy putting out fires and picking people out burning buildings, Dan ran his own window washing and gutter cleaning business for close to three decades providing quality service to loyal customers who appreciated how kind and helpful he’d been to them over the years. As a younger man, he was renowned among his peers for his outstanding athleticism on the basketball court and out in left field where he was said to have robbed many a sixteen-inch softballer of extra-base hits, making spectacular over-the-shoulder Willie Mays style catches. Although he loved to compete, at the same time Dan always knew how to keep things light and fun. This was most evident in the way he connected with his children through coaching their little league teams, doing jigsaw puzzles, and playing board and video games with them around the house. In recent years, Dan discovered his affinity for going on walks in the woods, racking up at least five miles a day rain or shine – an activity which he enjoyed until the very end.
Due to current COVID-19 restrictions, a private ceremony will be held on May 19, 2020, at Cooney Funeral Home in Park Ridge. A celebration of life will be held in Dan’s honor at a later date. TBD.