The Rare Old Times,
Patrick kept walking, whistling as he shortened his stride. He looked over his shoulder. Johnny was working hard to keep up, but the boy was determined.
They both caught the fresh smell of mown grass as they passed Trinity College. He'd always liked looking at the old building, though he'd never been inside. Something about the stone walls and the lush, verdant lawn that was always so well maintained, it just put him at ease.
"Hurry now," said Patrick with a slight smile, pausing on the corner of Westmoreland and Dame. "Got to pick up the pace if you ever want to get there."
Johnny panted, shuffling his legs and pulling at the blue cap his father had given him. He wiped the sweat off his brow and breathed an exhausted sigh. "I don't know how you do it, da. Every day, back and forth. God, I don't know how you're still alive!"
"Language, boyo," Patrick said sternly. "Don't be taking the Lord's name in vain."
"But mum can't hear me!" Johnny exclaimed.
"Maybe, but my ears are working just fine, aren't they? No reason to show disrespect to the Maker just because mum's not around, is there?"
"No," the boy said, sulking. "How much further is it?"
"A ways," his father said, pulling a cigarette from his pocket, tapping the end of it against his palm to pack the loose tobacco. By the time the two set foot on Market Street, Johnny was wheezing while his father stopped for a moment to strike a match. The noxious smell of sulfur filled his nostrils as he breathed in the smoke.
"It's just down the road, now," Patrick said absently. It'd be another five or six minutes till they saw St. James's Gate, the brewery was right beside it, but it'd be good for Johnny to know how close they were.
A flash of excitement swept through the boy's face as he stretched his legs to try and match his father's stride.
"Hold, boyo," Patrick said lazily. "Is this the first time you've been to work with me?"
Johnny scratched his head. "I think. You took me over to Lett's when we lived in Enniscorthy, but I don't remember taking this path before."
"Well, it's a path you should get used to, boy," said Patrick, dragging on his cigarette.
Johnny turned a questioning eye to his father.
"Never mind," he said with a sly smile as they came in sight of Hanover's Brewery. "An old man's humor."
Hanover's was a beast of a building. Red bricks rose several stories to house the brewery. He used the front to give his son a sense of what the business was. He tossed his butt at the door.
The front was where the offices were, straight desks and whitewashed walls ready for a new coat of paint. Patrick laughed as his son looked on in awe, leading him through the maze of pipes, and barrels. He exchanged pleasantries with everyone he met along the way. Johnny recognized them all, had seen all of them over for dinner at one point or another. They couldn't help but remark on how big he was getting, giving him tiny sips of stout until his father put a quits to it.
Hanover's beer was one of the best in Ireland, some said the world. Patrick felt a certain amount of pride for being a part of that family. He hoped he'd be able to bring his son in one day. And maybe some day down the road, Johnny would bring his own son into the business.
Johnny looked up at his father, frowning as blossoms bloomed on his cheeks. "But where do you work?"
Patrick leaned down, pressing his cheek close to his son's head. He pointed down the aisle to the back of the brewery. "Way over there at the end of it. We got the workshop set up so a cart parks everything we need inside the warehouse."
A sense of comfort swept though him as he opened the door to the cooper's warehouse. The scent of oak was heavy in the air, heavy enough to drown out the smell of hops and barley. Patrick allowed himself a small sigh of satisfaction as he looked over the rows and rows of men already working on barrels and casks. Over a hundred and fifty coopers at work, trying to match production with the beer. A couple stopped what they were doing when they saw Patrick with Johnny. They'd stop to shoot the shit before getting back to work. Patrick was looking for a particular face in the crowd, Johnny wanted to see his favorite Uncle Finny.
Finny saw them first. A wide smile spread over his rough, boyish face as he limped over, a souvenir from a leg that wasn't set properly. "Oy, Patrick! About fuckin' time you bring the kipper down, then? Maggie know?"
Patrick threw a look at his friend. "Now what have I been saying about watching your mouth around me boy?"
"Aw, he likes it, don't you Johnny boy?" Finny leaned over and picked the boy up with one hand.
Johnny laughed, so Patrick couldn't say anything. "Alright," he said stubbornly. "Just don't repeat anything your uncle Finny says in front of your mum. Or your brothers and sister. I hear one word come cross my ears and there'll be a reckoning the Lord won't forget."
Finny plopped the boy down on a pile of sacks, one hand stretching down to his bad leg. "Speaking of which, Pat, I saw your brother, Willy, standing around a couple minutes ago."
"Oh, you mean Maggie's brother. What's he up to?"
"Don't know. The old man was looking for you, though."
Patrick glanced over his shoulder. Johnny was happily playing around with spare pieces of wood. "What's he want now?" Patrick asked, softly enough that his son wouldn't hear him.
"You got me," Finny said, shaking his head. "Seems every day he's got something new in his head. I heard he might be selling the place."
"What'd he do that for? Hanover's making more money than God, why'd he want to get out of the game?"
Finny shrugged. "Hell, the poor fucker's devoted his life to the brewery. He's fucking married to it."
"Could explain Mrs. Hanover," Patrick joked. "Alright, let's get his over with. Can you watch over Johnny for a couple minutes?"
"Alright, boss. Give him one for and all that bullshit."
Patrick gave him the two-fingered salute and walked back into the brewery, past the vats into the whitewashed rooms ready for a fresh coat of paint. In the space of a breath he was standing outside Mr. Hanover's door. Hastily, he smoothed back his hair and straightened his shirt before rapping his knuckles smartly on the thin pine door.
"S'open!" a hearty voice called.
Gently, Patrick eased the door open and closed it behind him.
"You're late, Mr. Kennedy," Mr. Hanover said from behind his desk. He was a red faced man with a great white bush on his chin. He wasn't fat, but he had some meat on his bones. In December he'd dress up as Father Christmas for all the worker's kids, stuff a down pillow under his shirt and give a jolly chuckle as he handed out presents to the tots and a stiff drink to the parents.
"Sorry about that, boss," Patrick said, taking a seat opposite Mr. Hanover. "I thought I told you yesterday about me bringing my son down to the shop, said I might be a bit late."
Mr. Hanover shook his head. "Fuck me, maybe you're right. Ah, to hell with it."
Patrick frowned. "You alright, boss? Seem a bit jittery. Missus got you up again?"
"Ha! Don't I wish. The old prune hasn't been keeping me up at night since my beard was red and she her bush was blonde."
"A shame, that," Patrick muttered awkwardly. "So what's all this about then?"
Mr. Hanover started to answer when there came a knock on the door.
The old man hesitated for a moment before calling out, "S'open!" in a heavy voice.
Patrick turned just in time to see William Delaney walk through the door, his handsome suit looked fresh from the wash and his hair was combed back nicely. He'd been lucky enough to see the inside of Trinity College, it showed whenever he opened his mouth. There was always a twinkle in his eye, a smile on his face. Now, Patrick's brother-in-law looked like he was staring into death's empty socket.
"Hey, Pat," Willy said in a casual tone.
"Hey, Willy," Patrick returned. "How's Grace doing?"
"Good, good. How about Maggie and the kids?"
"All great. Actually, Johnny's in the back. I figured I'd bring him to work and let him see what his old man does for a living. Maybe see if I can get him interested in it."
"I'm not so sure," Willy said uneasily. "He might not take to it. Maybe you should try sending him to school, try to get a good education for him."
"Nah," Patrick said, waving it off. "Cooper's a fine job for him, one you can raise a family on." He didn't say that he and Maggie wanted Johnny to go to school, maybe see Trinity College like his uncle did, but they didn't have the money and Johnny didn't have the inclination.
Willy nodded grimly. "Still, I'd say you should give your boy some options."
Patrick smiled, his jaws clenched and showing just a hint of teeth. "Don't you worry 'bout my boy, William, I can take care of my family just fine."
"Of course you can," Willy said hastily. "Shit, Patrick, I didn't mean to imply—"
"S'fine," said Patrick. "Don't worry about it. Damn, Willy, you look like you've seen a ghost. You okay, brother?"
"I'm fine," Willy said absently. "Just trying to figure out how to say something."
Patrick leaned forward in his chair, his muscles tensing. "Is something wrong? Is it something about Maggie and the kids?"
"Maggie's fine, the children are fine," Willy said, slumping back in his chair. "It's you I'm worried about, Patrick."
"What're you talking about, boyo?"
Willy hesitated, perhaps too long. Mr. Hanover cleared his throat. "You gonna find your balls and say it, Delaney? Or do you want me to?"
Willy licked his lips but didn't utter so much as a word.
"Fuck it," Mr. Hanover said. He looked over the desk, his sharp green eyes staring straight into Patrick's. "I'm selling the factory to Mr. Delaney here."
Patrick peered over at his brother-in-law. "Where'd you get the kind of money for that?"
"Investors," Willy said quietly.
"Alright," Patrick said, shaking his head. "So what's the big deal, then? Don't get me wrong, Ryan, you're a swell guy and all, but I don't exactly have a say in what you do with your company now, do I? And you, Willy, congratulations, boyo. Hanover's, or Delaney's, or whatever you end up calling it, it'll be great working for you." He laughed. "If you decide to keep me on."
"I do," Willy said hastily. "You're my sister's husband, for Christ's sake, I'm not going to toss you out on the street."
Something clicked in Patrick's mind. New owners always tried to make back some of their money. "Oh," he said. "Layoffs, then." Willy nodded. "Well, how many coopers are you sacking? How many of my boys are gonna have to go home and give the bad news to their wives?"
Willy ran a hand through his hair thick brown hair. "I'm not keeping any coopers on, Pat. Mr. Hanover, would you mind if we borrowed your office for a bit?"
It took Patrick a moment to process the information. He had to go back and rehear it in his head a couple times to make sure his mind wasn't playing tricks on him.
"Why?" was all he could think to ask. It just didn't add up. There were reasons to keep coopers on hand, it was cheaper in some ways that counted. Over a hundred and fifty coopers, closer to two hundred. Men with families to provide for, bills to pay. All of them cast out.
He couldn't really hear Willy talk. Words got through, but he had trouble putting them together. Something about converting the workshop into a factory to produce metal kegs. Replace all the wooden barrels with cheap metal kegs that could be turned out a hundred a day to lower costs and increase profit. No need for repairs, just melt it down and make it new. Just pull a lever, push a button, send it on its way.
"I want you to stay on," Willy said, breaking Patrick out of his reverie.
"Excuse me?" Patrick asked, still reeling from Willy's words.
"I need someone to look over the plant," Willy said soothingly. "It's easy work with good pay. It'll be like the job you have now, you'll still be making barrels."
"Barrels are made of wood," Patrick said sharply. "Not tin or whatever you're using."
"I don't care what they are, Will. And I don't know what you expect of me, either."
Willy curled his hands into fists. "I expect you to do the right thing."
"And I'm trying to figure out what that is," Patrick said. "You come to me, tell me all the coopers are out o' work. Tell me that, despite all my friends being tossed out on the street with no recompense, you're gonna keep me on because, what? I'm married to your sister?"
Willy unclenched his hands. "I promised Maggie I'd do right by you," he said mechanically. "And I need you to do right by her. Take the job."
"No," Patrick said simply.
Willy exploded. "Why not? Give me one good reason why, Patrick, because this isn't just you we're talking about. This is about my sister, too, you know. So at least give me a reason, Patrick, give me a good God damn reason!"
"Because how am I gonna look in Johnny's eyes after its all said and done?" Patrick demanded, crossing his arms. "'Cause that's the big thing that's got me worried. You're asking me to betray all the boys I know. Johnny knows 'em, too. He likes to think of them as uncles, him and the other kids. Tell me, Willy, how am I gonna look Johnny in the eye and tell him that I sold his uncles out for a pocketful of silver?"
Willy slumped against his chair. "You can tell him the truth, Patrick. You tell him that sometimes we don't get to be happy. Sometimes we have to forget about ourselves to do what needs to be done."
"Aye," Patrick said appreciatively. "But where's that leave you, William? You gonna step outside and forget about all this rubbish if it'll keep one-fifty boys in work?"
"It's going to happen no matter what I do, Patrick," Willy said hotly. "There's nothing anyone can do to stop it, it's just the way the world's turning. If it's not me it's someone else. Personally, I'd rather it be me that does it."
Patrick couldn't take any more of it. He wanted to hit him. Break the jaw, silence the words. Still the heart, then what? He berated himself for not being smarter, for not being stronger, for not having the courage to say yes when he knew it was the thing he should do.
"No," Patrick said, turning away so Willy wouldn't see the tears in his eyes. "I won't. I can't and that's all there is to it."
Sighing, Willy stood up, brushing dust off the side of his suit. "I'm going to be back tomorrow, Pat. Talk to Maggie, talk to Finny or George or anyone else, they'll all tell you to do the same thing. I promise you, they won't hate you for it."
I wouldn't need them to, Patrick thought bitterly. Any hate he kept bottled up in his body was reserved only for himself at that moment.
"I'll see you tomorrow, Patrick," Willy said as he walked out the door.
Patrick couldn't move after his brother-in-law left. His conscious weighed him down. He was still sitting there when the lunch bell rang an hour later. It shocked him out of his thoughts and he found himself on his feet before he knew what happened.
"Johnny," he whispered hoarsely. Stiffly, he got out of the chair and shambled out of the office. Mr. Hanover was sitting in a chair opposite the door. Patrick didn't say anything as he passed. One look in the old man's defeated face said it all.
Willy wanted to change with the times. To do that, things had to be done and discarded. It was work for young men, not old. Some men couldn't face the changing times. They couldn't see the line so clearly because they were busy looking at all the faces they'd come to know.
Sack a hundred and fifty coopers? Willy could do it. Willy didn't know them. Ryan Hanover did. He knew them all. Knew their wives, knew their children, had helped them out with their bills when times were tight and been lenient when times were good.
Some men couldn't face the changing times. Not because they were stuck in the past, but because they couldn't bring themselves to change.
"Goodbye, Pat," Mr. Hanover called as Patrick stepped through the doorway into the brewery.
Johnny was standing on top of a crate with an iron hoop hanging around his neck, an excited smile appeared on his face when he saw his father approaching.
"Da! Where were you, da? Uncle Finny was showing me how to use the in-shave. He said that's where most apprentices start out, just getting the insides all nice and smooth. He also said they took someone on last week for a 'prenticeship and he was only seven! I'm seven, da! Do you think I could start a 'prenticeship here? Would that mean I get to work with you? What's wrong, da? You got something in your eye? Uncle Bill got some dust in his eyes and it teared up like that, did you get dust in your eyes, da?"
Patrick rubbed his face on his sleeve. "Yeah, son," he choked out. "Just got some dust in me eyes. Come on, boyo, let's get the hell out of here."
"Do you want to wait for Uncle Finny? He wanted to stop by O'Doul's for lunch."
"Not today. I think maybe we'll just go drop you off at home," Patrick said, turning his collar up and pulling his hat down low over his face. He didn't want the other coopers to see him.
Patrick wished his son would stop talking on the long walk home. Johnny couldn't contain his excitement at the thought of becoming a cooper. He wanted it. He wanted it so he could be just like his da.
That morning Patrick would have given anything to hear those words. Now, he was a pale shadow of his former self and each sentence struck a blow at his being. The Dublin night enshrouded them, hiding the sorrows of the father from his son while Johnny raced around him.
All too quickly he found himself back home, staring at the front door while Johnny bustled through it. When he found the courage to walk in he found his wife waiting for him. Maggie, in her rough-spun shift with a greasy apron over it, her straw-colored hair bound loosely in a faded red ribbon, greeted him with a peck on the cheek and in a no-nonsense tone told him lunch would be served shortly.
When he had a chance to orient himself, he saw the apprehensive look in her eyes. Saw the yearning for closeness in the way she held herself against him, but felt the same old passion when her lips found his. She wrapped her arms around his back and held him for a moment, assuaging his fears and his insecurities.
She broke off before he was ready, asked him if he'd talked to Willy yet, if he'd made a decision. He backed away, giving her all the answer she needed
Patrick went though the motions the rest of the afternoon. He kept his elbows off the table, said amen when his youngest, Aidan, finished the prayer, ate the rich stew Maggie and his daughter Lucy conjured up out of potatoes and a bit of beef. He tried to do everything he normally did. Tried not to think about the morrow.
Maggie's voice came out of nowhere. "Pat? Pat, is the stew good enough?"
Patrick was shocked back to the moment. He forced himself to smile. Forced himself to rise from his rickety old chair he'd taken from his father's house and walk over to his wife. He didn't have to act as he kissed her tenderly on her forehead, but he lied when he said the stew was divine. Taste was beyond him for the moment, his mouth was filled with ash.
She smiled as he made his way back to his chair. He'd rather she think he'd made a decision
When lunch was over he lost himself in the sitting room while the girls cleared the table. He'd have to go back to work soon, but he wanted to be alone with his thoughts for moment, try to figure out what the right path was. For the life of him, he couldn't see it. He tried praying to God, wanting a sign to tell him what to do. God was silent. Anything Pat needed, he needed to figure out on his own.
There was a quiet knock on door. Johnny entered and took a seat at his father's feet.
Round eyed and innocent, Johnny asked, "Were you telling the truth this morning? About me coming to work at the brewery?"
"I was," Patrick said feebly.
A light shone in his son's eyes. "Did you talk to Mr. Hanover about it? I know you talked to him about it today, but do you think he'd let me? Da? Are you okay? I guess Lucy didn't do a good job dusting the room, you must have got some dust in your eyes again."
Patrick rubbed his sleeve across his face. "'sfine, son. Tell me truly, though, what do you want to be a cooper for?"
Johnny smiled at his father and said the words Patrick had wanted to hear since the day Johnny was born. "Because I want to be like you, da."
Patrick allowed a sad smile to spread across his face. "Thank you, John," he said breathlessly. He wasn't sure what he should say. Patrick always tried to tell his son the truth when he could. He wished he could tell Johnny the truth now. "But I think you should be like you. Not making some old barrels, but out there finding your way in the world. Maybe see about getting you back in school. Truth is, barrels aren't important anymore. Your Uncle Willy's actually opening up a factory to make new, better barrels that are made of metal. You could say they're better than wood."
Johnny frowned. "But you make good barrels, da, how can metal ones be better?"
"I don't know," Patrick said honestly. "I really don't. Willy seems to think they are, so he's bought Hanover's and fired all the coopers there." He froze as soon as he said it. He hadn't intended for it to go that far.
His son went wide-eyed. "All of them?" he whispered. "Uncle Willy can't fire all of them, whose gonna make the metal barrels?"
"Machines," Patrick croaked, leaning back and putting a hand over his eyes. Trying not to see his son's face. "Truth is, Hanover sold the brewery so Willy can do whatever he wants with it. Gonna toss all us coopers out to make way for more profit. He's probably gonna keep a couple of coopers on to run the factory. He even asked me to, on account of your mother."
Johnny recoiled from his father. "Did you say yes?" he asked tersely.
Patrick found his eyes looking at his son's determined face. "I haven't decided, yet," he said honestly.
"Don't," said the boy.
The old smile crept across Patrick's face. "It's not that simple," he began.
"Yes it is!" said Johnny.
There was a hushed silence as Johnny's voice rang through the house. Abruptly Patrick could feel every ear training in on him.
"I thought I wanted you to be like me, Johnny," Patrick said quietly. "I really did. I figured you'd be a cooper just like I always dreamed of. You'd have a good job, find a wife, raise your own children, and live the life you wanted. I've tried to do the right thing for you, but I want you to be a good man, son. I don't want you to become like me."
Johnny was silent for a while, trying to comprehend what his father was saying. Sometimes youth was the shield of innocence.
In time, Patrick prayed, in time he'll understand.
With a creak of furniture, he stood up and shambled past Johnny.
"I'm sorry, son," Patrick Kennedy said as he walked away. "Sometimes you have to do the right thing."