Monday, September 1, 2008

The auld sod

Today I went and marched in the Labor Day Parade. A bunch of us from work marched, in honor of Jay Bonfatti, our friend who died a few days ago had organized it. Jay was always organizing us to do this or that -- go to a Sabres game, come to a party, something. It is funny that he is still organizing us even now that he is gone.

Being a Republican I do not normally march in favor of organized labor but I made an exception in this situation, and I was glad I did. What a cute, goofy little parade this was. It was so quiet. There was one bagpipe corps -- maybe six guys with kilts and big bellies. And one high school marching band, from West Seneca. Then just the usual small-town stuff: a few fire trucks, the painters' union with a truck featuring a giant roller and a dripping can of paint to match.

I kept thinking of that great scene in "Die Meistersinger" when all the guilds parade out, singing their hymns and strutting their stuff. The cobblers, invoking St. Crispin. The bakers boasting about how they keep everyone fed and not hungry. I love that scene's medieval pageantry. Times are different now. Wagner would not have found it so easy to create beautiful music for Local 210, I will tell you that.

Anyway, we went down Abbott past St. Thomas Aquinas and the Irish Center, then hung a left on Cazenovia and finished up the parade in Cazenovia Park where the bagpipers could not wait to light up cigarettes. Wouldn't you be a better bagpipe player if you didn't smoke?

One piper told me I could switch from piano to bagpipes, that it wasn't difficult, his wife did it.

I said, "I have enough with the piano to keep me busy."

Walking back to the car with my friend Jane and our sportswriter Keith McShea, we ran into the mayor. We clowned with him and took pictures. Buffalo, such a small town!

Speaking of which, here is a funny thing that happened. A few years ago, Canisius College Press published a book of my dad's nostalgia columns about Buffalo history, called Buffalo Memories. It is still a good steady seller. I gave a copy of the book to Leonard Pennario for a present soon after I met him because Leonard shared my dad's obsession with Crystal Beach and old Buffalo churches and movie theaters. When I got to California I was happy to see the book next to Leonard's bed, on top of a pile of books about movies and music. Anyway, just the other day, poking around in Dad's book, I found a story about an ice cream parlor he loved as a boy, called Sullivan's, at the corner of Abbott and Columbus.

I am from South Buffalo, born when my family lived on Choate Avenue and baptized, same as my dad, at Holy Family Church. But but they moved us out to Snyder when I was 5 and now South Buffalo is like a foreign country to me. Anyway, we're drifting along the sidewalk talking about Jay and suddenly I happened to see a place that looked like a bar with the sign "Sullivan's."

Wait, I thought, wasn't that the name of that ice cream parlor? Well, this couldn't be it. But then I looked around for the nearest street sign and there it was, across the street, Columbus. Yes, that was the street!

I looked again. It was an old brick building, behind the bar facade. It must have been my dad's old ice cream parlor! Isn't it funny, I was just reading that? And there it was!

By now Keith and Jane are a block up the street looking back to see where the heck I was. And I'm standing there staring at this building. This is the way I go through life, my head in the clouds.

"An old aunt used to grumble that I was turning into one of 'the gang that hangs around the ice cream parlor.'" That was how my dad's story on Sullivan's starts out.

"On hot summer nights, teenagers would naturally drift there. During my era, South Buffalo cherished Sullivan's, a super ice cream parlor at Abbott Road and Columbus Street. Owned by a glum, hatchet-faced man named John 'Turkey' Sullivan, the establishment played host nightly to droves of teenagers."

I love how he ends the story:

"If Mr. Sullivan had given diplomas for steady attendance at his institution, many familiar names would appear: Diggins, Curtin, O'Connor, slews of Murphys, generations of Griffins, Malley, many Meegans, McNamaras and Moriartys, Dolan, O'Brien, Monahan ... Such alumni often did graduate and work at Joe Cooley's famous saloon across Abbott Road in later years."

Joe Cooley's. We could have used that place earlier today! My guess is it's not there any more.

If that were open, I don't think I would have missed it.


Pauldub said...

Your Dad was a heck of a writer. Teacher as well. I had the pleasure of having him for Junior English.Definitely was into his work.

Anonymous said...

Mary, have you seen this?