Jack Kavanagh Sr. is watching the Super Bowl with the Pittsburgh Steelers pitted against the Los Angeles Rams. Jack is sipping a National Premium while talking to Betty. The game is on but they are excited about some news from Nancy and her husband Jim O’Neill. Daughters Maura and Katie will soon be joined by another baby. This will be grandchild number four for Jack and Betty and they can’t wait. Grandparenthood seems to suit them just as well as parenthood. The O’Neill’s get some more good news today when the Steelers win the NFL Championship 31-19.
The Shop’s start to the year has been steady and Jack is satisfied with that. This is usually a slow time so steady is fine. The crew work on some angle flanges, a brass pipe rail and some bent 1” Dia. steel rods for Atlantic Health & Fitness. These rods are parts for an exercise machine.
Baltimore has had a cold winer, but no blizzard. Joe laments it a bit missing last year’s unexpected school free week. My Mom, Dad, Jack and I are watching the US Olympic hockey team face the heavily favored Soviet Union. The Olympics are the talk of the nation and it’s a pleasant change to the normal news of the day which includes daily updates on the American hostages in Iran. Even at fourteen, I feel a sense of worry. The games in Lake Placid are a nice distraction. After two periods, the US takes a lead 4-3. The arena fills with this incredible chant of “USA. USA”. It is like nothing I have seen or heard before. As the clock ticks to below one minute, Jack has an “I told you so” attitude about the whole thing. He’s a mad hockey fan and has been playing street hockey and even ice hockey at the Patterson Park rink of late. As the final seconds slip away, Al Michaels shouts “Do you believe in miracles? Yes!” The players hug and pile on each other as the same chant erupts even louder. My Mom, Dad and I jump to our feet and cheer. My Mom hugs each of us and we join in with the “USA. USA.” My father finishes by clapping his hands and rubbing them together fast. It is a habit he picked up from his father. Jack cheered and smiled but it turns out he knew it all along. The game was televised on tape delay and he knew the result but kept it to himself. He gave us that moment of surprise and celebration. Two days later, the US wins gold defeating Finland 4-2.
On this Friday, a cold week of work comes to a close. The talk all week at the Shop was the US Hockey beating the Russians and taking the gold medal. Men who know nothing about hockey suddenly were cheering like rabid fans. A few jobs are finished including a set of angle rings for F.H. Klaunberg Fabricators.
Jack drives a couple of his friends to the Capital Center to take in a hockey game on this Friday night. The Caps are hosting the Minnesota North Stars and Jack Sr is confident enough now to allow Jr. to drive long trips on his own. He has even made the drive to Ocean City. Tonight, Washington loses a tough one 4-3 but Jack and his buddies have a great time.
The Orioles start the season 1-3 on the road and come back to Baltimore today. The Kavanagh’s are on the third base side right behind the tarp and cheering them on. Last year’s loss in the World Series was a bitter pill after having been so close, taking it to game seven and then losing. The prevailing hope is for a return to the Series and a better result. The Kansas City Royals are visiting and the Birds thump them pretty good 12-2. Jim Palmer pitches eight outstanding innings and Ken Singleton and Rick Dempsey each hit two-run homers. A very fun and comfortable win for any baseball fan.
Ann, Jack and I are at a Tuesday night ballgame at Memorial Stadium. Dad and Mom are home enjoying a quiet evening alone with Jack driving tonight and three friends with us too. The Yankees are in town and those are always exciting games. The Orioles are up 2-1 after two innings when something strange happens. The booming voice of Rex Barney comes over the speakers at the stadium and Joe Kavanagh is requested to go to the Courtesy Desk. I look at my brother and sister. They heard it too so Ann and I make our way to the back. We speak to team officials and my mother has called. I am entered in a speech contest through school and the county finals are tomorrow. The contest is sponsored by the Optimist’s Club and my subject is Nuclear Proliferation. Apparently, we had the days wrong and it is tonight. My parents are on their way to pick me up as we speak. I leave and wait out front and Mom and Dad pull up to rush me to Dundalk for my competition. I know things must have been a rush because my mother isn’t wearing her Emeraude perfume and Dad’s shirt is unbuttoned. They must have left in a hurry. My mother hands me my suit on a hanger and tells me to change. I pull clothes off, very aware of those in other cars seeing me in my underwear, and then put my suit on and after a frantic drive, we make it and I win. I am going to the state finals in Ocean City next weekend. The Orioles don’t fair as well. They lose 4-3 despite two homers by catcher Rick Dempsey and despite my high pressure last minute win in the county finals, I lose in OC.
My father sits at his desk recounting the events of last night to his brother. My Uncle Ed is laughing as Dad describes me changing clothes in the car and possibly mooning passersby on Thirty-third Street. Ed is still chuckling when the phone rings and Jack grabs it. The caller is from Atlantic Health and Fitness inquiring about an order. Jack lets him know it will be ready for pick up in an hour.
My Dad is anxious to get home on this last Friday of May. He’s cruising down Baltimore Street and thinking of what was finished today including a 10” Channel for Thrifty Iron Works. That’s a big piece of structural steel. Dad is distracted a bit because my brother Jack graduates from Our Lady of Mount Carmel High School tonight. My parents are very proud. Jack is a good young man. He did well in school and has advanced rapidly at the Shop. My Dad trusts Jack on some of the most difficult jobs he receives. Jack is thinking of attending Eastern Technical and studying machining. My father encourages him but doesn’t tell him to do so. He leaves it up to Jack who can run a lathe but only from his father’s training. Learning in a school environment will be a good thing. Jack celebrates with his friends, and my parents return to Lakewood Avenue. My Mom tells me about the graduation while Dad and I watch “The Incredible Hulk.”
I am nearly finished with my first year of high school. I sit in Ms. Sprankle’s home room in a small crowd of boys gathered around desks. The topic of discussion is what everyone will be doing over the summer. Trips to the beach, Gunpowder State Falls and hanging at Golden Ring Mall are shared. Several have summer jobs, fast food or at the mall. When my turn comes, I mention I’m working at the Shop. The Shop always requires an explanation. We called it the Shop around the house and anytime the place was mentioned. No one called the Shop the Joseph Kavanagh Company but me. I found out early on that having a name in common with an old business was interesting to kids. I had pencils to prove it with the name embossed. What kid wouldn’t want to act like he had a company? After my explanation, the Shop does metal bending like pipes and rings for people, the boys seem a little impressed and a little doubtful. I am only 5ft. 4 in. and do not present the impression of a smith of any sort. I tell them it is my first summer there but I had helped with bending a bar rail last winter. There is an innate coolness to working on something in a bar to any teenager and I gain a little favor in the other boys’ eyes that day. I do wonder what it will be like. The place is dirty. That’s for sure. No wonder my father looked dirty every day of my life but Sundays. I’ll find out next week when I begin working Wednesday to Friday unless the Shop is busy enough to work Saturdays too. I’ll have Monday and Tuesday off just as Jack did his first summer.
It’s 7:30 AM on the first Wednesday of the summer and I am at the Shop on Central Avenue. This is my first full day and I have no idea what I am to do. The crew are gathered around the open garage door when Ed comes out of the office and claps his hands and passes out some instructions to the crew. The men, mostly in their 20s but one or two older gents, hop up and wander to the back of the Shop and get to work. Jack heads up the steps to the second floor where he is bending some heater tubes for a Housing Authority heat exchanger. My father appears from the office and tells me he wants me to make a list of some tools. He gives me paper and pencil and points me in the direction of a large mass of steel dies under the stairs. These are for the Pines Bender which is located on the other side of the front of the Shop. The stairs are on the Pratt Street side and the machine is near the alley side. Dad gives me a tape measure, making sure I know how to use it first, and returns to the office. I set to work assuming there is some end goal to this which I do not quite grasp. I measure the size of the groove that matches the size of the pipe or tube to be bent and the diameter of the die itself. The diameter determines how small or tight the curve is. I know none of this at the time and give it little thought. I focus on scooting around on the dirty floor and taking measurements and notes. At lunch, Jack and I sit on buckets in a circle with the rest of the crew. I’m surprised how dirty I am and how little regard for their own dirt the men have as they eat their sandwiches. I speak very little and eat my ham on white square bread listening. The men all introduce themselves to me and are polite. Jack fits in well already, deep in discussion with two younger guys about music. The half hour passes quickly and I get back to my bending die cataloging. At 3:30 PM, the crew begin to knock off, as they call it, and head up the stairs to change on the small indoor porch or loft which serves as a locker room. I follow them up and change as well, then wait outside the office for my father and uncle. When Ed leaves, the crew follow behind. A few minute later, Dad and Jack are closing and padlocking the large green metal door, then we are driving east on Pratt toward Patterson Park. I’m tired though I am not sure I did much. I can’t wait to get home, to shower and sleep. Maybe eat somewhere in there too.
After two days of measuring and recording, I find the pile of dies to be nearly as large as it was when I started. The tedium is only broken by the lifting, sliding and maneuvering the larger dies around the floor. I jump at the chance when Mike Glenn asks me if I’m ready to do some real work. He leads me over to the R-3 which is located on the other side of an interior wall that splits the front of 201 S. Central. We roll a few pipe rings from 1” Pipe. Mike and I lift the lengths up and into the machine. With each pass Mike takes a “bite,” meaning he brings the back two rollers forward to tighten the radius of the circle. I hold the pipe up to keep it flat and between passes I hold one end of a tape measure while he checks the diameter. It isn’t anything fancy or particularly difficult but I am thrilled to be lifted from die duty. My mind is on sleep. My father has given me tomorrow off though Jack and the rest will be working. He told me next Saturday I will be there but for tomorrow, I suppose he took pity on me. When the day is done, Dad hands me an envelope with $57.60 in it. Twenty-four hours at two dollars and forty cents an hour. I can’t believe it. I am being payed off the books and this is more money than I have ever had. With fifty bucks in my pocket, suddenly the week doesn’t seem so bad.
Summer has brought a glut of jobs to Central Avenue and the crew are very busy. Jack is enjoying having both of his boys at work. He can spend more time with them and teach them what they need to know. There is too much going on for teaching today as a large set of 4” angle rings are finished for Codd Fabricators. These took nearly a full week and loading the truck will take two hours. While most of the crew handle the truck, Jack and a couple fellows are bending some pipe for Baltimore Tube Bending in the Pines Bender.
It’s a hot Saturday morning when Dad, Jack and I pull up at Central Avenue. The workers arrive a few minutes after us. We are working a half day which isn’t so bad as the heat really hits in the afternoon. The mornings are stagnant in the old building especially with no breeze but the humidity doesn’t crank up until after lunch. The men are scattered between some angles being rolled in the R-5 and some pipes in the R-3 while Jack and I are working on a set of heater tubes for an exchanger sent in from the Housing Authority. After the tubes are cut, my father shoos Jack away to set up the machine. Dad gives me my first lesson in annealing. He shows me how to light the torch with a manual striker, just flick the edge across the flint for a spark. He talks me through how he starts moving the torch along a few inches of the copper then begins to push the heat along. Only the part of the tube which will be bent is annealed and it glows red as you go. I stand next to him, feeling the blast of heat from the torch on my face but listening. As he moves the heat along the tube, he begins singing softly. It’s “Fly Me to the Moon,” one of his favorites.
When he blows out the torch, he turns to me. “Any questions?”
“No. I get it. You keep the torch moving so the heat isn’t concentrated on one spot. Keep it moving back and forth until it turns red then move on. You use the conductivity of the copper to “push” the heat along.” I answer as I look from the now cooling tube to my father.
Dad sets the torch carefully on the top of the tank. “Conductivity? Oh that’s a ten dollar word.” I blush caught trying to impress him with my vocabulary but he lets it go. “You’re right, Joe. Always keep it moving and always be watching it.”
I nod and smile. “What about the singing?”
He grins back at me. “The singing helps. It keeps you focused on the job. On the torch and the tube. Singing is good.”
“Okay, that’s fine but you know that sounds kind of crazy?” I reply in the chiding way my Dad and I have with each other.
He chuckles and takes a step back. “Well, kid. It’s all crazy. This job is crazy. What we do is crazy.” His eyes widen as they fix on me. “Life is crazy. You might as well sing.” He turns his back to me and walks to the office slipping into song under his breath as he goes. “Fill my heart with song. Let me sing forever more.”
The Shop has been busy most of the summer including Saturday half-days, The work is dirty and hard and it’s a struggle to grow accustomed to it. I feel so young and so much smaller and weaker than everyone there but they don’t seem aware of it. I look forward to a week’s vacation and then for the first time in my life, to school. We will be heading to Ocean City this weekend and I hope the remaining days go quickly. This week is primarily spent finishing up jobs that must be done to allow for the holiday next week and doing some cleaning and maintenance on machines. My father does this to be sure nothing interferes with his week off. It’s sort of a buffer week but the crew call it Hell Week. I learn quickly why when a bevy of pranks and practical jokes begin occurring. Boots are nailed to the floor, tool boxes hidden from the owner and clothes are stolen, folded and frozen in the freezer of the small old refrigerator. I have learned my Uncle Ed enjoys a few laughs along with the men every day but this week I see he is the instigator in a great deal of shenanigans. He has someone wash the Shop’s truck in the front of the building and I watch with a couple guys as suddenly a bread bag full of water falls from the sky and splatters the target. The place fills with laughs as another comes flying down crashing into the truck this time. The bags are being hurled from the front window of the machine shop upstairs. Those on the first floor are in on it and gather around to laugh. Uncle Ed is nowhere to be found, having departed for the office. He wanders back out into the Shop and remarks where’s all that water coming from, as he chuckles. Jack had given me very little warning about Hell Week other than saying it’s the easiest week of the summer. The crew seem to have more fun than work this week but it’s also a good release for them. My father, for his part, spends most of each day in the office. He knows what’s going on but chooses to ignore it. As long as the work is finished and some cleaning too, he is happy. He will occasionally make some crack about one of the workers in a soaked shirt or something but not often. I found out later he also stayed in the office to complete all the paperwork he could. He has a lot to finish each year to earn that week at the beach.
Our week in Ocean City is finally here and we arrive at Royal Palm early on a Saturday morning. Ann, Jack and I spend the week crabbing and fishing with Dad and Mom and hitting the boardwalk every night. Much of my time is spent in Marty’s Playland or Sport Land on 9th street, skee-balling the night away. We visit JoAnn on the Amusement Pier and she gets us on all the rides for free. She’s introduced us around and some of the other carnies let us ride even if she’s busy. JoAnn fills our pockets with slugs for the claw machines too. All this fun is combined with Thrasher’s fries, funnel cakes and soft ice cream. The week is over before we know it and the long drive back to Baltimore takes us home.
Rose Kavanagh O’Neill is born on this summer Tuesday. Her parents, Jim and Nancy and sisters Maura and Katie, are excited for the addition to the family, the two girls having picked her name. Jack and Betty are thrilled and feel so blessed and lucky to have four grandchildren now.
It’s my final week at the Shop before returning to Mr. Carmel and I won’t miss it. It’s hot and humid and I am dripping with sweat. Another heat exchanger is completed for the Housing Authority and my Dad lets me anneal a few sample pieces for practice. I don’t melt them and Dad is happy with that. The torch makes things that much hotter when it’s in your hand and I am none too happy about that.
The Labor Day holiday marks the end of summer and the return of school. This year I am rather relieved. I did enjoy my time at the Shop some. The work could be hard and was very hot. I have never been so dirty and sweaty in my life but there were times when jobs went well and I had some fun. The crew are good guys and there is always some joking and kidding going on but still, it was hard work and the drudgery made me crazy some days. As we watch Jerry Lewis sing “Walk On” my mind is on being a Sophomore at Our Lady of Mount Carmel High School.
The work has stayed strong as the weather has begun to turn and today Little Jack is handed his first heat exchanger to make from start to finish, another job for the Housing Authority. Big Jack tells his son to get the heater taken apart, pull the new tubes, cut, anneal, bend them then, re-assemble the new unit. Jack Jr. has done all these things but never been in charge of the whole process. This unit is short so most of the work can be done by Little Jack alone. With a small bit of help when he needs it, the unit is completed, stamped for recording purposes and ready for pick up.
Big Jack and Little Jack are at Memorial Stadium watching the Colts take on the New York Jets. Father and son talk about their week at the Shop. Jack has taken on his duties at the Shop with deliberate intent if not enthusiasm. Jack Senior is proud of his son who works hard and learns fast. He’s a top notch pipe and tube bender already and a very talented roller as well. The Colts win their second game and even their record at 2-2. Fans hope the team is on the right track but the don’t make the playoffs yet again. The team wins seven games this year so there is improvement but it’s still not enough.
It’s a chilly Fall day outside but you wouldn’t know it at the corner of Pratt and Central. A set of large copper tubes for Antenna Research are being worked on and it takes heat. They must be annealed and filled before rolling. After rolling, they must have the rosin melted back out of them. It’s almost a constant blow of propane torches while these are in process. The Kavanagh’s crew may be the only ones sweating in Baltimore today.
The Orioles are playing a doubleheader against the Cleveland Indians this Saturday night. The Birds face elimination with the New York Yankees ahead by three games. Jack, Betty and the boys are there and watch as we win in dramatic fashion in the 13th inning of the first game, but the nightcap is a loss and the Orioles must settle for 2nd place. I am disappointed but not nearly as much as last year when we felt like we were going to win the championship. It’s hard to be down on a team that wins 100 games but fails to make the playoffs this year.
The Washington Capitals season starts and Little Jack is listening on the radio at home. The Caps are facing the Winnipeg Jets and win 4-1. Jack keep hoping his hockey team can start moving toward being a playoff contender.
The Philadelphia Phillies win the World Series defeating the Kansas City Royals in six games. Jack and his boys watch each game like every year. The Kavanagh father and sons following the World Series has been going on since the Series itself started. This one was close with only one game decided by more than two runs.
Ronald Reagan wins the Presidential Election defeating incumbent Jimmy Carter. Jack and Betty vote for Reagan like most of the nation. Carter’s administration struggled to lift the country from the Recession, and the Iran Hostage situation hung heavy over his presidency. Despite Reagan being a Republican, the Kavanagh’s want a change.
The work has finally slowed a little and Big Jack has cut out Saturday hours for the rest of the year. They have steady work but at a lower level as is usually the case in the cold months. A brass railing is rolled to a complicated template with multiple turns while Little Jack and a couple of the boys bend some tubes for Mr. Rogers at Baltimore Tube Bending.
My father and I are watching a Monday Night Football game between the New England Patriots and the Miami Dolphins. I am doing a little Geometry homework while the game is on. Suddenly, Howard Cosell announces that former Beatle John Lennon has been shot dead in New York. I am hardly a Beatles fan as yet but everyone in my generation knows who John Lennon is. My father does not, apart from recognizing the band’s name. I quickly tell him what I know about Lennon. I can’t understand why someone would shoot him. I have heard of political assassinations and random murders but this doesn’t fit either of those. There are gatherings and memorials in his honor to remember a talented musician, a genuinely kind person and a strong proponent of peace.
Big Jack is shocked to hear all the talk about John Lennon’s death during the morning break with the crew. He agrees it was a tragic thing but had no idea how much this man was loved. The younger fellows that work for him and his son Jack do their best to explain what the Beatles mean to the younger generation. Jack Sr. guesses it must be what it would be like if and when Frank Sinatra dies. It’s a shame and it makes no sense to him. He sets the boys back to work. Some heater tubes are made for Harvey Stambaugh and a small railing for F. H. Klaunberg.
The Kavanagh’s gather at 447 N. Lakewood Avenue for Christmas. The usual feast is held and an abundance of gifts, especially for the four grand daughters are handed out. Maura, Katie, April and newest, Rose are doted on and held throughout the day as much as possible. There is music and laughter and something new on the TV. Jack and Joe received a video game console, the Intellivision for Christmas. The boys requested it over the Atari which most of their friends already had or wanted. This one seems a step up to them and is recommended highly by George Plimpton in the commercials. Tennis, hockey and a few other version of Pong are played on it through the day and late into the night after everyone is gone and Jack and Betty are asleep. Jack and I stay up til nearly dawn playing on it. We are sure this is the newest and latest thing. It is so cool with such a variety of games. Most likely, this will put Atari out of business I think.
Jimmy Carter is the President of the United States but will be succeeded by Ronald Reagan. The hostage crisis in Iran continues after a failed rescue attempt. The US boycotts the Moscow Summer Olympics after the Soviet Union invades Afghanistan. The Mount Saint Helen’s volcano in Washington state erupts. The MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas is destroyed by fire. The Rubik’s Cube is invented. Pac-Man debuts in arcades. CNN goes on the air. The films “The Shining,” “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Raging Bull” are released. Channing Tatum, Abby Wambach, Macaulay Culkin, Venus Williams and Mark Teixeira are born. Colonel Sanders, Jesse Owens, Jimmy Durante, Mae West, and David Janssen die.
There are 50 states in the Union.
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