My father, brother and I are watching the Super Bowl on a cold Sunday. The Los Angeles Raiders thump the defending champion Washington Redskins 38-9 setting a Super Bowl record for points scored and point differential. This one is over early and I spend most of the second half fiddling around with my guitar. I’m still at the early stages of learning but I can play a couple of simple tunes and string together notes in the “blues box.”
The Shop has its usual slow start to the year but a few jobs are on the books including an order from J.C. Pardo for some rolled stainless steel flat bars & pipes. Warren Pardo is one of my father’s contemporaries and has been a customer for years.
Dad, Jack and I spend a chilly Saturday morning at work. We spend a few hours on a Barrera Corporation job making parts for chairs. We bend the arms and the backs. The job isn’t completed when we leave but will be finished and delivered next week.
A breezy spring day is a busy one as a few good structural jobs have come to Central Avenue. Today a Superior Iron job is finished in the R-6-S. The order is for some big angles and extra heavy 5” Pipes. The kind of job that the big machine was made for.
The Baltimore Colts leave town in the middle of the night in a March snowstorm. Pictures of Mayflower vans driving through the snow greet Baltimoreans in the newspaper and on television. Colts owner Robert Irsay has decided to re-locate the franchise to Indianapolis. Colts fans are stunned. For thirty years, this team has played on Thirty-third street. The Orioles came to town the same year and have shared Memorial Stadium for all of these years. The clubs both saw some hard times but many good times. Both won championships and both are beloved. Heading out to the stadium was a regular ritual in the City. My father was a fan from day one of both franchises and witnessed the rise to prominence of these teams. Dad is pretty unflappable through his life. That’s one fact I’ve always known but the Colts leaving shocks him. There were issues between the City and Robert Irsay and he wanted a new stadium built but no one gave any real thought to the team leaving. Dad is more than just disappointed when it happens. It’s the end of an era for him. A sudden quick end to years of fandom and belonging to something. The sense of community that was felt during football season at Memorial Stadium, the world’s Largest Outdoor Insane Asylum, will be silenced when the weather turns cold again. Fans along with my father are wounded by this loss. It is just a sports team, just a game but the Colts were part of the community, part of living in this city. That’s all gone and all we have is thanks for the memories.
While the City still reels from the Colts’ departure, the Baltimore Orioles open up their season against the Chicago White Sox. It’s a little bittersweet as the World Series banner is raised but the fans are proud and celebrate the championship. We are there to take it all in after a mad dash from the Shop to Thirty-third Street. We wouldn’t miss it for the world. The Birds beat the Sox in the ALCS last year and Chicago gains a measure of revenge by winning 5-2 today.
Jack is excited for his hockey team because the Capitals have won their first playoff series sweeping the Philadelphia Flyers in the first round. Jack’s enthusiasm and devotion to this team is infectious. He has me and my family becoming bigger fans each season. This year was progress as they made it to the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs before losing to the New York Islanders. Jack believes they are getting better with each season and getting closer to a championship of their own.
The big structural steel rolling continues to make its way to the Shop. Dad is happy for it. Those are good bills to send out and today one is sent to Hallmark Iron Works for some 6” X 4” Angles and 6” X 4” Tubes the hardway. The tubes are particularly tough but with the variety of rollers made over the years, a good set up is available and the pieces look great.
Jack organizes a job for the Housing Authority of Baltimore City today. He writes up the u bend sheet after measuring the heater. Jack passes the card and sheet to two of the crew and gets on his own job, He’s bending some tubes for brass bed headboards for the Splendor in Brass Company. Jack is still working in the Shop full time but my father has given him the responsibility of prepping certain jobs before they hit the Shop, Heat Exchangers in particular as Jack has made so many. My brother has moved up to one of Dad’s top mechanics but also has some responsibilities distributing and supervising work.
I have completed my first year at Loyola College and it’s a mixed bag. I enjoy the freedom of classes but it’s much harder than high school. After years of being one of the bright kids, I’m an average student struggling to get assignments finished. I enjoy my first year on campus though I don’t make many friends. It’s easier to be anonymous in college and with my schedule, it works out that way. From school, I am always rushing home or to work so I don’t have a lot of time to socialize anyway. The band still consists of listening to music and talking about music. Tim Heaps and I are taking guitar lessons at Baltimore Blue Grass and we both love it. I’m learning much faster with a teacher than on my own but we are not close to being able to “jam” yet. Chris, Ray, Tim and I make plans for those days.
I’m back to work and I am joined by my friend and drummer, Ray French. My father has offered Ray a job for the summer and Ray is happy for the work. Ray is a quiet guy but as easy going a personality as you might find. He fits in quickly with the crew. He and I have known each other since we were five. Today Ray cuts copper tubes, I anneal them and Jack does the bending. Jack and I have always made a good team at work and it’s the same with Ray. It’s like when we play ball together. The day is a dreary rainy one but the crew have a lot going on. A railing, a set of angle flanges and a rush order of small channels and tubes are rolled for Superior Iron Works.
First thing this Monday, my father calls me into the office. He sends Ray upstairs to help Jack bend some tubes.
“I want you working in the office for a while. You gotta get used to it.” My father says to me as he takes his seat at his desk. Uncle Ed is sitting at the adjacent one staring at some notes while Mom and Miss Helen chat quietly on the other side of the very small office.
I notice the absence of any more chairs or desks and answer. “Okay. Whatever you say but for how long. You just mean today?”
Dad is picking through a small stack of job cards. “No, not just today; for a while, but if I need you in the Shop, you’ll be out there.” He separates two cards from the pile.
“Okay.” I ask rather surprised. “What’s Jack going to think about that? Shouldn’t he be in here first?”
“No, that’s not how I want it and I need him out there. He’ll be fine. He’s handing out jobs and doing drawings too. I want you in here doing that and taking some calls too. Jack would rather be out there than on the phone. By the way, if the phone rings, answer it. Talk to whoever it is. Tell them who you are and take a message. Just let me know what they want.” He hands me the two cards. “Do the math on these, then give B & B to Jerry and Stromberg to Mike.”
I take them from him but with some hesitation. “Do Jerry and Mike know I’m doing this?” I glance at my uncle who often hands out the cards but is engrossed in a quotation. “Are they going to be all right getting jobs from me?”
My father looks up at me intently. “Why? Why do they care who gives them the card? You work with these guys. You know them.”
I do know them and we get along great so I understand his point but I’m a little concerned. “Still, I’m not the boss, Dad.”
Dad raises an eyebrow. “You will be. You gotta learn sometime, Joe. I figured this wouldn’t be a problem for you. Is it?”
My father knows me and knows one trait I do not lack is confidence. The last question is a challenge to that and he knows it. “No, it’s not going to be problem.”
“Good. Good. You can do your work in the Shop or on that shelf over there.” He motions to the small shelf against the Pratt Street side of the office. I nod and take the four steps to the shelf noticing again the absence of a chair and go about making some calculations. I figure the bow on three sets of angles knowing full well I will take two guys into the street to make a template. Dad still isn’t sold on my bow formula despite it being proven over and over. I walk out to the Shop to hand out jobs, something that will become an integral part of my day for the rest of my life.
The Shop’s summer has stayed strong despite the recession in the US. The crew are busy and I have become acclimated to my new job fairly quickly. I am essentially the go-between for my father and the crew. I do the calculations for orders, then hand the job cards out to the workers. None seem to have any issue with taking instructions from me as my father expected. Dad has also begun training me in quoting jobs starting with heat exchangers. I learn to calculate how much tube is necessary and then optimize our cuts to save any material possible. Today I am also making a heater for the Housing Authority. When a rush comes in or extra help is needed, I am back in the Shop. It’s a busy day but it goes very fast. A 5” Pipe is being filled for Codd Fab. The pipe is filled with hot rosin and must sit twenty-four hours before bending. Filling pipes or tubes is a hot job and a rotten one in July.
It’s a warm humid day and the Shop feels like a hotbox at such times. I sit on a small bench in the Shop going over a set of drawings for some angles for Ackerman and Baynes Fabricators. They are large radius bends and a trip into the street will be required to make each of the twenty-one templates. Either the heat or frustration has my mood in a bad place. I page through and count the number of radii and do my bow calculations. I know my numbers are right. I do not want to drag two workers out, stop traffic and go through the process of making a line on a piece of wood to be cut into a template. It’s unnecessary. I sure don’t want to do it twenty-one times. I won’t do it. I swear audibly, grab my drawings and head to the office storming inside.
“Dad? Look. This job here with the twenty-one different radii? I’m not making templates for these. It’s stupid. I have my bows worked out and I know they’re right.” The words shoot from my mouth as my father spins his chair to face me.
He looks up at me curiously. “Well, it doesn’t hurt to be sure. You should still make the templates. It won’t take too long.”
I sigh and find my voice rising as I speak. “Dad, it’s stupid. Okay? We have been checking them for about a year. Has it been wrong yet? Has anything come back?” I pause then answer my own questions. “NO, They have not. This formula works. Why’d you ask me to figure it out in the first place if we’re not going to use it? It’s not some miracle breakthrough either. It’s a fairly standard formula. We just weren’t familiar with it before. Dad, I’m gonna use my numbers and get the job rolled. I’m not going back out into the street again and waste our time. I’m not DOING IT!”
The room drops to dead silence. My uncle’s face had been buried in the newspaper but he stares at me now while Mom and Helen stop their chatting and look across at Dad and me. I realize I have just yelled at my father. His face grows red quickly and I prepare for his reply. His lips grow tight and his eyes widen when suddenly just as fast as his anger seemed to rise, it fades away.
“I don’t care. It’s your job. You think it will work? Do it. I don’t care. It’s your problem. This job is your problem. You’re running it, right? Do what you want to do. It’s twenty-one of these angles. Be WRONG ONCE.” His voice rises at the end but mostly due to emphasis not anger and he spins back around turning his back to me. Ed, Mom and Helen all avert their eyes as I stand still.
A very soft “okay” escapes my lips and I leave the office, closing the door quietly behind me. I walk over to Mike and Forest (Peanut) Glenn and give them the job card and the list of bows. When Mike asks, I tell him we will use the bow and not make templates this time.
“Hot dog!” Mike answers, smiling at the relief of not having to go through the process in the street. He and his brother set to rolling the angles in the R-3-S and I return to my small bench to go over another job and think, I got what I wanted but I yelled at my father. It only bothered him for a second if that. My father surprises me sometimes. I steadfastly believe everything he says or does is for a reason. I don’t always know it at the time but I will eventually.
Most of the crew are working this Saturday including Jack, Ray and me. The work is building up and Dad wants to be caught up by vacation next month. I anneal some copper tubes first thing then Jack gets to bending them with Ray’s help. After annealing, I walk downstairs and head to the office. My conversation with my father has been on my mind in the days since. I swing open the door and turn to my father. He’s working at his desk.
“Dad? I want to talk about the other day. I’m sorry for raising my voice and getting upset.” I take a seat at Ed’s desk. Ed never comes in on Saturday.
My father, who hasn’t mentioned our talk turns to me. “Why? Why are you sorry?” He regards me closely. “Forget about it, Joe. This is the job. If I worried about every time I got mad or upset at something here, I’d never sleep. You spoke your peace and that’s that. You were right but so was I. I want you to learn to do things your way. You and your brother have to find your way.”
His wisdom often amazed me. “I will. I promise. I didn’t want you mad at me.”
“I don’t get mad. You know me. I remember the 3-C’s. Cool, calm and collected.” His mouth curves into his mischievous grin.
I smile. “Oh yeah, That’s you all right.” We both chuckle, then he reaches into his pocket and pulls his money clip from it. He hands me a dollar. “Here. Go get me an apple pie and whatever you want from the store. Take your break in here with me.”
Again, I am surprised as all breaks are usually taken in the Shop. I run around to the corner liquor store and get each of us a Tastykake. Dad gets a pie and me a butterscotch krimpet. When I return, he motions to Ed’s chair and I sit. As we eat, Dad asks how I’m doing then begins telling me about the Shop. The old days. The things he did, what it was like to work for his father and how his grandfather was. I listen while I eat and this becomes a regular thing. Each Saturday, my father and I take an extended break and talk. He is a true storyteller and I know he gets a lot of entertainment from telling me these things. I don’t realize the importance of these stories at the time but I do remember them. I love this time with just Dad and me. Growing up, my father’s time was spread over nine children and the Shop. Alone time with him was at a premium. We also talk about music and “Crazy Joe,” his grandfather, the traveling minstrel vaudevillian. I learn that my father’s uncle played the mandolin and how so many Kavanagh’s were musicians. I feel more connected to them now and to my father. I wonder at first about Dad making this time to talk to me alone until I realize he had two years with Jack before I worked here. Dad taught us both, but his time with Jack was more one on one. Jack was there for my lessons and taught me much on his own. On these Saturdays, I learn a lot about the job I will do and those who did it before me.
Despite being called to the office, I am still available to bend or roll if Dad needs me. He has me write up a job card for some 90 degree pipe elbows then roll them. It’s a rush job for American Iron Works and I grab a helper and we roll them in the R-3. At lunch, Mom and Dad let Jack and I know they are going to be grandparents again. My sister Jane is pregnant and we will have a new baby in a few months. Jack and I will be uncles for the sixth time.
It’s a very busy Friday at the Shop and my father is not there. He and my mother have decided to visit Ocean City for the weekend. Dad makes a point of telling me when he’s not there, I am in charge. He specifically says “You, not (Uncle) Ed.” I ask about Jack but Dad tells me he’s working upstairs. It has to be me. Dad and Mom leave the Shop at lunchtime and I get a call from L & S Welding. It’s Bill DeFazio. Bill is a nice guy but definitely one of the old cronies of the industry and I do get a little nervous talking to him. I quote the job and he tells me it sounds high. He even asks “Did I check my father’s book.” I’m a little perturbed but mostly I’m concerned my price is wrong. I tell Bill my father will call him Monday.
My parents arrive home and I tell my father of the phone conversation with Mr. DeFazio. He completely downplays the situation and insists I not worry about it. He’ll deal with it in the morning. I accept his response but I’m still concerned.
I’m hovering in the small office at the corner of Pratt and Central while my father calls L & S. Bill DeFazio asks my father what he thought of my price.
“Well, it sounds a little low to me, Bill. But we can make it work.” A second later he is chuckling and I can tell DeFazio must be laughing too. Dad scribbles down a purchase order number and the quote is a job. Dad says goodbye and hangs up the phone
“I told you it was all right, kid. You worry too much Joe. You always do.” His smile is that broad warm one that he flashes when things are particularly good. “You gotta know how to handle customers. They are all different and Bill is one you have to joke with. That’s all.” Dad washes away my concerns with laughter and I feel almost silly for my worries. Most of all, I know he has my back. Big Jack, my father, has my back at the Shop. My confidence swells but mostly my pride and gratitude for Dad. I can make a mistake. I can be wrong and he will support me. He shows me all of this with a few words on the phone and does it with his usual humor.
I mumble, “Thank you” as I stare at him. I think he knows how I am feeling. My guess is something similar happened to him with my grandfather, Eddie. It’s human natural for customers to question and test a new person, even a new generation.
“It’s okay, Joe. Now go do your job.” He replies with extra gentleness in his voice. I nod and walk out into the Shop.
The Shop is closed for its annual summer vacation and Mom, Dad, Jack and I spend a week in Ocean City. It will be my last trip to the beach with my parents. Jack and I are getting old enough to prefer a week at home with our friends. Nonetheless, we have a great time with some fishing, trips to the boardwalk and a few nights with my sister JoAnn. A local is good to have as a guide in a town like OC and JoAnn by now, is definitely a local.
It’s those dog days of summer on the corner of Pratt and Central. I would love to spend all day in the office with its window air conditioner but instead I’m expediting jobs as well as making a layout on the floor for a Tydings, Lynch & Lorenz job. They need an angle and a tube rolled to a very specific degree and radius and a full scale drawing is required. On the ride home, the car’s a/c is welcome as Dad chats with Jack and me. He tells us he is buying a new R-3. An R-3-S actually which will have the guide roll attachments like the R-6-S. We’re excited to hear it because any new machine is cool. A new machine is like a new toy and we both know it will help the Shop.
A rush job for Codd Fabricators is completed this Saturday. We roll a 3” stainless steel pipe to match a provided sample. The pipe has several bends in it and four of us are needed to keep this piece flat. Pete Kolb from Codd appreciates it and as soon as he picks up, we hurry home anxious to get back to our weekend.
The NFL season begins today but there is no football in Baltimore. Fans including my father and brother watch on television as the annual season begins without them. It’s a strange day and my Dad is less interested in the games that are on. He spends much of the afternoon playing the piano but does watch a bit. He’s quiet and his mind is full of so many memories of the Colts. This scene is repeated throughout the City today. It’s a big adjustment for Baltimore.
I return to Loyola for year two though I will also work some afternoons at the Shop. I only have morning classes on Tuesdays and Thursday so those days I take the bus from school to Central Avenue. In addition, my friends and I are getting more serious about the band. Lessons continue and I have purchased my first new electric guitar, a Fender Stratocaster. I feel so cool. I had an old Telstar I bought from Ted’s Music but it is in rough shape. I love the Fender as soon as I plug it in.
On this Saturday night, I am at Tim’s house and we are playing with our guitars, talking band plans and partying like teenagers. Jack is home watching the Washington Capitals lose their home opener 4-2 to the Flyers. It’s payback from Philadelphia for a playoff sweep the year before. He will be up early tomorrow for church. Jack has joined the Cub Hill Presbyterian Church and quickly has become very involved in the community and congregation. Our interests have diverted but we still get along exactly the same. We work together like we played together. Jack and I have a comfort level with each other and so much water under the bridge, our differences seem minor. I only want Jack to be happy and he the same for me.
I sit at the dining room table at 447 N. Lakewood Avenue doing some homework while watching game five of the World Series. The Detroit Tigers are trying to finish off the San Diego Padres and take the championship. The Orioles had a disappointing season winning 85 games and they miss the playoff after winning it all last year. The Tigers tore out of the gate on the way to 104 wins and on this Sunday, they win 8-4 to claim the Series. My Dad, brother and I are watching and despite the Tigers taking four out of five games, the series is closer than it seems.
I’m running across Loyola campus to catch a bus to Central Avenue. When I get there, Dad has a few job cards for me to write up and a quote for Bengies Welding Service. I hand off the cards including a heat exchanger for the Housing Authority then spend the rest of the afternoon pouring over drawings and calculating the amount of material necessary for the quotation.
It’s my Mom’s birthday and Dad is taking her out to dinner. They leave the Shop early right after Dad calls Vince from Dundalk Ornamental Iron to let him know an order is ready. With the sisters all moved out and Jack and I older, my parents take advantage of the chance to be alone more.
Incumbent Republican Ronald Reagan defeats Democrat Walter Mondale to retain the presidency. Reagan wins in a landslide with Mondale only taking his home state of Minnesota. As my parents are watching the election results, they receive a call. My sister Jane is in labor and my parents’ sixth grandchild will be here soon.
A little past midnight, Jane and Jeff Morton welcome baby Philip John and my Mom and Dad have their first grandson. He is named after his two grandfathers. My parents drive to Delaware the next morning to meet the new baby while Jack and I celebrate another boy in the family. The odds have always been against us and we both thank Jane for helping to balance things out finally.
The year is winding down and it’s been a good one. Jack and I have both come a long way and I know Dad’s happy. As the crew anticipates the oncoming holiday, they knock out a few small jobs including some aluminum angle rings for Danzer Metal Works.
The Shop receives a new angle roller, the R-3-S. This machine is very similar to the old R-3 but it includes the special hydraulic guide rollers. The guide rollers make angle rolling far easier and the product is much better. The legs are straighter. It’s always an exciting day when a machine arrives. The crew gather around it and where and how to place it is discussed then with everyone on hand, it is hooked up and ready for work.
Christmas Day is the usual crowded affair on Lakewood Avenue. My sisters and their families all return. An extra dining table, a card table and mismatched chairs are assembled in the living room. My parents are happy to be surrounded by their grandchildren from Maura who is nine to newborn Phil and the four in between. There is catching up, telling tales and songs galore. My father leads the musical celebration from his piano bench with his children and grandchildren gathered around. I grin to see him helping my young nieces tap out a few notes on the keys. It’s very familiar to me as it was not so long ago, I was the young one touching those keys. This large and constantly growing family of mine knows how to have a good time. My parents are in heaven when we are all together. The years fold back to when they first started on Lakewood Avenue. They began with love for each other and their children and happiness grew abundantly. I enjoy the holiday but it’s more about the break from school and work. I do have something more to look forward to next year. I have enrolled in Peabody Conservatory. They have a cooperative program with Loyola and I will be studying Classical Guitar and Music Theory. It’s more classes but it’s music and I can’t wait. I feel confident I can handle it all while still working at the Shop. My father has shown a great deal of trust and faith in both my brother and me. He has taken the first steps toward the Shop passing on to the next generation. He’s given us both a taste of being a boss. Dad recognizes each of our talents and encourages us to make the best of them. Even my young man’s thoughts of music, parties and girls are tempered by my growing thoughts of a lifetime at the Shop. I have learned I can do this job and my brother and I make a great team. My Dad’s trust and support can make anything possible and Jack’s and my future at the Joseph Kavanagh Company seems cemented. It’s not my dream. It never was but I’m still young. I want something more as most young folks do. I don’t grasp the importance of it at this age. It takes time to truly understand what’s important and what’s not. In 1984? Most of my dreams are of music, the band and some day being a famous musician. Christmas is a time for dreams anyway.
Ronald Reagan is the President of the United States. A continuing recession causes seventy American banks to close. The AIDS virus is identified by French doctors. The first untethered space walk occurs. Celebrities form Band Aid and record the song “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” to benefit the starving in Ethiopia. The Mtv Video Music Awards are first held. DNA profiling is invented. The Apple Macintosh and CD players are first sold. The films “Ghostbusters,” “Gremlins,” and “Amadeus” are released. LeBron James, Scarlett Johannson, author Ana Novak and P. I. Barrington(author of the Brede Chronicles) are born. Marvin Gaye, Andy Kaufman, Truman Capote, Lillian Hellman and Count Basie die.
There are 50 states in the Union.
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