REAL MEN: CHICKY

Like many of the other men I have described in this project, I have known them my entire life. This gentleman is in that class. And “class” is probably the best word to describe Kevin J. Ahern Sr.

My earliest memories of, at the time, “Mr. Ahern” were when we were neighbors. My family just moved into a new neighborhood and the Ahern family was about 6 doors down the street. As a shy young kid, I was feeling my way around the new ‘hood and quickly found out that Ahern Compound was the place to be.

Mrs. Ahern“, a.k.a. Jenny, was the local Super Mom and babysat nearly half of the town during the day.

After a few timid walk bys I meandered into the Ahern yard to see what all the excitement was about.

I was immediately greeted with open arms and, if memory serves me, one of Jenny’s infamous chocolate chip cookies. Whether is was the warmth I was welcomed with or that cookie, the Ahern family had the hook in me; and I am still thankful for it.

Within a few days my after school routine was race home, throw on the “play clothes” (as we called them in the 1980s) and race up to the Ahern Backyard Carnival. Kids from ages 3-13 barreling around the Ahern grounds playing tag, hide and seek, basketball…it was a party every afternoon.

Some days, I never even saw Big Kevin as he was sleeping. Not cause he was some lazy ass but because he needed to get some rest before his night ahead at the printing company he worked at for many many years. However, most days he would emerge to the yard to join the fray and that is when I was first exposed to his amazing character.

Kevin would push open the backdoor of their Glenwood Street home and join the kids for some fun. Always with a giant smile and a couple of jokes, Kevin made you feel like one of his own children.

Big Kevin…alright, at this point I should delineate the Kevins for clarity.

Kevin Senior had a million monikers throughout his life including “Grease“, “Monk” and, later, the one that stuck, “Chicky” in reference to famed Los Angeles Lakers announcer Chick Hern. (Kevin Jr, only had one nickname, “Razor” which has also stuck for more than 40 years)

We clear now?

Welcome to Lowell. The Land of Nicknames.

Now that I have cleared that up, back to Chicky. Chicky would usually grab the round ball and meet up with any takers in their oil stained driveway (if you didn’t go home smelling like Quaker State, you weren’t doing it right) in a friendly game of hoops. Nearly a professional basketball player in his heyday (true story), Chicky had game. Even in his 30s, 40s, 50s and beyond, Chicky could shoot a basketball.

Swishes, bank shots, trick shots Chicky was impressive…especially to an 8 year old kid just learning the game. Chicky loved to teach us all to play. The basics of the game. How to shoot, dribble, pass and compete. He taught me everything about the game that I fell in love with as a youngster. Years later, Chicky was the coach of our CYO squad and it was the funnest sports team I was ever a part. I could wax poetic about those times alone but I want to teach you about what Chicky has meant to me.

He taught me that you didn’t need to swear to be cool. Legend has it as a young man, Kevin was a curser of the worser until someone simply set him straight and said it wasn’t what a gentleman needs to do to be heard. That lesson stuck with Kevin as I have never heard a foul word leave his mouth. (I’d like to say the same for myself, Chick, but thanks for trying.)

Kevin taught me a lot of little one line, often comical, lessons through my upbringing that I never forgot.

One time I wandered up the street on a hot summer Sunday afternoon to find Chicky in a lawn chair, shirtless, watching a small black and white TV he rigged to the yard. Puffing a tiny cigar, sipping a cold beer and watching the Celtics play the Lakers in the NBA Championship. I slowly creeped up and Chicky, per usual, politely greeted me with a smile.

Hey Frankie. Come on over. Have some potato chips, it will put hair on your chest.”

Not only did I accept his offer, I later went home and crushed about 3 bags of Lays hoping he was speaking truth.

When Chicky was my coach and I would start to take the game a little too seriously, he reminded to me “Just smile” during a time out.

Never forgot that one and so many more.

Chicky taught me a lot. His wife, children, son-in-laws, daughter-in-law and grandchildren have been a huge part of not only my life but my family’s life.

As the best tribute I can pay him, I was honored to have Kevin help usher my Dad through his funeral services when he passed away last year as a Pallbearer.

Chicky, you’re the man.

REAL MAN.

P.S. Thank you for teaching me the jump shot that never measured up to yours.

REAL MEN: TOM MCKAY

Every gentleman I write about is special for one reason or another. 

They are all in my Hall of Fame of Human Beings. 

All for different and unique reasons. 

This chapter is about, perhaps, the funniest.  My late friend, Tom McKay.

Yes, I certainly considered Tom a ‘friend’ as I aged into adulthood but he was truly a member of my late father’s “Rat Pack”. 

Tom, Dad and a whole other consortium of sordid characters spent decades having fun and laughs.  They had an incredible group of old school dudes that simply had a ball; led by Mr. McKay.  If their crew was the Rat Pack, Tom McKay was Frank Sinatra. 

Tom was the most electric, dare I say iconic, person you could imagine.

Tom could have you dangling on a string listening to his stories.

Tom could make a story about the DMV funny.

Tom could make anything funny.

The most devilish laugh you could envision, Tom always made your day better. 

And here is the best part, Tom’s life was dedicated to showing us all a good time.  A saloon owner for many years then evolved into the city’s ultimate party planner as the head of the Lowell Memorial Auditorium. Tom was the guy you looked to when you needed some fun in your life. 

Tom brought musical acts, comedians, and legends of stage and screen to the Mill City. 

Tom brought Sesame Street to Lowell for Christ Sake! 

Tom flirted with Dolly Parton and teased Bill Cosby (ya know, before we knew what a giant sicko he was {Cosby, not Tom}!).

Tom made the Golden Gloves feel like a heavy weight championship bout in Las Vegas.

Whether it was a Broadway show or just a private conversation, Tom made everything an event.  Tom made everyone that graced his presence feel special and loved.

Kind, generous, and absolutely hilarious. 

I loved Tom.

Real Man.

Below is the tribute I wrote to Tom just after he passed away.  No prouder words written.

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LIGHTS IN LOWELL A LOT DIMMER

2.10.2014

The City of Lowell is a darker place today. This week we say goodbye to one of its brightest stars, Tom McKay. Tom McKay was one of the most recognizable, active and socially responsible citizens in this city’s history. I could write a whole lot of words outlining all of Tom’s professional accolades as a businessman, entrepreneur, and philanthropist over the past 50 years, but I want to tell you about the man.

If you did not know Tom, I honestly feel bad for you. Tom was one of the most electric personalities you could ever meet. When Tom McKay walked in to a room, you knew it. He lit it up. I am not sure whether it was his big Irish smile, his always dapper appearance or that unmistakable voice? I am not sure it was any of those things. Tom just had “presence”. And when you had the great fortune of being in Tom’s presence, you knew you were about to be entertained.

Tom had an uncanny ability to make everyone around him feel welcomed. As one of my family’s closest and oldest friends, I had the luxury of being around Tom my entire life and I can say with conviction; it was always an ‘event’.

“How ah ya, buddy?” was one of Tom’s signature greetings when he reached to shake your hand. Many have joked that Tom called everyone ‘Buddy’ because he could not remember your name. The irony is Tom McKay was everybody’s buddy. He really was. Tom lured followers and friends like the Pied Piper. Perhaps the greatest story teller I have ever known, Tom’s charisma was captivating and you did not want to miss one minute of his wit and banter. Tom had a story (some may have been exaggerated) for every occasion and every audience. All of them were priceless. If stories can be considered gifts, then Tom was Santa Claus.

A devout Catholic, Tom was always one to give his time, energy and resources to those in need. When it came to charity and giving, Tom never said the word ‘no’. Both personally and professionally, Tom gave to any worthy cause that crossed his path.

While Tom led a very busy professional life, he was a family man to the core and they were always his first priority. His devotion and affection for his wife Lori and daughters Jennifer and Meredith were unwavering and always obvious. Tom was blessed with two beautiful granddaughters and in his last days another blessing came in to Tom’s world; his first grandson, James THOMAS. Oh the stories you will hear, Little “T”.

Yes, the city of Lowell and beyond is a darker place, but the Kingdom of Heaven is surely brighter with Tom in it.

Rest easy, Buddy, we all loved ya.

REAL MEN: UNCLE BRAD

Like nearly all of the stories you will read in this series, I am terribly biased to the subject at hand.  No more than this one about my uncle, Brad Martin.

Uncle Brad is the epitomy of what it means to be a kind and decent human.  Quiet, calm, unassuming, hard working and loyal.

Born the son of World War II veteran and wonderful loving mother, Brad grew up in somewhat of a typical baby-boomer life. In his early adult years, he was a classic ‘free spirit’ of the mid and late 1960s.  Long hair-having, motorcycle-riding and (perhaps, on occasion) doobie-smoking cool dude you could find ride-or-die-ing from Lowell to Hampton Beach.  But that motorcycle was soon stopped in its tracks when he met Lillian Healy (sister to my Mom). 

For better or worse (ok, definitely for the better) Brad’s carefree, Rocking in the Free World, Love the One You are With outlook quickly turned to the love of his life; and has been steady for nearly 50 years.

Brad and Lil were married in 1972, spawn two awesome sons and built a wonderful life. 

Brad worked for more that 20 years in the men’s clothing industry selling high end threads to the businessmen of the 1970s and 80s.  Spent the second half of his career in the security systems business building a massive portfolio of loyal customers and friends.  A true workhorse, Brad just retired last year.

OK, now you have the ‘block and tackle’ facts on Uncle Brad’s life, let me tell you why he is such an incredible person and why he means so much to me.

Growing up very close to my cousins, I spent an enormous amount of time with the Martins.  From after school hangs to camping outings to trips to York Beach (Uncle Brad’s favorite place in the world) I was the shadow of the Martin family.

What Uncle Brad brought to the table for me were things I did not quite experience with my own Dad; like patience and level-headedness.  For those that know me, you understand how much I loved my father, but he was not…exactly “balanced” at times, especially when raising his only son through the wonder years. 

See, Frank was an Irish madman.  He loved to yell and holler.  He loved to punish me (probably well deserved) and, frankly, scared me at times.  From the time I was very little until I was long (considered) an adult, I ran to Uncle Brad when I feared the wrath of Big Frank at home.  Quite often, when I would habitually do something stupid and knew I was in for a tongue lashing and a 2 week grounding, Uncle Brad would put my mind at ease.  He delivered sound and soothing advice to how I should manage my most recent dilemma.

The examples are endless, but let me share my all time favorite.

Fall of 1990.  A typical Friday night in the Mill City.  My friends and I seeking some type of neighborhood mischief.  Hanging out on the private grounds of a local golf club with twenty or thirty co-delinquents, we were just doing typical teenage“stuff”. Trying to impress girls, sneak a few warm, backpack beers someone smuggled out of their parents’ house. 

No biggie.

Until….

The herd of pubescent pinheads heard a noise.  Sounded like a car?  What was it?  Then we saw headlights of some sorts raging across the 3rd fairway of this Staples Street staple.  Uh oh.  It was the groundskeeper.  And he was coming at us fast.  He was coming at us angry.  He was coming for all of us to break up this little gathering of hormone-filled hang-arounders.

Naturally, this brave, mature and moric band of adolescents did the wise thing; ran like hell into the woods.  Off we scattered. Every boy, girl and child for themselves.  Like they say “When running from a bear, you don’t have to be the fastest, just the second slowest”.  And while I was always in the conversation for dumbest, I was pretty quick in those days.

I go barreling into the dark, wooded unknown with one goal in mind; do NOT get caught by Groundskeeper Willie (or Jackie in this case).  (Did I forget to mention that my pursuer was also a friend of Dads? This would not end well for me if captured.)

Flying through the echoes and shadows, I saw a glimmer of light in my path.  What I did not see was the murky marsh I was about to run right in to in 3, 2….splash.  Yup, waist deep in a muddy mess like Woodstock, minus the nudity and acid.

Oh, s#!+….this isn’t good at all.  Untangle myself from the soily-earth-bath and keep trudging toward the light to catch up with my co-conspirators.  Greeted with insane laughter, I would surely need a plan.  Cousin Brad, who lived a few short blocks from our landing point offered counsel.

Dude, you cant go home to Uncle Frank like this.  He will lose his mind and you will be locked down until Christmas.  Letsgo to my house and figure it out.

Smart advice. 

Upon arrival, Uncle Brad greeted Junior and his Swamp Man Nephew with a head scratch, but not anger.

“What the hell happened to you?,” he uttered and started to giggle.

Uncle Brad, listen, I swear that…, “ I nervously scrambled.

“Relax.  I don’t even want to know.  But you can’t go home.  Stay here tonight.  I’ll call your parents.  Aunt Lil will wash your clothes.  No one needs to know.”

My man.

And while that’s a funny example, it is just one far too many times Uncle Brad took very good care of me, treated me like a 3rd son and had my best interests in mind. Always.

Brad treated everyone he encountered with an open mind, a welcoming smile and a gentle kindness that you can not manufacture or feign. 

He is a just a good and decent man.

A family man.

Real Man.

P.S. Happy 72nd Birthday, buddy (published January 15, 2021)

Uncle Brad

REAL MEN: MY FRIEND PETER

An addendum to a chapter I so proudly wrote several years ago.  Peter Martin. 

Peter was simply an amazing, loyal, generous, kind friend and father figure to me.  When he passed several years back, I wrote these words to attempt to encapsulate his character and, moreso, his meaning to me.  Not sure I did that any justice.

Thank you, Peter.  Think of you often.

Real Men.

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My Friend Peter

We lost our friend Peter.

I never really knew Peter until about 10 years ago when he was hired at my company.  I knew his family.  I knew who he was.  But I did not “know” him.  At first I was a bit intimidated by Peter.  He was a seasoned executive.  Confident, calm and certain of himself, Peter was a serious businessman and I was not sure how we would mesh?

Very quickly I discovered this man would become much more than a co-worker, but one of the best men I have ever known.

During this period, my family was going through a very difficult time and I was distracted personally to say the least.  As I attempted to separate work from home, Peter was the person I was spending most of my time with and, naturally, he learned all about my life.  What Peter did not know was that he was quickly becoming my soundboard whether he liked it or not.  What I did not know, but quickly learned, was the incredible character and compassion that this ‘stranger’ possessed and just how much he would help me during these tough times.  I can only pray he knew that?

While too young to be my father and too old to be my brother, Peter and I shared a special bond.  Our friendship was extremely unique.  He could give me smart advice like my Dad, but also make an inappropriate joke like a best buddy.  Our friendship was perfect.

Also, during these early days with Peter, I uncovered his incredible generosity.  Peter’s generous and giving spirit was on display each day I was with him.  Peter was generous in every sense of the word; generous with his kindness, generous with time, generous with his knowledge, and certainly generous with his wallet.  As a very proud father of four himself, Peter knew I was being challenged at that time and needed a lot of help to get through it, and treated me like a son.

As we grew closer and spent many great times together, it was clear that Peter loved talking about one subject more than any other; his family.  Not just his wife of more than 30 years and their incredible children, but his brothers, sisters, his Mom and Dad.  I often would mock him when he would start to tell a story I had already heard by cutting him off and finishing it for him.  He loved the ribbing.

Many may not realize but Peter was a sentimental and emotional guy too.  Despite the macho, ‘team-Captain’ persona he gave off, he was a softy deep down.  After a bad day or a difficult situation I would frequently receive an encouraging note or text always ending with…

“Luv ya, P.”

Those little reassurances let me know he was in my corner no matter what, and I will never forget that.

Over the coming days (weeks, months and years) I am confident you will hear similar stories and memories of Peter.  I sincerely hope his legacy lives on with these stories because if Peter knew about anything in this world, it was how to be loyal.  Loyal husband, dad, son, brother and friend.

I just hope he knew I was always in his corner too?

Thank you for everything, my friend.

Rest easy.

‘Luv ya’ too buddy