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