A wicked storm passed through last night. Not only was there driving rain and hail that pelted the windows, brilliant flashes of lightning lit up the night sky and loud booms of thunder you could feel in your body barreled through, a weather event that hardly ever occurs where I live. It reminded me of my dad. When we were kids, he’d sit with us on our stoop smoking his pipe or cigarillo as we’d wait for summer storms to pass down our street. Sheets of rain would fall and we’d count the time between the lightning strikes and thunder (something to do with how far away it was).
It’s hard to believe that it’s been nearly 15 years since he passed away. Today Mac would have turned 83. Life has gone by so fast in that stretch of time. But I’m not writing to mourn his loss, although there are days I wish with ALL my heart that he was still “here”.
Alphonsus Raymond “Mac” McCafferty was the oldest of 5 children born into a large Irish Catholic family. He left home and joined the service, as many young men do, to see the world and escape the past of a poor childhood. His dad had been a Merchant Marine who wasn’t around much. Maybe that’s why he worked hard at being the best dad he could be.
Mac always let us do cool things, like watch the storms, bring turtles home from the woods where we often went on walks with him and even shoot 22’s into a lead trap in the basement. Sometimes he’d just go solo with each of the three of us just so we’d each have our ‘me’ time with Dad. He’d take us fishing and hunting and teach us how to use tools in his workshop. Ah his workshop…it was filled with guy stuff and smelled of paint, turpentine and machine oil. He spent a lot of time in that basement “man cave” puttering as he would say when asked “Dad, whatchya doin’?” I could spend hours just watching Dad putter (usually you got to be a helper if you watched quietly long enough). There were a few demons that Dad dealt with behind those Irish eyes and puttering was therapy for him I think. That and painting. He had an obsession with the Madonna and crafted canvas after canvas of every rendition of the Holy Mother and Child he could imagine.
After his time in the Navy, my dad became a geography teacher. Mr. Mac, as his students called him, had a knack for mentoring troubled kids. Many of them would come to our home years after graduating to say hi to my dad and show just how far they’d gone in their lives thanks to his kind attention. They were proud and he was too. Our front door was always open, fresh coffee in the pot and food on the table. Mac was fond of saying “If you leave this house hungry, it’s your own fault.” My Mom cooked but Dad was the family chef and Sunday Supper was his domain. He’d make garlicky pot roast or hamburger stew. He even made the most amazing spaghetti meat sauce that made you think you were eating your friend’s Italian grandmother’s handiwork. Mac always seemed comfortable and capable doing anything that needed to be done, whether he was cooking, making household repairs, gardening with Mom, being the medic at Bro’s soccer games or painting little girls’ nails.
Ready and willing to lend a hand, he was a friend to everyone and knew someone practically everywhere we went. Trips to the grocery or hardware store always took twice as long because he’d spend so much time visiting with someone we’d run into. Often we’d pass our dear elderly neighbor, Mary Harpine, walking home from the bus stop. She’d be carrying groceries and Dad would always stop to give her a ride. It didn’t matter if we were going the opposite way; he would turn around and pick her up just to make sure she made it home. She was so humbly gracious about it too. But for Dad it was just what you did. And for me I think that was the hallmark of who he was, even though sometimes he was tough. He didn’t lecture; he just lived the example to follow. Work hard, love your family, help those in need however you can and be a friend to the friendless.