Monsignor Harry J. Byrne, JCD * * * Comment/

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Location: 3103 Arlington Avenue,, Bronx, NY 10463, United States

June 15, 2008


Father's Day 2008:

Dad was a magician. He'd paste a bit of paper on the index finger of each hand. "Fly away,Jack." Arm and hand would fly back, quickly return. No paper. Then "Come back, Jack." Arm and hand flew back. Now, paper on the finger again. "Wow! Do it again, pop."

Dad was an actor: "I had as lief not be as live to be in awe at such a thing as I myself. I was born as free as Caesar; so were you....Once upon a raw and gusty day, the troubled Tiber, chafing with her shores..." Caesar challenges Cassius to a race. In the Tiber, Caesar cries out, 'Help me, Cassius, or I sink!'" "Wow. What words, dad! What strength!" Cassius was his hero; pop and Cassius became ours. We learned the majesty of words; admired the champions of equality. But after many repetitions, he deliberately mispronounced the word "sink". We memorized the line with the obvious mispronunciation!

As actor, dad regaled us with Heirich Heine's "The Laurelei'. In German! "Ick vas is vas solis bedirten." Then, "It was the time of the workingman's great strike[probably 1877], the roar of the mills was stilled..." Despite his love for Manhattan College (Class '13 with Brooklyn Bishop Bryan McEntagert) dad was the leader of a student strike. Dad intrigued us with the rapid fire German-Yiddish saga of the farmer who couldn't get home that night because his pig would not go over the fence. His appeals for help went unanswered until, "The ox began to drink the water,the water began to quench the fire, the fire began to burn the stick, the stick began to beat the pig, the pig got over the fence and the farmer got home that night." Then there were the Civil War poems and songs that his father, a former sailor in the Union Navy had taught him. There was stuff about the Fifth Regiment of the Maryland volunteers, known as "The Dandy Fifth" for their sartorial splendor:

"Well, they were sent to hold a fort / the rebs tried hard to take.
T'was the key to all our line, which naught / while it held, could break.
But a fearful fight we lost just then / the reserves came up too late.
And in that fort and the Dandy Fifth hung the whole division's fate!"
Applause, cheers! We kids had more heros - the men of the Dandy Fifth!!!

Dad was a singer. "Up in a balloon,boys." Gilbert and Sullivan stuff. "Little Miss Buttercup..." "H.M.S.Pinafore"- "I polished up the handle of the big front door and they made me a captain in the Queen's navee." From minstrel shows at St. John's Lyceum, Kingsbridge. "Way down yonder in my cornfield." The parson chased up a tree by a grizzley bear: "Lord, if you don't help me, don't help that grizzley bear!" Not politically correct today but Bert Williams' famous "Nobody!" packed a punch then and now."Who done took that engine off my neck? Nobody!"

Dad was a dancer: Buck and wing stuff. Before and after a couple of songs.

He was a Latin prof. He taught the three of us, the only public school altar boys at St. Augustine's, the responses. "Ad Deum qui laetificat iuventutem meum!" He, too, gave joy to our youth!

He was managing partner of a Wall Street firm, the only Irish Catholic among Wasps. He took us as children to his office. Clerks chalked up mysterious numbers on huge blackboards with walkways on different levels. He opened branch offices in Birmingham, Houston, and Atlanta, traveling on the early commercial flights, entrancing us with stories of forest fires from the air and an emergency landing. He took the whole family with him on a business trip to Boston on an Eastern Steamship Line vessel that then plied between New York and Boston. In his later years, his firm merged several times with other brokerage houses. Each time he dropped a peg or two. But he worked with many wealthy people and eventually built up a new business, handling their tax affairs.

Dad paid the family's rent in the Bronx and Mount Vernon; bought a house in Larchmont; paid many tuitions for three sons and a daughter; saw that the family vacationed pleasantly in Bayhead, NJ, Atlantic City (before casinos) and Lake Oscawana, where he had met his wife-to-be. He interpreted many aspects of life to us: church and faith by word (English and Latin) and example; politics - life-long Democrat and reader of Westbrook Peglar; the magic of words, song, and dance; country gentleman - roses galore, victory garden; called taxi drivers, train conductors, mail men - "chief". In the Adirondacks, he said, "Thanks, chief" to the gas station attendant. The chap turned around. "Thanks, boss. But not any longer. The damn politicians took my job away."

Dad was a chief. In his last year, we had attendants for him. One of them called him, "Poppy". My mother spoke to her. "Not 'poppy'", she said. "You can call him Mister Byrne."

Happy Fathers' Day! Dad, pop, chief, Mister Byrne!