He would come to visit our house in Massapequa in the summer fairly often. We had a lovely backyard patio where we would sit together before dinner during the stillest part of the day, early evening. The sun had gone done a bit and it was cool but the breezes had stopped (memorialized by Hoagy Carmichael and Johnny Mercer as “In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening"). He would inevitably look out on the grounds and say, “This is the best time to put down fertilizer.”
Grandpa didn’t have an easy life. A second generation Brooklyn Irish, he had to leave school after the 6th grade to work to help support the family. He got a job in the mailroom of Con Edison, when the Irish ruled it straight out, and he worked there for 50 years. He had an excellent memory, and it allowed him to advance unhindered by his lack of formal education.
And so I found it poignant that in his last years, he was freed to worry about the best time to use the “spreader” to put down Scots Turf Builder, sitting on his son’s patio.
Dad O'Neill: I’ve written about his untimely death and my discovery of his teen bonding with the French language. He has been gone for so long that I don't have any more memories of his actual presence, which I guess is what happens.
So today my memory is of one of his catchphrases.
When there was a situation that happened that he didn't agree with, he would say, “A thing of beauty is a joy forever” in the most sardonic way. Yes, Dad invoked the opening lines of Keats’s Endymion as social comment. (And see, he didn't hold being English against Keats.) He was a very special man. Also no saint.
Bro O'Neill: A dad himself. I imagine he tried to correct mistakes that our dad made with us. And I imagine he's made a slew of new ones with his own kids. So goes the cycle of life.
(Updated post from 2010).