Small towns come in all sizes: Teeny to teeny-weeny; bitty to itty-bitty; eentsy-weentsy to itsy-witsy.
The one I grew up in was more on the dinky side—and while it gained some population through the years, it never became much above piddling.
But that just made it easier for Pat Cashman to know everybody in town. Not me—my dad, Pat Cashman, Sr. He knew them all.
I never called him the “old man” because I could never really tell his age—at least not without carbon dating.
Sometimes he seemed like he was a bit slow and shuffling—so I guessed him to be in his 30’s.
But then, he’d slip from his apparent dotage—and suddenly shoot a basketball swisher in our driveway from 40 feet away, grab his own rebound—and then drop another on my brothers and me.
However old he may have been, he was tall for his age: at least 6 foot 6—and he really did seem to know everyone in our pint-sized, sawed-off, one-horse town. He loomed like Gulliver in Lilliput.
Maybe that’s why he was our town’s go-to guy when it came to pall bearing. Whenever there was a funeral, chances are Dad would be one of the heavy-lifters.
In fact, if pall bearing were an actual profession, he would have been a Rockefeller; the Babe Ruth of the last journey; the Beethoven of life’s final symphony.
Each Memorial Day, our family would make a pilgrimage to our town’s old cemetery. After leaving flowers at the graves of some of our long gone relatives—most of whom we kids had never known—Dad would take us on a wider tour of the dead and gone.
Even though he was talking about deceased people, he always packed his dissertations with humor. “Life doesn’t become any less funny when you exit from it,” he would say.
And since he knew most everyone in town when they were alive, he knew most of them that weren’t too.
“There’s Wilson Wilson,” Dad would observe. “They buried him twice.” He loved to point out the more odd and ironic tombstones—and before long, it became a game.
One of my brothers spotted two markers—nearly side by side. One was inscribed with the name “Cummings.” The other read “Gowings.” Together they formed a concise summation of life and death.
There were names like “Incognito”, “Silence”—and the entirely redundant “Graves.”
“There’s old Martin Malloy,” Dad said once, pointing to a new grave. “We just planted him last week.” I guess my dad was also the Ciscoe Morris of mortal remains.
I hadn’t realized that Mr. Malloy had recently passed away—and it bothered me because I actually had known who he was.
Malloy was a cantankerous old Irishman who lived by himself in a small house directly across the street from a neighborhood supermarket where I worked as a teenager.
He seemed like a genial enough guy except when he—as my dad put it—spent time with Jack Daniels. Then Malloy would transform into a belligerent, booze-fueled and often profane firebrand.
One day while I was walking groceries out with a woman customer to her car, I spotted Malloy standing unsteadily on his porch looking our way. I could tell he was primed and ready.
“Hey Lady!” he yelled across the parking lot. “Are you getting groceries?”
The woman replied sweetly, “Yes, I am!”
Then came Malloy’s follow-up question. “Do you like fruit?”
Again, the woman called back amiably. “Why, yes! Yes, I do!”
Malloy let it fly.
“Then take a bite of my (rhymes with ‘crass’), ‘cause it’s a peach!”
I apologized for Malloy’s insolence as the woman embarrassedly hopped in her car and sped away. I’m certain she made a point of never parking on that side of the store again.
A couple of years later, when Malloy shuffled off his mortal porch, my dad—of course—was among his pallbearers.
“Martin had been such a pill, we had trouble finding six guys willing to do it,” Dad said. “So we had to make do with four. It was tough.“
It seems the prickly old Irishman had become just as big a load after he died as when he was alive.
Today, you’ll find Martin Malloy buried on the far side of that old cemetery, a mere fifteen feet…from a fruit orchard.
It’s a peach of a spot.