As I woke this morning, I found myself remembering stories about my Dad, Hubert J. Kelley.
Dad was a big Red Sox fan. Before he reached his first birthday, the Sox won the World Series. Before he hit two they won it again. And a third time before he hit four. Then came the big wait.
He went to Boston Latin, the oldest public high school in America, Class of 1931. Traditionally, Boston Latin would seat the 50th reunion class in the front row at Commencement, with the current class sitting right behind them starting with row two. At his 50th in 1981, Dad turned to the young lady sitting behind him and said, “When I was sitting where you’re sitting, the guy sitting where I’m sitting was from the Class of 1881.” Yikes. She had no idea what to say to that.
Dad was a Freshman at Harvard when he was 16, Class of1935. He was recruited on campus as a coxswain for the rowing team. Supposedly someone passed him in the Yard and said, “Hey, you’re pretty short – wanna be a coxswain?” While at Harvard he met my mother, Barbara Riley, Radcliffe ’36. They married in 1941.
When my older brother Hugh was born, my Grandmother announced that that baby must be named Hubert J. Kelley, Jr. or she wouldn’t even come and look at it. (Never let the truth stand in the way?) Dad, having grown up as Hubert, wouldn’t wish that name on any kid. So they named my brother Hugh, perhaps hoping that Grandma wouldn’t figure it out.
When I was born, Dad wanted to name me after Bobby Doerr, the Red Sox Hall of Fame 2nd baseman. The retired #1 at Fenway is for Doerr. Robert Pershing Doerr Kelley. My mother would have none of it.
When Hugh and I were little, Dad would tell us bedtime stories about the “Wellesley Indians” with a left-handed chief, or about Walt Dropo’s shoes. Dropo was Rookie of the Year in 1950 and evidently had huge feet. Or huge shoes, anyway. Dad still smoked back then (at the time smoking wasn’t dangerous – according to the ads it actually helped your digestion). As he told us stories in the dark you could see just the red tip of the cigarette, then the whole room would light up for a second when he took a puff, then it was dark again.
He deliberately misunderstood song lyrics. He thought (or claimed to think) that “She’s About A Mover” by the Sir Douglas Quintet was “Peanut Butter Nougat.” Or that “Wild Thing” by the Troggs was “Wow Zing.” Basically, this was an open plea for a “Come on, Dad!”
Back in my Junior High days, Dad decided that Stephanie Hart, who lived on Marvin Road near the bottom of the hill on Radcliffe Road, was a “snappy dish.” He mentioned numerous girls in the ensuing years who he regarded as a snappy dish, or SD, and that one of us boys might want to pursue. Never happened. Our idea of an SD and Dad’s did not completely jibe.
Dad always appreciated a funny card. Once he gave me a birthday card that said, “Happy Bat Mitzvah.” He wrote, “It’s not the right card, of course, but it was half-price.”
“Never let the the truth stand in the way of a good story.” Good storytelling is a hallmark of the Irish, and this is an excellent line that I’ve quoted many times.
“Whoever you marry, make sure it’s someone you can get along with on a daily basis.” In my experience that’s as true as anything I ever heard.
Wherever you go to to school, it should be a place that, when you name it, no one asks, “Where is that?” Easy for him to say, of course. He went to Harvard.
When I told him that I wanted to get into radio and I was really impressed when Victor Best, the owner of Northeast Broadcasting School, came to Wellesley High on career day. He told me to go ask someone in the business what he thought of NBS. I chased down Arnie “Woo Woo” Ginsburg at remote at Dario Ford in Boston’s South End, and Arnie told me, “Don’t do it. Go to a regular four-year college and get a job at the campus radio station.” Which is what I did. Dad was eternally grateful to Woo Woo.
Growing up, I was definitely the black sheep of the family. One day, in about 1975, I was in the kitchen at my parent’s house and Dad looked at me and said, “You know, you’ve turned into a fairly reasonable person.” That was his sense of humor, but I really appreciated it.
In 1978, the Red Sox had an A- season, getting off to an excellent start and building up a 14-game lead over the Yankees by the All-Star break. The Yankees chipped away, caught up and then went ahead by 3-1/2 games during the “Boston Massacre” weekend in September. The Sox caught the Yankees on the final day of the regular season, forcing a one-game playoff. That was the Bucky-bleeping-Dent game. The cheap homer by Dent was served up by former Yankee and Wellesley resident Mike Torrez (the last guy to wear #21 prior to Clemens) . Dad was on the Wellesley Board of Assessors, and the next day they convened an emergency meeting to raise the assessment on Torrez‘ house. That’ll teach him.
In 1986 the Red Sox had another A- season, taking hold of 1st place in May and never relinquishing it. In the ALCS they were losing to the Angels, 3 games to 1, and losing in Game 4 in Anaheim. We were watching on the porch of my house in Syracuse and Dad left the room is disgust when the Brian Downing fly ball bounced off Dave Henderson’s glove and over the fence for a home run. He missed it in the top of the next inning when Hendu made up for it with a home run to the same spot that gave the Sox the win.
He claimed that he could get from any place in Greater Boston to any other place faster than anyone…without speeding or breaking any laws. This was because he knew exactly which roads to take, which lane to be in an any point, and how to avoid as many lights as possible. At my uncle’s funeral in 1985, as we headed from the church to the cemetery, Dad pointed out that a funeral procession does not have to stop for red lights. “Isn’t it ironic? You spend you whole life waiting for red lights. Then, when you’re dead and it doesn’t matter anymore, you can go through them.”
He died on June 8, 1989. 20 years ago this month.
On what would have been his 90th birthday, December 1, 2004, I stopped by the grave where he and my mother are buried. I said out loud, “Happy 90th, Dad. Here are a couple of headlines you’d like: The Red Sox won the World Series. And Kara got into Harvard!” My daughter, Kara, indeed got into Harvard, Class of 2009, and graduated just a couple of weeks ago. Dad would have been absolutely tickled silly to be there.
On this Father’s Day, 2009, I deeply appreciate what a great Dad he was. I’ve tried to live up to that standard with my daughters, Caitlin and Kara. They have both been – and continue to be – an absolute joy. They write me the greatest cards you can imagine.