Mary Kate’s Christmas © part 3
By: Wayne Engle
Mary Kate, always a practical lass, decided that waitressing where she could get tips would bring in more money to fill the larder than housecleaning. Besides, being Irish, she was gregarious, and it’s for certain you couldn’t chat with couches and chairs the way you could with customers.
Between her wages and her tips, she and Little Paddy were just able to eke out a living. And about six months before our story begins, she came to Dinty Callahan’s, lured by wages a bit higher than at the restaurant where she had been working.
Dinty hired her, partly because her reputation as a first-rate waitress had preceded her, and partly out of his enchantment at her beauty, her warmth and her lovely contralto voice. You see, she hummed to herself constantly in that rich voice, soft and just-for-myself. Any time Mary Kate was not talking, eating or sleeping, she was apt to be humming — usually Irish songs. Her favorite was “The Wearin’ ‘o’ the Green.”
Now to return to the night in question — (“Finally!” ye’ll say, most likely; but I had to give you some background for the story to make sense, now didn’t I?) As I said, on the night in question Mary Kate turned from the window just as a group of young boys were pelting each other with snowballs in front of the restaurant.
The manager of the place was Michael J. Kelker, whom everyone referred to as “Black Mike.” He came storming through the restaurant just then, burst out through the front door and shouted, “Away from here, you little heathens, before I have the cops on ya!”
The boys scattered — no one wanted to confront Black Mike Kelker. But from a safe distance, one yelled back, “Ah, yer mudder wears a mustache!”
“It’s me boot YOU’LL be wearing, boyo, and you know where!” bellowed Black Mike in turn. He was never one to allow a challenge to go unanswered.
He stomped the snow off his feet as he came back inside and slammed the door. “Little heathens!” he repeated angrily.
Black Mike earned his nickname partly because of his dark hair, but mostly because, as one of Grogan’s customers observed, “He’s the most even-tempered fellow I’ve ever seen — always mad!”
He was a big, gruff bear of an Irishman in his early 40s, red-faced and hot-tempered. He argued with the restaurant’s suppliers and anyone else handy, bullied the waitresses, and was unpleasant to be around in general.
But he had not always been Black Mike. Twenty-odd years before he was still Michael J. Kelker, young, ambitious, with great dreams for his life. He was more like a Scots-Irish Presbyterian in some ways — abrupt, get-to-the-point; but amiable enough for all that.
But then all his brothers and sisters left South Boston for greener pastures, his father died, and he was left alone to care for his aging mother. Which he did. None could say that Mike Kelker didn’t treat his mother right. The downside of it was, his career plans went west, as they say in Ireland. He found himself stuck, as he saw it, in South Boston.
As the years passed, Mike sank into black anger and cynicism. Often that happens when a man’s early idealism is smashed by cruel fate. It led him to drink to excess (sometimes); give people a hard time; and to take a perverse enjoyment of his reputation as a character who was hard to deal with.