Nearer Kelly than Thomas ‘TWAS Vinman…..and here’s the tale fer you….

(readers must adopt/imagine your own Irish accent as they read this tale….imagine Vinman O’ Shea telling you this over a beer.

43 Years ago Monday, at exactly 8:12 o’ the mornin’ clock, in a the wee Upper Peninsula town of Escanaba, Michigan a boy named Kelly was ALMOST born. His father, on the way to visit his child-bearin’ bride in the hospital decided to stop by a pub instead of a carriage stop on a chillin’ eve b’fore St. Patty’s Day, 1960 to warm his bones from the walk. As he turned down his collar just inside the door, he was regaled with celebratory fellowship, lifted glasses and song from the rowdy lads in the vestibule of O’ Flarehty’s Pub. Of course who could blame him for settlin’ for a bit of the whisky for the chill as they greeted him and, so, he tossed his hat from the door to the coat hooks and landed it perfectly. Don Kern thought this must surely be a sign of the good fate yet to befall him, as he was hoping for his first son after two lovely lasses already born to he and his lovely wife Sally.

Now mind you that many a Fin, German, Italian and native Michigander become instantly Irish in the midst of St. Patrick’s Day and the Upper Peninsula of this fair land is inhabited by many a real Irishman as well. In Escanaba, March and any excuse is good ’nuff to doff a glass and tip a brew but this night of March 16, 1960 was doubly so enchanted.

And naturally, after the lads gave Don a bit ‘o the blarney about his ability to possibly have a boy finally, the sportin’ turned to namin’ the lad.

The gang bought another round of green beer, tossed another $3 into the jukebox playing Irish folk songs and began ponderin’ the important matter now at hand.

“If yer’ manhood is finally doubled, Don, just what were you plannin’ to name the lad?” asked Ano Tyvo, sportin’ a green rugby shirt with a huge logo of a clover on the font and the name Kelly O’ Shea on the back.

“I don’t know, Ano, the misses kinda wanted to name him after my brother out of country in the Marines if it’s a boy.”

Then as the group was pondering the name he’d just confided, a stocky coal mine supervisor named Jake walked out of the bathroom puffin’ on a big cigar and looked over the back of Ano’s jersey as he walked by with blue eyes of steel and a scotch in hand.

“Nope! Boys, there’s only one thing for our friend Don here to do fittin’ the tradition of this glorious holiday that has brought us all here together — all drinkin’ Irish whisky together be we Fin or Swede or Italian or even a flatlander (someone from the Lower Peninsula of Michigan, the two separated by the Mackinaw Bridge dividing the Uppers (You-pers) from the Lopers.”

“The trolls at the Bridge would never let you back down to the lowland unless you named him a good strong Irish name.” He puffed his cigar, swigged his beer and added quickly, “Like Kelly, the name on Ano’s back here. Kelly Kern. Don, it’s got a fine ring to it, eh?”

“Yeah, Don, you betcha! That’s a fine moniker for the lad….” and on and on the men went over more and more shots.

Don was lobbied by more whisky over darts and pool and a few hours later he unplugged the jukebox to silence the bar, sauntered to the middle of the room and drew forth a short stool. He stood on the stool above the crowd and through the smokey air announced that, indeed, the lad would be named Kelly. “By God, it’s only fitten’ as you all have said, begorra, it’s done and Happy St. Patty’s Day to all of you my beloved friends who I would go into battle with!!”

And with that, Don Kern found his coat, removed his hat from the hook and took a small flask of whisky from Jon Swenson’s big offerin’ hand for the rest of the walk.

Many hours later, when I was finally seein’ the outside world for the first time and breathin’ air, I heard the following chat between my mum and father…

“He’s so handsome, Don….I think naming after your brother will be a good name for him.”

“Well, Sally, my love, I was talkin’ with the lads at the pub last night and I decided to name him somethin’ else instead.”

A silence followed by a “You decided?”

“Just what was it you, and the lads, decided Don?”

“Well, bein’ St. Patty’s day and all, I think we should name him Kelly. Kelly Kern, now that’s got a ring to it doesn’t it?”

“Don, did it ever occur to you that on the other 364 days of the year Kelly might be taken for a girl’s name? You know the boy might not like his father givin him a girl’s name or even one that could be taken both ways and I’m not gonna clean up his bloody nose every time some bully makes fun of him.”

Don Kern knew he was beat on all fronts. The boldness and sureness of his whisky and buddies’ induced no-brain decision had, indeed, become a no-brainer. It was not to be.

I breathed a sigh of relief at that moment, and then went back to pretendin’ a one-day old couldn’t understand the talk about him.

And now, once a year, on my St. Patty’s Day birthday, even though I still can get free green beer in any Irish pub by flashin’ my birthday proof, I wonder: Just what would I be like today if my mom had liked the idea.

Kelly Kern, that would’ve been me…..every day.

No Vinman, no Vinnie, no nuttin.

The Kellyman just doesn’t have the same ring to it. eh?

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