My Grandfather MacDonald holds a special place in my heart. Grand parents should hold a spot in every ones heart. To this day I miss him. Many times I think of the Christmas tree that they had year after year. A simple tree, silver in color, with colorful ordenments. At times I would poke at the ornaments and watch them twirl with all the colors of the rainbow shinning by reflection from the moon outside the window. Colorful wrappings covering presents. I would stare at that tree for long periods of time and enjoy its simple pleasure. A warm feeling always came to me. During these times the apartment would be filled with all the delights, fruits, and bowls of nuts and the scent of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies.
I would visit my Grandfather and Grandmother mostly on weekends. Gramps was manager and maintenance of the apartment buildings located in Waltham Massachusetts. He took care of them 7 days a week and on occasion we would travel to his home away from work in Kingston, MA. Gramps put me to work while visiting in a way to relieve some of the energy that a young man can have and would also put some much needed cash in my pocket. One of the many chores was to take out the trash, dozens of bags at a time. Tend to the boilers in the basement and mechanical and electrical equipment in need of repairs. The main job I had was to vacuum the hallways of all the buildings; there are 4 buildings with several floors in 2 of them. One other task was to walk a dog of one of the tenants in the building, an easy task. A small poodle type of dog, I am not sure of the breed. The dog was a single woman who I vaguely remember but do remember having a crush on her. I do remember her being a beautiful woman. When vacuuming the halls I would take much pride in making sure all areas were clean to my Grandfathers liking. I guess I was looking for his approval in which he always gave positive statements. In the morning he would wake up early and I would be waiting for him to come out of their bedroom. Making coffee was his first priority, the percolator type you rarely see today. A bulb on top in which you could see through. You could see the coffee percolating. Two pieces of toast, lightly brown in color. Lightly buttered to flavor. Always, I waited for him to bite into his toast first. Gramps had white hair that he combed with the same black comb that always laid on the bathroom sink. A few swipes with the comb and his hair would be set for the day. I would stand at the doorway in awe of my Grandfather. I guess this was with the same passion a son would to his father. My father was long gone so my Grandfather took his place in stature. With thick black rimmed glasses in which I rarely seen off his face. He would sit in the same morning chair with me waiting for the daily chores to begin.
The truck he used maintaining the properties was incredibly interesting for a young kid. The truck was a mess. The dashboard was torn open to reveal the mechanism that controlled the windshield wipers. Every now and then during rainstorms the wiper mechanism would hang up. Gramps would reach in like a surgeon and maneuver the levers to get the mechanism to function. Gramps was constantly grinding the gears of the transmission while shifting. Apparently the transmission on the truck was a bit tricky to function. Jumper cables were stored behind the seat and used often. I remember in the bank parking lot on several occasions him asking passer byers and friends for a jump start. The furthest I remember him traveling in this truck was to the dump located across town. As much trouble as this truck gave my Grandfather, he never traded her for a new one or newer one for that matter.
Gramps didn’t have many friends that I knew of and had few acquaintances. The people he did talk to were always the same people. I would recognize them and there were few.
One particular day of interest gramps and I were loading trash in the back of the old pick-up truck when a screech of wheels came around the corner of the parking lot. The timing of this car was in time with us exiting the building. To a haul not 15 feet from the building exit and the driver’s door swung open before the car came to a complete halt. A man I have never seen before jumped out with an expression of complete panic on his face. Being from the projects I knew when it was time to leave, a time just to watch and a time to duck. This was a time to not move and just watch, dropping the bag I held, I waited. My grandfather walked slowly to the man who stood at the car. He started to plead with gramps. I could not hear what was being said yet the man was slapping the back of his right hand onto the palm of his left with plenty of words in between. Half bent over and veins protruding the skin on his face. Gramps grabbed the man with one hand and pulled him further away from where I was standing, I watch my grandfather intensely and ready to back him up. Gramps said little with short statements, with an expressionless face. The man obviously was in trouble of some kind. He appeared to thank my grandfather several times by grabbing my grandfather’s hand and shaking it vigorously. Jumping back in his car, this was still running, and slammed the gear selector in reverse. He accelerated out of sight. Gramps walked to me slowly with his head down. When he came to a short distance from me he rose his head and looked at my eyes waiting for me ask what was going on. I looked back at gramps and asked him like the friend he is “what’s wrong.” More worried about my grandfather than this unknown. Gramps began to tell me: “he is a federal witness in a murder trial and that there are two guys after him, there’s nothing I can do.” And something about a shot gun. I never seen or heard about that ghost in the car again. Back in the seventies if you were marked by organized crime you instantly had no friends and it was just a matter of time before you were found and then gone.
The interesting part, I did not make the connection back then, is years later a high school friend who’s grandfather is named MacDonald was one of the ten most wanted by the FBI. We would get quite a chuckle by visiting the local police department and seeing his picture on the poster yet that weekend we were getting home made wine off of him. (I recently read a book by a retired FBI agent who claims this was not his wine but made by a member of the Winter Hill Gang). All the FBI had to do was simple follow a couple of teenagers and they had their man, Joseph MacDonald family relation to gramps. Recently Howie Carr of Boston radio fame wrote a book on Hit Men; in there I believe I will find out what went on with that ghost in the car. Today there is a file in the offices of the FBI on McGrath which is my born name, I’ve seen it. They keep track of family members for only one reason and that is you can go either way, criminally or law abiding, it’s in your blood. The FBI really never intended on finding MacDonald. Eventually they took him down at Penn Station in New York for the theatrics of it all. What they don’t mention is that Joseph MacDonald led a long life and was convicted at the age of eighty. Much corruption existed back in the early eighties during the agent, Connelly days of the FBI. Anyone who reads the newspapers even on occasion will remember the headlines during the nineties when the corruption was exposed.
The wine in question was kick ass. It gave me serious hang over that even at a young age kept me in bed until noon. Kept in a thick green bottle with lots of grape skin inside. The taste was harsh. The cost was free.
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