Happy Birthday Dad... 

Happy Birthday to my Dad, Jimmy "Horse" Keane! Still hard to fathom that it has been twenty-five years -- but you remain alive in my music and in my thoughts and in the many conversations with people I meet here in Chicago and on the road, always ending with a hearty laugh and a fond remembrance, albeit some unfit to print… :-)) 

I'd like to share the poem "Celebration" written by the great Irish-American poet and musician Terence Winch which celebrates the best of Christmas and mirrors life with the "Horse" and our family on the southside of Chicago in the 1960's as it does in Terence's Bronx. Miss and love you Dad…

Celebration (Terence Winch)

In our world, nothing compared

with Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve.

God’s power surging through the congregation,

from altarboys in our stiff collars and big red bows,

to the solid men of the parish in their finest array:

Blue suits, gold wrist watches, crisp white shirts.

The women perfumed and girdled, lipsticked

and bejeweled. Enough incense

in the air to do the Wise Men proud.


The procession wound through the church,

organ honking, voices lifted in the special

Christmas sense of the slate wiped clean

and the universe beginning anew.

The tree in the house lit with fat colored bulbs

that looked good enough to eat. The old suitcase

full of fragile decorations, buried treasure found

every year on Christmas Eve and set free again.

The baby Jesus alive and well! Herod thwarted!


This called for presents. Toys, games, maybe

a watch or a knife. Along with Jesus came the whole

cast of Yuletide characters—Santa, Rudolph,

the Chipmunks, Bing Crosby, Frosty, Scrooge. 

I’m surprised the Easter Bunny didn’t crash

the event. My father put out apple pie

and a glass of milk for Sanny, the remaining traces

of which on Christmas morning were proof enough

for me and my brother Jimmy of the entire

supernatural infrastructure of Bronx Irish culture.


But it was the party after Midnight Mass

that I remember most. Relatives and neighbors

would pour into our apartment for an all-nighter.

My mother would get the percolator going,

and start making breakfast for half the parish.

Bacon, eggs, blood pudding, plates of fresh rolls

with poppy seeds bought that day

in the Treat Bakery on Tremont Avenue. 


Eating breakfast at two in the morning!

This was a miracle for a ten-year-old boy. 

Bottles of Seagram’s and Canadian Club

stood at attention on the kitchen table,

silver ice bucket ringed with penguins

awaiting duty beside them. Ladies smoking

and gossiping. Glasses clinking. Laughter

throughout the house. The smell of pine,

the delicious aroma of sizzling bacon,

all welcoming Jesus back for another year.


Then the music and singing would start up,

my father on the banjo, P. J. Conway on the box.

The Stack of Barley, The Lakes of Sligo,

medleys of marches, waltzes, and polkas.

Theresa McNally, from my mother’s own town

in Galway, would sing “Galway Bay.” Steps would

be danced, jokes told, more drinks mixed and gulped.


I would go to bed so filled with the spirit

it seemed impossible to believe that life could

ever return to normal. Lying there exhausted,

but anxious to sneak down the hall at the earliest

opportunity and tear open the tantalizing packages,

I believed in everything: Jesus our Lord, Santa

our magic benefactor, my parents the immortal source

of the ongoing celebration that could never end.

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