When we were kids, we seldom had an evening meal on Friday nights in the summer. Not a traditional sit-down family dinner anyway. That's because on Friday evenings my parents were sitting, drinking beer, smoking cigarettes (moms) and cigars (dads) on the small concrete patio behind Jack and Jenny Kane's house, two blocks east.
The Kanes had an army of kids like we did, 8 to our 9, 4 boys and 4 girls with alliterative names like their parents: John and Joe, Mark and Mike, Stephanie and Sherry, Kathy and Krissy. The Kane kids and the Regan kids grew up side by side and we're friends to this day. Many of them are involved in Irish Fest. On those warm Friday nights, we kids would all run wild in the streets with games of Kick The Can, Ditch 'Em and Red Rover while Mom and Dad and Jack and Jenny would solve the problems of the families, neighborhood, parish and world, in that order.
Everybody in the neighborhood called Jack "Papa".
Papa Kane, patriarch of one of Kansas City's greatest Irish clans, passed away early this morning.
Papa was a big, growly bear of a man. He and my dad called themselves the Irish Mafia and Papa was fond in later years of telling me that "your dad was the brains and I was the muscle." Papa and Dad ran the neighborhood. In the old days, they threw legendary St. Patrick's Day parties in the basement of Our Lady Of Good Counsel church. In later years, the Kanes' St. Patrick's Day parties at Papa's house grew so large and so popular–I recall one year a tour bus pulling up in front, and I'm not kidding–that he finally had to stop holding them...though at the last minute a few neighbors and friends were invariably and quietly told to stop by for a bite and a drink. It was a rite of passage for the young men of the neighborhood to be invited at those parties to share in a toast with Papa and his beloved Jameson 12 Year Old. Up until his declining health made it impossible, Papa led every parade in that parade-happy old neighborhood, both 4th Of July and St. Patrick's Day with his shillelagh and whistle. At Sunday Mass, when Papa did the reading and finished with a booming "This is the word of The Lord", it sounded like the very voice of God.
Papa Kane, like my own dad, showed by example what a man should be and should do. Work hard. Take care of your family. Love your wife. Be loyal to your friends. Take seriously the things that require it, turn the rest into a party. I'll be eternally grateful for having known this great man for so long. The image in my head of Papa, Jenny, Dad, Joe Kane and Joe and Pat Shaughnessy and the rest of the old neighborhood crew once again together, drinking beer and whiskey, smoking cigars and solving all our problems is the one happy thought I can muster on this sad day.
To all the Kanes, from me and from all of us at Irish Fest, our deepest sympathies. Rest in peace, Papa.