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Eulogy – Raymond Ernest Flood | REnotated

Eulogy – Raymond Ernest Flood

  • My grandfather was only forty-two when I was born – younger than I am today.  So when I was a kid he liked me to call him Buddy instead of something like Granddad or Grandpa.  It wasn’t that he didn’t like being a grandfather; in fact anyone who knew him knows that he absolutely adored children, it’s just that in his early forties he wasn’t quite ready for the label.  Since I’m now in my mid-forties, and my wife Judith and I are just expecting our first child and not our first grandchild, I think I understand his predicament.  It was only later after my cousins Steve and Shawn came along that he was known as Pop.

    But whether he was called Buddy, Pop, Dad, Ray, or Raymond, the one thing that unites them all and what I will always remember is that my grandfather was a cop.  And even though his German mother Sophia technically made my grandfather only half-Irish, my grandfather, like his father, wasn’t just a cop – he was an Irish cop.

    As a kid I remember when he was still a police officer, as a man in his prime – tall, fit, and looking not only as sharp as the other Allentown police officers did, but just a tad more so – shoes a bit shinier, creases a little crisper, and brass buttons a little brighter.  My grandfather was proud of the uniform he wore; maybe part of the reason was because when it came to his civilian clothes my grandfather was a frugal man, quite fond of four dollar dress shirts and fifty cent packs of socks.

    He was frugal, because he came from a large family with four other brothers and two sisters and there wasn’t a lot of money to go around.  He left high school early even though he loved playing basketball, was interested in his studies, and even did well in poetry class, but like a lot of others in that time, he needed to make some money.  Eventually he would get his GED and other professional training as a policeman; but even after he started to make a bit more money, it didn’t alter his frugality.

    He said he learned from an old-timer once that in life, money can too easily pass through ones hands, so it was important to always put some aside.  Despite his frugality he would always hand us grandkids a five, ten, or twenty dollar bill right up to the end of his life.  He wouldn’t tell directly what to do, but he would often remind us, “I saved fifty cents of every dollar.”  And he would also say, “I remember when hot dogs were a nickel – and I didn’t have the nickel.”  If I had a nickel for all the times my grandfather said that to me, I could buy every person in Allentown a Yocco’s.

    But aside from the fact that his uniform was probably the most expensive clothing he ever owned, mainly my grandfather was proud of that uniform, because it represented who he was and the position he held in his community.  His family roles many – he was a son, brother, uncle, nephew, and in-law to many, a husband to my grandmother Jean, father to my mother Judy and my aunt Donna, father-in-law to my father Ron and uncle Steve, grandfather and great-grandfather to us boys, but his role in society was largely shaped by being a cop – and of course he loved being a cop.

    Aside from being a job where he got to be friends with all kinds of people – from his fellow officers on the force, to the politicians and business leaders he met, to people going about their business on Hamilton Street, to those in the city who were less fortunate; being a police officer afforded my grandfather, as it did many Irish, a good job and a measure of respect.  I still remember a time when it was normal to call a police van a “Paddy Wagon”.   It was only much later that I found out that the term “Paddy” is used, and sometimes in a derogatory way depending on the context and who is saying it, to refer to the Irish.

    When my grandfather’s Irish great-grandparents Michael and Mary Flood came to the United States around 1850, they didn’t just come to here to seek a better life as they taught us in school.  They came here to avoid starvation.  They were fleeing the Irish Potato Famine or what is known in Gaelic as “an Gorta Mór”, the Great Hunger.  Between 1845 and 1850 approximately one million people died in Ireland from starvation and by 1855 over two million people had left the country.  This tragedy changed Ireland forever and the exodus it initiated has had a lasting impact on America.

    It’s clear from accounts of the period that the Irish were not at all welcome in America.  The best that Irish immigrants of the mid-nineteenth century could hope for was work as unskilled laborers or house servants, because the few other jobs that were available often clearly stated, as my grandfather once told me, “Irish Need Not Apply.”

    It wasn’t until a few decades later that two real jobs would finally open up to the Irish.  The political machines of Boston, New York, and Chicago eventually recognized that the Irish were not going away and that they represented a large voting block that needed to be cultivated – and one way to do that was to allow them to take jobs as police officers and firemen.  This is how those cities and other cities like Allentown eventually came to have police forces and fire services filled with Irishmen.  And this is how police vans came to be called Paddy Wagons.

    We don’t know for sure if any of Michael and Mary’s six sons became police officers, but we do know that at least two of their grandsons did.  One was Peter Flood who was a policeman in New York City and the other was Michael Flood who became a policeman in Allentown.  Then like his father Michael, my grandfather, also became an Irish cop.

    And I would like to mention something that I know made my grandfather very proud, which is that his grandson Steve, my cousin, recently graduated from the Allentown Police Academy and is going to continue the family tradition.  Steve, we are all proud of you and we wish you well.  And know that there are a heck of a lot of Irish cops watching over you.

    Being a police officer is never an easy job.  It’s always hard work, sometimes it’s tedious and boring, sometimes interesting and exciting, suddenly it can be dangerous, but in the end it was for my grandfather very rewarding.

    He delivered two babies while in the line of duty and offered wide-ranging aid and assistance to countless Allentonians – not only as a cop, but also later working as an attendance officer for the Allentown School District.  Although my grandfather didn’t particularly like firearms and he would get queasy at the site of blood – especially his own – this didn’t stop him from being a good cop, because at its core policing is a social endeavor.

    One has to like interacting and negotiating with a constant flow of humanity on a daily basis; and this is what my grandfather truly enjoyed, being around people.  He loved large gatherings – holidays, birthdays, picnics, weddings, banquets – anywhere there were a lot of people.  He and my grandmother would host parties and dinners at their house when they lived on Hanover Avenue.  There would always be lots of food and laughter; and as part of the festivities there would be swimming and card playing; and sometimes my grandfather would gather everyone around and he would play the organ that sat in their living room.

    And of course my grandfather loved to eat – home cooked meals especially, but also like a lot of cops, he loved to go to the diner.  And as anyone who ever shared a meal with him knows, he took his time and was always the last one to finish.  When everyone else was done and ready for coffee and cake, my grandfather would look around and say, “I’m a slow eater.”

    He was, to many people’s consternation, especially those stuck in traffic behind him, also a slow driver.  His ideal speed was a constant twenty-five or thirty miles and hour tops.  This also came from being a cop and spending long nights slowly cruising the streets of Allentown looking for anything that might be out of place.

    And the other thing about socializing is that it tends to involve a lot of talking; and whether it was gatherings with family or friends or meeting whoever it might be in his duties as a policeman or later as an attendance officer, my grandfather loved to talk; talking to people about their lives; about their families; their jobs; discussing and, yes, sometimes arguing, as his in-laws the Fioritos know, local politics and sports; exchanging stories; and of course telling jokes.

    And I’d like to leave with a few jokes from my grandfather.

    My grandfather liked to tell silly jokes. “Hey Steve,” he’d say, “Do you know what they call a “brazier” in Germany?  They call it a “Schtoppenfromfloppen”.”  When he told that one to my German wife, the look on her face was a lot funnier than the joke.

    My grandfather was also particularly fond of asking tricky mind benders.  These were often posed to my father.  He’d say, “Hey cum laudey, cum laudey, see if you can answer this one.”  It would usually be something like: “If a train leaves Philadelphia traveling at 100 miles an hour and another train leaves Baltimore traveling at 80 miles per hour, where do they meet?”

    Or this old favorite that had an infinite number of variations:  “If it takes a man and a half, a day and half, to dig a ditch and half.  How long does it take to dig three ditches?”

    But I’ll leave you with one final joke that my grandfather once told me.  He may have heard it from his boxer friend Billy Eck (whose wife Jean is here today).  It’s about the legendary Jack Dempsey.

    My grandfather asked, “Ronnie, do you know the last person to nail Jack Dempsey?”  I thought for a moment, but I really didn’t know who the other great fighters of long ago were.  So my grandfather leaned in close and said, “The last person to nail Jack Dempsey was – the undertaker – when he closed his coffin.”

    We both smiled at each other, because like the puzzles and jokes he loved, it had a clever twist; and I had fallen for it.

    I thought that joke might be a little morbid for today, but my grandfather would probably say, “Well, let’s face it Ronnie – you are at a funeral.”  So it was for Jack Dempsey and now it is for my grandfather, Raymond Ernest Flood, and in the end it is true for everyone.  We can only dance around the ring so long before we all get nailed.  All we can do is to do what we love, love those around us, and always hold on to our sense of humor.  Farewell, Raymond.  Farewell Ray.  Farewell Dad.  Farewell Pop.  Farewell Buddy, you will not be forgotten, because your memory will always live within all of us.

    2 July 2010