Biff America: Civil war and dirty work |

Biff America: Civil war and dirty work

Jeffrey Bergeron
Biff America

There is no forgetting your first time.

Mine was with Donny McCann and, surprisingly enough, it was in the parking lot of the Immaculate Conception Church.

It was my first in a couple of ways, the first time I drank coffee and, though I was barely 12 years old, the first time I felt like an adult.

The “troubles” in Northern Ireland began in the ’60s and mostly ended 30 years later due to the Good Friday Agreement. In a nutshell, the Ulster Unionists wished to remain a part of United Kingdom whereas the Irish Nationalists wanted the North to leave and become part of a united Ireland.

There are not enough words allotted to say more than that and, because of my upbringing, I am incapable of objectivity. But I will say there was the Irish Republican Army on one side and the Ulster Defence Force and the British Army on the other. Much violence ensued.

The local parish priests seldom mentioned the names of the warring factions from the pulpit, but rather focused on the widows and orphans affected by the conflict. It would have been difficult to get an unbiased observation from any pulpit on Boston’s South Shore during those years. And I’m guessing there were varying takes, even then and there, of a solution. But we all agreed that the widows and orphans needed our help.

Once a year, around Easter, the Immaculate Conception Church would host a fundraiser to raise money for the innocents. All of the kids in the parish would meet at the parking lot and be driven by parents to various neighborhoods where we would go door to door selling overpriced chocolate bars for a dollar. Donny McCann and I were returning champions, having sold the most bars the year before. I hoped to once again bring glory to my family.

We got to the parking lot and Donny was easy to spot with his bright red hair and freckles. We met up and picked up our allotted bars to sell. Father Murphy gave us a wink and told us he put in two extra bars for us to enjoy.

I looked over at my dad who was standing with a bunch of men in front of a huge urn of steaming coffee. One of them had a bottle in a paper bag and was pouring a little in each man’s cup. Donny and I stood off to the side and plotted our strategy. I would knock on the door and begin the sales pitch, then Donny, with his faint Irish lilt — both of his parents were immigrants — would close the deal.

It was then that my father motioned us over to the circle of men and handed us two cups of coffee. I took a sip. It was awful, but I kept drinking in silence while I listened to the men talk of work, the Red Sox and politics. I truly felt like a grown-up. That was my first cup of coffee and first glimpse of adulthood.

Donny and I brought home the bacon again that year. We also, near the end of our day, unilaterally raised the price of candy bars from $1 to $1.25 and kept a dollar for ourselves.

I don’t remember many other days of altruism during my young years. Soon after that I was immersed in my own selfish life, needs and interests and forgot all about any world outside of my own.

Perhaps it is education, media or the internet, but kids today seem to have a better grasp on the needs of others, the environment and community in general. I recently reviewed some scholarship applications of Summit County high school seniors and I was amazed at the hours even some of the busiest students dedicated to public service. This spirit of volunteering begins locally at a very young age.

I hate to brag, but I was one of the brains behind “Doody-Free Breck,” which hosts an event every spring where like-minded citizens meet up at various locations and pick up dog droppings. It’s a fun event and usually turns into a romantic afternoon/early evening for my mate and me.

I was so happy to learn that in keeping in that doody-free tradition, three fifth-grade students from Frisco Elementary School — Naomi, Clare and Leah — recently picked up the poop mantle and gathered over a hundred pounds of dog waste. And, unlike Donny and me, they kept none for themselves. I am appreciative and proud of them and so many young people in Summit who have made public service part of their lives.

Picking up poop for a worthy cause reminds me of the time Donny and I sold chocolate — but different.

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