THE IRISH IN ME (part 5)

JoEllens dad-1940s--Left

Robert Dempsey, amateur boxer in the Army circa 1942. He’s on the left. I don’t have names for the other 2 guys, but cropping the picture made it look too durned weird.

I love Green.  I just don’t like mean drunks.  Since it’s St. Patrick’s Day,  I want to dispel the myth of the “happy Irish drunk” and show how it affected the lives of 4 children.  Products of a father I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy, the 2 oldest (Bob and Mary) were decent human beings. (Feel free to fill in the blanks about the 2 youngest).

What I write below is almost word-for-word from my mother’s memoirs, written on November 10, 1989.

If you’re interested in parts 1 through 4, you can find them at:


1947 September:  Miami Chevrolet Company called and told Bob they had a new truck that had just arrived and they would sell it to him if he wanted it.

Trucking was in demand for the hauling of building materials.  His cousin Dennis Curry owned two trucks that he was using to haul blocks from the plant to job sites.  Dennis had suggested several times that Bob buy a truck and go in business with him.

It was decided that since we had good cab driver’s, we would buy the truck and Bob could haul blocks while the drivers and I were taking care of the cab business.

Bob had to leave the apartment early enough to be at the block company by 4am each morning, and hauled blocks until about 11 am.  The routine continued for about three weeks.

Bob was driving the truck back to Hialeah with a cousin passenger, when a horse jumped a fence and ran in front of the truck on Hialeah Drive and E. 6th Avenue.  Bob swerved to miss the animal and ran off the pavement.  The front wheel sunk into the soft sand, the truck turned over, and had to be towed to the Chevrolet Company for repairs.  The insurance company held up the repair bill for two weeks before deciding not to pay for the repairs because “Bob did not hit the horse”.  The $100.00 repair bill fell into our pocket.

In the meantime, Dennis kept assuring Bob that there would be plenty of blocks to haul when the truck was ready.

Early in the morning, after picking up the repaired truck, Bob drove over to the block company ready to haul blocks.  Dennis, who apparently had a contract with the company, informed Bob that he (Dennis) had enough trucks and wouldn’t need Bob’s any more.

A year later, Dennis played a similar trick, only worse, on Mary Dempsey Ziegler and her family.  Their two trucks and blocks were run off the Key West Highway into the Gulf of Mexico.  They lost everything.

1948 Fall:  The old Buick was the most reliable of our two cabs.  Bob left it at a station on Palm Avenue for an oil change – where his cousin Billy Engel was working as a mechanic.

When Bob returned for the car, the drive shaft and rear end had been torn out.  Supposedly, the car wouldn’t start and Billy tried to start it by pushing it backwards with another car.

Results: The  whole rear end was ripped out.  We never received a penny for the damages.  Bob later sold the Buick, as was, for $100.00.  It had been driven a minimum of 400,000 miles – over some of the roughest roads in the country.  I payed $200.00 for the second hand Buick in 1941.

1948:  We purchased a 1948 Plymouth to replace the Buick.

1950 July:  (>>>I<<<) was born.  One month premature after a long difficult breech (butt first) birth.


ALBERTA LeGENDRE’s side note:  Bob never smoked and was entering his sevety-fifth year with all of his natural teeth, minus one.  He suffered from arthritis, enlarged heart, hiatus hernia, high blood pressure, and allergies; yet, looked and acted too healthy to be sick.  Bob enjoyed his food and liked to cook.  A favorite habit of his, when coming in from work, was to bring the family treats – usually candy or food – which he continued through his life time.


Bob enjoyed watching professional boxing, but would never do any fighting himself.  He was afraid it would go beyond his control and he would hurt someone.  Consequently, whenever he got angry, he would walk away until he cooled off.

Every time Bob saw his Aunt Bill (William Esther Dempsey Curry) she would remind him of how much she had done for him.  The only thing Bob remembered was the times when they all went over to her house hungry.  Aunt Bill would prepare a place at the table for Jack to eat with her family; while Bob, Mary and Edward were left standing in the door to watch – never offering them a bite of food.

He avoided his relatives as much as possible, but would be nice when he accidentally ran into them.  Nevertheless, he never saw Jack that he didn’t get involved into some kind of trouble.

One afternoon Bob went to a bar to pick up a cab fare.  Jack was there and started fighting with another drunk.  The man broke a bottle and attempted to strike Jack with the broken glass.  Bob grabbed the man, threw him on the floor, and straddled him.  One of Bob’s blows bounced, as the man moved, hitting the concrete floor, busting Bob’s knuckle.

Jack was in his delight – he had been trying to get Bob in a fight for years.  An event all of the onlookers seemed to enjoy and talked about for years.  Bob had to work in pain to pay his doctor bills.  Jack did agree to help Bob with his moving jobs.  Jack showed up once and vanished.

Bob and Mary always liked to shower gifts on others; yet, neither one ever mastered the ability to be a good receiver of gifts.  It gave them an uncomfortable feeling.

Jack, on the other hand, if he ever gave a gift there was a huge price tag attached.  But!  He would gladly take all he could get from others and ask for more.

Jack’s own children will have very little, if anything, to do with him; while Millie’s children (Italian by a previous marriage) adore him.

1989 April:  Jack called around the country (from California to New York) inviting relatives to a “family reunion” at Roseann Smith’s home near Ft. McCoy, FL, in June.  Roseann (step-daughter) didn’t know about the arrangements until late May, when Mary Ziegler called to ask if there was anything she could bring.  It turned out to be a big happy family gathering.  Roseann did all the work and paid all the food bills.  Jack drove up from Miami.  Stayed one hour – just long enough to eat – and left.


To end this 5-part St. Patrick’s day trip down memory lane, I’ll add my 2-cents worth in about Uncle Jack.  I remember seeing him at a family reunion when I was very young.  He had incredible blue eyes that were sharp, always alert to his surroundings.  

I met him again when I was 42.  He proceeded to tell me that he was trying to help my father when he moved to Florida, but my mother ruined everything.  I listened to his side of the story, telling him that my parents were the most honest people I knew and that his story was nothing like theirs.

But once again, it was his eyes that drew my attention, the circle of a dark abyss surrounded by angelic blue.  I never saw him again after that.

Do you want to know why Jack was in a bar fight, and why the man wanted to impale him with a broken bottle?  According to my father, Jack was sleeping with the man’s wife.

Hope you had a happy St. Patty’s day.  Try not to get into any bar fights.