A Toast to Friends

I originally posted this blog on December 21, 2009 in my tradition series. Join in this sweet  tradition which  celebrates a father’s life .

ON ST. PATRICK’S DAY, DRINK A TOAST TO ALL: FRIENDSHIPS GOOD AND GREAT

Originally published on Sunday March 14, 1999 in the St. Louis Post Dispatch

By Bill McClellan

Nobody, not even an Irish kid, grows up thinking that he’d like to become a leprechaun. It’s something that just happens.

For Hap McAlevey, it began to happen 17 years ago.

Wait a minute. This is an Irish story, and no real Irish story would admit to starting as recently as 17 years ago. So let’s back up to sometime in the middle of the last century.

That’s when Timothy Clancy came to these shores from County Clare. He came here so many years ago that nobody now living knows when or why. Or even where he settled. What people do know is that his son, Frank, came to St. Louis.

And this first Frank had a son named Frank, who also had a son named Frank. This third Frank Clancy was born in 1927 and was to become great and good friends with the aforementioned Hap McAlevey, and was to become instrumental in his friend’s transition from man to leprechaun.

Let’s stick with Frank for a moment.

He went to Visitation grade school, and there he met his future wife, Elizabeth Ann. They were fourth-grade sweethearts, and the romance never soured. In 1944, Frank turned 17 and joined the Navy and went off to the war. When the war ended, he came home, married Elizabeth and settled into life as a butcher, which had been the traditional job of Clancy men since at least the days of Timothy.

Shortly after the war, Frank and Elizabeth Ann moved to the far reaches of West County. Frank opened a butcher shop on Manchester in Ballwin. Not long after moving to West County, Frank met Hap at the Holy Infant Church.

The two men had a lot in common. A couple of years older than Frank, Hap had grown up in Maplewood and gone off to the war. He came home, became a plumber, got married and moved to West County. You could get more house for your dollar if you moved to the sticks. That’s the way he felt.

The years went by.

Frank and Elizabeth Ann had 12 children. Six became butchers. One of the six, Patrick, was killed in 1977 when he sliced his artery with a saw While cutting meat. Other than that terrible tragedy, though, life was good for the Clancy clan.

Frank had moved his butcher shop from Ballwin to Ellisville. He had a Place just off Old State Road, just south of its intersection with Manchester. Just up the hill from the shop was an old house that Frank’s dad had built as a summer place back in 1933.

In 1982, Frank took that old house, did a little bit of remodeling and turned it into Clancy’s Irish Pub and Grill. By this time, Ellisville was the heart of suburbia, and Manchester Road was becoming a string of strip malls. It was an unlikely spot for an Irish pub.

Of course, the very best customer was Frank’s old friend, Hap McAlevey. Proof of this came when the city of Ellisville named the road leading into the pub McAlevey Lane. It helped that then-Mayor Ed O’Reilly came in a bit.

Life had been good for Hap, too. His wife, Helen, was a seamstress. They had three kids. As Hap aged, he became less the wiry working man, and more and more began to look like a leprechaun.

People had begun to notice even before the pub opened. When your name is Hap McAlevey, and you stand 4 inches over 5 feet, and you’ve got the eyebrows, well, people begin to notice. But when the pub opened, there was suddenly a reason to look like a leprechaun. You could give your friend’s place a certain style on St. Patrick’s Day.

And so the tradition began. On the first of October, Hap would begin growing his beard. His costume was the best, too. How many would-be leprechauns are fortunate enough to be married to a seamstress? It was for only one day a year — Hap would shave on the morning after– but what a day! Hap was the perfect leprechaun.

On St. Patrick’s Day in 1993, a pub in Manchester had a leprechaun contest, with the winner earning a trip for two to Ireland. There were plenty of would-be leprechauns shooting for that trip, but when Hap came sauntering in just minutes before the judging was to end, you could hear an audible sigh from the other contestants. It was as if a real leprechaun had showed up. Hap and Helen went to Ireland.

Other than that, though, the whole show was at Clancy’s. Hap was their leprechaun. Year after year. The two friends, Frank Clancy and Hap McAlevey, led the St. Patrick’s Day celebration at the decidedly unfancy Irish pub in the unlikely West County location.

Hap was diagnosed with cancer five years ago. Still, he was the Leprechaun at Clancy’s. Each year the thought was, One more year.

Frank died a couple of weeks ago.

Cancer it was, and it went quickly. Seven weeks from diagnosis to death. The family gathered for his service, but it’s a tribute to Frank and Elizabeth Ann that the family always gathers. One of the girls, Bridgette, moved to Texas a couple of years ago, but the 10 other kids all live within a four-mile radius of their dad’s butcher shop. There are now 37 grandchildren. The butcher shop and the pub are both still in Clancy hands, too. Matt, the ninth of the 12 kids, runs the pub with his wife, Angie. They are, of course, gearing up for a big St. Patrick’s Day affair.

But it will be different this year. No Frank. No Hap.

“I’m dying,” Hap told me when I visited him at his home on Friday. “I’m not going to be able to get to the pub this year. I think I’ll spend the day at my daughter’s house.”

He’s 75 now. The cancer has cut his weight to 120 pounds, 30 under his prime leprechaun weight. Still, he grew the beard this year, and the smile has not left his Irish eyes.

If you make it to Clancy’s pub this Wednesday, or even if you don’t, you might want to raise a glass to friendship. Have a drink to a patriarch and a leprechaun. Good and great friends they were.

Addendum:

Hap died on April 30, 1999, six weeks after this article was published. Next month marks the 10th anniversary of this story and his passing.

I miss you Dad…

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