Paul Allen Curry, 1949-2008
Paul Allen Curry was a friend of mine.
In the strange new world that I had imported myself into, Al represented that very authentic Irish-working-class ethic that had permeated my previous existence. It was for this reason, more than any other, that Al and I shared a lasting friendship.
I came to the United States to marry my wife. It sounds a little gooey when I write it like that, but that was really the crux of it. This brought me into a strange new environment, not only America, with seasons, directions, and road-laws all done backwards, but also the middle class in the Midwest, where forthright is a swearword and subtext is everything.
Disoriented doesn’t begin to describe it. I had come from the Australian working class, where a man’s word was his bond, actions spoke louder than words, and subtext was a luxury that no-one had time, energy, or inclination to indulge.
Not long after Misti and I were married, her friend Shelly announced her engagement to Al Curry, and not long afterwards, I had a chance to meet the guy.
Shelly knows from manners and graces, and much of what I know about getting by in the middle class, I learned from Shelly (the rest of it I learned from my wife).
You can imagine my utter amazement, then, when I met Al. Al had learned the right language and the respectful way of doing social niceties, but he left no-one, ever, in any possible doubt, about what he thought; be it about them or about what they thought.
We hit it off immediately. I could have the conversations with Al that I had previously had with my bothers back home, where the shouting and emphatic language of ardent debate eventually gave way to rollicking laughter and the clatter-and-hiss of making more coffee and opening more beer.
For the first time since landing in America, I had found the flavour of home.
Al and I spent many a night exchanging yarns a devouring good whiskey while our wives nattered and did… whatever it is the womenfolk do when the guys are in thick and furious debate.
Of Al Curry, I would have to say that he was as true to himself as any mortal person could be. He was what he was, you could like it or lump it, but he wasn’t going to give a damn either way. He took responsibility for all of his own actions, and demanded that everyone else, from president to beggar, should do the same.
Al was a story-teller. His yarns about raising hell as a irreverent farm boy, and the various incidents and accidents that form the fabric of his life were a delight to hear. Al and I spent a lot of time exchanging yarns, but as a storyteller, he made me look like a rank amateur, though he never made me feel that way.
Al was a curmudgeon. He didn’t see the point in being nice for the sake of it, if he liked you, well and good, if he didn’t, that was perfectly obvious as well. He didn’t much care for the company of kids, he saw no point in liking people just because they are small, and he made no secret of that; though our Jack was well enough behaved that he didn’t mind him, and his grandchildren were the apple of his eye.
Al was forthright. He left no doubt in anyone’s mind what he thought about any issue. Unlike many opinionated people, Al could back his words with sound reason, and while I may not always have agreed with him, I could always see why he believed what he did.
Al was spiritual. You had to know him well to know that side of him at all, but the things that mattered to Al, mattered very deeply indeed. Being raised a Baptist cured him of any liking for religion. This did not stop him believing in God, but he had a real hard time believing in any church.
Al was, most of all, a writer. Shelly tells me he wrote every day. Writing is not something he did, a writer is what he was. Al had a CD published, he was an accomplished musician and a damned good songwriter, he also had a manuscript kicking around called “the free lunch chronicles” which was an aptly named collection of autobiographical yarns, the sort of stories that will get you a free lunch on a regular basis. The yarns are, of course, embellished just a little, but they make an entertaining read, and the core information is factual.
My most memorable experience of Al’s writing was in e-mail. Every now and then we’d be treated to an acerbic, irreverent, opinionated article about one level of government malfeasance or another. Al’s way with words and imagery was a delight to read, and well worth a re-read. His language was often strong, and his commentary was over-the-top, but it was so beautifully crafted you had to admire it.
Al died in the wee small hours of March 18, 2008, the day after St Patrick’s day, the day Al often referred to as the festival of amateur drunks and once-a-year Irish. This didn’t stop him getting plastered, flirting with the girls, and yammering in Gaelic to any who would listen.
Four of us sang “Danny Boy” to close his funeral, and that first sense of familiarity, the one friend I had in this country who could fill the place of a brother, was laid to rest.
I liked Al a lot.
I miss him.