Sunday, November 05, 2006

Journal of "Novel"-Entry 28

Teaser: Chapter 2 - "A Premature Death, New Experiences"

The following is a brief teaser from the second chapter, just completed, of my novel in progress, tentatively titled Only the Dying.

He’d been born in Michigan City in the year of the new millennium, in October. His father was 35 at the time, although he’d married his mother when she was only 21; the age difference was one of the barriers between Walter and Julius that had never really been broken down. By the time Walter was born Julius had already held several jobs: in a glass factory, selling furniture, then for a long period as a station agent for the Monon rail line, which terminated in Michigan City. When Walter came into the world Julius had transitioned into law enforcement in the Michigan City Police Department. He worked constantly and spent little time with either the boy or his two sisters after they arrived.
Brogan’s most vivid and cherished memories of his father’s life came from when he ran for Sheriff of LaPorte County in 1916. That was the last time that Brogan could remember his father with energy, conviction, something to prove; the whole family became tied up in Julius Brogan’s campaign. Unfortunately, he was running on the Prohibition ticket, and the cornerstone of the campaign was the protection of the citizenry by the promotion of a constitutional amendment to ban the sale of alcoholic beverages in the United States, and his vision for enforcing the foreseen law in the county. He faced stiff competition from corporate interests, traditionally Republicans, and from Roman Catholics (his father’s bitterness towards them never let up after the election, which troubled Brogan later on for obvious reasons), but what had really done him in was the infighting among Protestant circles themselves. On the issue of Prohibition, Protestant churches were a house divided. The ‘wets’ – those against an amendment for Prohibition – threw themselves behind the Republican ticket, and Julius Brogan was defeated that November.
Until his death in 1920, Brogan’s father had never been the same after that. But Brogan remembered vividly the feverish activity of the campaign itself, and all of the door-to-door canvassing of the electorate Julius Brogan had done on his own behalf, tirelessly at the age of 51, meeting with people face to face to explain why his policies would lead to a safer place to raise one’s children. Brogan’s primary job on the campaign trail was to distribute flyers with his father’s picture on them, which he had to pick up at the printing press in Michigan City next to the police headquarters and carry them by bicycle as far and as wide as he could. Brogan had pedaled all over town in the summer and early fall, nailing his father’s picture to trees and telephone wire poles, and the image of that portrait would linger in his consciousness for the rest of his life as the exact visual representation of who Julius Brogan was: a firm, decent man with a square-set jaw, in a dark suit and tie; a serious man, ready to take action to clean up the streets and the hamlets in LaPorte County if only given the chance. A man with little time for horseplay, a man with a job to do and a constituency to protect.
Brogan remembered how earnestly he had tried to do his job and how badly he wanted his father to win the election. Looking back on it later, he could sense that much of his eagerness to see his father elected Sheriff was driven by his fear of the effects of a defeat – with good reason, as time eventually proved. The young Walter could sense on some level that his father’s strengths lay in the service of his community at large, rather than his relations to his own family. Although he would openly pontificate regularly about being a good father and protecting his family, the reality was that his intensity and seriousness about work and making a difference in the world was something he could never detach himself from for enough time to simply enjoy being with those he strove to protect. He was always stern; life allowed one precious little time for dallying around when so much work was still to be done. Brogan could remember in his final years when the automobile was becoming more and more prominent in the social lives of common citizens that his father was vehemently opposed to ‘motoring’ and Sunday drives, even if they were only for picnics or visits to the park. He believed such activities spawned laziness and moral laxity. ‘A family should spend their time in their own homes, after church,’ he could almost hear his father ranting. ‘Before you know it, the automobiles will replace the churches themselves, outright. I refuse to bow to the holy church of the Henry Ford Motor Company!’
After Julius Brogan’s defeat, however, as Walter Brogan could recall so well, his spirit almost immediately declined. He became more tired, more irritable, more frustrated with life in general. He returned to the police force full time and continued to work hard to enforce the laws, which he considered his sacred duty. But he was putting in longer hours with diminishing energy and strength; he would come home in a state of total exhaustion, snap at his wife, barely converse with his children.
Walter Brogan had been so sad and angry at his father’s defeat that he couldn’t see his behavior after 1916 as any form of negligence towards his family or his paternal duties: all he wanted to do was lift Julius’ spirits, somehow, in some way. He made it his singular purpose to please his father; he would stop at nothing to make something of himself, to succeed in everything he could so that he would one day rise up and avenge his father’s defeat. Maybe in politics, maybe in sports, he didn’t know how he would do it: but he would become someone worth of the community’s respect and admiration.
For a few years after the fateful election, even as Julius wore out his body as he wore out his heart, this determination on his only son’s part did seem to bring him some small measure of comfort. He particularly relished Walter’s prowess in sports. Brogan was driven fiercely by the prospect of giving his father something to cheer for, and excelled at baseball, basketball and football. The latter was the sport Brogan enjoyed the most. He played linebacker and doubled as a drop-kicker; his kicks in the final seconds of numerous high school contests helped make the difference between a defeat and a dramatic victory. He seemed to relish pressure situations on the football field and clearly had confidence in his abilities. When playing defense he charged opponents and tackled them relentlessly even after he suffered a knee injury in his junior year. He recovered slowly and was never quite as fast after the injury, in which his left knee had been hyper-extended, yet he still played well enough to compete for and eventually win a scholarship to play for the Fighting Irish at the University of Notre Dame.
In those days the Irish were not as prominent as they were soon to become under head coach Knute Kenneth Rockne, but under the regime of coach Jesse Harper up through 1917 the Irish had an .863 winning percentage and were on the cusp of becoming a permanent national power. When Brogan was in grade school, Julius had taken him to South Bend to watch some of their games, and even though Notre Dame was a Catholic school, it quickly became the place many young Hoosiers dreamed of playing football regardless of their religious background. Walter Brogan was observed in three games in his senior year in 1917 and was offered an athletic scholarship to play for the Irish just as Knute Rockne’s coaching staff was taking over.
The next two years, particularly in the football seasons of 1918 and 1919, were the happiest and proudest of Walter Brogan’s life. Though he struggled with pain from his lingering knee injury and barely played in either of his first two seasons at Notre Dame, he benefited immensely from Knute Rockne’s relentless coaching style and he succeeded, he believed, in adding happiness and pride to his father’s life. Julius Brogan attended every home game and several away games as well, hollering for his son to get in the game. Brogan did not play at all as a freshman in 1918, for the Irish had some of the greatest talent in all of the Midwest. At the beginning of his second year, the fall of 1919, he played linebacker in the first two contests of the season, one game at home and one away, before re-aggravating the knee and sitting out much of the rest of the year. That year the Fighting Irish went undefeated and were one of a number of teams to be selected by various organizations as the national champion. The pre-eminent star of the team was George Gipp, and Brogan would always tell personal anecdotes about Gipp later in life when he wanted to impress people.
Brogan had very high hopes for the 1920 football season, which was to be his junior year at Notre Dame. He was hoping to recover fully from his knee injury and compete for a starting position, although it would be an uphill battle against his talented and fiercely competitive teammates. But after the conclusion of the 1919 season, unfortunately, Walter Brogan never saw another day in a football uniform.
During his first year in South Bend, the United States Congress had ratified the 18th Amendment to the Constitution and passed the Volstead Act, making the commercial sale of alcohol illegal throughout the nation. Julius Brogan, who had been a member of the Prohibition Party for years, was thrilled to see something of his vision finally come to pass. The elder Brogan was not a member of the Temperance movement – he did not want to see alcohol banished entirely, and indeed enjoyed partaking in a couple fingers’ worth of scotch whiskey in the parlor of his own home and under the umbrella of his own self-discipline and propriety. But like so many other Christian gentlemen of his time, he did feel that the sale of alcohol in bars and night-clubs was inextricably linked to the general decline of morals in society at large and was a largely destructive force working against the development of the new generation of men and women in the United States. It was a bad influence, and Brogan felt that Christian men with any investment whatsoever in the future owed it to their children to keep it in permanent check.
When the 18th Amendment was put into effect on January 16, 1920, in the winter of Walter Brogan’s second year at Notre Dame, his father volunteered immediately as a ‘Prohibition Agent’, a member of the police force whose specific purpose was to uphold the new law. Less than two weeks later, after attending a lecture on American history, followed by a short meeting with Coach Rockne and the entire Irish football squad to discuss the 1920 football season, Brogan boarded a train for the short trip back to Michigan City. A light snow fell during the return journey. Brogan breathed out his exhaustion. He was greeted at the Michigan City Railroad Depot by his uncle, Garfield Brogan, and the Reverend Howard Doak, the minister from the First Methodist Church of the Nazarene, where his father was a standing member of the Biblical Education Committee. Even without the Reverend Brogan would have known it was something terrible, related to his father. His uncle Garfield didn’t bother very often with himself or his two sisters. But at least he’d had the decency to come out in the cold on that winter evening to help break the news to his nephew that his father was dead.

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