His Only Vices Were Cigarette Smoking and an Occasional Drink

His Only Vices Were Cigarette Smoking and an Occasional Drink

Sebastian McDonald, C.P.
Sebastian McDonald, C.P.

We’ll call him Uncle Jeff. He was a bachelor. He was a devout Catholic the better part of his life. He was a stalwart of his parish church—a daily mass attendant. He always sat in the same pew in church. And, as he aged, he obviously enjoyed dominating the laity’s role in reciting prayers such as the rosary or the litany. And, with his brother-in-law, Harry, faithfully brought Catholic reading material monthly to the city jail, on behalf of the Holy Name and St. Vincent DePaul Societies, to which both belonged.

He was a graduate of one of the two big public high schools in town. His family house was close to his parish, two blocks away. Of his four siblings, he was the only one who never left home. He had a brother, a bachelor, like himself, who, however, lived out-of-town. There was a story to the effect that he dated a girl in his younger years, but that could never be verified. So he lived with his parents in the family home, most of his life. It was a comfortable life. His sisters married and had children, on whom he doted on the occasion of their visits. On warm summer evenings he treated them to ice cream cones. His recreation was limited, mainly golf and bridge. In his younger days he did go away, during the summer, to a small lake resort, taking his mother with him, but just for a few days.

He worked all his life, starting right after high school, with a major railway company, with whom he remained all his life. His job, in the latter years, was to keep track of all the freight cars scattered over the extensive system of rails operated by the company for whom he worked—a formidable task in those days when freight cars were haphazardly dropped off all over the extensive track system, and computers were nonexistent to help account for them. It was mainly a pencil and pad method, which he methodically managed for many of his 50 years of employment there. He was well suited for the job, unexciting though it was.

He could have enjoyed some attractive vacations over the years, given the free travel made available to him in view of his long association with the company– anywhere on its extensive rail system. But he never took advantage of this. And he was a man of simple culinary tastes, always taking his lunch at a nearby cafeteria. It never varied: a bologna sandwich, a bowl of vegetable soup and a slice of blueberry pie. His lunch was always ready for him since the cafeteria personnel working there knew what he wanted.

His other shopping habits were similar—clothing, for instance. There was a Sears/Roebuck store close to the station, and it provided whatever clothing his simple needs called for, so that shopping was never an ordeal for him. Should he need a pair of trousers, he headed immediately to Sear’s men’s division, spotted the display counter featuring trousers, and bought the first pair that caught his eye. It was always a pleasure shopping with him, usually a five to ten minute affair.

His prize possession was his automobile—always a Chevrolet. Of course, he drove in the pre-automatic gear shift years. He purchased a new car every 7/8 years, and the neighbors, familiar with his driving habits, vied with one another to purchase the car when he was ready to sell. For he never drove it anywhere except back and forth to work—never out of town except on Sundays, when he took his mother on a little drive through the countryside. As a result, his mileage gauge featured unbelievably low figures. Another feature of the car was that he never drove more than 30 mph, to the distress of drivers behind him, but to those acquainted with his driving habits, this was an added advantage for the person fortunate enough to purchase it.

His only vices were cigarette smoking and an occasional drink.

So he was the perfect example of the temperate, regulated, (some would say, stodgy) life. He was evidently not given to extremes. The closest exception to this was Christmas Eve, when the family assembled for the sharing of gifts and a few drinks. The women gathered in the kitchen or dining room, the men in the living room. There the traditional arguments between Republicans and Democrats would get underway in this era of FDR and his New Deal, sometimes louder than necessary.

His life-style likely appeals to some, while not to others, who may regard its predictable pace and its lack of variety, experimentation and change as stifling. It is hard to know how to evaluate the well-paced life, such as his. Was it the force of circumstances that shaped his life, or was it the result of deliberate choices on his part? Is it possible to cite such a life as a happy one, or was it one of monotony: colorless and overly predictable? Was it the influence of the Catholic faith on his life, or his family situation with its responsibilities?   Or was it a pattern influenced by his habits and comfort level? Did his life’s work/employment unduly rule his life, or did he deliberately choose to live his life in this manner?

Perhaps it is best to leave it at that, saying: to each his own.

2 thoughts on “His Only Vices Were Cigarette Smoking and an Occasional Drink

  1. When we can be satisfied with the simple things in life , like a drive in the country, I think we have found true happiness.

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