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Not to Matter
By Dave Shulman
First published in L.A. Weekly, October 18, 2006.
An ambitious batch of my relatives ditched Eastern Europe for France or the United States in the early 20th century. The French cousins survived World War II in the sewers of Paris. After they emerged, some stayed in France to become physicians, some moved to Sweden to become physicians, and one moved to Ireland to paint and start a greeting-card company.
It was there, in Dublin, that my great-uncle Evelyn Gourdon met and married poet Dierdre Molly Bargh. Evelyn’s bleak landscapes graced the cards’ covers, and Dierdre’s poems were printed inside. They made a modest living, but a living nonetheless; and on January 17, 1949, Dierdre gave birth to a son, Molly Bargh Gourdon.
As Molly grew, his parents taught him to paint and write, as well as the ways of the greeting-card business. In 1967, a card featuring 18-year-old Molly’s poetry became the company’s all-time best-seller:
Not to worry! Not to matter!
Soon the Christ, Jesus Almighty,
will swoop down from heaven
to burn us all in hell!
Great-Aunt Dierdre retired and appointed Uncle Molly as the company’s official in-house poet. Over the next decade, father and son collaborated on close to 5,000 greeting cards and won dozens of awards. In 1978, Dierdre died, and Evelyn took his own life. Molly took over the family business, and it flourished under his guidance. Twenty years later, Uncle Molly sold the company, donated half of the proceeds to Doctors Without Borders, and retired comfortably to a red-brick Georgian on Shrewsbury Road, Ballsbridge.
But even after retiring, Uncle Molly continued to celebrate holidays in the untimely manner to which he’d become accustomed while running the greeting-card company: when the stores placed their orders for cards, rather than on the actual holiday.
Uncle Molly celebrates Christmas, his favorite holiday, on Halloween. He dresses up in full Santa Claus regalia and takes great pleasure in distributing fun-size candy canes to the wee neighbor tots who come trick-or-treating as Batman, Wonder Woman, Satan and the like. For the past five years, Molly’s made it a point to travel abroad for Christmas, spending the last week of October and the first week of November in hotels in cities where he can visit with friends and relatives. This year, before flying out to Los Angeles, Uncle Molly asked me if he could come over and pass out Halloween candy at my place. I had to remind him that I live in a converted garage, far at the back of the lot, and tend not to receive trick-or-treaters. So he’s looking for an alternative location for “Santa’s Pooky Night,” as he calls it.
On a slow, gray Sunday, Uncle Molly shows up at the door. It’s been over a decade since we’ve seen each other. We decide to take a long walk, to catch up.
We walk for several hours without destination. Uncle Molly tells rich tales of rustic Ballsbridge and recites poems. I find his baritone brogue comforting.
About six blocks from the cemetery and 10 minutes into dusk, it begins to rain. I prefer Los Angeles in the rain. It’s softer; doesn’t feel so aggressive.
On the other hand, we’re drenched.
By chance, one of my friends, who lives across from the cemetery, recently recommended a nearby pub, Seamus O’Kinawa’s. This seems like a good time to try it. Uncle Molly and I locate the entrance, on street level in an otherwise abandoned office building. Inside, it’s dark, warm, pleasant and empty. The bartender shakes our hands and introduces himself as Tim Fukushima, the owner. We introduce ourselves as Dave and Molly, relatives on a long walk.
Uncle Molly and I order a couple of house coffees — hot Peet’s with Bushmill’s. Tim lends us some clean towels, and tells us about himself as we blot and he creates the drinks. Tim says he grew up in Belfast and Chicago. Moved here with his wife and small kids just last year. Found a bungalow nearby, so Tim and his wife can both walk to work, and the kids can walk to school. Seamus O’Kinawa’s has only been open for three months. Business is slow so far.
Our bodies dry some, and our beverages appear before us, steaming, in pint glasses topped with whipped cream. “Astral Weeks” plays on the jukebox. Life is good.
Until Uncle Molly spills his hot, delicious beverage in his lap. “Fuck me runnin’!” he shouts. “I’ve singed me nards!”
“Shit,” says Tim. He snatches up a towel and soaks it in cold water, and says, “Not to worry!” Tim tosses Uncle Molly the towel.
Molly catches it and says, “Not to matter!”
And both of them, in unison, recite the rest: “Soon the Christ, Jesus Almighty, will swoop down from heaven to burn us all in hell!”
“Christ!” says Tim, as Molly applies the towel. “You’re that Molly? You’re Molly Bargh Gourdon?”
Uncle Molly smiles and nods. In certain circles, he’s sort of famous.
Tim turns away from us, toward the memorabilia-covered wall behind the bar. He removes a pushpin, returns and places an old 5-by-7 greeting card on the bar before us.
Molly stares, then laughs, then laughs some more.
“Will you sign it?” says Tim.
I recognize the cover as a painting by my great-uncle Evelyn. It depicts two pairs of discarded shoes — one men’s, one women’s — at the foot of an unmade bed. The center of the mattress is stained, and in the stain’s center is a half-eaten heart-shaped box of candy.
“I’ll sign it if you read it,” says Uncle Molly, damp but warm, and happy. “If you read it aloud.”
Tim tosses back a shot of Bushmill’s and opens the card. Molly closes his eyes to take in the voice of a stranger reading his short verse from when Molly was 18. It’s over so quickly.
“Tim,” says Uncle Molly, signing the back of the card. “What are you and your family doing for Christmas this Halloween?”
“Burning,” says Tim cheerily. “Burning in hell.”