A Letter To Shamus’ Namesake

Dear Seamus,

My father “Shamus” Corbett, your great-grandfather’s brother and the man after whom you are named, lived during a changing time. Born in 1919, he experienced untold advances in the world before he died in 1997 at age 78.

Shamus knew, as the proverb teaches, that “time and tide wait for no man.” He knew we should bide our time and not waste time on senseless pursuits.

Paddy Gallagher’s watch helped Shamus remember those timely lessons of life.

Paddy’s pocket watch still glistens.

About 92 years ago, Paddy drove a laundry truck from one end of Scranton to the other. Stopping at countless fine houses in the Hill Section of Scranton to collect shirts from the stuffed bunch that could afford to send out their cleaning during those hard years, Paddy did an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay.

Hunched over the wheel in a crisp, clean deliveryman’s uniform and cap, he’d sail the streets of his Minooka neighborhood, blowing the horn and waving at the army of kids who cheered his truck rolling down Birney Avenue.

One of those kids was my father, Shamus.

To him, the great Paddy Gallagher was a huge smiling hero steering a great moving machine. To Paddy, young Shamus was a good lad to whom he had granted the occasional prized ride.

Headstrong even as a kid, little Shamus was polite, gutsy and dependable. So proud of the name his father Pa’s greenhorn Irish immigrant friends called him, James in Irish, when he first signed his new name he misspelled the title. Stubborn Shamus refused to change the spelling even when he knew better.

That’s why, when company bosses told Paddy he could choose a partner, Paddy asked a determined 10-year-old Shamus to ride with him during the yearly contest to crown the best laundryman in the city.

Paddy knew Shamus would never give up.

Rushing from truck to house and back again, Shamus clutched as many bundles as his bony arms could carry. At the end of each hot summer day, he’d go home buoyed by the spirit of the day.

When the weeklong competition ended, the judges presented Paddy with a stunning, top-of-the-line Elgin pocket watch. Paddy took Shamus to a restaurant and bought him all the chocolate milk he could drink and a fat, precious hamburger that would have elated any Depression-era child.

When Paddy died 50 years later, he willed that watch to Shamus. The Hope Diamond wouldn’t have meant as much to my dad. I inherited the treasured ticker as Shamus’ time on earth ran out.

That cherished pocket watch stayed with me until the day two years ago when a burglar broke into our Hill Section home while we were away and stole heirloom jewelry that belonged to my wife Stephanie’s family. Paddy Gallagher’s watch disappeared as well.

Yesterday, while I sat writing a different letter to you about a different gift I planned to give you on this wondrous day of your baptism, Stephanie’s soft voice sounded over my shoulder. While looking for that other gift, she found a rolled up sock hugging a corner of a drawer at the back of the dresser. Inside she found Paddy Gallagher’s watch she had tucked away for safekeeping before the burglary.

We both were sure the thief got the watch.

But time was on our side.

Shamus Corbett’s spirit still rises as strong as ever.

This morning I ran my fingers across the watch’s smooth surface. I thought about the human cadence by which we measure our stay on this planet and how in the mad rush of this wild world it’s easy to forget how much each second counts.

I wound the pocket watch and marveled at the moving hands that point toward the future.

Your time has come, Seamus Corbett.

Welcome to the world.


Your cousin,

Steve Corbett

August 7, 2021