Early Days in Weston, MA

[Ed. note: Thanks to some late-breaking new information from cousin Michele (Morin) Shoemaker, certain corrections and additions have been added to the original text

Charles Morin was the youngest of three sons of George Albert Morin and Margaret Sullivan. George Morin was the son of a French-Canadian immigrant, a taciturn and inscrutable man who spoke little, but by example, taught them discipline, loyalty and probity. For a time, George served as a civil service attorney in the Bureau of Internal Revenue and drafted significant portions of the Tax Code revisions that were adopted in 1934. He subsequently moved to Boston and opened one of the city’s first law practices specializing in federal taxation. His success allowed him to acquire a substantial country estate in Weston, where he raised his three sons, George, Phillip and Charles. During Charles’s childhood, despite his favorable circumstances as a “rich kid,” his closest childhood friendship was not with others of wealth or social status, but with the nearby son of a struggling local handyman – with whom he remained in contact throughout his life, corresponding with him well into his seventies.

Charles was exceptionally precocious. He completed the Weston High School curriculum in three years at the age of 16, also as a skilled football player and concert violinist. He applied and was accepted to Harvard for the following fall, but his mother disapproved of such a young boy going to college. His father took him up to Exeter Academy where he interviewed with “Principal” Lewis Perry. During the interview, Principal Perry informed young Morin that if he came to Exeter he would have to take Latin.

“Why,” the young man asked.

“Because you will not be admitted to Harvard without it,” the elder Perry answered.

To that Charles responded, “I don’t want to take Latin and they accepted me this year without it, why wouldn’t they accept me next year?”

The Headmaster regarded the young man keenly, Morin returning the gaze with a whimsical look.

Principal Perry acknowledged that he didn’t need to take Latin, and the following fall Charles was off for his post-graduate year at Exeter.

There, he excelled at his studies, football and tennis for sports, and classical violin. He graduated from Exeter with Honors and entered Harvard the following fall of 1939.

Harvard brought out the mischief in Charlie Morin, although precisely how it was expressed remains a closed secret. He corresponded with several of his classmates well into their retirement years, but they all declined my invitation to reminisce (or wished they could but were past remembering). They all assured this author, however, that he was a “hell-raiser,” and they said it with marvel and affection. His sons saw plenty of evidence of that truth in the later years.

Morin’s relationships with his siblings are a matter of some mystery. He never spoke of his brothers to his sons. Decades later, a few frayed threads of the discord would emerge. First among them, as Phillip’s wife had told her daughter, mother Margaret assiduously encouraged her sons to compete against each other. This might not have been of too much consequence, but for the fact that the oldest brother, George, contracted Multiple Sclerosis. To provide for his care, their father established three trusts for the sons, with all of the income from each going to George’s medical care until he passed away. While Charles and Phillip certainly had no problem with this, it caused some friction between their wives after George and Margaret had passed. Since they could not fight over money, the object of their disputes turned to the personal property of the Estate, and thus ensued the age-old bickering of in-laws over who got what. Being one of the co-executors (with George), Charles devised an elegant solution: All of the personal property of the Estate was placed in storage, indefinitely. In fact, it was not until the 1990’s that the grandchildren were invited to rummage through the goods. After brother George passed away, his children called Charles, looking to continue the gravy train. Charles shut the door to filial duty for good.

Another source of friction between Phillip and his little brother (whom Phillip called “Peanut”): during the late 1940’s and early 1950’s, when the three brothers and their father practiced law together, some latent hostility arose over the claim that Charles had been “poaching” Phillip’s clients. Whether Phillip and Charles ever spoke about it is unknown, but Phillip did tell his wife.

Fortuitously, it would turn out that in 1995, Charles’ youngest son Peter would move to Scituate, Massachusetts, where Phillip raised his family in an old country farmhouse. At the time, Phillip was beginning to fail mentally, and his eldest son, David (a pediatrician) and his wife were caring for him. David would become the doctor to Peter’s two children; David and his younger brother Christopher would join Peter and Charles Jr. for barbecues at Peter’s home, and the family rift would be mended. Neither David nor Christopher had any better insight into the rift between the two brothers.
If Charles Morin held any animosity toward his siblings, he never spoke about it to anyone but his wife. He was inscrutable in that way. Toward the final decade of Charles’ life, Phillip would enter the picture one last time.

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Warhorse

Today I begin a small project that I should have done several years ago.

For a while before my father, Charlie Morin, died in 2007, I had been helping him to organize and assemble his “memoirs.” Over the previous twenty years, he had been quietly amassing a trove of stories that covered his professional life. As his health declined and he lost energy, I helped him organize the material, and I “interviewed” him extensively on other stories he had yet to tell. At the end of the day, however, he knew we’d never get the project done.

I asked him if he would mind if I continued the work on my own. He was happy to know I would. Following his death, I attempted for some time to complete the story of his professional life, which required interviewing some of the lawyers in his firm who he had hired out of law school and who had remained with him for their entire careers. It soon became clear that after Charlie was gone, everything that went with him was a secret. The Pinstripe Wall was erected, and my effort to complete the story stalled.

So, I had a work-in-progress of about 20,000 words and no way to finish it.

I’ve decided that, finished or not, it shall not go to waste. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of my father. There’s no reason why I shouldn’t share his stories with you.

And in this way, I will cleverly be able to jump start this blog from its embarrassing somnolence.

So, for the next several weeks, every few days, I will be posting a chapter or two of the unfinished biography of Charles Henry Morin, entitled “WARHORSE.”

Let’s get started!

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 Preface

In the St. Germain section of the Our Lady Queen of Peace Cemetery in Royal Palm Beach, Florida, Charles H. Morin was laid to rest on August 25, 2007, one week after his 85th birthday. There was nothing ceremonious about his memorial service, no thundering organ music to a packed cathedral, no choir. Just an elegant and simple service attended by two dozen of so of the thousands of individuals great and small whose lives he had touched deeply. It was how he had instructed it: nothing to call undue attention to it. Don’t blow a lot of money on a fancy casket. And “be funny.”

There was Chuck Colson, Morin’s 1961 law partner who became a household name during Watergate and later one of the world’s leading Christian intellectuals. There was Jack Donahue, one of Morin’s first clients from 1955, still a client at his death, and the Chairman of a $200 billion family of mutual funds. There was Ken Lopez, the owner of a modest limousine service, who had driven Morin to and from the Palm Beach International airport for nearly twenty years. There were Henry Cashen and Bob Higgins, lawyers from Morin’s fabulously successful powerhouse Washington law firm, Dickstein, Shapiro & Morin, who had been hired by Morin thirty-eight years earlier and had never given a thought to practicing with anyone else but “the Chairman.” There was Mike Saperstein, who was a mid-level staffer at the S.E.C. when he met Morin in 1967 and later became a Managing Director of Bear Stearns Company, which Morin represented for decades. And Patricia Owens, who joined Colson & Morin in 1962 and had been serving as Morin’s personal secretary for an incredible 47 years.

And all of them had the same trouble believing that the day would ever come when he would be gone.

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Irish National Holiday

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I live in Scituate, MA, a suburb of Boston. Scituate boasts of the highest percentage of Irish residents in the country. We have our own St. Patrick’s Day Parade and elect our own Irish (honorary) “Mayor.”

The St. Patrick’s Day Parade that takes place in South Boston is quite a spectacle indeed. I mean, look at these people!

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Because of the prevalence of Irish who work for the City of Boston and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, St. Patrick’s Day might as well be a holiday.

Susanne and I are doing our part to promote this holiday by making Full Irish and Half Irish available to actual and honorary Irish readers for the ridiculous price of 99 cents. At that price, we should entice quite a few Scotsmen, as well.

We have also just placed Half Irish in the Netgalley catalogue, where it is available for free download to Netgalley reader-members to read and review. If you are a Netgalley member, or want to become one (it is free!), you can use the “widget” below to obtain the download from the site.

So do give us a bit of Irish luck, and if you celebrate the holiday, please do so responsibly.

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Netgalley widget:

https://www.netgalley.com/widget/open?widget_id=85799_82226_145797018156e6dc05c3ddd_9781517461225_US

On Donald Trump and Franz Kafka

I don’t write (and try not to think too much) about politics these days, for health reasons.

So this has been a stressful few months, what with this Donald Trump stooge making a mockery of what I thought couldn’t be more of a mockery already. It seems there is no end to his willingness to say or do anything that guarantees the spotlight continues to shine on His Most Spectacular Self. I don’t blame the media for being moths to the flame, any more than I blame rubberneckers for gawking at a bad accident.

[This is not to exclude the rest of the cast of characters from derision, but this is not a political essay, see infra.]

When he finally entered the fray this time, my wife and I groaned and said, “oh no, not this asshole,” and reassured ourselves that nah, he was in it for the entertainment, he wouldn’t – he couldn’t possibly! – be taken seriously.

But the Capuchin jumped up on the barrel organ and the crowds began to gather, and now they’re packing stadiums, for crissakes, to get a look at this guy, to get close to him, to listen to his…his what? I don’t know what it is. He’s not a Presidential candidate, he’s a freaking spectacle.

Anyway, that’s not my point (although I feel much better having made it).

If you’re like me at all (God bless you), when you look at the world today and what politicians are willing to say and do to clutch power, sometimes – for amusement’s sake alone – you might try to compare this phenomenon to some of the world’s great literature.  Les Miserables comes to mind. It Can’t Happen Here. The Manchurian Candidate!

I found myself musing on this recently, thinking what was appropriate to Trumps continually massive crowds and polling data (which he will only be so happy to tell you about, whether you want to hear it or not!), and it came to me. I found that I had been using the adjective “absurd” a lot, and that brought me to thinking about A Hunger Artist, a brilliant allegory written by the great absurdist, Franz Kafka.

And with that discovery, I began to feel some sense of hope that he would eventually go away. Or more accurately, that the crowds would go away. That he would be ignored. Like the hunger artist, people would eventually tire of his performance and move on to the other attractions.

I mused for a while about the prospect that on the morning of the next debate Trump boycotts, he wakes up to discover that he is a giant beetle. I wondered how his outsized ego would deal with that.

As Trump’s antics rolled on unabated, and people who I know to be educated and intelligent continued to support and defend him, Kafka’s work came to mind again.

I reread In the Penal Colony, and now I have a mental image that will help me persevere in these trying times:

An explorer visits the penal colony, where an officer demonstrates to him the Harrow, an instrument used to inflict capital punishment. The Harrow is an extraordinarily elegant instrument (as the officer is only too proud to explain): the condemned man lies face-down on a Bed, while a complex system of needles inscribes the commandment he has broken (e.g. HONOR THY SUPERIORS) on his back. The needles pierce deeper and deeper until the prisoner dies. In the process of dying, however, the condemned man finally understands the nature of justice and his punishment. His face is transfigured, a sight edifying to all those who watch. The officer begins to demonstrate the Harrow on a prisoner condemned to die because he was sleeping on duty.

The machine was conceived and developed by the former Commandant. It soon becomes clear that the explorer does not approve of the death-machine and that he feels morally bound to express this disapproval to the new Commandant, who is already known to have serious questions about using the Harrow as a method of punishment. Suddenly, the officer removes the condemned man from the Bed and takes his place. Before doing so, he adjusts the machine to inscribe “BE JUST.” The Harrow begins its grisly work on the officer’s back, but malfunctions and goes to pieces–but not before the self-condemned officer has been hacked and torn to pieces.

 

Of course, I wouldn’t want this to really happen, I just want him to go away. But a man can dream.

A Boston Irish Crime Trio

Thanks to my co-author, Susanne O’Leary, for creating this cool page!

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In 2011, Pete Morin published his first legal crime novel, Diary of a Small Fish. Following the success of this book, Pete asked me to co-write another crime novel, and we had no problem finding a suitable hero- Paul Forté, the likable main character of his first book. This time, in the book that was to become Full Irish, the plot links Boston and Ireland in a corruption scandal that takes Paul, Shannon and Irish reporter Finola McGee on a wild chase around Ireland, bouncing back and forth across the pond.

This was so much fun to write that we decided to create a second Boston-Irish story with the title Half Irish- equally full of mayhem and political shenanigans.

As a result of our efforts, laughs and a little bit of well-humored bickering, we have this trilogy-or triptych- to offer lovers of legal/political suspense stories. Although each book is a stand-alone story, they are linked by the main character of the first book. Below you will find a short description of each book and links to the e-book store of your choice.

Read the rest.

 

Half Irish Ready For Launch

Susanne O’Leary and I are ready to launch our second (and final) Irish episode in the adventures of Paul Forte and Shannon McGonigle. Half Irish finds Paul, Shannon and Finola McGee drawn into a strange conspiracy involving and Irish American Half Irish Cover MEDIUM WEBbusinessman, a has-been Irish politician, a high ranking diplomat, and a their connection to string of dead Irish immigrant worker. The back cover tells it:

When an immigrant Irish roofer plummets to his death from a South Boston building, lawyer Paul Forte steps in to settle the man’s presumably meager estate, as a favor to his friend, Dublin reporter Finola McGee. A routine probate matter, he thought, until he discovers the penthouse condo, the top-of-the-line Harley and credit card statements reflecting a fondness for Las Vegas. 

In Ireland, Finola’s human interest story about the tragedy prompts several Irish widows to inform her of similar accidents in the States. In each case, the laborers had been beneficiaries of CRAIC, an Irish “charity” run by ex-politician Finbarr Murphy; their lives had been insured for substantial amounts; and their widows did not receive what they were due. 

When insidious political forces (and a little blackmail) impel her editor to silence her, Finola smells another big story. She is convinced CRAIC is another word for scam. 

As Paul and Finola team up once again to plumb the depths of Irish treachery, secrets are divulged, privileges violated, punches thrown, loyalties shredded and bombs ignited; but it takes a meddling amateur to unmask the saboteur.

We’ve had a blast writing Full Irish and Half Irish, and I thank Susanne for her always classy and good humored collaboration. This may be the last of Paul and Shannon. For the moment I am on to something very new and different, which might involve a new female heroine here in Boston.

Half Irish can be pre-ordered for its November 17th release.

The Big Moments

As some subscribers will note, it has been a while. There has been a lot of stuff going on in the Morin family lately, most spectacularly, the marriage on my darling daughter, Kate, to Jonah Brotman, in Kansas City on Saturday, October 10th at 4:00 pm.

So let’s talk about that a little.

Kate is an amazingly self-sufficient lady who has been “away” from home since she was 13 (freshman in boarding school). She graduated from Syracuse (MCL from Newhouse!), moved to Manhattan to work for a start-up, met a man, decided to follow him to Kansas City (I drove, remember?), and there you have it. She and her mother meticulously planned every detail (did I tell you another of my daughter’s admirable qualities is frugality?).

Every detail.

For instance, where would mom and dad stay?

Why, no ordinary hotel would produce the sort of at-home-with-our-friends quality that makes a wedding glisten. So Kate jumped on VRBO and lo, here we were at the 3-story penthouse condominium at the Rieger Hotel building. Way to go, baby!

9bf6cfed-984e-4a26-802e-6066abddecd8.1.10Among all of its sterling qualities, my favorite is that it is where Al Capone stayed when he was in town to visit with his “associates.” Allegedly. Sure looked like a place he’d pick: only one way in, one way out. So that is where eight of us called home – the eight including my brood and two best friends whom I first met in 1970 and 1971.

Kansas City is a very cool town. Everything just has a throw-back quality to it. So where better to throw a wedding reception than a repurposed manufacturing building in the middle of the city? (It’s prior use was a taxi cab repair facility.)

And what better to do than hire the best blues band in Kansas City? (Mind you, this was KATE’s idea.)

Now this sort of planning puts a lot of pressure on an old man. As the summer arrived, the phone calls between Kate and mom grew in frequency and urgency even as the list of “issues” shrank in number and importance. I was, mercifully, kept at a distance.

But I was not far away in my mind. I knew I would want to give a toast of some sort. But could I even hope to hold it together? Could I really say anything at all in praise of my daughter in front of 75 people and remain coherent? I had serious doubts. And her? Heck, she’s worse than me. I didn’t want a lot of wedding pictures with smeared make-up, right?

So I did something funny, and I wrote a song around the theme that children never really leave you. I sent the band the music in July and fretted daily about remembering the words (something I am not good at) for the next three months.

Those days crawled by, it seemed, but one morning, we were up at 5:00 in Scituate and seemingly moments later (which was in fact 3 days) back at home, and life had changed in a profound way I still can’t describe.

In between, we ate, drank and laughed together, met new friends and family, saw new places (check out the Nelson Atkins Museum!), and soon I found myself standing with my daughter, waiting for the music to cue for our walk down the aisle. For both of us, all of the calmness and control of the past months spun at the end of a gossamer thread.

12170386_10207908641664051_2084622963_n It was a creaky walk, but I didn’t trip or throw-up or even get slightly dizzy.

What followed was all a blur, but included a beautiful 4 minute ceremony, a mercifully brief receiving line, and a party that both the bartenders and the band said was their favorite wedding ever. You can see how Kate and her mom kicked off the dancing portion of the festivities!Kate and Mom

My purpose in telling this story is to reflect on the fact that, in the Big Moments in life, you are rarely ever prepared. You might prepare, you might think you’re ready for what comes, but when it plows over you like an avalanche, you’re best to just hold on and go for the ride.

So here I am, three weeks after that whirlwind stretch from early afternoon to late evening of Saturday, October 10th, every day remembering that Walk, that song running on a loop in my brain, the handkerchief in the pocket of my suit that says,

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and I know that I don’t want to be prepared for those moments, because being overwhelmed by them is pretty fine indeed.

 

p.s. (We rolled that song out at the end of all the speechifying, and it was pretty well received.)

Hay Island, Ontario

When I was a young boy of 12-14, I spent three summers at the Byrnell Manor Hockey Camp, in Fenelon Falls, Ontario. The camp had everything. Located on Cameron Lake (the biggest lake I’d ever seen, but a mere whisper to its neighbors), the camp had a swimming dock, two boats for waterskiing and fishing, ball fields of all kinds, and its own 9 hole golf course.

And two Newfies who didn’t know their own size or strength.

Those were idyllic summers, filled from sunrise to sunset with physical activity of all kinds. I played golf, hockey, softball, soccer every day. I swam, fished, waterskied, and rode Canadian horses that had been captured from the wilds of northern Manitoba (or so I was told).

The memories are still vivid, even the “wedgie competitions” that I was forced into by my senior cottage Czar, a goalie from Norwood named Neil Higgins. Neil was a character, perhaps better known not for his goaltending expertise (he had a so-so college and professional record) as much as for the fact that he wore one of the first form-fitting fiberglass face masks in hockey, thanks to the dedication and genius of his father, Ernie Higgins.

What has this got to do with Hay Island, you ask?

One of the travel routes to our destination took us through the Thousand Islands area, via NY137, which begins where US81 ends, right before Collins Landing. Ever since the day we drove that road over the St. Lawrence River, I have had a picture of it etched in my mind and wanted to go back.

Hay Island is one of those thousand. It is a comparatively large island, on the Canada side of the river off of Gananoque, ON, perhaps 50 miles southwest of the bridge. It is the home of an old, close friend from boarding school days, built almost two centuries ago by a Georgia paper mill owner. He has invited a bunch of his old friends up to join him for a weekend of music and frivolity.

I am bringing my Stratocaster and Yamaha, and he tells me that the water line to my cabin has just been repaired.

I’m getting all giddy already.

On Pancakes and Toddlers

All this fuss about Marcy’s Diner in Portland, MA brought back some memories.

My youngest is 24, so they’re old memories, the best kind.

Before he was born, Betsy and I took our infant daughter (here she is all grown up!) kateto Jupiter, FL to visit my parents. Knowing that they prefer to experience their grandchildren “in small bites,” we decided to take Kate out to lunch one day, at the fabulous Joe’s Stone Crab on the Loxahatchee River. At the time, she was no more than 6 months and we carried her in the car seat.

We were ushered to a nice table by a window, next to a group of six elderly women. When they saw the baby, you might have thought they were looking at Rosemary’s Baby. They were horrified, certain that this infant was soon to spoil their nice, quiet, two Manhattan lunch (ending as they all do with a lengthy to-the-penny reconciliation guaranteeing that no one paid a nickel more than owed, including the 5% tip).

Their disdain was palpable, and we actually considered whether this was a good idea. Kate could be fussy at times (still is, in fact). But we decided to tough it out, agreeing that if she started squawking, we’d take a doggy bag and get the hell out of there.

We proceeded to have a delightful lunch ( fish and wine, of course), during which Kate sleep soundlessly from start to finish. That was when we learned the sedative effect of restaurant noise.

Anyway, the ladies finished their lunch and began to trickle away from the table, then each of them paused by Betsy and the baby. One of them complimented Betsy (not me!) for having such a “lovely child.” Her friend was more direct:

“And so quiet!”

B.B. King and the source of inspiration

This is going to sounds a little weird, but stay with me.

My routine Thursday nights involves taking my guitar to The Next Page Cafe in Weymouth, where an exceptional open mic blues jam happens. The host, Willie J. Laws, and his amazing band mates, Malcolm Stuckey (bass) and Osi Brathwaite (drums), are jaw dropping musicians and the crowd is enthusiastic and devoted.

The beauty of the open mic blues jam is you never know what you’re going to get. From one Thursday to the next, it is a different scene, different vibe, energy, gestalt. My objective is simply to draw from the energy of the moment and do something different, by inspiration alone – something I’ve never seen my fingers do before. It doesn’t happen that often, but it keeps me coming back.

Two Thursdays ago, during my “time” on guitar, there was a moment during a lead break of a slow blues number at which I spontaneously ripped off a string of textbook B.B. King riffs. These are riffs I’ve studied and practiced, but not ones I would typically play. They just happened to come into my fingers at the moment.

On my way home from The Next Page last Thursday night, I reflected back on the jam and wondered what inspired me at that moment to use those B.B. King signature riffs.

I learned the next day (with the rest of the world) that Mr. King had died Thursday night, right about the time those old riffs infiltrated my fingers. That was quite a Thrill!

Anyway, this was a lovely example of how and where we get our inspirations.

It’s no different from reading Cormac McCarthy novels and then dropping dialogue tags, is it?

Mr. King’s iconic guitar work, McCarthy’s ironclad prose. One style so simple, the other deep, both pushing different buttons.

I once had a conversation with Duke Robillard, one of the genuine guitar icons. I told him he was one of my main influences, and “I’ve ripped off so many of your riffs it’s embarrassing.”

He chuckled and said, “That’s the kind of compliment I like to hear. I probably got them from somebody else myself.”

UPDATE: My friend Ron Rudy reminded me of an important coda to this story. The following Thursday (last week), I made the horrendous mistake of trying to play a B.B. King song. I murdered it. It was awful. Which goes to show, inspiration cannot be forced. It either comes or it doesn’t.