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Thomas Mooney: Poet, Storyteller

1920-2009


My father was an amazing presence and a great thinker in the truest sense. Thomas Mooney passed away on August 14 after 89 years of living. A book could easily be written about what he did and what he said-especially what he said. He had so many ideas and stories, and so much knowledge to share. Anyone who knew my dad for more than five minutes realized this.

Before I was born in 1960, Mom and Dad and my brother, Mark, and sister, LeeAnn, lived in Southern California-Ontario, Twenty Nine Palms, Chino. Dad was a deputy sheriff and police officer for 14 years. It’s a life about which I heard many a story. He seemed larger than life-exciting stories about riding horses into the desert, forays into Hollywood on a Saturday night with Mom to have fun, and the occasional “trouble” they would find that required Dad and his fellow off-duty police officer friend to jump in and “fix” it. But, Dad wanted out of the business of carrying a gun, and so he resigned from the force and moved the family to Santa Barbara in 1961.

Thomas Mooney

Dad worked for the Santa Barbara Recreation Department through most of the 1960s. He was a fixture at the Rec Center and Chase Palm Park. It was during this time that he became involved with the folk dancing community, and he brought his family with him. On Sundays, we’d all go down to Chase Palm Park on Cabrillo Boulevard and dance, and I loved it. Unfortunately, Dad injured his back in 1969, and couldn’t dance, or work, after that.

He became devoted to reading every book ever written (or so I thought) and writing furiously in notebooks, always carrying a small notepad in his front pocket, with a pen that would invariably end up leaking all over his shirt. He’d write down the names and phone numbers of just about everyone he met. He appreciated creativity, thinking, and compassion. He wanted nothing to do with people who were phony, pretentious, or indifferent. His favorite poet was Yeats. He wrote poetry, and participated in many poetry readings in town, at The Bluebird, Borsodi’s, and The Unitarian Church.

I always considered Dad to be a bohemian. I’m not at all sure he would have appreciated being called that, but I’m sticking with it. He spent time in the grape-stomping “scene” on Mountain Drive in the ‘60s. He played piano and guitar, and loved to sing. He became involved in political and social concerns. My sister, LeeAnn, remembers: “My father taught me early in life to always stand up for what I feel is right and to get actively involved in social causes that spoke to my heart and mind. At eight years old, all us kids got dressed in our pajamas, and the family drove our VW bus to De la Guerra Plaza and parked overnight in support of the voting rights bill, which was part of the civil rights movement. Dad was a very compassionate and passionate man.” I concur.

My dad loved Ireland. One St. Patrick’s Day in the early 1970s, dad and his fellow revelers decided to put green dye in the fountains on State St. He was in his fifties. He could often be seen with my mother on the corner of State and Anapamu streets, protesting England’s presence in Northern Ireland, but always ready to engage in discussion with the opposition. In the early 1980s he had a radio show on the University station, KCSB, called The Irish Hour, athough it was two hours long.

My half-sister Coralyn says that is sort of a metaphor for Dad’s life, because my father had absolutely no concept of time. If he was given a half-hour time slot to read poetry, there was no doubt he was going to go over. If he ran into someone he knew in a store, there was just no way you were going to get away with a five-minute “How ya doin’?” kind of exchange. He did manage to be on time for my wedding, which amazes me to this day.

He was a big man, six foot one. This past Fiesta at El Mercado, I remembered being there with Dad many years ago. He was walking with me on his shoulders. I spent a lot of time on his shoulders back then. I broke my leg when I was in kindergarten and wasn’t exactly proficient at using the crutches. That Halloween, Dad carried me in his arms around the neighborhood, trick-or-treating with the other kids. When I was six, I started wetting the bed. It was scary and uncomfortable, of course. Dad would get up in the middle of the night, carry me asleep to the bathroom, gently wake me up so I could use the bathroom, then carry me back.

Growing up, all I wanted was the Brady Bunch dad. What I got was a bearded dad with a ponytail who listed “Poet” as his occupation. Yet my father’s desire to continually learn and experience created an exciting world for us, and I would not be the person I am today if it hadn’t been for the people, places, experiences, sights, and sounds to which I was exposed growing up. I know that my father’s “age is an attitude, not a number” thinking has led me to have that same attitude, and love life and seek meaning-and fun-no matter how old I am. As someone who knew him said, upon learning of his passing, “Impossible; he’s one of the immortals.”



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