Friday, February 14, 2014

The History of The Rondun Hotel: Finale

Charles proved to be a good businessman. He was disciplined and focused on the job. He ran a tight ship, he was a good provider, he was established in the community. He was also pretty cagey, he could spot a trick a mile away. He called them “fiddles”. The thing about a fiddle is that everyone is doing it, or trying to figure out how to do it. Charles had a lot of sayings and one was “People are busy”. What he meant was that it’s fair to assume that everyone is looking for a way to get ahead. He wasn’t upset about it, but he was very careful, because …people are busy. Charles’ mother Julia, contented that he sons had finally found their way in the world, took to her bed to die. She wasn’t sick, she just put on a pair of fresh silk pajamas and took her meals and her visits in her bedroom and waited for the inevitable. My mother has fond memories of arranging her grandmothers jewellery box full costume jewelery on long Sunday afternoon visits.

When Charles mother Julia died her maid Martha came to work for his family. Martha was famous for this one story: One Christmas Day, after spending a day and half preparing a large roast beef dinner, Martha dropped the entire platter on the floor just as she was entering the dining room. There was a shocked silence when Julia’s clear voice rang out “That’s OK, Martha, just go in and bring us the OTHER roast beef”. Of course, there was no other roast beef. Martha picked everything up, slid behind the kitchen door, re-arranged it all again, and walked through holding her head high to applause. Everyone asks what colour Martha was and so I will tell you: She was white and Irish like us. She had arrived when she was just a girl as an indentured servant and expected to be provided a job for the rest of her life. It was in this way that she came to live and work in the house my mother grew up in. Martha was an odd duck. She was intensely Catholic and eyed the television set – when it arrived in 1953 – with a great deal of suspicion. She would not be in the same room as a TV. She was a heavy drinker and on her day off she would go out with her “boyfriend” and he would spend all her money. If someone tried to counsel Martha, she would say in her think Irish accent “Who wouldn’t have a man around the house, for the little bit he eats”.

In addition to his brothers, Charles’ uncle Patty Ryan (brother of Julia) was also a part owner. His uncle Patty was a drunk and one day, out of the blue, he sold his share to the butcher around the corner. The butcher died and so Charles was now in business with the butcher’s son. Despite his success, Charles was under a lot of pressure. First his mother died and then in short order both of his brothers married and had children, and then both of his brothers died. If you are doing the math, that meant he was now supporting himself, his wife, his two children, his maid, his brother’s wives, their children and one of his brother’s wife’s lame spinster sister just for good measure. (She wasn’t actually anything wrong with her body at all, she just didn’t want to get married and needed an excuse) It was upwards of 11 people and they all had to eat, pay mortgages, wear clothes and drive cars. And so Charles made a decision that would last the rest of his life; he began to embezzle from the government. Pay attention because this is the important part. Every keg of beer is intended to be sold to a certain pressure, meaning every glass gets a certain amount of beer and a very small amount of foam. A small change in pressure is not noticeable by a regular customer but on large gallonages it can mean a significant profit over time. And since all alcohol is purchased from the government, they would be aware of how much could be expected from each keg, and any more would be suspect. It’s math not magic. The government probably noticed the problem right away but they turned a blind eye for the first 20 years. Then they started sending letters which were dutifully ignored. Circa 1970 the government got a lawyer and things got serious. It took four years but in the end they were all fined for “moral turpitude” which is tax evasion by any other name, and by fined I mean the Gov took everything that wasn’t nailed down. Charles was lucky not to go to prison but by then he was an old man. Charles lost his liquor licence and The Rondun was sold to the highest bidder: a strip club. Pretty soon naked women were dancing on the tables and Charles was getting calls from old regulars demanding an explanation. Then it became a location for live music, as it was certainly big enough, but I don’t know a thing about that. It is probably for these reasons that The Rondun was not saved or even noted by the historical society, and that’s a shame because many people remember it fondly. For further reading please refer to Linden MacIntyre’s book “Why Men Lie” where The Rondun is briefly mentioned.

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