DOWNEY - At nearly 500 pages, Ron Davis' self-published biography of his grandfather, "Tom Finn, An Uncommon Odyssey," is impossible to read in one sitting.But because it's about a truly colorful and interesting man, who, following Irish Catholic tradition, emigrated from County Mayo on the Emerald Isle's west coast to the immediate vicinity of the Black Hills in South Dakota, and otherwise brawled and drank his way through an unrelenting series of crises, the reader will find much here to hold his interest. As his story unfolds, Davis' grandfather becomes bigger than life, one of those instances when fact is stranger than fiction. For even as a young kid, Tom Finn showed power in his fists and was fearless even against older opponents. In barroom and street fights (and there were plenty), he invariably emerged victorious. Standing nearly 6-feet and wiry-strong, his many adventures included employment at the shipyards where the Titanic was being built, prairie life, and encounters with the KKK. A haunting sense of unease threaded throughout his life due to the 'curse' cast on him by the midwife-friend of his mother, Mary, when he figured in an accident that caused the midwife's ire. He negotiated the distance from Sioux Falls to Lead, and vice-versa, in courting his future wife, Kate, hobo-style, riding in boxcars. Now married, family spats and separations became frequent, exacerbated mostly by his intemperate drinking and insensitive ways. Kate nevertheless bore him seven kids, some of whom had to be cared for by an orphanage after her untimely death. Tom himself died at the ripe old age of 89. The book is dotted with bits of background Irish history as well as Irish and English Gaelic language especially in the early chapters (a glossary of terms is provided). There is also insightful narrative about the potato famine that impoverished and decimated Ireland in the mid-1880s. Educated in Ireland and in the U.S., the 18-year Downey resident Davis got his Bachelor's degrees in philosophy and English (minor in classical languages, Latin and Greek) at Loyola University in Chicago. He later earned, among other things, a master's in research psychology from Cal State Long Beach. Davis said working off-and-on on the book, his first attempt at biography, took him five years to write. It's not that it was difficult to write. Once his research and interviews were done, "the words just flowed," he said. A book signing at the Downey City Library has been scheduled for St. Patrick's Day. The book sells for $16.95 He is now at work on a book on the evolution of religious belief systems. Davis had taken 21 units of theology while at Loyola.
********** Published: December 9, 2010 - Volume 9 - Issue 34