Tough Guy vs. Tannenbaum

Jimmy O’Donnell Jr. calls his dad, James “Spot” O’Donnell “Tough Guy.” It’s a nickname well earned.
Several years ago, the two worked side-by-side as pressmen at the Sunday Dispatch in Pittston. And when they weren’t in the pressroom, they worked side-by-side at dozens of other projects, mostly around their home. Work was Spot’s life. And therefore it became Jimmy’s as well.
Spot’s friends used to say, “Jimmy O’Donnell inherited a million dollars … worth of work.”
One time following Memorial Day weekend I asked Jimmy how was his holiday. “Don’t ask,” he grumbled. “Tough Guy discovered a bunch of railroad ties at the bottom of the lake and I spent the day digging them out and bringing them up to the shore.”
When Spot came in I asked him what he did to poor Jimmy.
“Whaddya mean?” he answered. “A day swimming in the lake? What young guy wouldn’t trade places with him?”
Years before, Spot had bought an old mansion at the Harvey’s Lake and spent every spare minute working on it. Jimmy was always at his side.
But to Spot, work was fun and vice versa. And in spite of himself, Jimmy felt the same.
No better example of Tough Guy’s approach to life can be found than his annual Christmas tree escapade. The mansion had a gigantic main room with a vaulted ceiling that allowed for a 20-ft. Christmas tree.
That’s a challenge tough Guy could not resist.
Every December he would put a classified ad in the paper asking if anyone had an evergreen they wanted removed from their property for free. When he found the tree he wanted, he would cut it down and cart it out to the lake.
One time a little old lady called hoping they would cut down a tree she thought would crush her house if it ever fell. “It was ridiculous,” Jimmy said. “Way too big for the house but also the ugliest Christmas tree you ever saw.”
But Spot and Jimmy felt bad for the lady, so they cut it down anyway and tossed it into the woods on their way home.
One year they found the perfect tree but when they got it home, they couldn’t get it into the house. The branches at the base were so broad and so strong that, even with the double French doors on the back of the house wide open, they could not ram the tree through. Even with a running start.
But that didn’t stop Tough Guy.
He got a device called a “come-a-long,” a hand operated winch, attached it to the front of the house, hooked a cable onto the trunk of the tree, and proceeded to crank it into the living room. Fortunately, the door frames held.
Jimmy said two rules always applied to the tree.
One, the only ornament Spot would put on it was the star on top, which he’d place while hanging from a rafter. The family had to decorate the rest.
Two, the tree had to remain in place until St. Patrick’s Day.
“There wouldn’t be a needle left on it,” Jimmy said, “but that was Tough Guy’s rule.”
Tough Guy, now in his 90s, is a resident at Wesley Village nursing home. The body may no longer be up to it, but the twinkle in his eye tells you he’d take on another such tree in a minute.

Ed Ackerman