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It was the usual “before Christmas Eve Mass” crowd at O’Daniels Gin Mill & Grill, the lads preparing themselves for the annual religious ritual hours away. It was all men of course; the women were at home dressing for midnight Mass in the basilica and putting the final touches on the presents.

“Who’s in the ‘How long will Monsignor’s sermon last tonight?’ pool,” Kevin Reagan, a longtime regular, yelled down the well-worn bar. “Five dollars a number.”

Tradition was to bet on how long Monsignor Paul’s sermon would last. The pot went to the best guess with an accompanying iron-clad tradition of the winner returning to O’Daniels to buy rounds for all attending until the pot was well spent, as were the revelers in the pub.

Of course, Monsignor knew about the pub tradition, and rumor has it he put a few side bets on the line through his brother-in-law Tommy Flannigan, a copper in the city.

Chris, the owner, was making his rounds with back-slapping holiday greetings to one and all and Bob, known affectionately as “the best bartender in the world,” was on duty. We all knew the two of them were good for Christmas drinks before the ritual ended.

It was a warm, friendly atmosphere this Christmas Eve in the pub and the lads were telling tales of their own Christmas in South Buffalo many holidays ago. “We always got plenty of toys when the old man was working the steel mill,” Riley said with a smile.

“Hey Doherty, tell us about your best Christmas present,” Bob yelled to the big guy halfway down the bar. We all laughed because we all knew the tale by heart.

“I’ll never forget my first two-wheeler,” started old Doherty, and we all knew the story that was coming, as it did every year. “The first sunny day after Christmas when the streets were dry, don’t you know, I took my new bike out to show my buddies. And there I was flying down Abbott Road when I hit a patch of ice and I must have slid a hundred years and just as far, right into Eddie’s meat market,” he said with great relish.

“Did you hit anybody?” the bar asked in unison, knowing this would warm Doherty up.

“I went right into spinster Sweeny, my old eleventh-grade teacher, and down she went on the sawdust on the floor and her skirt rose up to meet its maker, and there she was, bloomers and all,” Doherty said, roaring with his own particular brand of laughter. This of course put the entire gang into peals of laughter as we all welcomed this wonderful traditional Doherty Christmas story at the pub.

“She grabbed me by the ear and trotted me off to my old man, who whacked my butt and said, ‘Go get your [expletive] bike and put it in the house until spring. Jesus, Mary and Joseph what I go through.’ ”

This last line, much anticipated, was so loudly said in unison by all gathered round that the Holy Trio could probably hear it.

The reminiscing continued, with all recalling a favorite long- ago Christmas moment, heartwarming memories and a few tears for family and friends who had passed. Then Bob yelled out the signal that Mass would soon start and we’d better be on our way: “Drinks on the house you louses, and Merry Christmas.”

A final drink, a Christmas Eve toast and off we went to see how long Monsignor’s sermon would last. It was another fine Christmas Eve.