Friday, December 30, 2011

Happy Old Years That Gave All Those Happy New Years

As the year comes to an end it brings about reflective thoughts. We wish everyone, "Happy New Year" which is a good thought about an unknown situation. The New Year always symbolizes a new beginning, a fresh start. Actually it is only a continuation of wherever we find ourselves as we live our lives. I find myself this year not so much focusing on what the future might bring but what all those "New Years" that have come and gone have brought to me. This seems proper I think to focus on what has actually happened rather than on what one might hope might happen.

Being in a reflexive state I find myself going back to the beginning. By the luck of the draw, or the Grace of God, I was born into a terrific family. Not only was my Mother and Father great people who loved me but I had a ready made extended family. While it was only my brother and me there were great Uncles, Aunts Grandparents and most of all cousins of all ages that were more like brothers and sisters. We all lived within a mile of each other so everyone saw everyone almost each day. They tell me we were poor but I never knew it. There was always plenty to eat, lots of people around making a lot of noise mostly by laughing and of course arguing. The ethnicity was Italian so there was always a lot of hugging, fighting and making up. But most of all a lot of food. The whole situation was like a great cocoon with me the baby safely inside of it protected by the whole neighborhood since most were friends or friends of friends, more like family. What a great feeling, having a family which is there always for each other.

A neighborhood means so much to a kid growing up. My first neighborhood was Corona, providing the cocoon referred to above. We moved from Corona to Queensborough Hill, Flushing when I was about five years old but the Corona I knew never really moved out of me. I suddenly found myself in this new place, The Hill, with no one around that I knew. I rode my tricycle up the block and met a guy whose name was Eugene but everyone called him Babe, maybe after Babe Ruth whom he resembled or because he was the baby in his family, the third son born maybe a decade after his two older brothers. I made a lot of other friends but Babe and I are still friends after some seventy-two years. Quickly The Hill became mine. Ethnically it was different from Corona. I met a lot of Irish and they were quieter than my Italian family but they had a sense of humor that was just as quick and funny. Their food was different but it was good, my introduction to how "others" lived. Babe's mother was a real lady, genteel but his father gave a rough and tumble appearance, like he could handle himself in a brawl. Babe's two older brothers had a reputation that kept Babe safe and sound not that he needed their protection but having two older brothers in reserve just in case wasn't too bad. For WW II, one joined the Army the other the Navy, an original Intrepid gunner. Needless to say they saw plenty of action as did my uncles, and cousins. The Hill was the best place to grow up as it was a melting pot of German, Irish and Italian. We had no Blacks, Negros as they were referred to then, nor did we have more than one or two Jewish families. Our loss but that loss was made up when I went to Flushing High School. Flushing High gave me what could be called the best, although I had other bests, four years of my life. Great teachers, students and a real melting pot where I met people of all persuasions and color and grew to love them all, except of course crazy George and his gang, but I digress.

When I hit my twenties I met a great girl. She was gorgeous, smart, dressed up always and best of all laughed at all my jokes. I ran and ran after her until she finally caught me. She was Puerto Rican which was great because it exposed me to more of what other people were like, besides she had that hot Latin blood, know what I mean(?). We got married and started our own family which in effect replaced the families of my youth since many had moved a distance away and we didn't stay in close contact. We had what could be considered a mid-sized family for our block had two families living next door to each other that had over twenty kids between them, around the corner was a family with eight or nine and a little down the block one family had nine girls so our family of seven was not considered all that large. The neighborhood was awash with children laughing and playing a little like Corona and The Hill. My children have given me happiness beyond description. When they were growing up I used to like to say we had six animals and one girl to those who would inquire. My girl is always there supporting me now and in the past. She was there when her mother, my love, could no longer take care of herself. We talk almost every day. My sons try not to show emotion which I guess is my fault. They too were there when their mother lost her hold on anything. There was the Respite group which they all financed. My son the lawyer helped me through many hurdles which could have cost a fortune. My first and second son walked me through all the hurdles when my house burned down. Listen, the importance of family can't be stressed and that includes my daughter-in-laws
who always jumped to the forefront when needed. Let me put it this way, when they were young they couldn't have survived without me and their mother, my love. Now in my later years I don't think I could survive without them.

There are so many things I could write about but I started this I wanted to say that my life has been a series of "Happy New Years" even if I didn't think so at the time. But for all that I might have wished for my "Happy New Years", none could beat what I have experienced through being born into such a great family, growing up in neighborhoods which gave a feeling of family, and having a family coming out of a great love between a young girl and her guy. Whatever you may be hoping for this coming year be sure you grab on to what is most important and if you have a family grab it, hug it, love it and never let it go.          

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Magic of Christmas

Somehow it didn't seem like Christmas to him. The music was all around him playing Christmas songs and carols. The people were out shopping. The stores were crowded and strangely enough most were exhibiting good cheer. There was a nip in the air and just a smell of snow to come. The Christmas lights were shedding all the reds, yellows and icicle lights on each block. He was feeling pretty good physically yet, in his heart, in his soul something was missing. He guessed it was the excitement that was felt about Christmas when he was young. There were different stages of his youth that reflected different feeling of excitement.

Up to eight or nine years of age the feeling of Christmas held the magic of this old bearded guy in a red suit who was going to reward you with a gift mysteriously leaving it under the tree while everyone was asleep. It wasn't so much what you were getting rather it was the game of mystery, of the unknown. You could try to stay awake and surprise him but eventually you fell asleep. Then with a start you'd wake up in the middle of the night and run down a flight to see your present under the tree. What a wonder! What a surprise! What was even better was getting something you never dreamed of but once it was there you knew it was what you wanted all the time but never had the ingenuity to think of it. One Christmas his brother got a Charlie McCarthy and he got a Mortimer Snerd. This drove him to the library to study ventriloquism. Charlie McCarthy and Mortimer Snerd were the dummies, he preferred to think of them as side kicks, to Edgar Bergen, a famous ventriloquist who had a fabulously successful  radio show called The Chase and Sanborn hour. He never got the idea of how to throw his voice but it was a year of fun trying. One Christmas he found a sturdy cardboard representation of an Airplane cockpit. He was enthralled with the idea of flying but soon had to give up the notion of becoming a Pilot. He was afraid of heights.

He grew out of the magic of Santa Claus and lost some of the magic and excitement of the season. Soon he was caught up in the family aspect of Christmas and the magic came back to him. Counting his aunts, uncles, cousins, mother father and brother there must of been always forty or fifty people around to celebrate the holidays. There was always plenty of food. On Christmas Eve we Catholics couldn't eat in between meals nor could we eat meat. The Dinner with relatives was full of fish, marinara sauce for the spaghetti and plenty of wine, coffee and soda. Some would go to Midnight Mass which was always jammed packed. The ushers would dress up in their Sunday best as would the faithful, sometimes the ushers dressed in tuxedos. It was a solemn high mass but you could feel the good joy of all present. Almost all were waiting for the mass to be over so they could return to the houses like his which had a feast waiting for them. Everyone ate and drank and laughed until early morning. Getting to bed at three and for those who didn't make midnight mass, going to the 12:15, last Christmas Day mass would be followed by going over a realative's house for more eating, drinking and merry making.

For one reason or another this too faded, he liked to blame the automobile claiming it separated families, nobody was in walking distance of anybody anymore. Besides many of the relatives aged, became infirm and passed on. He then found the magic of Christmas in what he called the true meaning of Christmas, the birth of Christ and the saving of the world through the incarnation. His Church wanted this true meaning emphasized, but their emphasis was too solemn. This magic brought too many tears if followed so he concentrated on the person of Jesus, His mother and Father here on earth. He found magic in their love and good nature. Mary, just a kid, a teenager, accepting this Angel's word that God somehow was going to work miracles through her. Joseph, not rejecting or stoning Mary for being pregnant outside of marriage, rather taking her into his home and raising her kid as his own. Much of what he did followed dreams in which he was instructed to do these things. What a guy! Imagine if you had a dream that instructed you to do something quite extraordinary, you'd pass it off as some hallucination. Joseph rather helped changed the whole world by accepting the challenges set before him with faith and hope. Then of course was the magic of Christmas, Jesus Himself. This little defenseless babe who would grow up to challenge the authorities of his time and the time to come. Jesus, who loved a party; loved the downtrodden; didn't mind associating with thieves, prostitutes and tax collectors because he apparently found them more exciting than the hypocrites who were heading the Jewish faith and Government. Jesus who was always full of love. This was magic. But as this magic of Christmas wore on it became more of everyday life for him and the specialness of Christmas faded.

When he married and had children the magic of Christmas returned through their eyes. But too soon they grew and spread their wings as all must do and the togetherness of Christmas became fragmented. He always wanted to have a special Christmas with just his wife and him but time didn't allow it as he thought it could be. She fell ill and their last years together did allow them to have special Christmases, not like they show in the movies but only as can be experienced in real life for those who love. She passed and although his holidays are filled with children, grandchildren and friends there is an emptiness to the season. Gone is his youth when he believed in the fat old elf who knew just the right things to bring him. Gone is his family who once lived within walking distance and bring their cheer and love that can only be shared by a united family.
The religious feeling has slipped as midnight mass no longer holds the specialness it once did. It has become apparent that if there is a magic to Christmas that is holy this magic can not be held only to one season as it was meant for all seasons which in itself makes the other seasons more magic while it lessens the magic for Christmas. And most of all she is gone. Unfortunately one never knows the treasure one has until it is taken away from him. What he does have is his memories and, God willing, no one will be able to take them away from him.   


Wednesday, December 14, 2011

He Wanted Her Remembered

One lives a life that is full of accomplishments and failures, high points and low. For most of us no matter how long we live very shortly after we pass we are forgotten and it is as though we had never lived, with the only remembrances, a cemetery plot with a stone that has our name and a few short references. He was feeling that this was happening to her. Her birthday was coming up in a very short time as was the day that she died only a month later with seventy-two years passing in between those two events. Her life was really two lives, one before she contacted her illness that lasted fifty-seven years and one after diagnoses of her progressive illness that lasted fifteen years. He felt she was fading out of the collective recollection of those who were close to her, who loved her and she loved back. He hated the idea that she was becoming irrelevant while he was still alive yet he couldn't really fault those who were forgetting her or whose recollection of her was becoming hazy and all they knew was her last fifteen years of life.

He realized that even he who loved her and still did, was starting to forget the things that were her very essence. He was forgetting her very fragrance. Each of us has a certain smell, some odious some a sweet fragrance, about them. He remembered she had a fragrance about her that he loved yet he couldn't remember the exact aroma itself. She was super intelligent. When she was in High School she got great grades, was honor English, and graduated with the chance of a college scholarship but couldn't go as she had to get a job and help out her family. She was a successful, Gal Friday, something that is called Executive Assistant these days. She spoke three languages fluently and had command of another. She had physical beauty to the extent that she was gorgeous and caught all the guys eyes. She had a laugh that lit up the room. She was a top notch dancer. She really didn't sweat, she glowed, REALLY. When she got older she ran a house that included her brood of seven children and all their friends. Her legs that used to catch all the guys eyes while she danced developed varicose veins because of carrying seven children in eight years. She was vain enough to voice displeasure over the viscosity but she wouldn't trade any of her children to get those smooth legs again. Later in life she returned to college to get her AA degree, graduated with honors. She was all these things and more.

Her last fifteen years on this earth is what many will remember about her, especially her grandchildren as that is all they really know about her through their personal experience. She was in a slow but steady physical and mental decline. Her behavior was becoming erratic as first her memory declined until she could no longer know who she or the people around her were. Finally she had to be placed in a nursing home where her physical health declined in the later years to a degree that she was wheel chair bound. At the end she was in a Wheel Chair that was more like a bed, she couldn't speak, eat or move. The dancing genius lasted only a few years in the Nursing home. In the beginning, the staff would tell him when he came to visit, that at exercise time they did some dancing and she "still had the moves". But at her end she was immobile and struck dumb not even being able to laugh yet somehow she still lit up the room as he wheeled her in. Her beautiful fragrance degenerated at times into noxious smells emanating from her declining body that once was the goal of every guy she met to hold.

He wanted her remembered, especially by the grandchildren but not only the declining days. Yet who was left that could describe her beautiful, vivacious life and person she was for the first fifty-seven years. He wanted, the grandchildren especially, to remember her as smiling, smelling sweetly, intelligent and full of laughter, a person who accomplished great things in her life time albeit not great enough for the world to notice, but he was sure that God took notice and somewhere she was dancing, laughing and having the time of her life.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Dec. 7, 1941 A Day That Will Live In Infamy

Where were you on that fateful day? The day that certainly changed the world as we knew or as we were to come to know it. There was a war raging in Europe conducted by a mad man who had controlled Germany and had the the Axis with Italy, and Japan, Hitler, Mussolini and Hirohito. The United States was sitting on the sidelines waiting to see when it would or could jump into the European battle. But the USA's time line was no longer left up to the Americans to make the decision as Japan launched a surprise attack on our Naval base destroying most of our Navy killing about 2,400 of our people. So with one master stroke by Japan we were in the middle of a war on two fronts, the European Theatre of Operations and the Pacific Theatre of Operations. The fighting would go on for almost four years and the aftereffects forever.

The Japanese society forever changed from a war-like, cruel one, with women who were sub-servant to the men to a gentler almost loving society with women who desired and became westernized like the "round eyes". Europe took advantage of the Marshal Plan to become economically powerful with Germany leading the way. Who were some of the enemies of the United States became allies as the heavy boot of Marxist Russia came down heavily on their necks. Because of the war many young male citizens were drafted sapping the strength of the home work force. Women were drafted into the jobs of the men, "Rosie The Riveta" was born and women never were to return exclusively to be masters of the home rather they remained in the workforce demanding equality of everything. The women are still demanding everything and forcing change in all aspects of our lives from the workplace to the bedroom. All these changes and more were brought about and still evolving because of that fateful day.

 But this started with the question, where were YOU on that fateful day (?). Many who experienced that day are no longer with us and most of the living weren't with us some seventy years ago and have their own days and wars such as The Korean War, The Vietnam War and 9/11 which started the War on Terror. As for me I was seven going to be eight in two months and had finished Sunday lunch of Spaghetti and Meatballs, sitting in the backyard of the Saviolas with my friend Frankie and his kid brother. As I remember it was a sunny not particularly cold day and I had overheard my parents discussing what they had just heard over the radio that the Japs (that's what we called them then, remember they were our enemies), had just bombed the heck out of us in a far away place we owned called Hawaii. We were at war and we kids played war games where we, the Americans, beat our enemies everytime. All the grownups wore serious expressions on very grave faces for they knew that the draft that had been in effect for a while was going to become more intense and that our young brothers, and children were going to die in defense of our country. I don't remember much more than that, being in Queens Borough Hill, Flushing, at home on that day. I remember some of the other things about that time though.

My favorite Uncle had to leave for Fort Totten for basic training a few months earlier because our country was preparing to defend ourselves for an oncoming war. He was at the bottom of the stairs to our finished basement and I was on the top I called out his name, he turned and I jumped the whole flight and he caught me hugging me tightly and laughing. We kissed and he left. He did return from many battles safe and sound but never the same man.

The Monday following, Dec. 8, 1941, I had to go to school of course, PS 120. I was on a bathroom pass visit when I ran into a fellow schoolmate who was six months older than I. We talked about being Japped (Already there were derogatory names being attached to our enemies, the Germans were Heinies like behinds, the Italians had enough derogatory names so I don't remember any new ones coming up). We wondered what we would do if the Japs were to invade. I remember that we thought they were small so we'd just beat them up the way Joe Louis beat up all the heavyweight contenders he faced.

My favorite Uncle fought in the Pacific, amphibious Tanks. His letters were like photostats with many lines crossed out. My Grandmother, his mother lived with us and she was led to believe he was in California all this time. My Grandmother was born in 1875 to a poor family and had very little schooling. My Mom would intercept the V-Mail before her mother could get it. Then my mom would re-write the letter, put it in an envelope and mail it. When it came back she'd open it in front of my grandmother and read it to her. My grandmother never suspected the deception and never worried that her son would be killed. My father was too old to go in but many of my cousins saw action, one was seriously wounded, almost killed and carries the bullets around in him today, another received a battlefield commission and accommodation for bravery in action, another saw a lot of action and came out as crazy as he was before he went in. There were many windows that hung stars  and the gold ones signified a lost son, a fallen warrior.

Yes Dec. 7, 1941 for us Americans a day that will live in infamy but also a day that brought good changes.

We helped stop the mad man in Europe, gave Japan a second better life and gave women a chance to become freer and  independent. I'm not sure that was a good thing. (Only joking) We weren't all good though. We treated our Japanese citizens deplorably shipping them off to camps and causing them much hardships. I don't remember the Italians or Germans being subjected to any of that type of thing even though German Town, around 86 Street in New York City, had trouble with the Bund and such. Peculiar though it may be but all the killing, all the hatred, all the tears wrought on the world because of WW II, more good than bad came out of it all. The problem is that the world in general hasn't yet learned that hatred is destructive and only love can bring civilization to the brink of peace on earth to men of good will.  

Thursday, December 1, 2011

December 1, 1901

He was born December 1, 1901 into a large Italian family living in a suburb of Bari, Italy. Even though the family was extra large and out of necessity of the times and circumstances it was filled with love. He grew up loving Soccer and going to school until he was twelve which was OK for the times. His teachers were strict and demanding but they were also kind and forgiving. He learned the Piston Bugle. He had a good voice and sang quite a bit. As all Italians, he knew and loved the operas of Puccini and Verdi. His father was shoe maker, not a repairer but a maker of shoes. He could have learned the trade as did most of his brothers but it was something he was not drawn to. He worked at odd jobs and in his father's little shop but he knew he had to branch out and find himself. This was difficult period for him since he was naturally shy and did not make new friends easily. But by the time he reached his nineteenth birthday he decided to leave his beloved town and join some family that had immigrated to The United States. This was something he dreaded doing, going to a strange place that didn't speak his language or have his customs. He decided he had to go and so he sailed in the lowest deck possible of a tramp steamer to the good old USA to start a new life. Even though he was going to meet his family this took a lot of intestinal fortitude. The year was 1920 and the people in the USA were not so gentle towards the influx of Italians.

He settled in Waterbury, Connecticut near an older sister. He worked in the mills. The area had an influx of Polish immigrants and the Italians and The Poles got along very well as they shared the same problems of becoming integrated in a new society. He was a good looking guy about  5'10", 145 pounds and full head of hair and a good sense of humor. The Polish girls were particularly attracted to his Italian good looks. It was a time when young men bet upon their virility in ways not done today. There was always good natured jabbing about who could eat the most. The Polish guys were big six footers, big boned and muscular. He was slim, in good shape but not threatening. Once a week the Polish guys would put up their champion eater and the Italians would put up this young, good looking slim fellow. The one condition was that they would eat Italian Heroes comprised of what the Italians wanted. They filled it with heavy Provolone, Salami and hot peppers and the contest would start. He would always win which the big bad Polish guys could never understand. Right after the contest he'd walk home for lunch. When the Polish girls heard of his prowess they were more attracted to him. His ability at dance, especially the Tango also helped the girls to be attracted to him. They'd walk to the dances and cut through the local cemetery on the way home. Times were good but somehow he wasn't getting any closer to finding himself. Then He and his family moved to New York City.

He liked the feel of Corona, Queens, a borough of New York City. Corona in the 1920's was considered the country. In a way it reminded him of Bari with the trees, open streets, parks and the rail road running through it. He picked up odd jobs, one being in the large Sunkist, bakery in Long Island City. But he couldn't take the heat of the ovens and one day fainted. He knew he had to find something else. He met a friend of his from Bari who was making it big in the furniture business. He took him on board and he started to learn how to be a furniture finisher. He found a talent to be able to mix and match colors, to smooth the wood, to really put the finishing touches on the raw furniture. He then learned how to re-finish furniture. He realized he had a talent that few had for he could do it all. He found himself in demand. He was at a good trade and getting paid $30 a week so he turned his mind to settling down and raising a family. Around 1925 or so he met a young Italian-American girl who he liked immediately. She had the physical attributes that drew Italian men of that day and she was beautiful, came from a good family AND knew how to cook.

There was no cutting through a cemetery after dates with this girl. The chaperon was her youngest brother and he was brought off with a penny or maybe a nickel. They married in 1929 and had their first son exactly nine months later which had some relatives counting on their fingers. The good jobs however were becoming rarer even for a man in demand such as he was in the Furniture Industry because the Great Depression was only beginning and wouldn't end until the start of World War Two, Dec. 7, 1941. His wife had to contribute and she went to work as a crochet beader and he managed to pick up jobs so they never went hungry but times were tough. Through this they had their second son in 1934.

No matter how tough times were he worked, long hard hours as did his wife. He was always there for the family which included his mother-in-law who lived with them and was treated with the respect and love he had for his own mother. His wife was a little more like a modern woman than he would have liked but he appreciated her drive and ambition. Due to her drive they managed to buy a house in Flushing, Queens, even though he didn't have a steady job but with her working and borrowing from a brother, the one who chaperoned them, they purchased the house. The cost was $6,500 and needed a thousand down and mortgage payments that seem silly now but then, in 1939 were humongous. They didn't have a car so he used the garage to do work in that he would pick up to supplement any income they had. He always worked even when he had a job and he got a vacation, he'd work his vacation. At night after supper he'd go in the garage and re-finish some furniture somebody was paying to re-finish. He was a perfect role model for any boy growing up but his kids were stupid and didn't realize this. He was Italian, knew very little about baseball, had an accent, really didn't know the American experience like their Uncles and Cousins. Kids can be real stupid sometimes and the realization of all the good things do not come until maybe it is too late.

As WW II came to an end the economy came to a boom. He was able to enjoy life a little more as he made more money working less. He entered a couple of business' which weren't grand successes but were good enough to make life better. The family was getting older and while he never fully understood his sons, especially his younger one, he loved them and enjoyed watching them mature into grown men. He was tight lipped about showing his emotions but he was always there for them. When the younger one went into the army he drove him to the Railroad station and as his son was about to depart he hugged and kissed him. The son was sure he saw a tear or two form in his eyes. Just think of it, he was only nineteen when he sailed from his home in Italy to take up a new life in a strange country. Yet he felt distress about his son going into the Army even though he was in his twenty's.

The years started to slip by. He and his wife were taking some trips to California, Florida and such places. They formed a Canasta club with two couples who were Aunts and Uncles. There he showed humor that was hidden from most. His younger son did explore this part of his father's character and found that he had a helluva sense of humor but rarely showed it although he laughed a lot at other people's jokes. When his younger son got married he came to visit always with his tool box so he could fix what his son left undone. He never complained but he wondered aloud to his wife what was wrong with his son who seemed to have no talent for fixing anything.

He was going to retire at his sixty-fifth birthday. That day he went to the bathroom and passed a lot of blood. Examinations revealed  colon cancer. In 1966 this diagnoses was a death notice. There was an operation which was followed by two good years but then a relapse which gave two years of pain with the last nine months that could be called torture until he finally bid this world goodbye in Jan. 1972 at the age of sixty-nine. Nothing but good things were ever said about this man. He was not a great man by the way we define great but in many ways he was better than great. This was a good man who enjoyed life showing great courage, humor and love. He was steadfast to his beliefs which meant being true to family first. He was always there for his wife, sons and whoever needed help in the family. He loved his wife but never in an overly mushy way. He loved his sons but never in a showy way. He just managed to be there for them whenever he was needed doing the best he could. These traits are hard to come by in today's world. The world was a better place when he was in it and a lesser place since he left it        .