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        .
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