Thursday, December 08, 2016


The old adage: "There's a first time for everything", has reared its ugly head.

This past Sunday as I went to the diner with TLW (The Little Woman), to enjoy our usual Sunday morning breakfast. One of the things that come with the breakfast is the free juice of your choice, either apple, orange or tomato, served up along with your first cup of coffee.


OK, I'm a big boy or an old man, so I'll get over it. We ask for tomato juice because we didn't want to knock ourselves in the head thinking we could have had a V-8!

Out comes the juice for TLW and me when I take a sip and am shocked. Having put in pepper and a little salt, I wondered just how much pepper I put into it, as a shocking spiciness goes from my lips all the down to my stomach, leaving me in surprise. I watch TLW take her first sip, and she raises her eyebrows and looks at me. "Ah!" I thought I didn't put in too much pepper after all! She's willing to brave it out, I'm not. I call over the waitress and tell her the drink is loaded. Her eyes brighten and realize what happened, she had taken the wrong juice, the one with the Bloody Mary mix instead of the tomato juice.

Ok, she brings me a new juice with a straw in it, and sure enough, it is right. Immediately following the delivery of the juice my cheese omelet comes with the toast etc., and the food is placed down in front of me. I start to make room for the toast, to bring it closer when my arm hits the straw knocking over the tomato juice onto my lap, seat and floor, and as I am reaching for a napkin, I knock off the fork onto the floor! That was the first time in my life I ever did anything like that!

Totally disorganized, embarrassed and surprised, I don't know what to do first, the waitress running off to get towelettes and towels to soak up the tomato juice. I scamper all over, wiping my pants, seat and trying to get my fork off the floor, I realized: I should have ordered a V-8!

Wednesday, December 07, 2016


crunched-up gathering of one or both hands,
If you are Italian/American, then you know the importance of the hands. Italian hands can do it all, from delicate cooking and baking to stone and masonry. While it labors out of love, it also can communicate messages far beyond the written and spoken word. To be Italian means you are multi-lingual, communication with both speech and hands.

The hands have a power by the movement Italians impose on them from a prayerful wave to a crunched-up gathering of one or both hands, we do need to be understood. The beauty of the Italian communicant is he or she can raise the level of the voice or the position of the hand to convey once or more than once the same message.

Grandma was a hand user to the nth power, and often under the flurry of words came the flow of movements. You never saw her mouth move because her hands were in the way! You got the message, she didn't have to point. The thing is when she spoke, her hands flashed from all the rings she was wearing, it is amazing she got them high when she was raising her voice from the weight of the jewelry!
Grandpa, on the other hand, was a quiet man, never raised his voice or hands above his hips. One hand motion lasted the whole sentence while Grandma needed many motions to complete a sentence.

We had a cousin Mauro who was deaf, and we always spoke to him in sign language, that is with our hands very high in the air.

English sign language is very different from Italian, there are more symbols to spell out although there aren't as many letters.

When we all got together on the holidays, Grandma's kitchen was crowded with women that let it all loose, hands flying everywhere, the air vibrated so much you needed a sweater! The din alone from Aunt Tessie telling a story and asking for confirmation from Uncle Joe added to the noise level, causing the National Seismograph Association to report of tremors in the heart of Brooklyn!

If you broke a hand or had it in a cast, what could you say?  One aunt was very quiet, and everyone thought she was angry, turns out she was just sitting on her hands.

Tuesday, December 06, 2016


I can't remember when you weren't there
When I didn't care for anyone but you
I swear we've been through everything there is
Can't imagine anything we've missed
Can't imagine anything the two of us can't do

Through the years
You've never let me down
You turned my life around
The sweetest days I've found
I've found with you
Through the years
I've never been afraid
I've loved the life we've made
And I'm so glad I stayed
Right here with you
Through the years

I can't remember what I used to do
Who I trusted whom, I listened to before
I swear you've taught me everything I know
Can't imagine needing someone so
But through the years it seems to me
I need you more and more

Through the years
Through all the good and bad
I knew how much we had
I've always been so glad
To be with you
Through the years
It's better every day
You've kissed my tears away
As long as it's okay
I'll stay with you
Through the years

Through the years
When everything went wrong
Together we were strong
I know that I belong
Right here with you
Through the years
I never had a doubt
We'd always work things out
I've learned what life's about
By loving you
Through the years

Through the years
You've never let me down
You turned my life around
The sweetest days I've found
I've found with you
Through the years
It's better every day
You've kissed my tears away
As long as it's okay
I'll stay with you
Through the years

This is one of my favorite Kenny Rogers songs. It is not only beautiful with the lyrics, but more importantly, the sentiment that goes along with it, it is how I feel toward TLW (The Little Woman). Corny, I know, but give an old fool his time.

I decided to take better control of my life recently and decided I needed to throw out things that at my age are no longer relevant or useful. I have my memories and tokens that I kept, but there are things that are no longer needed and are just taking up space.

Discovering in my 45 years of married life I owned an awful lot of wristwatches, gifts from my family and friends, cufflinks, fancy and dandy, initialed and studded with all kinds stones and pearls, gold, and silver, some showing places on them and some with beautiful designs. I found three pocket watches and one stopwatch.

Another collection I found was old eyeglasses. So, I decided I would take them and wear them by switching them during the day to confuse TLW. She noticed one pair, but not t the other. Life can be fun.

Then I found 45 years worth of hotel complimentary soaps, shampoos, mending kits, and body lotions that I amassed. My philosophy until recently was they are free, so take them home. Why? I have no idea, but between my armoire and my bedroom closet I had amassed quite a horde! I found a ring my grandmother gave me for my high school graduation and a pocket watch my boss gave me for Christmas back in the 70's!

But the best thing I found among the old cards TLW sent me was a beautiful letter she penned 35 years ago. I won't say what she said, but it did touch me very deeply, and when I read it, with all the memories I had just gone through, the Kenny Rogers song started to play in my head, and so there you have it.

Monday, December 05, 2016


Yes, it’s that time of the year again! Santa is coming to town.

I hated Santa, I never said that out loud, but I did hate him. My parents held him over my head as a bargaining chip. “Joseph, go to bed, Santa is watching! Joseph, eat those peas, Santa is watching!”

Often we would sit around the kitchen table, and as my folks tried to convince me I had to do this or that a knock would come out of nowhere. Mom: “Did you hear that! That was Santa Joseph, you better behave!”

One day while sitting at the kitchen table, there was this big black and thick stove pipe that led from our cast iron stove to the ceiling. Being inquisitive as 5-year olds are, I asked how Santa was able to get into our house without a chimney for a fireplace. Dad pointed to the stove pipe and I asked: “Isn’t that too skinny for Santa to come down in?” “No, he’s Santa!”

These days and for the last 20-years or so, I play Santa for a dance for people with disabilities and a home for some of those very same people. My how the tables changed! They tell me all kinds of things, and all kinds of questions, so of which I can’t answer, or requests beyond my power. Yet they persist in trying to get me to commit to a promise I can’t make. Funny how things work out.

When my kids were young and still believers, we would drive home from my parent’s home on Christmas Eve, see a plane in the night sky with flashing lights and I would tell them that that was Santa and his reindeer. My son would be all excited so I would tell him: “When we get home, you better go right to bed or he won’t come!” This worked wonders as I needed the time to assemble all the toys.

And so I wonder what my little granddaughter is believing, or what her father is leading her to believe, is he watching? Is Santa listening?

Christmas elicits many childhood memories, all wonderful and magical and filled with great moments. I hope my little Darby Shea can have her own starting this year.

Sunday, December 04, 2016


Growing up in my family under the tutoring of my mother and father, it was a dynamic structure that I lived under. This structure was by design made to foster my total obedience and understanding that I would stay in line or else.

Mom was a dictator! Plain and simply said she was a dictator! The only rule more oppressive was Hitler's or Stalin's, that was because I was more cooperative than the German or Russian people were.

There was a psychological component to Mom's methods, obey or fear the consequences based on my own behavior. Whatever I did wrong and intentional, would be based on my decision or forethought and was subject to what loomed in perhaps a very limited future.

There was backup to Mom's rule, a wooden spoon and another psychological component she used: "WAIT ‘til your Father comes home!" This was to say that there is always a two-part plan to keep me in line: 1) The wooden spoon, 2) Dad. When Dad was advised: "Did you know what YOUR son did today?" Dad would listen and maybe shake his head. At the tender age of 5 or 6, I was known as a ‘rip'. What's a rip I don't know, but I was one.

In her psychological war using words only, she often used: "WAIT, Just Wait to you have children like yourself" or "Someday, I HOPE you have children just like yourself!" a rather mean thing to wish on me. "The way you make your bed is how you will sleep in it!" This statement was made to confuse me, I had NO idea what she was talking about! "WHAT YOU DO TO ME, I HOPE YOUR CHILDREN DO TO YOU, NO, TWICE THEY SHOULD DO IT!"

Most of the trouble I got into was simple things like teasing my younger sister who was always on the verge of "Poor me Mamma"! A situation might materialize like this:

"Ma! He's looking at me!"
"JOSEPH, stop looking at your sister!"
"Ma! He's still looking at me!"
"Then don't look back!"

Guilt was an effective tool to use on me, as often Mom would yell, ‘STOP, YOU ARE GOING TO MAKE ME BUST!" I, of course, would stand back in fear of the explosion. Her usual declaration before corporal punishment as she reached for the wooden spoon was: "OK, I've had it UP TO HERE!" This was the trigger for lightning fast foot movement!

Mom was very skillful as a negotiator.
"Ma, can I have a bike?"
"Why not?"
"Because I said so!"
But Gerry's father got him a bike."
"Good! Go ask Gerry's father for one."

Control of me outside of Mom's line of sight went like this: as I stood in front of her, ready for my first grade class, she would look down at me, and wave her index finger to yell: "IF I FIND OUT THE TEACHER HAD TO DISCIPLINE YOU TODAY, WHEN YOU GET HOME, I WILL GIVE YOU THE REST!

Ah! The house of discipline designed with me in mind.

I love my mother, without that love I could have turned out worse, thanks, Ma.

Saturday, December 03, 2016


Yes, that time of year has arrived, I get to play Santa Clause for my people, those with developmental disabilities. I do this as a small gift to people who love easily without looking for payback, unpretentious and accepting of me. They are the forgotten, known only to their families often disowned because of a quirk in nature, abandoned because they become an imposition to their families lives, and embarrassment and an affront to their family pride.

Some families are blessed. There are no mental disabilities causing strain in communicating, no physical disabilities causing hardship, just everyday life rewarded by nothing but normalcy. Some people are blessed with opportunities to make money or achieve fame or notoriety, others suffer from the lack of the ability to stand or feed themselves, who cry out on deaf ears because the clatter of normalcy is but a din.

There are families who embrace the pain of their children’s suffering, fearing for their safety, especially when as parents they are no longer here to advocate or defend their child. They are heroes in my mind, but maybe I’m naive, maybe they should run too.

As a father of a person with a developmental disability, with physical disabilities, with a lack of speech and ability to communicate, it is like going to that child’s wake every day. You mourn the passing of your child daily. It can sometimes be a lonely world, one filled with despair and longing for a haven of relief. It never comes. Instead, as you travel through the world of normalcy, trying to keep your child within the acceptable limits of what is expected of them by society, you fall prey to anger and resentment of strangers who watch. Your child can’t maneuver a stairway, cross a street without endangering herself and you while people stare, agape with almost a morbid curiosity. You feel dirty, you feel like you have a disability, but you also feel rage at the world at large as they judge.

But when I play Santa, all that changes. Every year there is a Holiday dance. Santa appears and 400 people with disabilities, who can’t talk or can’t walk or struggle at what we take for granted, gather together as one group to dance with each other and get a picture with Santa. Getting that picture of Santa is very important to them, they line up and wait patiently sometimes, sometimes not so patiently. Their ‘normalcy’ lies within their walls, the walls that imprison then with mental and developmental disabilities. But they love each other, smiling and laughing and being who they are without the need for convention other than their own.

And what do they ask Santa for? Some ask for presents for themselves, since they have no one else in their lives. Some are boyfriend and girlfriend! Some ask for health for their dying parent. Some ask me to make their parent better. These Santa believers are in their 50’s and 60’s! Their parents are dying from old age and disabilities themselves.

Recently a man among this gentle population passed away. He was a character, verbal and filled with life. He would tell me whoppers sprinkled with salty language, appropriate for a bar room than a group home, something he learned from his past before he got the help he was getting from the agency. He was a man who was blind, crippled and slowly weakening to the point that we had him in an ICU the final days of his life. As I sat there next to his bed, I looked at him in his silence and pained look, a child in spirit suffering, knowing that he was someone’s child, someone who no longer resided on the Earth, but someone’s child, none the less! All too often I have seen this, been in this situation and felt the pain and wondered if that person’s parent was watching over him/her, and what their hearts said. It took me back to my own child, her fear when we take her to a doctor or hospital because she doesn’t understand. The look of fear looms very large in a crisis for anyone, but for someone who doesn’t understand, it looks suffocating!

So, my Christmas Holiday will be on the night of December 9th, a dance and I will play Santa. The celebrants all believe I am Santa, they love me, kiss and hug me and tell me they love me. They trust me to be Santa and I know I am deceiving them, but maybe I’m not. Maybe I am just a surrogate Santa, subbing for the real thing. All I do know is I make them happy by wearing a costume and fake beard, but they are happy and so am I.

I will spend Christmas Day December 25 quietly, a nice dinner with my beautiful wife and hopefully one of my sons and my developmentally disabled daughter. But it will be a day of gratitude that I was asked to fill the role of Santa and bring joy to souls that are in need of it.

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 02, 2016


Entering a holiday season as we do today, I can’t help but reflect on all those who have passed.  They were important to the holiday spirit, they taught us how to celebrate, what to celebrate and why their spirit still does. We can pass the lessons and traditions down, but without them, we know we are not doing it perfectly. Somehow it’s not the same!

Was it Mom’s gentle kiss, or Grandma’s smooch that we can best recall? Was it an Aunt Tessie that bit your cheek or Aunt Angie that stuffed your pockets with money or candy, a finger to her lips admonishing you not to tell.

Was it Uncle Joe who teased you when he caught you and locked you in between his ankles as you struggled to get out, or was Uncle Frank with his pipe and thoughtful demeanor that you best remember?

Recalling Grandma’s giant kitchen, the arrival of cousins, the pasta pot smoking away as the steam rose to the ceiling, the Italian conversation as vivid as that in English, the laughter, oh the laughter, persistent, hearty and full. I can still see Grandpa with his jugs of wine, grandma’s orders as she captained the family gathering orchestrating the preparation of the meal. He baton, a wooden spoon.

I even remember once viewing grandma’s wooden spoon and wondered if it hurt like Mom’s did, a curious curiosity.

Thanksgiving was an Italian holiday in Grandma’s house. The tradition was a pasta lead followed by your Sunday courses and somewhere in between a turkey was slipped in, just to make the American in us happy. Grandma was not a turkey fan, she would rather have capon, so every year it was capon and turkey. She would put out the capon, and everyone would say at least once: “Grandma doesn’t like turkey, she eats capon!”

We all forgave of her un-American activity (eating capon) because she was so amazing. This little Italian lady ran a successful business and housing empire, owning a restaurant and vegetable and fruit store while running numerous apartment buildings on very little English.

Her kitchen was a meeting place for the appreciative and the desperate. Grandma was a sponsor for so many people that came to America from Italy, and a much-needed friend who had financial troubles or wanting advice about issues beyond their comprehension.

As I survey the scene today I notice I stand alone with these memories. They are all gone, all to hopefully a better place, home. Their laughter, their accents, their homey touch of love with gestures, so clear that you knew it was the universal language in a universe small in comparison beyond the walls of her kitchen.

I guess I am lucky that I lived when I did. I experienced the last of the Italian/American spirit. You sat with them and ate, and everything else followed. The hand gestures spoke volumes when it came to understanding, the joy of hearing them speak in both their native and adoptive tongues, their pinching of a cheek, waving their hands in a prayerful manner, their perpetual smile that said: “Ti amo!” And we knew it.

Someday, we too will go home. We will leave some kind of memory to our offspring and the generations to follow. I don’t know what the legacy will read, but I do hope that it is something about us that will warm a heart of two.