Sunday, June 16, 2019


Dad was the focus of Father’s Day as I grew up. What to get dad? He didn’t wear ties, wasn’t a clotheshorse, didn’t play golf, and didn’t go to the opera. It was difficult to show appreciation for Dad who told me so many stories of his youth, or the fact that he got up every day and went to work to feed us.

When I became a dad I was treated specially by my kids in their own way, I wasn’t a spanker like Dad, took a long journey into the day to NYC via the LIRR or drove forever to Port Washington because the distances were where the jobs are. But these two examples pale in comparison to what is by far the most important day to come up, my son Anthony’s father’s day.

If you don’t know already, he lost his wife one year ago this June 18th and was faced with raising a 4-year old and a newborn while the child’s mom passed on the delivery table. The shock would kill me, but not my son, he forged ahead and made plans to soothe this horror from his daughter and to raise these two beautiful children without a mom. I know he goes somewhere in his world to deal with all this and my wife and I try to be there for him, but we feel like intruders because let’s face it, we couldn’t conjure up enough empathy to truly understand this pain.

He has two very happy children in his midst; being raised against the odds as normal and loving children who love us. Anthony has done the hardest thing on Earth and has done it expertly he is my hero. So this Father’s Day will be about him and only him.

Anthony, I look at you in deep admiration, your greatest achievement has been your children and your ministry as a father, protector, and teacher. Courtney may have left us, but her children are in the best hands she could possibly find.


Love, Mom, and Dad

Saturday, June 15, 2019



If Grandma had taken better care of herself, she would have been 128 years old this past January! But no, she ate whatever she wanted, drank anything she wanted, and worked long hard hours. She passed at 97, much too young to go. Her idea of a vacation was a pilgrimage to Italy, to support an orphanage she created for children who lost their parents during the war and the Church named it after her, or organize bus rides to upstate New York for those very same children.

She, like all the Italian grandmas in Brooklyn: wore black. This was very unsettling for grandpa, and he always avoided naps.

Grandma ran the house, the family and my grandpa like a prized stallion he always was doing something because of her. Every little creak was attended to, the house was in tip-top shape and it was almost a religious experience for grandpa.

On Sunday, he would sneak out to the Republican Club next door for a di Napoli cigar, and a whiskey, while holding his own in a pinochle game and some rest or respite from grandma. This, of course, irritated grandma who wanted him attending Mass on Sunday. The Sunday ritual was after Mass at Our Lady of Loreto, grandma would cook her sauce for the dinner or should I say feast that would follow about one or two o’clock that afternoon. On her gas stove stood a pot that could hide a fat man over 6 feet tall. Her kitchen was the size of Texas and everything was done in it, cooking, sewing, yelling and eating plus laundry and paying the bills. She ran a self-sustaining farm with every kind of vegetable and spice she could fit in it, the ground lovingly nurtured by grandpa, down to the marbles he had scattered for some reason. With all those marbles, he never lost one!

In the garden stood a fig tree one that was wrapped in the winter in linoleum carpets, and grapevines that overhung the cement patio. Figs were a big part of the diet, you ate them with a glass of wine, and they were sweet and delicious, and inviting when I looked at them. The grapes were sour white grapes that would eventually turn red and sweet, for his homemade wine. In his cellar, he pressed them and then after a while everything was bottled.

Grandma did have one habit that stuck with the whole family. On Saturday night, she would cook up a steak. As I grew up in Brooklyn, the steak was the meal for Saturday nights, as it is in my house every Saturday night. But grandma’s steaks were special, nothing fancy but they were cooked over an open flame on an old gas stove in her basement. The smell was just so tempting, so delicious and so darn good. When mom sent me off to confession of Saturday afternoon to lie to the priest, I would be getting hungry knowing that steak was in my future in an hour or so, cooked on an open flame, just like grandma.

Grandma never smoked and had her nieces hiding from her so they could puff away, but in the end, she didn’t care if you smoked, after all, it was another nail in your coffin.

It was hard to say goodbye. Grandma would see to it that everyone had a private audience. Saying goodbye meant that you would receive special attention as you tried your darnedest to get out of the house. There was a long whispered conversation, filled with expressions that told stories you couldn’t understand, hand gestures that punctuated the thoughts and little children, standing next to their mothers fighting off sleep. Husbands would be yelling at their wives to get going they had to work in the morning. Gossip was saved for the end.

In grandma’s cupboard in her kitchen was a collection of wedding favors, all wrapped with sugarcoated almonds in a lace-like material that was distributed at Easter Sunday for a small snack before the nuts and pastries. Life was good and so were the pastries. Grandma must have attended at least one wedding a week because she knew so many people, people she sponsored or financially helped, people who needed favors and she went out and get it done for them, people who needed her and she needed to have them need her.

Grandma was a big deal in the Our Lady of Loreto church. She made the pilgrimages for orphans but also for the special needs of the church, building funds, repair funds, dances and whatever Jesus called her to do.

And so her grandson writes about her, thinks of her bravery as a 15-year-old girl who couldn’t speak English and yet owned a fruit and vegetable store, a restaurant and apartment houses, and wonders: was that the American dream?

I love you, grandma you make me proud and the American dream was you!

Friday, June 14, 2019


Many years ago on a Saturday morning when I was about 12 years old, my Dad said to me: “I have to take your Mother to the dentist. I expect Zio Felice to come with Grandma and your Aunt to see our house for the first time. If they come while I’m away, show them around.”

This left me a little unsettled and I didn’t relish the idea of entertaining 3 old people who were very important to Dad. Not only that, Dad was getting suspicious of my mental capacity as I started liking Rock and Roll music. I had no respect for Caruso, let alone Sinatra! In Dad’s later years he became a big fan of Elvis!

He stood at 4’ 7” tall, weighed about 120 pounds, and sported a long handlebar mustache and went by the name of Zio Felice or in English, Uncle Felix. His big handlebar mustache and fedora was his trademark, with eyes that seemed to be merrily twinkling as he spoke.

During the Great Depression as well as World War II or “Il Seconda Guerra Mondiale” as he called it, Zio Felice worked as a gang foreman on a construction crew, building large multi-storied complexes out of brick and concrete. He fed a family of 19 children and they all stood at attention when he came home, all towering over him. Standing at the dinner table they waited for Poppa to sit first, then when he gave them the OK they could sit. 19 Children required an iron hand, strict discipline and a strong need to find a hobby.

Sure enough, the entourage arrives with a flourish, as the little giant steps from the car and I greet him on this particularly bright and sunny morning. Greeting my Grandmother who grabs my cheeks as she smooches away she leads me to Zio Felice. We shake hands and I study his eyes wondering if I am doing OK and what he will tell my father. I immediately escort him and those that follow into the house. Throughout all the rooms my grandmother and Zio Felice converse in Italian and finally, take them back outside to the front of the house at his request.

“Tella me, awhata you doer over here?”

“What do you mean?” I ask.

He points to a spot off the center of the lawn, about halfway toward the street, and says to me:

“Wella over here a you puta the brickza inna a nizer bigger circle anda inna the middle a here you puta the flagga pole. Onna the bottom offa the flaga pole you puta the flowersa, ander with a nizer colors.

“Then I put a niza picture offa Garibaldi!” I whispered under my breath.

“You gottem un a flagger pole? You runner upper the nizer beautiful flagger, no?”
After I was married I got word that he had passed away, living in Babylon with one of his children. My Irish wife and I went to the wake and paid our respects to a large family that filled the capacity of the room where he lay to the hallway outside of it.

He died in the early 1970s at the tender age of 93 it might have been the DiNapoli Cigars that did it!


Thursday, June 13, 2019


For some strange reason, I was thinking about my grandfather, my dad’s father, Grandpa Ralph. To us kids he was Grandpa: to Grandma Frances he was Raphael.Grandpa was a very calm man, never said much, but when he did, everybody would pause for the moment and then continue on in life. He was a handsome man, who wore a mustache all his life. In fact, when he was born my great grandfather is rumored to have said: “Che cosa è quella cosa sotto il suo naso?” (What's that thing growing under his nose?"
Grandpa was Grandma’s husband, handyman, and doer of all chores. Grandpa tried to avoid grandma whenever possible.

Grandpa had a grey fedora he wore most times yet it seemed like every moment of every day. I think he was born in it. In fact, it is rumored that my great grandfather once said when grandpa was born: “Da dove quel cappello è venuto?” (Where is he going with that hat?)
Every Sunday Grandma would go to church at Our Lady of Loretto on Sackman Street in Brooklyn. That’s “A Sackaman Streeet, a Brookaleen” as she would say. Grandpa did his praying too. While Grandma prayed for deliverance from the evils of the world, Grandpa prayed that she would leave him alone for ten minutes. So while Grandma was in church, Grandpa was next door at the Republican Club-playing pinochle.
Many years ago on Easter Sunday as was the custom, the whole clan gathered on Fulton Street for Easter dinner at Grandma’s house. It was never Grandpa’s house, always Grandma’s house. They came from Hull Street, Coney Island and Patchogue, NY, all dressed in our Sunday best, all expecting to eat heartily and listen to tales of Italy, Naples, and Bari. The men would gather after dinner to play cards and the ladies gossip while the cousins all congregated in the long hallway to play.
This one Sunday dinner was almost ready, but no one could find Grandpa! Grandma was stirring the big pasta pot and ordered one of the kids to go next door to the Republican Club and get Grandpa and tell him to she said to come NOW!
Just then Dad started to relate to me a story about Grandpa.
It seems it was a Sunday long ago and dad was about 10-years old, and Grandpa was missing as dinner was about to be served. Grandma sent Dad out to get Grandpa from the Republican Club to quit his card game and come home to dinner.
Dad followed orders and went searching for Grandpa and found him where Grandma said he was, holding his cards close to his vest a Napoli cigar stuck in his mouth, a shot of whiskey on the table next to his red, white, and blue chips. Dad relayed the info from Grandma and went home. No Grandpa shows up!
Grandma is furious and tells Dad to go once more and get Grandpa and tell him he better come because she means business. Off Dad goes, returns and still no Grandpa!
Grandma makes a phone call and waits by the front door. This is the late twenties when a paddy wagon comes and raids the Republican Club. She goes outside and stands there watching as the police lead out the gamblers one at a time. Out comes Grandpa, who says: “Francesca, dice loro che sono il vostro marito.” (Frances, tell them I’m your husband.)
The police ask Grandma if she knows who he is and will she take him home.
“I’ma sorry officer, I’ma no know him.”
Grandpa always came immediately after that.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019


It came in the mail, a long letter from Grandma’s sister Magdalena, that their brother Felice was coming to America with his wife and young children to settling in Brooklyn. Felice was the oldest brother and since their poppa had died, Felice was the titular head of the family. There are many legends about Felice and some lore. Felice had to eat macaroni every night be it in Italy, America, or deep in the forests of Africa. While he stood at the rails of the ship taking him to America, someone told him there was NO macaroni in America. Felice became so overcome with despair he headed to the rails to jump from the ship and swim back to Italy while they had to restrain him from jumping overboard!

Uncle or ‘Zio’ Felice was about 4’ 7” tall with a big fat handlebar mustache that legend holds he was born with. He had the strength of a bull and the determination to match. Grandma hooked him up with a friend in the bricklayers union and he went to work, slowly becoming the gang foreman. The day he died he left behind 18 children and one deceased hero who died on the beaches if Anzio during World War II. It seems his son wished to become a priest and Zio Felice would not hear of it and so his son joined the U.S. Army where God took his son away from him.

It was a matter of fact that Zio Felice ruled with an iron hand. With 19 children, everyone was required to stand at the kitchen table until he sat and was served first, then the rest of the family sat. What did they eat? Macaroni, with meat, vegetables,  or any concoction his wife made.

Through the years my Uncle Joe, my dad’s younger brother got a job working for him. Being he was my uncle’s nephew, he showed him no favoritism and assigned him to the wheel barrel carry bricks up a long wooden plank to the various floors of the apartments and office buildings they were constructing. By the time lunch came around, Uncle Joe’s hands were raw, calloused and bleeding and he went to Zio Felice and said he couldn’t do it anymore. Taking him aside Zio Felice said in Italian: Piss on your hands, it will make them hardened and go back to work! He did, and my uncle would brag about that story as did my dad confirm it for years.

In 1930 Grandma turned the fruit and vegetable store into a great profit maker in spite of the Great Depression and decided to buy another building and in its storefront open a restaurant. Her restaurant fed the local Italian population and during the week did a great business especially at lunchtime. Weekends saw her restaurant serving meals that they might make at home to not only the immigrants who could afford to dine outside their own kitchen but other locals. Irish, German, and ‘Medicanos’ (Americans) who came to eat ‘Eyetalian’ food and her reputation grew. She employed her teenage son, my Dad who delivered pizzas and other foods for dinners and lunch to the locals.
My Pop! 28 years ago today he passed.

Then the worst thing that could happen to an Italian American indeed happened. The mob moved in upstairs! At first, it was an accommodation of them paying their rent on time at a reduced rate and Grandma keeping her mouth shut. Then one day on a Friday afternoon, Dad answered the phone and call was from upstairs asking for a pizza. The pie was made and Dad brought it upstairs and knocked on the door. Entering the apartment there stood three or four men gathered around an individual seated, his hands behind his back. Suddenly one of the standing gentlemen picked up a thick glass ketchup bottle and slammed it over the seated man’s head, shattering it all over! Dad dropped the pizza on the table and didn’t wait to be paid while being admonished that he didn’t see anything! Grandma immediately sold the building and moved out.

As the depression wore on her kids were the only ones who had money and grandma would get all my dad’s friends and treat them to the movies with enough for candy. As they all grew, Pearl Harbor occurred and they entered the army to fight. With her generosity, she became Zia Francesca to the whole neighborhood. In the years to come, many of these adults came to formally pay respects to her and visit her on a Sunday or holiday.

There is a story about a woman that came to America under the sponsorship of Grandma. Grandma housed her and helped her get on her feet in her new country. Carmela needed to go to Manhattan for some reason and couldn’t speak English. What to do? Her trip on the A train was about 15 stops or so grandma took her aside and gave her 15 pennies. Every time the subway train stopped, she was to take one penny and put it in her coat pocket. When she put the last penny in her pocket she was to leave the train, go up onto the street and find a cop or someone she felt she could trust and hand a note to the person asking for where a certain building was.

This penny plan would have been a great idea… maybe, except for the one thing Grandma didn’t think about: rush hour! After a few stops, the train lurched into a station and the crowd stampeded out the door all at once knocking the pennies from Carmela’s hands all over the car. It was the police who returned her late that day to Grandma, Carmela in tears. Carmela learned quickly that America was NOT paved streets of gold and certainly NOT a small hick town outside of Naples.

Grandma continued her dream. She was the matriarch of her family as her children married and scattered over Brooklyn within walking distance from East New York, Brownsville, Bushwick, and Bed-Sty. Grandma decided that with the money she made from all her enterprises she would expand her interest and bought a duplex in Patchogue, Long Island, New York where she rented it to two of her children, Joe and Angie

Tuesday, June 11, 2019


Jesus was a prophet working the Middle East and became famous telling parables and making things perfectly clear with miracles and teachings that made an impression on people. Many collaborated and together wrote a book called the ‘New Testament' about Jesus and his ministry.

Mom was a prophet also. She didn't walk on water unless she was mopping the floors, she could turn a fish and loaf of bread on short notice if company turned up unexpectedly and while every knee bent and head bowed at the name of Jesus, I kind of ducked and avoided Mom's wooden spoon therapy. She was an amazing teacher, going to great lengths to get a point across, usually four or five laps around the dining room table in hot pursuit, wooden spoon waving menacingly in the air inches from my head.

Jesus reminded us of the gates of Hell, Mom reminded me of the arrival of Dad. Jesus was nicer.

But Mom had a prediction or two. Here are a few of her better ones.

"Wait! Just wait until your father comes home."

"Wait, just wait until YOU have kids!" She was big on waiting.

"What, do I look like I belong to the Lighting Company? Shut all these lights!"

"You are going to make me bust!"

"How much butter are you putting on that toast?  A whole pound of butter???"

"Whoa, stop wasting, what am I made of money?"

"Mom, how come we don't go on vacation more?"
Mom: You want a vacation? I want a vacation, leave me alone.

Mom was a very good money manager; "Joseph, go ask your father for some money for the collection, we leave for church soon."

Being a churchgoer, Mom made me one at the tender age of 6. She had two hands and I had two ears, and so off we went, ear in hand to church.

One Sunday Mom ordered me to go to Dad, wake him up and tell him I needed money for the church. Dad gave me two nickels and off to church I went, ear in hand with Mom. Mom had a pious look akin to Mother Teresa, without the nice, if she detected an infraction upon her world order, someone paid, me! I decided one Sunday after I shook down my dad for the two nickels I would substitute the nickels with 2 silver buttons. This was a mistake, especially when it came to money for Jesus.

Since I had an eye on spending the two nickels on something to eat, the usher showed up, stuck his bamboo basket under my nose and so I released the first of my buttons. Mom watched but said nothing. The second collection came along, and just like the first, I released the other button, right under Mom's nose and once again, she said nothing. In fact, she said nothing all the way home, in spite of my willingness to initiate conversations, ending on the third floor in front of our apartment door, where I was dragged inside and reminded all day long that, maybe it wasn't such a good idea!

But the best thing she ever gave me was her love. She felt that I should be better than I behaved as she had faith in the idea and strongly enforced that concept. Later in years, I realized what she was telling me was I needed to be there for others someday, especially my children, to give them a good example and lead them by discipline and example. So I never gave MY kids 2 nickels!

Mom passed away five years ago today, I miss her and wish she could see her great grandkids.


As a rule, I like to travel without underwear. No, I’m not a pervert I just forget to do things like chew gum and nothing else at the same time.

As we packed for our trip to California I packed for eight days of travel and then we would wash all our clothes for another week's worth of travel fun. I opened up my armoire and start ed to take out what I needed. Jeans, shirts, socks, handkerchiefs and counted out the underwear. I carried everything to the suitcase that was opened in another bedroom on the bed and placed it all neatly inside the case.

Off to California we fly, get into our rental place and unpack. I place all my stuff in the drawers and realize that once again, I FORGOT TO PACK MY UNDERWEAR! The second time for Bozo, or as I like to be called: Mr. Bozo.

“We’ll have to go out tomorrow and buy underwear!” says TLW!

Off to Walmart, we go and as we are there any way we decide to get some ‘staples’ for the house. Beer, scotch, and wine were immediately procured and while at it we got some paper products, coffee and such.

We go home and TLW starts putting it all away, suddenly I hear a: “OH NO!”

“Guess what we forgot to get!!!???”

“Well I’m not getting my head examined, so that’s not it, I don’t know… we got the beer, wine scotch, and even champagne, so WHAT could we have possible forgotten???”




After their wedding in 1915, Grandma Frances and Grandpa Joe moved into an apartment in Brooklyn to begin life. Being an immigrant family of two, Grandpa Joe missed his garden and the working of the soil with his hands. Finding a small place on Long Island in a town called Rockville Center he moved to grow his family and maintain a garden. This is what he knew from the old country, it was what every Italian immigrant wanted and along with their faith and religious traditions made it happen. It was in Rockville Center that Dad and his younger siblings began their lives.

In 1919 when Grandpa Giuseppe passed from the Spanish Influenza my grandmother Francesca suddenly found her world totally upside down. No longer was the dream for two, but a nightmare for one. Facing her responsibilities of three young children she suddenly needed to find an affordable place to live. Having retreated to Rockville Center she found a shack and settled in for the harshness of her new life.

Being a woman who knew no fear and harboring a fighting spirit she managed to maintain the fruit and vegetable store when Grandpa Joe’s best friend Ralph stepped in. Ralph became the brawn of the operation and eventually married Francesca. This had to be a good man to marry a woman with three small children and take them on as his own. Being an immigrant and laborer in the early part of the 20th Century it was only natural for Ralph to apply his strengths where needed and there was an opportunity to fulfill his need to help his best friend’s family. As the years progressed Grandpa Ralph developed a daily routine as Grandma was growing the business, Grandpa Ralph managed to purchase a horse and wagon and with his little dog Ginger at his side, every morning he would hitch the horse to the wagon and go to the Hunts Point Market for the daily produce needed for sale at the fruit and vegetable store. The horse would stop at every red light and move forward when it was green! Ginger, the little dog sat and watched when anything that seemed out of the ordinary happened would bark, waking up Grandpa Ralph who was fast asleep behind the reins and under his fedora. When Grandpa returned to Brooklyn he would set up the fruits and vegetables and sell while Grandma Francesca found work sewing buttons on coats during the day and bringing home more of it at night to supplement the dream.

Two people who spoke very little English were daring the bigots to stop these two Italians from surviving and making a difference in their lives. ‘Dagoes’ and ‘Whops’ were remaking the American brand and destroying the prejudice that was rampant in America at the time... Suddenly, American culture was woven with a new thread, the Italian spirit. This spirit would not bend to the ugliness that was directed their way heads held high and shoulders burdened they proved time and again that Italians would be in America to stay.

Slowly the business started to grow, as Italian immigrants would gather at the vegetable and fruit stand to purchase and sometimes when needed, where credit would be extended sometimes with a little extra in the bag.

Grandma decided she now had enough to buy the building and rent three floors upstairs. But, grandma’s dream was not fulfilled just yet. Grandma was a cook, a great cook who could turn the simplest of ingredients into something to love and remember.

The neighbors now knew about Francesca and Rafael, and it wasn’t just the Italians who patronized their store. Local politicians who were gaining influence in the community got to know “Zia Francesca’ as she came to be known. People needed money or an extension of their loan grandma gave it to them if she felt they honestly needed it. Italian immigrants back in the early to mid-twenties were experiencing the depression long before it began. With this poverty came the great cuisine we pay for so dearly in restaurants to give substance and nourishment to their families. Peppers and eggs, pasta faggioli, potato and eggs, and penne primavera were simple low-cost dishes that became the stables of these poor Italian immigrants.

There was a child whose name now escapes me who seemed to be nobody’s child roaming the streets and surviving on very little. No one knew where he came from and where he was going. He seemed to tag along with my dad and his friends and grandma would often feed him. He was close to the vest and seemed to have a passion for life. Grandma would offer him shelter and feed him, but once he ate he would take off to parts unknown. One afternoon on a crowded street he stood in front of the store in the street calling for Zia Francesca to ask for work. Grandma would give him small jobs and he would then be paid a little money and some food. He spoke little English and could only converse in his native tongue, Italian. As he stood there looking into the store a trolley car came by and hit him squarely and into the street. He lay their listless and bleeding, and Grandma ran out of the store knelt down and held him in her arms as he passed away. Dad was grateful that in his final moments he was in the arms of someone who care about him as he expired.

Tomorrow: Dreams realized and fulfillment.


Sunday, June 09, 2019


As I grow older and see my grandchildren I can’t help but think of what Grandma would think. She was a little lady who could hardly speak English, yet the entire community where she lived came to her for help and advice.

Coming to America as a 15-year old girl from Naples, Francesca built an empire from scratch or at least a dream. She married my grandfather Giuseppe who came over on the Madonna fresh from Genoa and married the redhead creating a family of three children, Anthony, Angelina, and Joseph. Before his last child was born, he enlisted in the US Army along with his best friend and fought in World War I. He was proud of being an American citizen and needed to prove it to the World and himself.

Like the rest of the World, the war was not good to him as he was released from the army and immediately caught Spanish influenza confining him to the hospital in Brooklyn. A raging snowstorm hit the Metropolitan area and Grandpa Joe was missing his children. His last child he never met as he was sent off to fight in the war. Since he was so close to his family he decided to go out the window and walk home to his family. Traveling through the snow with blizzard conditions, he made it home only to die a few days later. Grandma was a widow with three small children ages: 3, 2, and 1!

For the little time he had spent in his adopted country he began a fruit and vegetable store with Grandma’s help, making a decent living until the war and his death. His best friend Ralph married my grandmother and her three children and became a real grandfather in a strange way. He was a good man and was the backbone of the fledgling family.

But Grandma was the brains and mental brawn of the family. Later I will write of what incredible achievements she made as a mother and businesswoman, without much English.

But to my original thought about Grandma, I think with all the grandchildren she had, her great-grandchildren and now her great, great, grandchildren she would be very happy and proud of them all. Her sacrifice and hard work helped extend her bloodline and cemented her rightful place in their hearts and in America.

Tomorrow: Hard work, tears, and courage.