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Friday, January 08, 2016

THOSE THAT PASS

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It was the winter of 1956, Perry Como had a hit song: CATCH A FALLING STAR, Ike was running again for a second term and I was enjoying the fact that the Brooklyn Dodgers were finally champions of the world!

But back in Brooklyn something terrible was about to happen, my grandpa was dying. In his 60’s he had lived a hard life raising 4 children after World War I, serving in America’s infantry doing his patriotic duty in France. Raffaello was a very handsome man; features clear cut and sharp, tall and well-built, always the strong figure, never spoke loudly and always had a calm about himself, which contrasted with red-headed Grandma Frances’ explosive temper and quickness that would leave a cat behind.
Grandpa getting some sun

Living on Long Island now, having moved recently in December of the previous year, we received the news that he had past. Suddenly it seemed like the world had stopped and the only thing on my mind was Grandpa. I could picture him, as he would sit, his fedora cocked over his eyes, his legs and arms crossed and he asleep, catching naps where he could. Grandma was constantly giving him orders when she was around, but when she wasn’t: he napped.

He had a reputation from his two sons, my father and my uncle that he was a loving man but stern. He expected his children to listen to him and not waste time or money during the 20’s and 30’s, the hard years for Italian immigrants trying to establish themselves into American culture.

As I am writing this, I have suddenly realized it was on this date in 1956 that he passed, and frankly it gives me the chills.

When he died, I remember my Dad standing in the back of the wake, a dark and somber place and taking envelopes that people had left in memory of Grandpa, and I remember the look on his face that matched the atmosphere of the room. I remember the little Old Italian ladies with their rosaries, praying and then kissing the cross as they left the casket. I remember the lulling to sleepy murmur that encased the room and my grandmother, calling his name, asking him why he left so suddenly, all in Italian.

He was Primo!
There is a certain kinship that used to resided in all Italians, if you needed help or money or just conversation, because you were Italian someone would always help you, whether they knew you or not.

There was the romance of Rudolph Valentino and my grandmother, not real of course, just a young Italian mother and an Italian movie star, there was the pride of being Italian when Primo Carnera fought, or Rocky Marciano, the joy of Joltin Joe DeMaggio and Carl Furillo, no matter if you were a Dodger or Yankee fan, he was Italian, you rooted for your own kind.

You never turned in your own kind either, because for a struggling race, we were all brothers and sisters.

Grandpa was the core of that thinking in the family, leaving me to wonder how I could ever be able to be Italian again without him. He was a smart man, ran a couple of apartment houses, giving breaks when the rent wasn’t paid, bringing food from the fruit and vegetable stand he ran for those who were losing the battle with creditors and yes, even money was left without a utterance that he did so.

I guess in a way he still lives in my heart and soul, still is taking his naps and still is remembered for his being a simple man, strong in heart and soul, simple in outlook and tough, as he had to be. I hope God blesses him daily.

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