Monday, July 15, 2019

THE SOUNDS OF SILENZIO!

Once or twice a year Grandma Frances would gather the troops for a Mass at Our Lady of Loreto Church on Sackman Street in Brooklyn. The reason was there was a new fundraiser for an occasion such as a bus ride upstate or plane flight to Italy for some fund-raiser for an orphanage grandma organized. I can remember her doorbell constantly ringing or her phone chiming in to announce another wishing to join the occasion.

One year it was a big event, my Dad, Tony, was asked by his mother to paint a Madonna for the church that could be carried in a procession on a pole. Dad not being a churchgoer did as he was told and we all went off to church one Sunday morning to see the Madonna be paraded out during the Mass, a one-time ordeal for dad.

I happened to like going to this church built by Italian immigrants with marble imported from Italy. It also was a day of pride for me, Dad, my Dad, had painted this masterpiece, and it would be paraded down the main aisle!

There were two events that occurred that day and every Sunday, during the year at Our Lady of Loreto. The first event was the consecration, an event I could wait for, not because I was holy or saintly in any way, but because when the bells rang at the Consecration, a split second afterward, fireworks would go off on the roof to the church! The boom and loudness woke me up to get through the rest of the Mass and the noise scared the living Hell out of me.

The second event was the best! Usually, in the front rows of the church, pews occupied by little Old Italian ladies would chatter and go on in Italian, and the priest would shout out during his sermon-"SILENZIO!" This admonition did not silence anyone, after the shock, off went the chatter once again!

Speaking in Italian the priest would stand at the pulpit and with arms flying and hands emoting, his Italian rising in volume and pitch a group of little old grandmothers would be huddled together speaking in their native tongue rising to hear each other while the priest spoke.

“SILENZIO!” shouted the priest.

The gaggle of grandmothers suddenly cut off their conversation, heads down and feeling contrite. The priest would pick up where he left off, once again bring his point across, arms flying and voice growling in condemnation of all the bad things we do in our lives.

The grandmother pack put their heads together once more and picked up on their gossip, or was it a recipe they were sharing? It would start as chirping and quickly grow due to the insolence of the priest rise to competing until the exasperated priest once more would yell out his admonition for all to hear.

“SILENZIO!” shouted the priest once again.

And so, when the mass was over and the fireworks display by the priest completed, I knew that next Sunday would be like the present Sunday, not even God in all his glory would tell these little ladies what to do if they didn’t want to!

IF SHE LIVED SHE'D BE ALIVE TODAY!

Grandma Frances had a birthday every January until she died in 1991 at the age of 97! If she had taken better care of herself, she would have lived longer! But no, she insisted on eating red meats, spicy cheeses, and hard salami, wine and often got emotional. At least she didn't smoke.


Until the day she died, she was a nutritionist's nightmare, a living testimony to bad eating habits.


As a young teenager, I went with Dad into Brooklyn one Saturday to have his taxes made out by a friend of the family. It was tax time, and he decided to visit "Grandma", as we called her after having his income scrutinized by this friend of the family.

Arriving at Grandma's house on Fulton Street, we parked the car along the curb and under the shadow of the el stepping over the grating for the IND line that ran under the street, the noise saying: ‘Grandma'. By then there was deterioration of the old neighborhood occurring, so in some ways, it was a sad visit.


Grandma was all excited to see us, in her floral apron and black dress (rehearsing for when she would become a widow) and immediately grabbed my two cheeks (surrounding my nose) and with her index and middle finger, squeezed until I dropped to my knees, where she then made us stay for dinner so I could recover even though she had eaten!


Racing down her long hallway that ran adjacent to the railroad flat rooms of the bottom floor, she threw a couple of steaks in a wire holder, dropping then over an open flame on a gas stove in her basement or cellar as we called it. As cellars went, this one was well-stocked with supplies for any eventual nuclear attack, wine, canned tomato sauce, a refrigerator, sink, pickled eggplant and peppers and of course, various holy pictures that adorned the crude concrete texture of the footprint of the building. The smell of the meat cooking was overpowering my ability to reason, let alone my ability to speak, as my saliva activated at an uncontrollable flow, spraying instead of saying! When she returned, she took out a crusty loaf of Italian bread, some hard salami, and hard cheese with a gallon of wine, to try to control my salivation problems.


The time it takes to say salad, she had the homemade wine, bread, cheese, and salami along with the best salad ever made, from Grandpa's homemade wine vinegar. A tasty vinegar that always made a simple salad a treat!


Grandma knew how to live, and was very generous.


Often when Dad announced the coming of grandma for a visit, once we calmed Mom down, we anticipated her stately arrival. Something like Queen Victoria arriving at the royal palace, she came usually with an entourage of aunts who like Grandma expected to eat. To further this expectation which was greater than Hemingway's, she brought along with her cheeses, salami, and a gallon each of wine and wine vinegar, Italian bread (The countryside didn't make Italian bread like Brooklyn) roasted peppers and sometimes canned eggplant. With all she did bring, she would preside center table and dispense in Italian, words of wisdom as I sat in awe of her.


As she ate she would look at me and say:


"A Joe-joe, you too a skinny, mangia! A Whyer you no eater a more?"


Meanwhile, Dad was trying to remember all the hiding places the food was because all I did was eat! I tried to convey this to grandma in a diplomatic way, but Dad was within arm and earshot. And so, when her visit was over we all respectfully escorted her to the door, with endless kissing of aunts and ladies in waiting, cheeks getting another workout and grandma's: "A Joe-joe, you a too skinny, mangia! A whyer you no eater a more?"


I miss those days, the times spent with that generation were magical, someday I will tell you about Grandpa, a man for all seasons and jobs that Grandma assigned him.



Sunday, July 14, 2019

THERE IS NO REST

Not for my family as we try to come to grips with this orotund force that batters us every moment. It is too strong, too big, too powerful to conquer, only try to control it enough to not let it overcome us all together.

Just about every day since May 5th of this year, we have spent the day or majority of it in a hospital room. My wife and I go, sit with my daughter Ellen and try to make her understand that we will be there for her as she struggles for her life.

Her eyes are now haunted, that beautiful sweet smile seems to have been taken away from her. Her body, wracked with pain lies in almost a comatose state, not moving except to react to the excruciating pain that seeps out of her thin emaciated body and paints the grimace that takes my breath away.

Being how she is disabled, one of our fears all our lives has been that she would be in pain and not be able to tell us she is or where it is, that fear is now hard and real.

Since the month of February three years ago she has suffered a broken bone in her leg requiring first an exterior fixator that keeps the bone in place to start the healing, then the insertion of a rod into her leg.

She has fallen and suffered a brain bleed, then broke her hip and on May 10th had an operation to remove cancer from her colon. She hasn’t walked or stood since April and has been in a jerry chair since August. There are sores all over her body and then acquired pneumonia from the cancer operation and now has a tracheotomy that has to help her rid the accumulated phylum that has accumulated in her lower lung causing it to collapse.

Ellen cannot speak, does not understand and is frightened of all that is happening to her. And, so we go to sit with her to try to help her get through the rest of her life, which won’t be long.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

A GENTLE MEANINGFUL SOUL


The 37-year old son of Italian immigrants, he would lean in the doorway, overlooking the grey three-stepped stoop. Staring out into nowhere, not noticing the people who going by never acknowledged his existence, no ‘Good morning’ or ‘Hello’ not even a nod in his direction.

He could hear the cadence of a little girl as she bounced her rubber ball, and every once in while swinging her leg over the ball as it descended, then abruptly ascended back into her palm, only to begin the process all over again.

In the street in front of him, a game of stickball would be in progress. The chatter of the players breaking the boredom he felt from his perch on top of the stoop. Once again a rubber ball, this one hardened by the weather. As the ball came in on one bounce, and the batter, with a sawed-off broomstick, handle taped would viciously be swiped at it. Soaring high into the Brooklyn sky, two sewers or more the ball went in flight, excitedly the boys racing around the street like it was a Chinese fire drill!

But still, he would not move from his place. Watching everything, yet watching nothing. He never interacted with people. He had a simple manner that required no maintenance for a day-to-day conversation with anyone. He never read a book or a newspaper, and he never went to school. He was that person who usually ended up in Willow Brook in those days of the mid-fifties.

His name was Henry: and his Italian mama, Lena, would keep a steady eye on him. From her bottom floor bedroom window, Lena would bark at him in Italian. Being an immigrant, she knew only enough to survive in a world that brought both hope and despair. She had another son, perhaps a few years younger, attending college, and kind of a mentor to me. His time was spent away from the house, and the stoop, using it only in passing. That other son taught me to catch a ball! Coming home from college classes one evening, Manfredo saw me with a ball and glove, and no one to play with. He laid his books down on the stoop, and gently gave me instructions on the art of catching a ball!
But Henry stood and watched. Not moving, not saying anything to his brother or me, Henry was the silent sentinel at the gateway to my home.

There was a sister, many years younger, a late in life baby as they used to say. Her name was Marianne. Marianne was a thin cheerful little girl and full of song and enthusiasm. Playing with all the little girls in the area, she was the apple of her mother’s eye. The kids in the neighborhood looked out for Marianne, she was there with her smile, and that was all that mattered. That is to everyone but her older brother, Henry. Marianne went on to become a nun. Her love of life was transformed into actions of compassion and giving of herself to God and humanity.

But Henry watched and he listened, and he never spoke, unless you spoke to him. He once saved me from a terrible injury, when I fell into a gear shaft moving up a cellar elevator. When it was about to clamp down on my leg, the pants being ripped in the process, he pulled me away, just in time!

Henry stayed with me all my life. I often think of Henry and the fact that I now deal with people with mental disabilities, and I am trying to help them. Having a child of my own with mental disabilities, as she lies dying in a hospital, I know first hand now, the parent's pain. I see Henry, leaning in the doorframe of the apartment building, my apartment building. I wonder if he is still standing there, watching me, posted there to teach me, that life has many sides, and it is not simple or fair. I sometimes wonder if Henry was put there, just for me, to teach me that we are all one, no matter to what degree, we will all be born, live and die. And as we live, we will hold no title, own a principality, or be truly superior to the man next to me. The man that taught me will always be, Henry.

But this immigrant family, these simple, wonderful people, who were building their lives, had one thing in common. They had each other, loved each other, and were not ashamed of what and who was in their family! They were my first true lesson in life, and it all centered on a gentle soul: Henry.

“Only a life lived for others is worth living.” -Albert Einstein


Wednesday, July 10, 2019

BOOKS


One of the things I would want to have in my survival kit living on a secluded island, far from civilization would be fresh water, food, a sushi handbook, (makes sense) and a book to read other than about sushi.

Having the ability to read to me is the greatest gift my teachers gave me as a child. The chance to stretch my imagination when I read is like a passport to the unknown, one that I am in control of due to someone else’s experiences and notations. Reading a book is always an adventure and not too many people appreciate it. We take it for granted without realizing how precious it is, as it liberates one from the reality of the reader’s environment and the enriching of one’s mind.

When I enter a library for no reason other than to explore, my adrenaline rushes and my blood surges in anticipation of what I will find between the covers of the many books and what each one offers.

Currently I am reading a wonderful and imaginative journey of a man who loses his arm, and the concept is not only wonderful (Not of losing your limb) but it takes you away from what is safe, what is taken for granted and puts you in an unsafe place in which to live as you turn the pages, all in the safety of your armchair, more on this book later.

I never like to read a novel then see a movie based on that novel. Once I do that, I am always disappointed in the casting, as I envision the hero and other characters based on my own life’s experiences. I hear them differently they move and act as I would direct them to move in my mind, the greatest movie lot in the world!


Tuesday, July 09, 2019

HAPPY ARE THE WISHES


Today is my wife Ellen’s birthday! She is once again 25 as she was the day she became a mother for the first time. In all those years of being a mother, she was steady, consistent, devoted to her kids, and loving.

She is a special mother who has given her all to those children, and I say this as an up-close observer of what she has endured. No one deserves to be called ‘mother or mom’ more than she does.

Heartbreak is for the weak; she is strong. What she has endured no one should have to. When your child is born with a disability it is unfair. Your dreams for that child are quickly crushed and you become the mom of a child with special and intensive needs, your heart breaks for that mom. Ellen has endured it twice.

As a mom you carry a child for nine hard months, each successive month harder than the last, knowing that next month will be even harder. Knowing too, that the last month will bring forth the process of birth and all that it means to a mother’s body, and the subsequent months of after-birth. And after that ordeal to see that child pass before her very eyes tearing out the heart and soul of that woman. She has endured that too.

If a child is in trouble or despair, she takes her leave to be next to that child either in a hospital or in a plane to travel 2,000 miles away, she will be there. Like many of you, she is a mom, the most important word in the languages of the World

The birthday girl
She has taken on the heartbreak of losing her daughter-in-law as if she was her own, for, in reality, she was. She consoled her son and grandchildren and even helped me. 

So, today I will celebrate her, while we try to celebrate her birthday and her children, living and dead. The day itself is but a date in the annals of unscripted devotion by this woman, and the devotion like a rising sunrise is all I can see, the tears fill my eyes for the gratitude that she is the mother of my children and hope the sunrise never sets.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MOM!

JOE “THE FINN”

My Dad!
When I was growing up in Brooklyn, we always had nicknames for people with style. The names you heard on “The Sopranos” are really an outgrowth from the Italian neighborhoods of the 20s and 30s that carried on right into the 50s and 60s and to some degree the 70’s. Although it still happens within families, usually not as much. Italians were notorious for giving out names to supplement, define and create color for all who lived within the confines of Italian-American culture.

If you happened to be something other than Italian, it usually meant that you would inherit a nickname of your very own by your Italian-American friends, even if you didn’t have any style. And sure enough, there was one gentleman who was not Italian, had style and frequented my Grandmothers house, and he was Joe “The Finn”, of Finnish heritage.

Joe “The Finn” was my Dad’s best friend, and he could do anything, as long as someone needed to get something done, Joe was your man. Perhaps his notoriety stems from the fact that he never paid his electric bill but always had electricity running in his apartment. This was because Joe “The Finn” was a genius in worker’s clothes. He devised a way to connect again with the electric company after they shut him down by using a simple copper penny! Somehow he knew what to do and did it. Joe “The Finn” was also a mechanic of sorts, and with his wiry frame, jet black hair and wise guy attitude, one would find him under my Dad’s or some neighbor’s car getting it back on the road, and all he would ask for was a $1 coin! If you looked under the hood of the car he worked on, there was a Maxwell House coffee can sitting there, wired to whatever needed the wire, and darn if it didn’t work like a clock.

If there was one thing that troubled Joe “The Finn” it was his family. His wife was rather large in stature and bulk, and his two sons were very skinny and as he would say: “very dopey.” He would wail on how one son or the other did something stupid, never leaving a class without repeating it at least twice, or embarrassing him in some way. Sitting in grandma’s kitchen over a cup of espresso or having dinner, he would regale us in tales of his adventures, his son’s antics or his rather unsympathetic descriptions of his wife’s condition. I don’t believe it was mean so much as comedic, with enactments and facial expressions that made for many an underwear change!

Joe never knocked he just walked in, sat down and Grandma would pull out another plate whether or not Dad was there, he was family!

Being how I was quite younger than his two sons. Joe would take out the $1 coin, ask me if this was a quarter or a nickel, and I’d say a dollar and he would give me the dollar and compare me to his kids. Of course, my Dad would get all over me to return the money, I would, and when I got home, I’d find it in my pocket again!

Wherever you are Joe, I love you.

Monday, July 08, 2019

YEAH, YEAH, YEAH!

Being an Italian American, I take great pride in the ‘American’ part. What this means is that although I am by heritage Italian, and all my friends, (both of them) are American, that I have to show my true colors: red, white, and blue.

There are basic holidays that require my being ‘American’ such as the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving in particular.

When it comes to the fourth of July, I can nibble down a few hot dogs and a hamburger, maybe some ribs and some steaks, it can be accompanied by coleslaw and potato salad and a beer or two. Corn? How can you live without it? No problem, keep me by the grill and I will be very American.

Then, Thanksgiving Day comes along and suddenly I get the shakes, my hands are unsteady and my mind drifts to my past. Turkey, who the hell likes turkey? Who the hell wants turkey?

A holiday and I’m eating turkey? If it is a holiday I should be eating lasagna, or ravioli or even manicotti, but not turkey!

OK, this is America, make the turkey, but surround it with real food, pasta, maybe a little pasta fagioli, maybe a nice antipasto of salami and cheese and maybe little olives and Fanucchi.

When a ship is about to capitulate to a pirate ship, it would be allowed to fire a shot across the bow of the pirate ship as a code of honor. Just like that ship, we carry out the turkey and have a little piece. The rest we saved for the Native Americans or sandwiches during the week.

When Pasquale Enrico said: “Giver me liberty or giver me death”, he was really saying give me pasta or fugettaboutit!


Sunday, July 07, 2019

BENNY “DA BUFFER” (YOU SONNAMABITCHER)

Me 
Way back in my senior year in high school about when Washington crossed the Delaware River there was a guy by the name of Benny Gallinaro aka Benny Da Buffer, who was transferred from a Brooklyn High School to Bellport High School because he got into too much trouble. He belonged to a gang in Brooklyn, and often “Jitterbugged” which meant street gang warfare. The reason Bellport was selected was that he had an uncle who owned a factory making clothing in the Bellport area, then his parents figured as far away from the city as possible was good while keeping him busy.

Benny could be a bad influence on the Pope if the opportunity allowed, let alone Bellport High. He had a heart as big as the great outdoors but sometimes got confused. Benny’s sense of humor was tremendous, and could also improvise Elvis at a moments notice, and people, for the most part, liked him once you got to know him. He stood about 5” 9” and was slightly overweight. He had a fat nose and a face for radio (He knew this because his Mother told him so.). His eyes were set very close together, and it made him look like a thug.

I met Benny after a few weeks of school had started as he was transferred from Brooklyn. He just gravitated to me and we became friends. I think it was because my shop teacher assigned him to be under my wing and we got along great because of some similarities (Brooklyn, Italian, always hungry.)

Benny just could not retain anything, not because he was dumb, but because he was bored. Give him something he liked and he excelled.

Soon he was coming to me for help in English, Math, and Science classes for homework and soon we were spending afternoons doing a review of the class work for that day. He begged me to do it because if he failed, he would be thrown out of the house, sent to work in his uncle’s factory, and they would take away his shiny new fuel injected Bonneville which he hoped to add an additional carburetor so he could keep all the neighborhoods he frequented awake at 2:00 am. Benny loved to be noticed.

Almost every day we reviewed, going over the same things again and again and it started to come together! Benny was learning, Benny’s brain was now the size of a whale, and because of the constant review, I was not getting my homework done like I used to. I would have a job after dinner, and when work was finished, I had to stay up late for my written homework to be completed.

June finally rolled along and I check the board in the hall wall next to the Principle’s office to see who was graduating. As I go I see Benny walking in the opposite direction, with tears streaming down his mug. I rush to the board look for my name then look for his. There it stood Benjamin Gallinaro! “What the hell???” What’s wrong with Benny? I go looking for him and find him on the pay phone talking to his father. I go up to Benny and overhear him saying that maybe they made a mistake and forgot to put his name on the list!

“Benny, what the hell are you talking about?” I yell. He turns around and says “Joe man, I can’t talk right now!” I said “Dumb ass, your name IS on the board” And as I say it, I’m starting to smile, and he says to me “Man don’t kid around” I grab the phone and talk to his dad to tell him that I saw the name. I drag Benny down to the wall and point out his name. He looks at me and plants a kiss right on my forehead. He was so scared of not graduating he was blind to the idea of his name on that list!

After the graduation ceremony, I went over to where he was standing with his family. There among his family is this little Italian lady, Grandma Gallinaro who grabs him by his cheek and says; “You sonnamabitch, you graduate!”

Saturday, July 06, 2019

SHE IS EVERYTHING I EVER NEEDED!

You have all seen her standing there. She’s usually about 5’4” tall, sometimes thin as a rail, and totally bored out of her mind. She is just 16 or 17 and has an ingrown hostility that she harbors for anyone not cool, AND over the age of 30.

She will hardly speak or write and the last time she smiled in public she was about 12 years old. I’m talking about that little girl behind the counter, the one who is supposed to take your order, the one that should greet you with a smile and act like she’s interested in helping you.

I go into a sandwich shop, look at the menu, unsure of what I want because of the many choices. There behind the counter stands Ms.Wanda Iwonderwhy, salesgirl and franchise representative, public relation’s best foot forward, what our public school tax dollars did, ready to take my order. Well almost ready. First, we need to get her attention. I look at her; she is looking at her cell phone hoping I will go away so she doesn’t have to work.

Ms. Iwonderwhy finally looks at me and says: “Yes?” She is void of facial expression.

I think, “Great, we are building a relationship!”

I say: “I’d like a Tuscan Sandwich.” she counters with both a long face and a question filled with the enthusiasm of a dead fish; “You want the roll or the ciabatta bread?”

“Ciabatta bread.”

“You want an old one or a new one?”

“Huh?? Uh a new one, I don’t like anything that is lying around for a few days.

She looks at me annoyed and says “THE OLD ONE IS THE WAY WE USED TO MAKE THE SANDWICH, YOU WANT THAT ONE OR THE NEW WAY?”

Suddenly our relationship is reaching a newer and higher plain, one of mutual misunderstanding.

“What’s the difference?”

“Well look at the ad on the wall and it tells you.”

That’s what I like in a relationship, honesty, and total disclosure.

“Give me the old way, the meat is probably fresher.”

Without another word, she walks away, looking bored, as she slinks toward the meat pile to assemble the sandwich. I watch her closely, making sure that she doesn’t spit in my sandwich.

I firmly believe that before Ms. Iwonderwhy leaves this Earth, she will have either become a traffic maid, work for the interrogation squad at al Qaida, or a prison guard at some women’s facility in an upstate New York jailhouse.

Friday, July 05, 2019

LA FAMIGLIA



Americans have seen this phrase, ‘La Famiglia' and when they do they conjure up a dark world of gangsters and crime, racketeering and extortion, and yes, even murder. The words are associated with the Mafia, very ugly time for the pride of Italian-Americans.

But if you are an Italian-American living in Brooklyn in the 1950s, it has an all-together different meaning when you thought ‘La Familia'.


A Facebook member of ‘YOU KNOW YOU’RE ITALIAN WHEN’ a gentleman named Lawrence Aiello, asked if as Italian-Americans do we look for Italian surnames at the end of movies and TV shows as he does. Let me tell you a story.

As I sat one night with Dad, watching our small screen black and white TV, an Olympic sometime ago in 1953, the Brooklyn Dodgers were playing a game, and at bat was Carl Furillo, a wonderful outfielder for ‘Dem Bums" with a rifle arm who no one dared run on. Dad leaned over and said: "That's Carl Furillo, an Italian boy!" There was a stated pride in Dad's words, he was demonstrating pride to be Italian and was letting me know about it.

Dad's pride awakened in me the awareness that Italian-Americans were just claiming their place in America, working the blue-collar jobs and menial tasks that needed to be done before America could step forward in the post-war world. Their struggle of overcoming language barriers, class distinction and the prejudice caused by ignorance was the very struggle to escape the cocoon of isolation every ethnic group faces. If you remember another great Brooklyn Dodger:  Jackie Robinson and the pride of Black People as they filled the stadiums to watch one of their own play, breaking down barriers, then you can understand the Italian pride. There was Joe DiMaggio who made our emergence completely recognizable as an entity with his wonderful heroics on the field, and the many Italian crooners that grace the world of popular music of the time. We were making a name for ourselves in our own country! There was Primo Carnera and Rocky Marciano, as well as many others that helped build the acceptance needed as one of America's own!

But getting back to the Mafia, the Cosa Nostra was just a dark and evil extension of the Italian mindset of ‘Family', being of our own or from the same group. If you were Italian in an American world, you were family, it didn't matter if you were Neapolitan, Sicilian or Lombardian, you were a brother or sister, and if you had a business, a profession or not, you almost automatically got support from your "Own kind." It was the very thing that kept immigrants together in the same neighborhoods, and who reluctantly sent their children off to fight wars, go to college or just leave the hood to find their own way as second-generation Americans first.

There lived on the bottom floor in my apartment, a family that had three children. The second oldest, a boy went off to college to study, and as he would return home from his studies in NY’s Fordham I believe as an engineer, left me in awe! He was going to college, that far-away place where the highest esteem was bestowed upon one for his attendance. To the Italian-American, his status as a student filled one's heart and made it swell, he was educating himself he would go far, just as the many other "Medicanos" who were white, protestant and born here that filled this country.

Grandma had many visitors to her house, non-family members who knew her from her church or charitable work she performed, as well as neighbors. When they came to her kitchen, they were greeted like family, gushing out in Italian, both verbally and manually, they emoted their joy in seeing one another. They sat down without being asked, ate acceptingly, and drank coffee or a little wine, to finish off the visit, just like any family member. Are you Italian? You are family too!

Inter-marriage was an event to be adjusted to, not for Italians, for those who were not Italian but daring enough to marry one! You were assimilated immediately, like a treasured sister or brother, you were regarded as untouchable, you had married one of us, that was our honor and we loved you for it, you were family!

God bless this country, it raised me as an American, and God bless all those who came to America from the shores of Italy, they made it possible.


Thursday, July 04, 2019

HAPPY FOURTH

I truly hope your holiday will be better than mine!

Once upon a time, the 4th of July was a big deal to me. Bar-b-q with friends and relatives was the plan with good old fashion beer to wash it all down. The hype from the TV, the fireworks overhead and on the televised Brooklyn Bridge lent itself to the culmination of the day where I would turn up the AC to drown out the noise and go to sleep.

Today, I will find myself in the hospital once again with my poor ailing daughter, the silence will be pronounced and the celebration will be tempered by the fact that she is alive, if not unwell.

The loneliness will be punctuated only by the sounds of the IV alarms or n occasional visit from the nurses. But lets’ face the truth; I really don’t feel like celebrating! My stomach is in constant turmoil while my appetite is non-existent. I eat because I need to, not because I want to. While the bands' march on and the flags wave I will worry about my daughter and her mom.

The idea that someone is celebrating today is kind of hard and leaving me feeling like an outsider.

HAPPY FOURTH OF JULY!

Wednesday, July 03, 2019

LIFE IS CHANGING…

And my world seems to be spinning out of control!

Yesterday, my wife and I spent the afternoon looking at nursing homes for my daughter. The many years that I put into the agency as chair to many committees and as officers of the Board of Directors, the State representation in Albany and all that travel and advocacy no longer count since my daughter’s home can no longer accommodate her because she now has a treache in her neck.

The weird part is all I want in my life is peace and quiet. I want to live out my years in some kind of happiness, not the fears I am currently facing for my children. I can’t let go of them and fear for them all. The days seem to be bleak and every passing day becomes bleaker than the last.

We went to two facilities yesterday to get a tour of their accommodations and found them excellent. One is within sight of my house in a way and one a little further. Both are beautiful and look very professional, ensuring me that my daughter will be well taken care of by their staffs.

Yet, all I can think of is the agency and what a waste of time it was in the end because they couldn’t take her anymore because of her physical condition. I feel betrayed but I do understand their position as a rehabilitation center. So, we will move on and try to make the best of things.






Tuesday, July 02, 2019

GETTING TO KNOW YOU…

Having spent my days these past few months at the bedside of my daughter I have begun to be a regular at the ICU in St. Charles Hospital. From 6:15 A.M. every morning Monday through Sunday, the hospital staff offers me refreshments such as coffee, cookies, and drinks.

One staffer has suggested she get me an electronic pass so I can come and go whenever I please and not wait for someone before hours to ring the bell to open the door to the ICU. I’m not sure a salary isn’t in order either as I assist the nurses and doctors in their quest to help my daughter.

When we returned from California every doctor and nurse and that includes the X-ray people, hematologists, and infectious diseases personnel all asked about our trip.

But, when we get personal and close it is the cleaning lady that tops it all. A sweet little Hispanic lady who has this wonderful accent, every morning she shows up I get out of the room so she can clean and mop it unhindered by yours truly. She smiles, greets my daughter and says: “Gooood Morning!” She then asks or makes a comment about how Ellen looks and engages her in conversation.

If I go into the coffee shop, Le CafĂ©’, the help recognizes me and will even go out of their way to fill a request beyond the order. As I enter the hospital each morning the attendant at the front desk, with a smile and a ‘Good morning’, greets me!

In fact, the only one who is a little testy with me is my daughter, Ellen!


Sunday, June 30, 2019

SUSPENDED IN UNCERTAINTY

As I sit here in the ICU at my daughter Ellen’s bedside the future looks uncertain. Since she had her tracheotomy she now forfeits her bed in her home. The ICF (Intermediate Care Facility) is not equipped to deal with residents who have a tracheotomy.

The awful realization that she will go into a nursing home is bothering me greatly. The care is always sub-par from my experiences with my mother and her ordeal and previous experiences with my daughter in rehab facilities.

There is one about three or four years ago in Southampton that I found good and made me happy that my daughter was in treating her well and doing it professionally, otherwise they have all been disappointments.

The next month will be a challenge and dread as I travel this road trying to get her in a decent home and keep her alive. Keeping her alive will not be easy and frankly, due to what her life is going to be, do I want to do that for my own selfish reasons. Would I want to live like my daughter will the rest of my life?

TOLLS ON THE HARD ROAD


In better days loing ago
Today was a sad day filled with emotions that like a simmering volcano will erupt momentarily to the surface!

My daughter Ellen had to have a tracheotomy to help her breathe as the doctor's fight to save her life. She lies quietly in her hospital bed not understanding what is happening to her body, she doesn’t know why or how she got into her present state.

The surgeon did not only the tracheotomy but also ran a camera down her stomach to ascertain if there were any blockages keeping her from eating aside from the tube running down her nose. She has not eaten since April nor walked since August.

And, here lies the problem; we are afraid that she will rip out the tracheotomy tubing causing damage. If she does she will have to have her hands tied down to prevent it from happening. She is confined to her bed or a wheelchair for the rest of her life.

If one problem is not enough here is another; she needs to pass a swallow test to see that she won’t affixiate her secretions or any food she eats if she can’t the tracheotomy will be a permanent part of her life! Being tied down like an animal is no way to live, especially in a bed or wheelchair. The wheelchair is if she is lucky. We have to now approach the Molst form as a possibility for her so that she does not live like a dangerous animal which she is not. The Molst Form is for end of life terminal cases that go through the NYS Health Department, needing at least 2 doctors to agree to. This will be the hardest part of it all, playing God with the help of the State of New York!

Pray for us.

Medical Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (MOLST)
Honoring patient preferences is a critical element in providing quality end-of-life care. To help physicians and other health care providers discuss and convey a patient's wishes regarding cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and another life-sustaining treatment, the Department of Health has approved a physician and nurse practitioner order form (DOH-5003), Medical Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (MOLST), which can be used statewide by health care practitioners and facilities. MOLST is intended for patients with serious health conditions who:
    Want to avoid or receive any or all life-sustaining treatment;
    Reside in a long-term care facility or require long-term care services; and/or
    Might die within the next year.
Completion of the MOLST begins with a conversation or a series of conversations between the patient, the patient's health care agent or surrogate, and a qualified, trained health care professional that defines the patient's goals for care, reviews possible treatment options on the entire MOLST form, and ensures shared, informed medical decision-making. Although the conversation(s) about goals and treatment options may be initiated by any qualified and trained health care professional, a licensed physician or nurse practitioner must always, at a minimum: (i) confer with the patient and/or the patient's health care agent or surrogate about the patient's diagnosis, prognosis, goals for care, treatment preferences, and consent by the appropriate decision-maker, and (ii) sign the orders derived from that discussion.


Saturday, June 29, 2019

Dear Marc,

Marc is second from your right
I choose this format to thank you for your kindness and generosity that you displayed to a young nurse who is starting out in her career too busy to worry about herself and too young to afford even her tools.

Her name is Valerie and she is a nurse on the St. Charles ICU. I met her about a week ago and noticed then that her stethoscope was tapped together like an old pair of glasses. It looked sad and I immediately thought of you and American Diagnostics. I decided to buy her a new one and after inquiring about the cost I could see why hers was taped. I went to your web site and sure enough, it was expensive for a young nurse to afford and thought I’d give your company the business. Your offer to help was more than I expected and yet I am not surprised. Your efforts on the Board of Director’s of Suffolk AHRC has been generous and never self-serving offering your sage advice that I sought many times as president.

I guess you are what we all should be, helping those of us less fortunate as your offer to supply the young lady at your expense was very heartening and made me glad I know you. Thank you for being a giving person and all who know you should know that fact, it is not anything but what must come naturally to you.

You made a young dedicated to helping the ill young lady extremely happy!

Thank You!

EARLY IN THE MORNING!


I arrived yesterday early as I usually do, about 6:30 A.M. not being focused anymore, I completely passed her room and went to her old room and saw she wasn’t there! My heart sunk and my eyes lost focus as I wondered what had happened. A voice from out of the wings of reality called out: “She’s in the corner room!” It was the night nurse.

As I refocused I entered her room, and instead of the face of death I saw the face of life, the face I have encountered so many times before, determined and angry and a little confused, she was feeling better!

Suddenly my heart leaped almost from my chest, so over-joyed was I that I immediately started to talk to her for the first time in days, praising her and telling her as always she was beautiful and I am happy.

The night nurse entered and gave me a wonderful rundown of how her night was, how well she is doing and how amazed he is of her ability to withstand all she has been through!

I immediately called Mamma and relayed the news and happ0iness of the moment for I know these things change on a dime from one of high elation to one of deep fear for her. We will hope that this is the trend to healing and that she will come out of this crisis alive and not how the doctors predicted it will end. Pray for her and her Mom and brothers and if you have anything left, pray for the doctors and nurses.

Friday, June 28, 2019

SAVE THE LAST DANCE FOR ME



If only in your beautiful eyes, save the last dance for me. As we glided through life, unaware of what lay in store for us so many years ago let’s freely move along the dance floor. You, with your smile and a giggle in your laugh and me with personal joy that filled my soul we took each dance to the last note, step, and lyric there was.

We have danced the dance of the innocents; our steps ignore the protocols of dance and life, our joy too so profound it cancels time, time of dance and time of life, and, so, we ready ourselves for our last dance; our last sweep on the dance floor of your life as I watch you ready yourself for it. Your strength and fight are what have made all the dances of the past so worthwhile, so poetic and so courageously beautiful.

Your dance steps have taught me so much about the value of human life, the dignity it demands and the respect we pay to it. You have taken me from the shelter of ignorance and placed my hand in the midst of reality for those I would have otherwise forgotten. But your depth of meaning has not made me forsaken all your brothers and sisters who, like you, frustrated by life’s slings and arrows must deal with an unfair life and its consequences.

So, dear daughter, wait for me when you cross that threshold from the dance floor and wait for me for one more glorious dance that will last forever.

Love,
Dad

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

SOMETIMES WE WALK VERY FAR


For the 47-years that she has existed, being carried by her parents in their hearts. Through the tribulations of discovery, the reality that the life they dreamt for her was not to be and the sober fact that they never know what is in store for them and their daughter. They wonder… does God really exist?

When another shoe falls because of their little girl or another child of theirs the thud is in the heart and soul of the parents pulling down the heart while the soul braces for the next thud.  Does God really exist?

As she lies in her hospital bed, a $27,000 bed designed for people who can’t move themselves to adjust their comfort level after hours and hours laying in the same position and the new bed does what she cannot do, adjust the pressure points to avoid bed sores you wonder… does God really exist?

When one day is filled with high hopes and the next day erased like chalk on a blackboard, leaving only the blackness, and nurses and doctors leave one with only clinical observations and implied silence that all will not be right you wonder… does God really exist?

When you have lived the scenario 38-years ago and you lose your child once before in that time and know this does not seem any different than it did 38-years ago you ask yourself… does God really exist?

As parents they have walked many miles, they cannot see the roadside for it is blurred with the incessant tears that fill their eyes. As they carry their burden yet again after 47-years all they hear is her sweet utterances of “Momma” or “Happy” all the words she can speak her eyes wide open and her smile so sweet that fills their hearts. They wonder… Does God really exist?

And yet, when they visit the house of God and see His face and watch His hand as He tries to make her comfortable feeding her and administering her medications, performing procedures to save her life, a life He will ultimately decide to save for this Earth or bring to her reward they no longer wonder… Does God really exist?

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Sunday, June 23, 2019

THE CURTAIN CAPER, OR DO YOU WANT CAPERS WITH THOSE HOT CHIPS?


A few years ago I discovered that TLW (The Little Woman) used me as a model for her lessons in her religious class. She taught little 7-year olds about God and the opposite, namely me.

She related to her little urchins about an ‘incident’ when I was just a pre-teen. My parents went to the city to bring my little Italian Grandmother home for a few days for some occasion or another. My Younger sister and I were left behind for a few hours and in the days of black and white TV; things could get boring in a hurry. It was this very occasion that TLW used for one of life’s lessons.

As that evening wore on, I became hungry or should I say hungrier. I decided to make potato chips and my young and able assistant would help me, whether she wanted to or not. We got some potatoes and sliced them up, poured some oil into a frying pan and dumped the potatoes into the pan. Not looking crisp enough for my liking, I jacked up the flame all the way! Suddenly, the pan caught fire, and an orange-yellow flame began licking out of the pan, and I decided I would just carry it over to the sink, and pour tap water on it. Big mistake! The flame leaped out of the pan and onto the curtains that draped over the sink! I quickly ripped off the curtains and did a Mexican hat dance on them until the flame went out. Surveying the damage, I noticed that only the middle of the curtain was burned, so I decided to cut it away, and sew it up.

My assistant Martha Stewart and I laid out the curtain on the floor and using my Mother’s sewing kit, cut and sewed. When we were finished we decided it looked pretty good! We hung them back up and reasoned that my Mother would be so unhappy about having her Mother-in-law in the house for a few days, that she wouldn’t notice a thing.

We waited anxiously for the return of my parents and I was suddenly overcome with a religious furor that I couldn’t begin to describe. We heard the car pull up and the doors slam. A little bit of Italian told me they had indeed arrived. My heart started to beat faster and faster, as the voices in Italian got closer and closer. Suddenly the door opened, I crossed myself and made a mental note to change my underwear as they entered the kitchen.

“WHAT HAPPENED TO MY CURTAINS!!!???”

Younger sister the stool pigeon revealed all.

The lesson TLW taught?

Well, boys and girls, when you do something wrong, you should say you did it, and say you are sorry.

Of course, it helps a hell of a lot is you are out of range of my Mother’s wooden spoon!


Thursday, June 20, 2019


GRANDMA VISITS

Often when she could come to visit the family, Grandma Frances would have Dad drive out to Brooklyn to pick her up for a few days visit. The ritual was well established and didn’t require a lot of preparation for Mom, her daughter-in-law. Just take down the curtains and clean them, vacuum and clean, wash floors and straighten out, prepare food and shop. As you can see, Grandma was low maintenance.

When Dad picked up Grandma he expected all his kids to be home when she arrived, ready to greet their grandmother like a regal matriarch that she seemed.

When Dad’s car pulled up we all peeked out the window from behind the curtain to watch as Dad opened the door, told Grandma to wait and called me out to unload Grandma’s salami, cheese, and wine and a few dozen, medicine bottles, about three large shopping bags.

As she entered the house it became alive as Mom would greet Grandma with a kiss and invite her in, Grandma smiling as she did. Sitting she would interview each child and ask questions, pinch cheeks, squeeze and hug. Grab your cheeks and pull away the fingers to kiss them.

Grandma was a religious lady, deeply embedded in her church and parish, a doer of deeds. She was the community lifeline for many Italian-Americans who came to her upset, uncertain or unsure.

I used to marvel at how many religious medals she wore, looking like a Vice-Admiral in the Italian Navy, and her fingers had more rings than anyone I knew, she was a marvel of Italian Grandmas. Her hands always smelled of basil (Italian, of course) or garlic and as I studied her fingers they showed not only love but the caring and nurturing that went into her amazing cooking.

I was Jo Jo and my baby sister was Joyann (Joanne) in her wonderful accented call of recognition.

Out of the two or three shopping bags would come Salami, cheeses, and bread, pork chops and steaks, beef and veal! Why? Because they were from HER butcher in Brooklyn, where the meats and cheeses were superior to those on Long Island! Once I asked Mom what made them so special and she explained it to me, there are no differences, the products are all the same name-brand, but when Grandma comes she comes with there intent that her son has the best.

It reminds me of a joke I once heard:
A newly married Carmine called his Mamma and said he was coming to visit her with his new wife.

Mamma said: “Carmine, no forgetta whenna you come you pusher the front door with a your shoulder, not too mucher, you breaker the door, but you pusher enough anda it open.
Thenna, whenna you get tom the doorbell banker, you user your noser to ringer the bell, no ringer too hard, but ringer it nizer or you breaker your nose!”

Carmine was confused and asked,

"Mamma, a whyer I user my shoulder anda my nose??? A whyer I no user my hands???”

Mamma: “Eh! You comer empty handed?”

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Wednesday, June 19, 2019

THIS IS US (REAL LIFE)



Today my wife Ellen and I are married for 48 years. In these 48 years, there were no commercial breaks, no one watched us on TV or in the movies or read about us in a book.

If I chronicled the 48 years of marriage I would say we had no real time for each other, our vows were never tested and never our devotion to each other.

In all that time we had four children and all four have given us joy and sorrow, but never regret. Our regret is when something happens to our children, we have never had time for self-regrets because there is never any time to do so.

We have faced depressions, deaths, and permanent disabilities and all we asked for was time to deal with them and time to heal. Time has been our ally, our reprieve from all the matters that engulf us, but never any real rest from it all.

For forty-eight years we cared about each other, putting each other first, living for that person as if it were our own life, but that is what marriage is: caring for the other, making sure the other is happy and with no compromise.

Our worries are simple: our children who we live for and love, each separately but equally. They hurt and we hurt, we know no bounds to prevent us from coming to assist them in their time of need.

Forty-eight years ago after a beautiful wedding on a beautiful day, we flew off to Europe and had a beautiful honeymoon only to fly home and begin the hard life that would follow. We wonder when the next shoe will drop and when it will finally crush us, but we never wonder if we will deal with it alone. I would never leave my wife with all the heartache we have suffered and I’m positive she wouldn’t jump ship either.

All these many years together went quickly, too quickly, and yet as we retired and started the last phase of our lives living in retirement we still visit hospitals and travel great distances for the sake of those we love.

In spite of all the pain, sadness and setbacks, I will never regret all these years with this little family of mine because of the wonderful woman who always stands by my side and honored me by taking my last name.

I love you, Ellen.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

WHEN IT’S TIME TO SAY GOODBYE



Today is a day I will remember for the rest of my life. It is a day of pain and joy, passion and heartbreak.

One year ago my beautiful grandson was born. Robert Courtney is the dream of my adulthood, the one thing I wished for so fervently and passionately. To me, coming from a family of four sisters I never had a brother, so when I married and I had my first son I was on Cloud Nine thinking of things like playing catch and teaching my son so many things that exist in that world of mine.

As I entered my old age the dream was fulfilled and shifted to a new dream; a grandson, and on this day one year ago it happened. It is enough emotion for one day, but God had other plans.

On this day one year ago I got the horrific news that my daughter-in-law had passed at the birth of her child, one she so wanted. Courtney was a great mom, to begin with, raising for the previous four years a beautiful daughter named Darby Shea. Darby is like her mom, beautiful, smart and creative, and if I were to order a daughter-in-law, Courtney would be that person. Her little daughter who is five as I type this is a replica of her mom.

For the last year, I have had this mixed emotions of that unreal day, the day of great joy that was overshadowed by great tragedy, a day that will puncture all our joy whenever I see my grandchildren. I see two beautiful children without their mom, but I also see a great dad who has managed to carry on with a heavily burdened heart. Somehow, these two children carry on with joy and enthusiasm for life, the same joy, and enthusiasm their beautiful mom held and carried in her heart.

Courtney may have left us, but she has left us with something special, her two beautiful children that continue to make my wife and me happy and my son a reason to carry on, she is missed, she is loved and she will always be in our presence.

Sleep well Courtney… the whole Del Broccolo clan loves and misses you.

Monday, June 17, 2019

HOMER-RUN


It was a hot and muggy July night. Dad had gotten free tickets for a Mets game against the old transplanted Brooklyn Dodgers, calling themselves the Los Angeles Dodgers. Dad was all excited, loving to go to the ballgames from when he lived in Brooklyn he often took his little kids with him,

Along with Dad and me was a friend and his father, an immigrant from Italy who learned to love baseball and had a passionate stake in the outcomes all games the NY METS played. I’ll call him Luigi.

Luigi took his seat next to dad so the old guys could take turns buying each other beers, and so the game began. As the sun was setting and the lights were turned on, it would be a smooth transition from day into night and we would hardly notice it.

Under Luigi’s arm was a brown greased stained brown paper bag that was guarded with his life. It would be the substitute for the "Medicano’s hot-a-dog".

After a few innings and a few beers, Luigi got involved. The Mets batter stood at home plate pumping his bat vigorously and the pitcher peering back in reading the catcher’s sign, the pitcher went into his windup and as he did Luigi called out.

“HOMER-RUN, C’MON A YOU SONNOFFABITCHER, HOMER-RUN!”

TWACK!” The jumps off the bat and sails heavenly toward the outfield fence drawing the outfielder towards the fence in an attempt to catch the ball.

“RUN A… RUN A…”

The ball bounces off the fence and the outfielder relays the ball into the infield.

“SLIDER… SLIDER… YOU SONNOFFABITCHER. SLIDE!!!”

The batter, rather than sliding into the base goes in standing up and is called out!

“SLIDE, YOU GOTTA SLIDE… HE NO SLIDER…”

Turning to the action on the field he yells:

“A WHYER YOU NO SLIDER? YOU GOTTA SLIDE!!!”

Sitting down he pulls out his peppers and egg sandwich and eats.

He looks at Dad and says:

“He no slider!”