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!”


Sunday, June 16, 2019

A FATHER’S DAY WITH MEANING!


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.

HAVE A GREAT FATHER'S DAY WORTHY OF YOU!

Love, Mom, and Dad

Saturday, June 15, 2019

GRANDMA

GRANDMA

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

PROUD AMERICAN


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!


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Thursday, June 13, 2019

ONE OF MY FAVORITE STORIES FROM MY DAD

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

DREAMS REALIZED AND FULFILLMENT

Dreamers
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

MOM THE PROPHET

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.

THE UNDERWEAR IS UNDERSTATED

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???”

“THE UNDERWEAR!”

HARD WORK, TEARS, AND COURAGE






HARD WORK, TEARS, AND COURAGE

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.


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Sunday, June 09, 2019

EXTENDING THE LINE



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.


Saturday, June 08, 2019

THE JOY OF BEING ITALIAN-AMERICAN

If there is one thing I am grateful for it is being an Italian-American. The reason I am so happy about it is too broad and becomes very expansive to elaborate on. However, that will not stop me from trying.

Growing up in Brooklyn in the 1940s and ’50s, I came from an Italian neighborhood where we knew each other and understood that they may not be our parents, but we better listen anyway. The charm of having a neighbor caring about neighborhood kids was the norm. My parents policed the gang, as did my neighbors. The neighborhood was always safe.

But there are memories that come back to me like a warm stove on a bitterly cold day. The constant aroma of cooking emanating from ‘La Cucina’ as mom with her floral apron with a pot boiling on the stove, the crusty bread that sat ready for one to break off into pieces, the wine waiting for the orange slices and sometimes peaches about to be deposited, the plate of pasta faggioli calling out my name.

I can still smell the basil fresh from the garden, the parsley ever present, the rhythm of my mother’s mallet as the veal was tenderized, the slow swaying of the wooden spoon in the pot of pasta as she turned it one more time.

Eagerly I waited at the top of the steps for my father coming upstairs from a day of work, whistling as he climbed a Journal American folded under his arm and a fedora topping his pate with wing-tipped shoes that he changed into to travel the subway to Manhattan and Canal Street and back home again. A laborer by trade, a gentleman by distinction, and a father who ruled with supreme love was Dad’s way. Mom had her way of showing affection too. If the wooden spoon wasn’t serving up love for her family in a hot pot over a hot stove, it was serving out the just desserts of the misguided child, namely me!

I would come home from college and sit at the kitchen table, dad in his plaid shirt and work pants a cup of coffee in hand and mom in her apron relating the latest family news and asking questions of me as I ate my dish of pasta.

Sometimes dad would regale me in stories of his childhood as he painted a picture with clarity of detail that made me feel I had lived it. He told of great grandparents and uncles and aunts, of immigrants who came to America under the sponsorship of my grandparents.

If you sat in grandma’s house there was only one room you really knew, the kitchen. It held a large kitchen table butted against another head to head. The doorbell would ring constantly and a parade of jovial Italians would visit, speaking loudly and lovingly about their lives and life itself. Their language was a bi-lingual extravaganza of words and motion, lifting the roof and falling into the cellar, life itself.

Visitors were greeted with kisses, squeezes and no pats on the back that was for sissy people, Italians got down to uubusin-ess, a shouted greeting and a story to begin the visit.

We rooted for Italians to make good, Joe DiMaggio, Carl Furillo and that colored kid with the Italian father, Roy Campanella. We marveled at the local kid that went off to ‘col-ledger’ to become a doctor who we would all support by having him take our temperature, or the kid next door or downstairs who became a lawyer and inherited us all as clients. Teachers were just below a priest or nun, but we gathered together to make our race equal to anyone else’s.

We worked for the day we would grow as a race for our people that excelled in all we do, becoming teachers, doctors, and lawyers, priest, nuns, and cops on the beat, examples for the next generation. We gained power like politicians and engineers and laid the groundwork for other nationalities to learn how to become Americans too.



Friday, June 07, 2019

THE FIRST WORDS OUT


I am getting sick and tired of the use of a certain four-letter word that starts with ‘F’. Why would such an ugly word be interspersed within our language and used so blatantly and without respect for those that we speak with?

I was at the Toyota dealership in Oakdale recently and in the showroom was a person who seemed aggravated and intent to start a fight with someone over his unhappiness about his existence, I guess. When I was finished with my business I noticed this individual leaving ahead of me, as I got into my car to back out to drive home. Next to me was another car that was pulled out halfway blocking my ability to get pull out. I waited, as the aforementioned individual was busy talking to someone in another car. Finally, he returned to his vehicle and noticed I was trying to get his attention. Rolling down his window I motioned to him he was in my way and could he please move back into the parking space or pull out altogether to let me get by. He makes a face and pulls back in and I put my car in reverse. Just then, another car is slowly passing behind me so I had to wait for the car to pass. As I wait I hear the guy next to me yell:

“WELL MOVE!”

I yell back-

THERE’S A CAR BEHIND ME, PAY ATTENTION!”

As I pull out he is now standing in front of the building and I am anticipating what will come next. His mouth is forming the beginnings of the ‘F’ word and I am anticipating it and yelling it back at him before he can get the word out. God, that felt good!

Thursday, June 06, 2019

REMEMBERING


As they stormed the beaches of Normandy, France, 75-years ago, some walked ashore, others ran ashore, some fell just short of the shoreline. There were no gallant displays of flags being stuck into the sand, only the bogged down equipment that sunk into the wetness of terra firma that eroded under their feet and the fallen comrades calling for medics and mom. Fighting for America and apple pie were a far cry from the realities facing these brave souls as they prayed for survival and saw with their naked eyes for the first time the reality that awaited them.

Their minds were about themselves and their buddies, those who still survived and those who just days ago were players in a crapshoot or card game lying in the sand to worry no more. Witnessing the slaughter in front of them, the survivors were urged to get off the beaches in order to survive, most did, and some didn’t.

Then, a number of years ago at a family event there was standing alone an elderly gentleman who seemed very friendly and wore a sparkle in his eyes and a smile on his face. I was introduced to him and he wound up being an authentic American Hero, too.

A retired NYC cop who served in World War II in one of the most heroic and daring missions to occur prior to the Normandy Beach landings on June 6th, 1944, D-Day stood 89-year old Frank Agoglia. It so happens Frank Agoglia was featured along with his story about D-Day in Long Island’s Newsday back in 2013.

It seems that Mr. Agoglia was part of the glider force that crash-landed in St. Mare Eglise in France on the early morning hours of D-Day, 1944, prior to the Normandy beach landings. In the dark and early morning hours he stepped on French soil, behind enemy lines, probably scared and sure it was his last day on Earth. His job was to secure the bridges that led to the beaches to prevent the Germans from re-enforcing their beleaguered garrisons and to find the enemy to engage him until the landings were complete and a beachhead was established. He was one of the 13,000 brave paratroopers from three regiments that did just that.

Can you imagine not really knowing where you are, blindly roaming about the unknown countryside in hostile territory and that someone will eventually try to kill you? He told some fascinating tales about his descending into the belly of the enemy as part of the 82nd Airborne Division and part of the 4,000 men who arrived via glider. And here is a clincher, he was one of 6 brothers who went into combat, and they all survived!

While I spoke to this hero, his daughter came by and introduced herself, and I asked: “You must be very proud of your dad, he is a hero!” “Oh, I know, we ARE so very proud of him.”

And so a special day was made extra special for me by meeting this wonderful man.

Thank you, Frank, for what you did, the whole nation owes you a great deal and yet could never repay such sacrifice and courage. But we owe to all of you who dare our enemies.

But if you think about it now, the winners on the beaches were the German soldiers who fought, died and surrendered because the invasion marked the beginning of liberation of their country from the tyranny they had to fight under and for the French and Dutch and Belgium peoples who lost their freedom to the madness of the Nazi yoke.

June 6th should be declared a Worldwide holiday where we all give thanks to God.