March 11, 2014
My father died on my birthday, however; that didn’t make it more sad than if he’d passed on a different day. Dad knew my memory suffered, but now his going home will be indelibly etched in my mind. I will remember him for many things but especially for the way he brought life to all situations.
Dad was in the middle of the picture as he was with life. He was the seventh born in a family of fifteen. Dad had eight sister’s and six brother’s, seven older and seven younger. He was the first born in St. Paul, his older brother’s and sisters’ were born in Cumberland, Wisconsin. It was a large family for those days but surely not unheard of. I met only one guy in my entire sixty-one years with a larger family (an Irish family with seventeen kids).
Dad was born the same year as the “St. Valentine’s Day Massacre” (1929) so he was around in the days of real gangsters.
He was fond of saying, “My generation went from the horse and buggy to the moon!” Dad was a proud American and was right with his words because he told me stories of his childhood and life in the old neighborhood.
He told of the rag sheeny (a guy who used a horse-drawn wagon) to collect old clothes and junk from the area and how that guy would slowly walk the horse or ride in the wagon up the street yelling, “Rags, rags,” and the people made their donations.
Dad told me of how he got into the painting business because the carpenter’s hall didn’t need any new recruits at the time. He went over to the painter’s union and made a successful business out of that. He was the quickest painter and paperhanger (I’ve heard the stories of his good work and speed) but he hired a crew so his commitments would be kept. He was doing the work of three guys, at least. He never once complained about the hard work or the many hours…Dad was a happy guy.
Back in the day he’d contracted with a couple national hotel chains (Holiday Inn and Howard Johnson’s). He had entire hotels to renovate and decorate both in and out-of-state. He was a maestro the way he quickly assessed the situation and assigned the right people to the tasks at hand.
He began selling carpet to people who’d hired him for other decorating jobs and that went so well that he eventually got into the carpet business alone. He had a store but none of us knew how it should be run. Dad stuck with it and made a success out of that venture as well; he sold to many contractors, businesses, and residential customers, contacts he’d made while in his more speedy and spectacular days.
Lastly and at the age of eighty-one, Dad became a restaurant owner. He purchased, “Romolo’s” in the fall of 2011 from his friend, Jay Mondo.
He could not understand people retiring young, “What the hell do they do all day?” That was my dad. He saw no sense in taking the easy life and so did a total cleaning and refurbishing of his restaurant. He replaced much of the equipment along with sticking his mortgaged money into the fledgling operation and pointed Romolo’s in a new direction.
Dad never spoke much about himself, though; I heard the stories of his quickness and mastery of the entire construction field. His good friend, Tom remarked once, “Your dad was so smart he finished school in the eighth grade.” Well not entirely true, he had to quit school and get a job to help support that large family.
His dad, my grandpa, took his every paycheck. I think that motivated him to strike out on his own and Dad really made an impact with those he came into contact with. He always paid more than fair wages. He emphasized neatness and a loyalty to your job, something he said was gone.
Some of the old days and ways stayed with him though. For example, paying off cops for minor infractions that my brother and I had gotten into. I’m sure his mistrust of the government came from his Grandpa and dad, and then from my Dad and onto me. The government in Italy, in those days, took everything from the workingman…through taxes. There were still taxes to pay in America, but they weren’t so hefty then and the government of the day branded the new Italian immigrants as being gangsters, I mean who hasn’t heard of the, Mafia.
Battling through the stereotypes and prejudices Dad lived to eighty-four years of age and lastly he made this prophetic remark, “I’ll work until the day I die,” and so he did. I love that man.