Category Archives: Uncategorized

Maureen and Me

This weekend marks another  milestone for my family; my big sister’s birthday.  I won’t give her age away here; suffice it to say that she and I are not quite Geriatric but we have indeed entered (if not crashed into) our A.A.R.P. years.

Growing up, Maureen was somewhat of an enigma to me.  She could have gotten by on her looks alone but has always strived for excellence in all she does.  I on the other hand, relied a LOT on my smile.  As kids, she was what they called (in our day) an “I.G.C. student” or “Intellectually Gifted Child.” She seemed to love school and was quite studious, which naturally led to very high grades.  In fact, she was even “skipped” a year to keep her learning with children who were more on her level. It is only fitting that she should share her birthday with Albert Einstein!

I however hated nothing more than I despised school.  I don’t know exactly what it was or why; perhaps it was the feeling of imprisonment or the insecurity of not being able to be with my family.  As a child who lost two of their four family members in two years, I remember having a fear that if I was unable to watch over my mother, she too might be next in what I felt at the time was God’s “hit list!”

The problem with someone like me having an older sibling who excelled in school was that there were always those teachers who had Maureen as a student first and foolishly expected the same from me.  She didn’t know it, but Maureen had cast a large shadow for me to get lost in.  Now don’t get the impression that I was ever jealous or that there was any animosity between my big sister and me; if anything, it was quite the opposite. I was (and am to this day) so very proud of her.  I idolized her not only for her ease in learning but for the effortless way she could make friends, take charge, and for being super-responsible.

Now that said, it was also this same sister, who after having new sliding glass doors installed in her bathroom shower to replace the old shower curtain rod, remarked to me while I was admiring the new bath, that the only problem with such doors was that there was absolutely “no way” to be able to clean the small area where they overlapped one another in the center.  At first I thought she was joking but after I realized that she was truly perplexed, I used one finger to slide the doors apart from each other in the opposite direction, while I frowned my brow and replied, “I.G.C. right?” thus solving the great bathroom cleaning caper of 1980! Maureen, who always appreciates the humor in any circumstance (even those that involve her) burst out into uproarious laughter, making me vow to my dying day, never to speak about this to anyone… I did keep to my promise; I never said I wouldn’t put it in writing!

Maureen was also the only person besides my mother, who had literally been there my entire life.  Even our dad came into our life when I was six years old.  Through thick and thin, we have been there for each other gleaning strength from one another when needed, passing out advice, sharing secrets, laughing, crying, and always…ALWAYS supporting each other.

I can hardly believe how quickly the years fly by.  It seems that only yesterday I relinquished my fear of swimming by diving into the water of a public pool to bite the leg of an older boy who was holding my sister underwater.  Yes I panicked for her safety, and yes I did draw blood – but in my defense, I had begged him to stop and the bubbles where Maureen was held under, had ceased.  It was now war… and as the saying goes, “all is fair in love and war.” The teen yelled so loudly that I was able to hear him under the water and my sister popped to the top gasping to regain the breath she was desperately in need of. He thought I was a crazy kid, Maureen simply thought it was a job well-done!

Together Maureen and I have lived a life that was best described by Dickens in his opening line of “A Tale of Two Cities.”  You know; “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.”  We held onto each other when we learned that our father had died and again when we heard the same unthinkable news about our brother.  We sat together in the Church of the Annunciation as our mom walked down the aisle to wed the man that became our dad, and we cheered for the birth of our new sisters.  We prayed side-by-side on our knees at our bedside each night… and with good reason; we should have been dubbed the “Bad Luck Duo!”  We were hit by a truck, and became stuck on a Ferris wheel, under a tree, during an electrical storm! We were almost electrocuted by faulty wiring at a laundry mat and both had the opportunity to save the other from drowning.

Maureen and I also started new schools, took care of our sisters, shared friends, played games, went to hundreds of Saturday movie matinées and spent Sundays (after church) laughing to Abbott and Costello on television’s WPIX channel 11, and then we would switch to WOR channel 9 to view the many trials and tribulations of Shirley Temple on Shirley Temple Theater.

Maureen is now a grandmother, married to the boy next-door and enjoying notoriety as a renowned psychic and tarot card reader.  She is still beautiful, still funny, kind of dumb, kind of smart, loyal to her family and to her friends, always there when I need her, and still one of the best blessings (and best friends) I have in my life.

So here’s to my sister, Maureen; may her life always be filled with love, laughter, family, friends, good health, and kindness.

Maurren and me one her birthday circa 1960

Maurren and me on her birthday circa 1960

Maureen and me a few birthdays later

Maureen and me a few birthdays later still holdin’ onto each other.

6 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Why Every Day Is Thanksgiving Day:

One of the best things about Thanksgiving (besides stuffing) is reflecting back on all that there is to be thankful for in our lives.

Although it is human nature to grouse about the things we dislike or lack (or better yet, think we lack) we do know in our hearts that for the most part, we are a fortunate nation of people who in the true scheme of things are not only blessed with what we need but have been given the added gift of overabundance.   It is for this very reason that we even set aside a day to thank God for his blessing and celebrate our good fortune.

Simply because of where we were born, we can very easily forget that so many around the world are doing without the most basic of things, which we take for granted every day.  It is with this in mind that I take this day and a moment out of every day to say the following to God our Father:

In a world where millions hunger, I have more than my fair share to eat… thank you God.

While countless masses thirst in villages with no river or wells, for me pure water is only as far as the faucet on my sink… thank you God.

I live in a nation where, although my government is not perfect, I actually have the right to say so without fear of retribution, punishment or worse… thank you God.

I have my eye sight to see all of the splendor that you have placed in this world for us and my hearing to enjoy every beautiful sound from music to the tranquility of a thunder storm, a simple songbird, and a baby’s laugh… thank you God.

My health, although far from perfect, is good.  I have nothing terminal and the pains and problems that I do have, are conquered by a sense of determination and will power instilled in me by years of example from a wonderful mother… thank you God.

I share my life with a partner who makes everything I have even better as well as helping me though my losses… thank you God.

I come from the world’s best family bar none; yes there may be others AS loving, thoughtful, and kind but none MORE SO… thank you God.

I am loved by friends, neighbors, and coworkers whom I deeply respect and whose love I return… thank you God.

I believe that even my dogs were sent to me to help me though moments of rough patches and to remind me to smile every single day of this beautiful life you gave me… thank you God.

I don’t know why it should be that in a world where tens (if not hundreds) of millions are suffering, I have been blessed with so much.  I only know that I do not take these gifts and blessing lightly.  I take nothing for granted and I pray to you my Lord God to lead me to the path you have chosen for me in this life.  Help me to know how I can do my part to make the world a better place and to touch the people in my life, even in a small way, that they too will feel the joy of your love and the peace of their own countless blessings.

Joyful, joyful we adore you, God of glory Lord of love.

Hearts unfold like flowers before you, opening to the sun above.

Teach us how to love each other, lift us to the joy divine!

Thanksgiving post photo

Happy Thanksgiving one and all.  May each day of your life bring you even more reasons to be thankful.

Until next time

Don

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

There’s Something About Autumn

Today is the fourth full day of autumn, which officially started at 4:44 PM last Sunday. As a resident of South Florida for the past {{{GULP}}} 18 years (where does the time go?), I can say with total honesty that the only season I truly miss… is autumn. The azure blue skies, the smell of tannic acid in the air, the cool – but not cold- weather, and of course the magnificent display of color put on by mother nature; are the things that, since the discovery of our great country, have lifted our spirits for the harvest season and the approaching holidays. Yes, here in SoFlo we do still display pumpkins, gourds, and assorted “fall-like” paraphernalia but let’s be frank, it’s all kind of out of place whilst being presented at 85 humid, tropical, degrees.

I first realized my autumnal affinity back in 1963.  My family had moved away from Williamsburg, Brooklyn, which at least on my local blocks, had a sad lacking of trees and shrubs; that is to say, there were none!  The book wasn’t named, “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” for nothing! When you find one there, you take notice.

We made our way to a lovely street in Flushing that was literally canopied with huge oak and maple trees.  I wasn’t quite seven years old and had yet to witness the full majesty of the equinox.  You can imagine my childhood wonderment when for the first time, I found myself walking under an umbrella of colorful trees as I shuffled my tiny feet through shin-high beds of the fallen foliage.  Each day after school, I would collect a lion’s share of the vibrant leaves to present my mother with (what I believed to be) the most beautiful bouquet nature had to offer.  She would lovingly accept the bundle, replacing each day’s bounty in a hanging pot that dangled in our charming new kitchen.

After a family tragedy, which occurred only months after our relocation, we were forced to move back to Brooklyn.  Three more years would pass before my parents brought us to Bayside, Queens, where we started life anew.  To my utter delight our new domicile was only a few short blocks from the woods.  Actual woods… filled with trees, shrubs, grasses, lakes, and wild blackberry bushes!  I would spend more hours of my boyhood than could be counted, roaming the vast forest like acreage of Alley Pond Park, climbing trees, catching frogs, and bringing my little sisters on picnics, never tiring of what these great woods had to offer.  I enjoyed every moment playing and exploring among the trees but once autumn arrived, I could not get enough time to romp through the thickets.  I would find myself enveloped by the beauty of the third season, beholding the glory of fall as far as my eyes could see in every direction, including up!

After I became an adult, I found that one of the joys of childhood that I never outgrew was the rush of excitement and happiness that the fall season ushered in.  As a young man, I use to enjoy hiring a photographer to take annual family portraits as a gift for my parents.  Hands down, my favorite shot was one of the entire family playing among the autumn leaves outside our little home in Wantagh.  Although 26  years ago, I can recall setting the appointment for the photo like it was yesterday.  The photographer thought it was a splendid idea and looked forward to snapping pictures of the happy family, romping amongst and raking up the bright colored foliage.

A date was set for the peak of the season’s presentation and as luck would have it, it didn’t disappoint!  That Saturday morning was a storybook perfect day.

Back then, we had a landscaper that used to take care of the property, clearing, mowing, and trimming each Friday so that we could enjoy the beauty of our yards (front and back) during our weekend family time together.  I reviewed with my mother, EVERY DAY that week to make sure she moved the landscaper’s appointment to a date and time AFTER OUR PHOTO SHOOT, so that he wouldn’t clear away all the colorful leaves that were so important to our portrait.  “I know,” she assured me each day.  “I’m not a moron, I can make a simple call to reschedule an appointment,” she answered me quite frustrated by Friday morning’s request.  Still, I was relieved to see that our property was nicely covered in a thick bed of the fallen leaves when my dad and I arrived home from work that evening.  Tomorrow was the big day!

Saturday morning arrived and the house was abuzz with everyone trying to get ready before the photographer arrived at 10:00 AM.  Through all the confusion and excitement of things like wardrobe planning, eighties hair styling, and four women using every mirror in the house to check their makeup, none of us noticed that the landscaper had swung by the house as we were preparing.  He had cleared our land of every last fallen leaf.

“When did you tell him to come?” I demanded of my mother.  “Saturday,” she nonchalantly, yet innocently replied in that special way that only Trudy could.  “I never thought he’d come first thing in the morning!”

There was no time to bicker.  What were we going to do?  I had bought new rakes and bushel baskets to be used as props for the shoot.  With no leaves in sight, they would be awfully silly to hold during our “casual and very candid” yet carefully planned out poses!  Without the leaves, it would merely be an outdoor photo.  With only minutes to spare before the photographer arrived, I handed each one of my sisters, my niece, my dad, and myself, large plastic trash bags with instructions to gather up all of the leaves we could get from the homes up and down Wheelbarrow Lane.  Our neighbors were only too happy to comply!  I finished scattering the last bag of leaves in what I felt was an uncontrived, natural pattern, filling our front yard with the joy of autumn just as the photographer pulled up to our house.

The selected Photo which hung over our fireplace

The selected Photo which hung over our fireplace

This portrait is not only a favorite among my family, but it has also received the most praise from friends and even strangers that see it to this day.  There is just something so special about seeing a family frolicking in the foliage.

Happy Autumn to you!

This one was a close second choice

This one was a close second choice

This one hung in my sister Maureen's home.
This one hung in my sister Maureen’s home.

Until next time,

Don

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

A Dozen Years Ago – One Man’s Personal Account of 9/11

The air outside the New York Hilton was crisp and clean. The azure blue sky had not a cloud in sight. I took in a deep breath to fill my lungs with this refreshing taste of early autumn.  Turning to James I commented, “Too bad we have to go home. What a perfect day to enjoy all that New York City has to offer.”

James actually pondered the idea. I could see his wheels spinning as he tried to devise a way to extend our stay for a day or two as a reward for a week of hard work and long hours before asking, “Should I go back in and see if I can secure a room for another day?”

It was a tempting offer I had to admit, but the fact was that we were all packed, standing with our bags by our side, under the porte cochere of the hotel and the valet had whistled for a taxi, which was at this moment pulling up in front of us to take us to the airport. Besides, without planning on extra days, we hadn’t any leftover clean clothes save for those on our back. In spite of our desire to stay on, all signs were pointing to the fact that it was time to return to our home in West Palm Beach, Florida.

The cab pulled up to JFK International and as we exited our taxi, James put the offer out one last time. “It’s now or never. Are you sure you don’t want to stay?”

“We’re here now,” I answered. “Let’s just go home. I’m sure we’ll be equally glad to be home once we’re there.”

Once inside the terminal, I was beginning to regret my decision. There was a problem with our flight and in order to get us to West Palm, they had to not only switch our flight, but also the airlines we were schedule to fly home with. Now we had to race through the terminal carrying our bags to catch the new flight which was leaving at 8:05 AM. This plane was scheduled a full thirty minutes earlier than the flight on our original itinerary. When we finally arrived at our gate, we breathlessly boarded our plane and made ourselves comfortable in our assigned seats.

The flight was uneventful; after all, what kind of turbulence would we have to worry about on such a majestic day? James seized the opportunity to grab a little nap and I read my book while sipping from my cup of mediocre airline coffee.  In less than a few hours, the plane was gently gliding onto the runway at PBI.  As passengers began to organize their belongings to prepare to de-board, a masculine and very solemn voice came over the PA system. “Ladies and gentlemen, this is the captain speaking,” he began. “I am afraid I have some very bad news for you.” Since we had already landed, we all wondered what kind of bad news he had to share.

“Shortly after our take off this morning,” he continued, “a plane struck the side of one of the World Trade Center buildings. At this point, they don’t even know what plane it was, what airline they belonged to, where it took off from, or where it was going. As we just left New York, most, if not all of you, must have family back there that may be understandably, quite concerned about your well being at this point. If you have a cell phone, I encourage you to turn it on now and call your loved ones to let them know you’re okay.”

Suddenly from two rows behind us a woman yelled out, “My son works security for the Trade Center. It’s not a fly zone. How could a plane hit into one of the buildings? It would have to be a deliberate act. This is terrorism!”  All any of us could do was hope to God that she was mistaken.

As we left the plane and entered the terminal, we were surrounded by reporters. They now knew that it was in fact terrorism, as the second plane had crashed into the other tower and a third had slammed into the Pentagon. It seems that our flight had been the last flight approved to finish its course to land at its destination and they wanted to know what we thought about it. What could we think? What had been news for over an hour to the rest of the world was only just being told to us. Pushing through the barrage of reporters, James and I looked at the television monitors that showed the two mountainous towers engulfed in flames and billowing black smoke with the back of large jets sticking out from their sides about halfway up the buildings. It was still too much to comprehend and as we gazed at the monitors for a moment to somehow try to understand what was going on, we watched in horror as the first building crumbled like dust before our eyes. Too shocked to even cry, all we wanted was to get out of the airport and talk to our families. Although we had tried calling everyone back in the plane much to our chagrin, all we managed to get were busy signals.

We entered our home and dropped our bags at the door. We each grabbed a phone and James was first to reach a relative. His sister burst into tears when she finally heard his voice, as did my mother, both relieved that we were not only safe but in our own house.

Every American, and in fact every person the world over, knows how the rest of the day progressed. News of heroism began to spread the airwaves, making the bigger news about kindness and selflessness, belittling the cowardly terrorists and their actions. First, reports came in about United Airlines flight 93 and the passengers, who after learning about the destiny of the other flights and realizing that they were going to die that day, forced the terrorists to crash into an open field, spearing injury to an further innocent victims. It was clear to the world, that they were more than heroes; they were angels.

As the hours ticked by, my very family became four different statistics of the day’s tragedy. My aunt had called my mother to give her the news that my cousin had lost his wife in tower one.

Kenny was a policeman out on Long Island with the day off to care for his two baby daughters. Since the birth of their second daughter not too long ago, Debbie only worked one day a week. She was not even supposed to be working that Tuesday. Her work day was usually Monday but due to a doctor appointment, she had switched days that week. As she spoke to her husband over the telephone, Debbie was assuring him not to worry. She was alright and told him that the firemen were on their way right now to rescue the people in her office. As they spoke, the line suddenly went dead and Kenny stared at his television in shock, as he watched the building his wife was in crumble.  I can’t even pretend to imagine what he felt.

Debbie and Her Girls

Debbie and Her Girls

A second cousin had gone missing for three days. Thankfully she had managed to escape the building but shell-shocked, she wondered the streets for days not knowing where she was or what to do.  Finally she was helped by a Good Samaritan who took her to a local hospital where they were able to contact my aunt and uncle.

Then there was my cousin Joe Rabito; a first responder.  A photo of him helping two women to safety was snapped and wound up on the front page of the New York Daily News. He was, is, and always will be a hero. To this day he suffers the effects of the damage that was done to his lungs as he helped others on that fateful morning. I know Joe; even knowing the consequences, he would do it all again.

My Cousin Joe Rabito, first responder and hero.

My Cousin Joe Rabito, first responder and hero.

My brother-in-law (also named Joe) was working in the city that day too. He repairs elevators as well as rescues people from them when they fail.  Thank God, that day he was not downtown. However he had to stay in Manhattan for two reasons. First; there was no longer any transportation running that day, and secondly; without anyone being able to get in or out of the city, his company wanted all the men they had on hand, just in case they were needed. After a very relieving phone call to assure my sister he was okay, Sharon spent the next few days taking care of her two young children while like all of us, she kept her eye on the news.

When will the evil people learn that acts of terrorism like this are never able to accomplish the goal the attacker hoped for?  If anything, it does the exact opposite.  Good people don’t fall apart, give up, or retreat.  Patriotism, that may admittedly at times be taken for granted, is renewed and strengthened.  We unite stronger than ever.  We comfort one another and rebuild with pride and purpose.  With never fading love and faith, we go on…

May God bless the USA… May God bless the world he created

5 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Williamsburg, the Journey Continues. My Grandfather’s Grotto…

In 1966 John Sebastian penned a number one hit song for his group The Lovin’ Spoonful titled, “Summer in the City.”  The lyrics aptly state:

Hot town, summer in the city . Back of my neck getting dirty and gritty . Been down, isn’t it a pity?  Doesn’t seem to be a shadow in the city. All around, people looking half dead, walking on the sidewalk, hotter than a match head!”

I bring this up because it not only conjures up the true feeling of a stifling hot summer day in an urban jungle but because when James and I went to Williamsburg to revisit my childhood, New York City had begun the biggest heat wave it had known in years and it was precisely how the two of us felt. I was unable to get the song (which by the way, Rolling Stone Magazine ranked #401 of the 500 greatest songs of all time) out of my head. Needless to say that as a coupe of overweight, out of shape, middle-aged men suffering from a number of ailments not the least of which is high blood pressure, we were uncomfortable to say the least.

That said, there was still a very important place for me to revisit. In 1938, my grandfather Vito Abate, built an incredible grotto on the grounds of his local parish church, Saint Francis of Paola. Yes I know that this is the third church I mentioned in as many blogs, but there ARE that many Catholic churches in the area. It seems as though you stumble across another one every few blocks or so. The remarkable thing is, as a child, every one of them was packed full for each and every mass! Anyway, I digress… I knew that I absolutely had to take James to see my grandfather’s work no matter how oppressive the heat.

After stopping off (even further north on Bedford Avenue) we took a break to cool off and grab a bite to eat. We found a cute little place called, “Sweet Chick” that is known for their chicken & waffles. Outside the shop sat one of the famous food-trucks “Van Leeuwen’s Ice Cream” that was preparing for what was sure to be a huge crunch on this big feast day. After taking some time to share a scone, a couple of tall iced teas, and of course some chicken and waffles, we were ready to do an about face and head south to Conselyea Street, where St. Francis church is located.

Sweet Chick Restaurant on Bedford Avenue

Sweet Chick Restaurant on Bedford Avenue

Chicken & Waffles

Chicken & Waffles

As a child I remember passing by the structure thinking “oh, that’s grandpa’s grotto,” but because I was only a child, I was unable to truly appreciate the craftsmanship or the incredible hard labor of love it took to complete the task.

Please allow me to tell you about my grandpa.

Vito Abato was born in Italy and immigrated to the United States in the early 1900’s. He settled in Williamsburg, Brooklyn and was drafted into WW1 shortly after marrying his wife Maria Petrocelli. A spelling error on a US army document changed his last name from Abato to Abate. Vito’s battalion was captured by enemy forces who attempted to execute them by lethal gas. Left for dead, Vito actually survived and was later awarded a medal of honor for his plight. The gas however did do irreversible damage to Vito, causing him to become yet another disabled veteran casualty of that Great War. Never one for self-pity, Vito worked wherever he could to raise money to support his wife and six children. He and Maria scrimped and watched every cent of his meager earnings, eventually saving enough money to fulfill the “American Dream,” when they opened a small mom and pop’s grocery store. However the couple eventually lost everything during the depression, when they freely gave away the store’s stock to the struggling families in the neighborhood. I remember asking my grandmother why they gave away all the food. Her answer was simple, “These were the people of my neighborhood. Their children were hungry and I had shelves of food. What else could I do?”

Vito’s greatest loss came in 1938, after the death of his youngest daughter, Anna who passed away from pneumonia at age eight. Heartbroken, he decided to build a grotto at his local parish church, Saint Francis of Paola, as an offering to the Virgin Mary in hopes that she may look after the daughter he could no longer care for himself. A poor and unhealthy man, Vito would walk from his apartment in Williamsburg, over the Manhattan bridge to Canal Street and through the Holland Tunnel to New Jersey, where he would collect the stones that were being discarded there during work on the tunnels. Hunched over his little wooden wheelbarrow, he hauled 6-8 stones at a time back to Brooklyn to be used to erect the structure. I can’t even imagine how much his back ached from the journey or the countless miles he logged, gathering the hundreds of stones needed to complete his beautiful grotto.

Built by my grandfather's hands in 1938 the grotto holds a small plaque dedicating the structure in his honor

Built by my grandfather’s hands in 1938 the grotto holds a small plaque dedicating the structure in his honor

This grotto was erected out of a father’s undying love for his daughter and has been standing as a testament to his incredible faith for over 75 years.

I was fortunate, honored, and above all, blessed enough to call Vito Abate my grandfather and I could not be more proud – or more humbled – by such an inspirational and devoted man. God bless you grandpa, I love you.

Untill next time,

Don

10 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

My return to Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Part Two…

As James and I continued our journey through Williamsburg, we headed north on Metropolitan Avenue. Directly diagonal to my old building, still sits the tiny square, corralled in by the very same cast-iron posts. In spite of the fact that the poor little square sat directly under the BQE (Brooklyn-Queen’s Expressway) as the only patch of nature in the area, it was where all our outdoor photos were taken. In my mind’s eye I could see us kids posing for Easter Sunday photos as well as my sister Maureen’s First Holy Communion.

Maureen and me posing at "the Square" many moons ago!

Maureen and me posing at “the Square” many moons ago!

A short walk under the BQE and we emerged at the playground where we kids would go to cool off in the community sprinklers. Occasionally… and I DO MEAN occasionally, we were permitted to go to the playground alone (well as a group of kids) and have fun swinging to and fro on the swings or blistering our butts and thighs on the shiny steel slides that sat heating up in the oppressive summer sun! Hahahaaa…No coddling back in those days. We kids climbed iron monkey bars 15 feet high with nothing but the pebble studded concrete to break our fall, should we be unfortunate enough to miss our grip. There was also a sand-box and of course, those cursed wooden see-saws where a big kid would always hold a smaller child hostage in the air, until they sufficiently begged for release. What I liked most about going to the park as a young child was that it had trees around its perimeter. They weren’t terribly big, and for sure not the healthiest specimens but still, they were trees in an area where trees were scarce. Ironically, fifty years later they have not seemed to grow one iota larger!

My childhood playground as it is today

My childhood playground as it is today

James and I continued our northward trek, towards North 5th Street. Within moments we were standing before The Church of the Annunciation. Two of the most significant events in my family’s life were marked by services at this majestic house of worship. It is where my parents were married on Saint Patrick’s Day in 1963 and were my brother’s funeral service was held in November of that same year. It was 10:30 AM and James and I wanted to attend mass there this Sunday. Unfortunately for us, the eleven o’clock service was to be held in Spanish, so we went inside the church to say our prayers privately.

Church of the Annunciation

Church of the Annunciation

Annunciation was exactly how I remembered it. I had long wondered if the reason I thought of this church as a small cathedral was due to my childhood memory recalling things larger than life, but it was indeed as “cathedral-like” as I remembered. From the tile floor in the vestibule, to the original pews, which still have the clips once used to hold a man’s hat, to the statues, to the stained glass windows, the Church of the Annunciation was, is, and I suppose always will be, a magnificent tribute to a time when such glorious workmanship was commonplace, especially when building houses of worship regardless of religion.

Inside Annunciation looking down the asile to the alter

Inside Annunciation looking down the asile to the alter

The Alter

The Alter

Something quite unexpected happened to me that morning as I knelt to pray. I felt as if I had been somehow transported back to the day when my mom and dad were wed there. I could feel my nana’s hand holding mine in the vestibule as the doors opened and my mother entered (backlit by the bright afternoon sun) on the arm of her dad (my Poppy). I recalled looking up at my nana to ask, “Nana… doesn’t mommy look like an angel?” I remembered thinking that my mother (as a bride) was the single most beautiful vision in the entire world. I relived taking my place in the first pew with nana as we watched my gorgeous mother slowly “glide” down the aisle all dressed in white, holding a lovely bouquet of flowers in one hand while she held Poppy’s arm with her other. Outside the church, by the tall, black iron gate that still surrounds it, I could see my Aunt Del (in her pillbox hat and new coat) bending down to tell me what a handsome little man I was in my tiny tuxedo! It was as though time stood still for fifty years to be rerun again at this moment just for me. 

My mom & Poppy emerging from the limo outside the Church of the Announciation 3-17-1963

My mom & Poppy emerging from the limo outside the Church of the Announciation 3-17-1963

I tried my best to tell James what I was feeling, but foolishly, found myself crying as I did my best to explain. These were not by any means tears of sadness, but more tears of joy. Joy because of all the good things that began for my family on that day, and joy for having such a wonderful “forever memory” so clearly etched into my mind. 

As it turns out, today (July 21st) is the tenth anniversary of my mom’s passing. As I sit here writing this blog I can’t help feeling blessed beyond measure to have had Trudy Wilson-Massetti-Abate as my mother. Although it is mostly due to luck that such memories are so instilled into my brain… it is without a doubt because of my beautiful mother that they are so safely tucked into my heart.

More about Williamsburg to come in my next blog!

Until then…

Don

4 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Who Said You Can’t Go Back?

James and I had to head to New York City for a few meetings so we decided to seize the moment and make a weekend of it.

After five decades, I returned to my roots to visit the neighborhood I came from, Williamsburg, Brooklyn. We had been hearing a lot about it on television lately; as crazy as it seems, the old area of run down walk-up’s and tenements had made a 360 degree turn to become one of New York City’s most sought after communities! When you think about it, it actually makes perfect sense, as it’s literally 10-minutes (2 subway stops) from Manhattan with majestic views of the famous NY skyline. I guess the bigger surprise should be; why didn’t someone think of it sooner?

The ability to not only go back to Williamsburg, but to be able to take the time to visit some of the very places so significant to my childhood, was both exciting, and at times, quite emotional. I plan to Blog about the various experiences separately (in about three different Blogs) to give each of them the attention and the respect that they deserve.

At 14th Street in Manhattan, James and I boarded the “L” train for Brooklyn and four stops later we emerged out of the subway on the very block of my young childhood. Of course there were a few changes but for the most part, things had stayed so eerily the same, I almost felt a bit like Ebenezer Scrooge from Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” half hearing the “ghosts of my childhood past,” laughing and playing on the sidewalks  along with the Muldoon kids.

The biggest change noticed was to my old building, which was now sans its beautiful slate steps, and cast iron, cannonball banister. The antique, glass paneled, wood framed double doors had been removed in lieu of a very 1970’s government office building style aluminum framed door. Yuck! What were they thinking?

524 Metrolpolitan Avenue

524 Metrolpolitan Avenue

I learned before our trip that Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, one of the many neighborhood parishes, was in full “feast” mode, celebrating the annual Festival of Saint Paulino, a local patron saint to the Italian immigrants who had settled there from the town of Nola. It is a tradition that is over fourteen hundred years old and culminates with the carrying of the Giglio throughout the streets of the area. One hundred men haul the seven story structure (that holds an entire twelve piece musical band) on their shoulders to the delight of the cheering crowd.

Back when my family lived in Williamsburg, the Giglio was carried down our block (Metropolitan Avenue) and actually dropped in front of our very building! These days it seems the Giglio takes a different (and smaller) route down the street in front of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church but is just as exciting as ever.

A vey busy Lady of Mount Carmel Church on the afternoon of the feast.

A vey busy Lady of Mount Carmel Church on the afternoon of the feast.

Now easy to see that the Giglio is really 7 stories high while it waits to be carried in front of some new construction
Now easy to see that the Giglio is really 7 stories high while it waits to be carried in front of some new construction

The book I am writing about my mother, “Unforgettable (Trudy’s Story)” has a small story in it that covers the feast and the Giglio and I was excited to see how well my memory fared after a half century. I had given James the pages from the chapter which covered the feast to get his take on it. Turns out; he was astonished to see how accurately I remembered the details, noting that by visiting the scene, he could almost picture our family (along with the neighborhood locals) filling the streets in celebration.

As poor kids from a Brooklyn tenement, this annual feast was a highlight to our summers and to have the opportunity to go back after fifty years to the sights, sounds and the smells of a bygone era, was a remarkable experience that reignited cherrished memories that I will forever be grateful to hold in my mind and in my heart.

Until next time,

Don

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Never Forget, Ever Honor…

As we set out to enjoy our Memorial Day weekend I hope that each and every one of us, take a moment to remember the reason for the holiday. This very special day was put aside to honor those who gave the ultimate sacrifice, so that we may enjoy the freedom that I fear most of us take for granted. 

It is not by coincidence or luck that we Americans have the freedoms so many around the world long for. It is because for over 200 years, heroic men and women have fought battles here and abroad to protect that right, and we should be eternally grateful for the “privilege” they assured us. 

I am saddened to say, that although we are now in the 21st century, there are still those who would want to destroy our country and take away our freedom. It is because of this, that even today our American heroes are battling incomprehensible combat to uphold our precious way of life. 

According to biblical scripture (John 15:13) “There is no grater sacrifice than to lay down one’s life for one’s friend.” Surly those brave men and women who left behind their families and paid the ultimate price on behalf of their American friends, should at the very least be honored by those of us that they died protecting. 

So I humbly ask you to take a moment between ball games, family reunions, hotdogs and backyard barbecues, to bow your heads and thank those wonderful heroes, without whom we would not be partaking in these festivities. May God bless their souls, give peace to the families who mourn them and may they never be forgotten. 

Happy Memorial Day to one and all…

2008 Memorial Day Poster #3.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

A Rather Large Excerpt from “Unforgettable (Trudy’s Story)”

In honor of my 56th birthday, I have decided to post a rather large excerpt from my soon to be finished novel based on my mother’s life story. Even though the passage is surely more than a “teaser,” it is merely a short part of this chapter. It is however the part that covers my birth. Virtually everything my mom ever did came along with an amusing story and as you will see, giving birth to me was no exception. I hope you enjoy it and that you are looking forward to the release of the novel in totality.

Unforgettable (Trudy’s Story)

Copyright 2011 by Donald Philip Massetti

All rights reserved. No part of this book or Blog may be used or reproduced by any means, graphic, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping or by any information storage retrieval system without the written permission of the author except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

This is a novel based on the true-life events of Gertrude Wilson- Massetti-Abate.

Aside from immediate family, names have been changed to protect the privacy and the rights of all other individuals.

Wednesday, May 22, 1957

Trudy had been in labor for over eight hours.  She was hot, sweaty and exhausted.  She was tired of being on her back, tired of having her feet in stirrups and totally fatigued from hours of painful contractions.  It was only two weeks earlier, on Mother’s Day, that Trudy was in this very hospital with what turned out to be, false labor. She remembered Dr. Thatcher joking, “I think you just wanted your baby to be born on Mother’s Day!”  It was no mistake this time. This was definitely the real thingThis  has got to be a boy, she thought to herself.  Maureen was so easy compared to the Duke and now this one.  She was worried that this baby would be another eleven-pounder and more worried still, because her doctor was away and had an associate on call whom she had never met.  Suddenly a long and agonizing contraction came upon her, which caused Trudy to have to cry out.  A nurse took a look and told another nurse to run and get Doctor Grant now!  The baby was crowning. 

In a few moments the nurse returned with a very annoyed doctor who announced as soon as he walked into the delivery room that he was just about to put a little boy under so he could take out his tonsils.  

“Great timing misses!” he sarcastically grunted at Trudy. 

Trudy was in no mood for a doctor with attitude or anyone else for that matter. 

“Gee I’m so sorry doctor, she replied with an intentional caustic tone to her voice.  “Imagine my selfishness not choosing a more convenient time for my delivery.” 

“Well that poor little boy is now going to have to wait until this afternoon to get his tonsils out thanks to you.” 

“You’re blaming me?  Do you think I have a choice here? It’s my fault?” 

“Well it sure isn’t mine,” he loudly barked. 

“I’ll tell you what doc, next time just let me know your schedule and I’ll try keeping my legs crossed as the baby comes.  Maybe this way, no other tonsil will ever have to wait!  We must have our priorities!” She sneered, mocking her tormentor as she brushed her hair, which she now dyed black, off of her sweaty forehead.  

Then all at once she was hit with a pain that was too bad to do anything but cry out… “Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhh!” 

The doctor took a look and saw that the baby’s head was out and the shoulders were about to come next. 

A few more pushes, and at last, the baby was out.  Donald Philip Massetti was born at exactly 8:05 AM.  The doctor tied off and cut the cord.  He told the nurse to clean, weigh and measure the baby.  He signed a document and left the room before the nurse could call out that the baby boy was eight pounds, four ounces and was twenty-one inches long.  

As Trudy held her new son in her arms, nothing else mattered.  She didn’t give the jerk of a doctor a second thought.  There was something so wonderful about giving birth, she thought.  The very moment she got to hold her baby in her arms for the first time, she could no longer see her life any other way.  

As usual, Mario was waiting just outside the delivery area for news and Trudy could almost swear that she heard her husband cheer when the nurse brought him the news of baby Donald.  He came into the room to see the baby and visit with Trudy.  After a while a nurse came in and announced that she had to cut the visiting time short. 

“This new mother needs to get some rest after all those hours of labor,” said the smiling nurse. 

Mario kissed his wife tenderly and told her that he would be back later that afternoon.  Then he stood back and looked at her for a moment.  

“What it is?  You’re making me self-conscious.  Why are you staring at me?” Trudy asked sheepishly. 

“It’s nothing,” he answered through a grin.  “It’s just that I was right.  Since the very first time I saw you walk by the barber shop window, I knew that you would not only change my life, but bring me more joy than I could even dream of.” 

Mario went home and made the necessary calls.  Although his father was at work he was still able to ring up his sisters, brothers and Trudy’s sister Eunice.  There was no reason to call Lily Wilson.  The matriarch was in the midst of yet another feud with Trudy.  It seemed as though the old woman was always at odds with one or more of her children, wiping them out of her life completely for years at a time.  Her latest clash with Trudy began over two years ago and in that time; she had not even so much as answered her daughter’s Christmas cards.  She knew damned well that Trudy was pregnant.  Eunice had told her on more than one occasion.  Yet she had not even once cared enough to see if her daughter was doing well.  He knew calling her would be fruitless.  Besides, she was certain to hear the news from Eunice anyway. 

Saturday morning was the big day.  Trudy and the baby were being released from the hospital and Mario packed his wife the tweed suit she requested to wear.  As he was leaving the house carrying the suit on a hanger over his back, Mario ran into one of the neighbor women.  She laughed at Mario and told him that Trudy will need one of her maternity outfits to come home in.  

Mario laughed back.  “Not Trudy,” he proudly answered.  “She always goes right back into her old clothes.” 

He tried to convey to the doubting neighbor that history had shown that Trudy’s body snapped back almost to original, pre-pregnancy form, virtually right after labor.  The neighbor just laughed at him and went on to explain , as if he didn’t know, that most women take almost a year to get back into shape.  While others, never get their original figure back again.  Mario didn’t want to seem rude but his wife and baby were waiting to come home so he had to get moving.  He thanked the neighbor for her concern but this outfit would be fine he told her in a reassuring tone. 

Trudy was sitting up in her bed with baby Donald in her arms as she patiently waiting for Mario.  Her aqua green eyes seemed even more striking framed by her now dark hair.  Mario thought that with this hair color Trudy looked like all the best parts of Elizabeth Taylor and Ava Gardner rolled into one.  His wife was a head turner there was no denying that, regardless of hair color. 

He sat on the bed and held the baby as Trudy slipped into the bathroom to get dressed.  In only a few moments she emerged like a screen star. 

Smiling her biggest smile, she announced that she was ready to go home.  She asked Mario to wait with the baby for just a moment while she walked to the nurses’ station to say goodbye to the gals there.  

While she and the ladies were chatting who should walk up to the desk than the ever so “charm challenged” Dr. Grant.  He took one look at Trudy and put down the chart he was carrying. 

“Well I certainly hope that a beautiful woman like you is here to see a loved one and you’re not in need of any medical attention.  But if you are in need of a good doctor,” he flirted, “allow me to introduce myself.  I’m Ed Grant…Doctor Ed Grant!” 

Trudy looked at him in utter disbelief.  The nurses all stopped what they were doing as they pretended to read charts, hoping to overhear the conversation. 

Looking directly into his eyes, Trudy replied, “Well I was in need of a good doctor a few days ago, unfortunately there was none to be found.  But I’m fine now.  In fact, I’m going home.” 

“Well I’m sorry I wasn’t there to help you,” said the suave doctor. 

“Yes doctor, so am I,” Trudy responded, causing the nurses to snicker.  Dr. Grant looked startled when they did. 

“You really don’t know who I am do you doctor?” 

“I am afraid you have me at a disadvantage leaving me rather ignorant.” 

“Ingnorant?  Well at last we agree on something,” Trudy was unable to resist saying.  “Wednesday doctor, you were quite annoyed with me when you had to postpone a tonsillectomy because I went into labor.” 

The doctor was truly shocked.  “That was you?” 

“I’m afraid that spending half a day in agonizing labor doesn’t leave us gals looking our best.  Maybe if you tried to pass an eight-pound bowling ball through your little penis you’d understand better.  Don’t they teach you those things in medical school?  Or did you miss that class along with the one on bedside manor?” 

Just then Mario came walking down the hall towards them holding Donald. To his side was a nurse who was pushing a wheelchair. 

“Looks like my ride is here.  I hate long goodbyes so I hope you don’t mind if instead, I just tell you to take your greasy, used car salesman charm and buzz off.”  

When the nurse and Mario approached the desk the doctor picked his chart back up and walked away without a word. 

“Who’s that?” inquired Mario. 

“That was nobody,” Trudy replied 

Her husband laughed.  “Nobody?  He can’t be nobody, everybody is somebody,” he joked. 

“Darling, trust me.  If ever there was a nobody… that was him!” 

Then Trudy sat down in the wheelchair with her new son on her lap. 

Off they went to the elevator and just as the doors were about to close, a group of three nurses stopped the door. 

“Mrs. Massetti,” they said, “we just wanted to say thank you.” 

“You’re thanking me?  Whatever for?” 

“For saying what we’re not able to say to that creep.  It was nice to see him with his tail between his legs and we just wanted to thank you.” 

“Well dears, we gals have to stick together.  Believe me, it was indeed my pleasure,”  she replied with a wink.

With that they allowed the elevator doors to close.  Mario looked at his wife wondering what they were talking about.  Whatever it was that had just gone down, he could tell that Trudy handled it quite well.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

Every year since I was 12 years old, on my birthday I uttered the same words to my mother and I shall continue to do so for the rest of my life… Happy Birthday to us!

Baby Donald  Hospital photo taken directly after birth

Baby Donald
Hospital photo taken directly after birth

Until next time,

Don

3 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

A Letter to my Mother…

When I was a little boy you knew how much I needed you. After all, you were my great protector, my friend, my teacher, my supporter, and even my doctor. I counted on you to feed me, clean me, teach me, guide me, and to love me unconditionally.

When I became a man, you thought that I didn’t need you anymore but in fact, I needed you more than ever. You taught me more in my adult life than the basics you maneuvered me through in childhood. As an adult I learned from you, never to give up, to love my fellow human beings, to respect nature, to be kind, gentle, caring, supportive, empathetic, and loving. You taught me to appreciate the moment because we never know what tomorrow will bring, to be loyal to others, true to myself and uncomplaining. These were not the same “lessons” that guided me throughout my childhood. These things I learned from observation; by watching you.

Until the day you died, you headed my cheering section and had great pride in me. You saw things in me that I could not see in myself. You were the person I could turn for anything. I would run to you whenever things happened to me good or bad, because when they were good, no one would be happier for me than you. And when they were bad, you somehow gave it perspective and made it better. You would show me how to learn from it and grow as a person.

Your love was not only unconditional but never ending. I feel it still, transcending even death. I feel you all around me to this very day. I remember all the things we did together, the special moments we shared, the laughter, the joy and even the tears.

Today, even though you left this world almost ten years ago, you have never for a fleeting moment left my heart. I know in your own way you are at my side, still guiding me, protecting me, and loving me. You were, are, and always will be, my inspiration. You are my mother now and forever.

Happy Mother’s Day Mom… I love you,
Your son, your son.

Mom & Donald Nana's Lawnmom & me

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized