Janice, A New Beginning…

By the time I was six and a half years old, there had been enough tragedy and change in my life than most people experience into adulthood. I can vividly recall holding tightly to my sister’s hand as we stood in horror and disbelief watching our father die in our mother’s arms, just days before Christmas. Then on that very Christmas day, while waiting for our grandfather to come and visit us, we received a phone call informing us that he too had died. Grandpa had suffered a fatal heart attack in route to our home!

As time went by, my mother became very close with a man who had made it his mission to take care of our needs after my father’s death, and eventually, that man became our new dad. Before we even had time to adjust to life with a new father, I was told that there was a baby to come. We then moved away from the only home I had ever known and within months, my big brother also passed away. What’s more, all this took place in only two short years. At six years old, that was one third of my life!

I remember being somewhat excited about the prospect of a new baby, but to tell you the truth, at that young age, it didn’t quite seem real until the day arrived when my mother was coming home from the hospital with baby Janice. We rode in the car to pick up mom and the baby. Maureen and I sat in the back seat, while mom held her new baby ever so close to her from the front passenger seat and dad of course, did the driving.

Finally we were in our home and I was permitted to touch baby Janice on her rosy cheek. Her skin was soft and she had a beautiful fragrance that I had never smelled before. I was told that it was what new babies smelled like. Then I was seated in a chair and Janice was gently placed onto my lap for me to hold. That moment right there, holding this precious and fragile new member of our family, changed my life forever.

Although saddened with grief, something inside of me, as I held onto baby Janice, made me feel hope. I felt unexplained joy and caring fill my heart because of her. For the first time since my father died, I felt like I belonged. I knew that somehow, everything was going to be alright.

I remember wondering, is this the family that God had intended for me now? Then I looked back down at Janice’s happy and rosy face, and knew the answer.

easter-1966-donald-janice

Janice and yours truly at 2 and 8 years old respectively

Of course our family continued to grow, blessing me with two more sisters, whom I love dearly, but I will forever view Janice as God’s way of healing our family and as the beginning of a new and happy life to come.

Today we celebrate my sister Janice’s birthday. She is now a grown woman, happily married with two grown children of her own. Janice is a teacher of fourth grade students, and her special brand of love, kindness, and humor makes her a favorite and memorable teacher who truly makes a difference in her students’ lives.

I couldn’t be more proud of the woman Janice has become and of all her accomplishment, but I must admit; to me, she will forever be the beautiful baby whose arrival was the beginning of all things good for our family.

So Happy Birthday Janice, I hope your day, and the year (and years) ahead, are as special and wonderful as you are. I love ya kiddo!

319405_1925520912326_1671249774_1298974_580501046_n

Janice & Me Today

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Sukiyaki????

Have you ever had one of those days when you wake up with a song in your head that you just can’t shake? This morning, for some strange reason, I woke up humming a tune I had not heard in a dog’s age. It was an oldie from 1963 that my sister Maureen and I use to like quite a bit as children. The song is “Sukiyaki,” by Kyu Sakamoto and it was a rather big hit in its time, reaching the number one position on Billboard’s Top 100’s in June of that year. Sakamoto was the first Asian to ever to go to number one on the American charts. His song went on to sell over 13 million copies!

It had baffled me all my life as to why the recording was named Sukiyaki. For all the times that I had listened to the song over the years, decades in fact, I had never heard the word Sukiyaki in the lyrics. Surly the song must be a catchy tune about food or at least have something to do with a meal, so after fifty-three years, I decided to investigate.

As it turns out, the song is about a man fighting back the tears of a broken heart, from a lost love. It’s actually a very tender love song, but why the name Sukiyaki? Well, it really isn’t titled Sukiyaki. The true title is, “Ue o Muite Arukou,” which translates to, “I look Up As I Walk.” Sukiyaki was simply a familiar word that Americans could easily pronounce. Why they didn’t simply use the English translation instead of Sukiaki is baffling, but that’s a whole other story.

The tender ballad is about a man who looks up to stop his tears from falling because, as he says in the song, “I am all alone tonight.”

Sadly, Kyu Sakamoto died tragically at the young age of 44 in the deadly 1985 crash of Japan Airlines flight 123. Thankfully he will be forever immortalized by his haunting melody. I have located it on YouTube complete with lyrics that have been translated, so you too can now hear and feel the song as it was truly meant to be felt.

Until next time (or should I say, Syanara?)

Don

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The Heroes Amongst Us

The dictionary defines a “hero” as follows:

he·ro

/ˈhirō/

noun

  • A person who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities:

In the wake of the recent fifteenth anniversary of 9/11, I was reminded by my very modest cousin, Joe Rabito – an actual 9/11 hero – that he has heroes of his own. This got me thinking, one doesn’t necessarily have to run into a burning building to save someone to be a hero. Certainly a person, who selflessly puts themselves at risk for the sole purpose of saving another, is undeniably a hero; but there are other acts of selflessness that people perform daily, making them unsung heroes to those they help, and I am sure, in the eyes of God.

As I pondered the thought, I realized that I didn’t have to look any further than my own back yard to find some of my biggest heroes. I wish everyone in the world could have had an opportunity to have known my mother. What can I say about a woman who literally spent half of her life suffering from one horrible disease after another, with hardly ever a complaint? For the sake of her family, she fought off breast cancer, cervical cancer, heart attacks, triple bypass surgery, total renal failure, steroid poisoning… well the list goes on and on, but I’m sure you get my point.

My mom did all this, with grace, dignity, a positive outlook, and of course her beautiful smile. She would somehow put her pain behind her, managing to hide it from most, while remaining funny, interesting, intriguing, witty, smart, kind, caring, gentle, and loving. She lived a life that inspired me to be a better person. Even in death, I can feel her guiding me every day. It is because of her, that I too can put my woes behind me and smile as if nothing is wrong. She taught me that behind every face was a story. There is no one exempt from pain and suffering. I learned that there is no such thing as an old person; every senior is a life lived, filled with a youth of their own, battles they’ve conquered, loves they’ve had, families they’ve raised, and wisdom that we will never be privy to, if we don’t take the time to get to know these people.

Mom taught me to be myself, no matter how different I may be, that I will never please everyone. I learned that your friends are not really those who “like you,” your friends should “love you,” and that we should love them back, just as passionately.

Through her lessons I have been rewarded with a partner who is truly my soul mate, dear and true friends, and a peace, happiness and contentment in my life as it is. Everyone I love and everything I have, I consider a blessing.

Shortly after she was diagnosed with a rear disease, my mother fell into a coma. We sat at her bedside waiting for the inevitable. Then just before she drew her final breath, mom suddenly awakened from the coma to utter the words “I love you” as she gently slipped away from this world. My mom was indeed one-of-a-kind and without dispute, SHE WAS A HERO.

Then there is my Father. Still a bachelor at age thirty-one, my dad was holding out for “just the right woman.” Realizing that life was too precious to waste, he was determined not to settle on just any woman, but to hold out for his version of “Miss Right.”  He had a clear image in his mind of the type of woman he wanted to spend his life with. It was definitely not the stereotypical Brooklyn born, Italian/American, hard edged women he had grown up with. He was focused on finding a lady who, in his own words, “was much more refined, in keeping with those, playing wives and mothers on screen in the movies and television.”

On paper at least, my mother, fit the bill, and then some. There were however a few snafus that had probably never even entered the equation when dad was planning for his perfect wife. You see, my mother was not only a widow, but she was seven years his senior… with three children!

Clearly it would be an awful lot for any man to take on, let alone a young bachelor. Still, my father went with his intuition, feeling that my mom was indeed the woman he had waited for, he married her and not only became our father, he became our “dad.”

He has broken his back over the years to provide us with the best that he possibly could, putting our needs above his at all times. He has taught me to be a man who is kind, loving, caring, and to have respect for the world that God created for us and respect for myself. He has been a source of inspiration and encouragement for me from day one. He has always been there in my corner, and he remains so today, still believing in me more than I could in myself. HE IS A HERO

I happened to be blessed with not only two, but three parents. My biological father was a very hard working man who did all he could to provide for his wife and three children. After suffering a heart attack at age thirty-nine, he was told that it left him with a blood clot. Back in 1961, before by-pass and blood thinners, it was pretty much a death sentence. He was told by his doctors that when the clot reached his heart, which would happen in a couple of months at best, he would have another heart attack, very massive, and die.

I can’t imagine what it was like for a young man, husband, and father to receive such news. I don’t know for sure how I would handle it, but my father decided to keep it a secret and work on a plan that would take care of his family.

Caring for his family was nothing new to him, as he had been taking care of family since he was a young boy in the fourth grade of grammar school! That was during the Great Depression and as a child; he would sneak out a window to run away from home. He would then hop freight trains to get to the Midwest, where he would find farm work. Once he amassed what he felt was, a sufficient amount of money, he would return home to give it to his parents, helping them with the expenses’ it took to raise their nine children. Each time he returned, he would promise his crying mother that he would never do it again, but of course he did. It was the kind of boy he was, and the kind of man he became. So when he learned that he was going to die, he knew he couldn’t leave this world without knowing that his beautiful wife and his three children would be okay without him.

Ironically, my biological father (Mario) and my dad (John) were friends. John had a huge crush on my mother and my father knew it. Although John thought that he was being very cool about it, everyone who knew them was well aware of his infatuation with my mom. She was the standard that he had set for his own wife.

One day when John came to visit my father in the hospital, my father told John (and swore him to secrecy) exactly what his grim diagnosis was. Of course John was stunned, but he was sent into a tailspin when my father gave him the green light to become my mother’s husband! My father knew that a man with John’s integrity and exceptional morals would take good care of his wife and his children.

He may not have had a lot of schooling, but my father was a wise man nonetheless. As the weeks passed, he would ask John to drive him to his doctors’ visits. Once there, he would always be very insistent that my mother and John go to the diner down the street to wait, while he saw the doctor alone. This not only kept my mother in the dark, it also gave her and John an opportunity to get to know one another better.

Of course everyone knows that John did indeed marry my mom and become my dad, but what an incredible biological father I had who, during his final days, kept focused on his family’s future. HE WAS A HERO.

I find heroes everywhere I look around. The nuns in my church, who have become my friends, started the only organization in Palm Beach County to not only feed the homeless, but also provide them with a shower and a place to wash their clothing, a simple human dignity we take for granted. These nuns; THEY ARE HEROES.

My sister Janice; who sat outside in the rain for hours, just to watch one of her students play in his little league baseball game, simply because she promised him that she would do so. I remember her telling me that the smile on the boy’s face made it all worthwhile. SHE IS A HERO

The more I began to think about my family and friends, the more I began to see everyday people, who by their deeds, things done without any thought of self-gain, are heroes in their own right. I know without a doubt that if you take a look at your own family and friends, you’ll find yourself surrounded by heroes as well. You are most likely a hero to them.

Every day there are men and women, boys and girls, who are preforming selfless acts of kindness for their family, friends, strangers, and even animals. In a world where the news media constantly bombards us with stories of evil doings, I am happy to know that one quick appraisal of the people in my life, has me surrounded by true and honest heroes. I know that you are too.

heros-2

Until next time,

Don

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

My Forever Friend

I first met Denise over thirty years ago. It was Thanksgiving Day 1985. Her son Dave, my now brother-in-law, had become engaged to my sister Janice and it was arranged that the Pakula family would come to our house so we could all meet and celebrate the holiday together.

Denise asked my mother if there was anything she could do or bring. “Just yourselves and a hearty appetite,” my mom answered. Then Denise, still a stranger to us, replied in her own inimitable way, “ Okay, then I’ll just bring my green goop.”. Now you see, my mother never, ever, ate any food from another person’s house. The only two exceptions were her own sister and her mother. It was just my mom’s thing. Can you imagine her despair when she heard Denise utter the words, “Green Goop?” For two weeks that’s all I heard, “what do I do if she asks me to try the ‘goop,’ suppose she insists?”

Finally Thanksgiving Day arrived and so did the Pakula clan, and as it turned out, green goop was simply Denise’s term for green bean casserole. If only dear sweet Denise knew the stress that she had put my mom through she would have… well who am I kidding? We all know she would have handled it the exact same way, laughing until she cried! That was Denise, forever laughing, always looking for the humor in just about everything. Of course we all had a wonderful time and knew that very day, that we would always be lifelong friends.

The Mothers-in-law

The Mothers-In-Law

Then the next time I saw Denise was because I had promised to go shopping with Dave for a new wardrobe. Back then, Dave was the ever-so-casual fellow in sweat pants, tee shirts, and baseball caps (Yankees of course) and I was to be his introductory lesson into the art of men’s fashion. I guess you can say that I was his “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy,” long before the show was ever a concept.

Of course it was fun bonding with Dave during the excursion, but the real fun came when we returned home, where he was living with his parents. I was met by Denise, who welcomed me as she did everyone, with open arms and an opened heart. I remember sitting next to her on the living room sofa, as a very proud Dave not only showed his mom the new clothes, but as per her wishes, gave Denise and I a full fashion show, trying on every single garment. He walked through that living room as though he were a short, chubby, Jewish version of Fabio. Denise would squeeze my hand with pride as Dave beguiled her with his newfound fashion knowledge with such remarks as, “I would never have picked out a paisley tie on my own, but do you see how well this one brings the shirt together with the sport coat?” All the while, Denise doing her famous “Betty Rubble on steroids giggle.”

When the show was completed, Denise gave me the warmest hug and through her trademark laughter, she thanked me for turning her son into a full-fledged grown-up in one afternoon. She laughed as she said, “David became more of a man today than he did at his Bar Mitzvah!” I think I made some sort of wisecrack like, “and they both cost about the same amount, only this time it was his own dime!” I could still hear her laughing from all the way out in the driveway as I left.

During the next year or so, I provided floral décor when her daughter Rose came home to Levittown to announce that she was getting married… THAT very weekend! Sometime later, Jackie was graduating from high school and was not going to her senior prom. I asked if she would attend if I were to escort her – and to make a long story short, she and I BOTH attended our first senior prom. As you would expect, Jackie’s friends and myself gathered at the Pakula house to await the limo which would bring us to the gala. Denise would not have it any other way, and I could see by the kids gathered there, that this happy home was a natural choice for them.

As the years ticked by, through thick and thin, Denise and I became stronger and more dedicated friends. Holidays, birthdays, and family milestones alike, our two families melded together beautifully. I would always enjoy sitting with Denise at the various family functions, sharing never ending jokes and belly laughs with her. No one could be sad with Denise around.

When they received the news, while vacationing with Matt & Courtney in Colorado, that my mom was going to pass away at any moment; Denise and Ben cut short their trip, turned around and DROVE STRAIGHT THROUGH THE COUNTRY to be with us here in Florida. After my mom’s funeral, Denise and Ben came by to see me. Denise pulled me aside and gave me a little card with a verse about a never ending friendship. Please indulge me, as I share it to you:

“Sometimes in life, you find a special friend. Someone who changes your life by being a part of it; someone who makes you laugh until you can’t stop; someone who makes you believe that there really is good in the world. This is FOREVER FRIENDSHIP, and if you find such a friend, you feel happy and complete. You have a forever friend, for life.”

It was a small gesture with a huge meaning. Realizing that I had lost the only truly unconditional love a person knows, she wanted to make it clear to me that she would always be there. Although given to me, the verse ironically sums Denise up to a tee. I kept the card in my wallet since the day she gave it to me, well over a decade ago. It remains there today, and most likely will, until the day that God calls me home. It will stay there not only because it’s a special reminder of an extraordinary woman, but because there was one error in the verse. A FOREVER FRIEND is not only yours for life, when that friend is Denise, that friend is literally FOREVER.

Denis & Don

Yours truly with Denise

I am always going to celebrate Denise as the happy, kind, loving person that she was in life and who I know, is in spirit as well. I will rejoice in her reunion with her beloved daughter, Rose, her parents, and her grandson Nicholas, who will forever be doted upon by BOTH of his grandmothers. I will thank God that I – out of billions upon billions of people in this world, was blessed to be one of the chosen to have time with Denise. I will be forever grateful and I will be happy in knowing that on Earth or in Heaven, I have a very, very special, FOREVER FRIEND.
Until next time,
Don

 

6 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

National Moon Day

I would like to take a moment to wish everyone a very happy “National Moon Day!” Now before you drop trou and bend over; today is a celebration of the July 20, 1969 manned landing of the American Lunar Module aka; “the Eagle” onto the surface of the moon.

I don’t know about you, but for sure I can remember just where I was when I heard those magic words spoken by the Apollo 11 Commander, Neil Armstrong, “The Eagle Has Landed!” I was 13 years old and even then I could remember thanking God for having this happen in my lifetime.

Later that evening, every American, if not everyone in the world with a television, sat glued to their seat as we watch Neil Armstrong take the first steps onto the moon. The room filled with shouts of joy as Armstrong announced, “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind”

It’s hard to believe that it was forty-eight years ago today. Reminiscing about that awesome moment still brings tears to this writer’s eyes. It stands as a reminder that no dream is too big to aim for.

Happy National Moon Day to everyone. Here’s hoping all your dreams come true.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Until next time,
Don

Me B&W

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

When Is a Song More Than Just a Song? When It Brings a Christmas Message

Those of you who know me also know what a huge part music plays in my life. I guess it was something I inherited from my parents who, while I was growing up, always kept a daily “soundtrack” playing on our family stereo. Sunday mornings would undoubtedly have the air ringing sweetly with the inimitable sounds of Jimmy Roselli’s Italian hits as mom took great care in preparing our Sabbath-day supper. Weekdays; depending upon my mother’s mood, one may have caught anything from the velvety jazz sounds of great legends like Dinah Washington and Sarah Vaughn – to the top 40’s hits of the day emanating from our little household. Eventually, the proverbial baton was passed on to me via my beautiful mother and I have been faithfully effectuating my melodic responsibility for almost a half-century now.

As you may imagine, thanks to my parents, I have been blessed with very eclectic musical taste. With an opened mind, I often surf the radio dial, and internet alike, seeking out beautiful music of any style (as well as from other cultures) to add to my ever-growing collection. For the past few years I have been favoring contemporary Christian top-40 music. Please don’t judge, give it a try… it’s just plain good music that happens to have a positive message. In these trying times it is comforting to be reminded of a greater power watching over us with unfailing love and forgiveness.

What has all this got to do with Christmas you may ask? Well actually for me, quite a bit. This time of year at the Abate house, Christmas would simply not have been Christmas without a backdrop of holiday anthems gaily sung by Johnny Mathis, Andy Williams, and of course, Bing Crosby. Over the years I have held steadfast to this family tradition. However as I mentioned above, the past few years have brought me a fondness for Christian pop tunes and that affinity has introduced me to songs that I would otherwise never have had in my life; exceptionally beautiful music that I not only appreciate for its appealing tunes and catchy refrain, it also manages to open my eyes to my God and my life as a whole.

As we get caught up on the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, I find it refreshing to hear an inspiring song that reminds me of why we are celebrating in the first place. Even as a young boy I can remember that on the very same album where Johnny Mathis sang about “Silver Bells’ and “Sleigh Rides,” there was one song in particular that caught my heart and made me think. It was a song called, “The Secret of Christmas.” The lyrics of the song imparts to the listener that … “the secret of Christmas is not the things you do at Christmas time – but the ‘Christmas things’ you do – ALL YEAR THROUGH.” I could not have been more than nine years old but I was dumbstruck by the simple truth in the message of those powerful lyrics.

There is unquestionably something about the Christmas season that causes us to become much kinder, generous, and more understanding human beings, no matter what faith we may follow. How beautiful the world would be, if only we could do so, every day of the year… but I digress. To get back to the music; a couple of years ago an artist named Brandon Heath, released a Christmas album titled, “Christmas is Here.” On that album is the song “Just a Girl.” It narrates the story of Christmas from the prospective of the Innkeeper who put the holy couple up in a stable where Mary gave birth to the Son of God. The lyrics take you away from shopping lists, flying reindeer, dancing snowmen, and colored lights, to wrap you up in the warmth of the true miracle of Christmas

Nativity

Although I respectfully acknowledge that Christmas is indeed a beautiful holiday, as any Christian truly knows, it is Easter that is the most important and joyous celebration on our calendar, as it is the very basis of Christianity itself! That said, there is one extremely important lesson that Christmas teaches us that can sadly become over shadowed by gifts, décor, and parties, and that is the fact that just as the innkeepers of Bethlehem turned away Mary and Joseph, we all too often turn away from our fellow man.

It is human nature to turn our eyes from suffering and things that we may find unpleasant but it is also a great human responsibility to do our part to ease the suffering. So you won’t give any money to that homeless girl who sits outside the subway station every day begging; tomorrow why not try offering her a friendly smile and some of your home-made Christmas cookies? I am certain that it would lift her spirit to know that someone actually cared enough to make her feel thought of, if only for a moment.

One of my favorite Christmas memories is from my days in New York City. I had a bunch of friends over for a Christmas tree-trimming party. Once the tree was decked out in all its holiday grandeur, my guests accompanied me down to Grand Central Station where, at that time, the homeless were known to gather. We gave them all the leftover food from our party, properly wrapped for presentation, along with paper plates, plastic cutlery and paper cups. The gratitude and smiles we received filled everyone (from both perspectives of the story) with the true meaning of Christmas. So much so, that when my friends and I returned to my apartment and stood together in the soft glow of the beautifully lite Christmas tree, it inspired us to spontaneously grasp hands and sing, Silent night.

Every day we have the opportunity to touch someone’s life. I pray to God that I recognize my chances and he grants me the ability to do the work he has for me here on earth during my lifetime.

Christmas is a time for reflection, a time for giving, a time for loving and, for me at least, a time for music that fills me with the spirit of Christmas and the miracle of the birth of the savior of the world, Jesus Christ. Now along with my traditional holiday musical favorites like Jingle Bells, Sleigh Ride, and Winter Wonderland, I have some new Christmas favorites such as Francesca Battistelli’s “You’re Here,” Downhere’s “How Many Kings,” and the afore mentioned Brandon Heath’s “Just a Girl.” I hope you too take a moment to listen to these songs, as I know that they will touch your heart as they have touched mine. For your convenience, I have posted links to their Youtube videos by simply clicking on their titles.

No matter what holiday you’re celebrating, may God bless you with peace, joy, love of family and friends, and the good health to enjoy it all.
Until Next Time,
Don

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

One American’s Message to France

So terrorist attacked our beautiful city of Paris last week and I say “our” city in solidarity to all the free nations around this majestic planet we live on. They may call themselves terrorist but never before has a name been so inappropriate.

Their goal may be to induce terror but with each and every action they take, they accomplish the opposite. We don’t fall and cower in terror; instead they only make us become more patriotic, more compassionate, and stronger in our convictions… and in our faith!

I thank God with all my heart that my dear French friends were safe from harm’s way. I don’t need to name them, they know who they are and they also know that they are more like extended family to me than friends and that I love them all with every inch of my being.

My heart goes out to all those who were affected by the cowardly bombing of the innocent (and unarmed) citizens of the Great Nation of France. I pray for the souls of the dead, the healing of the injured, and peace for the surviving family members.

Paris, you are the City of Light, and that light shines through your darkest moments.  Your bravery and strength has your law enforcement already arresting the cowards responsible.  You are France, and you do not stand alone at this time. I am with you, America is with you, the world is with you. We support, love, and hold you in our hearts. May God Bless you now and forever. Vive la France!

With love from,
America

12219629_10201112694775580_7760331367673825253_n

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized