My Life Story
Chapter 1: Looking Back
My life has been something like a card game. I did the best with the cards I was dealt.
While married, I worked as an Electrician. My department manager inspired me to pursue an Engineering Degree. Knowing that college and my job would keep me busy for six years, I decided to talk to my wife, Catherine. She was a major player in my decision. I knew her support would be necessary and she devoted most of her time to raising our family. When I spoke to her about it, this was her response: "GO FOR IT."
While in college, I worked for two different Engineering firms to be closer to my home and school. I attended Drexel University at night, finally graduating with my Engineering Degree. My proudest moment happened when upon receiving my degree, I looked out from the stage and saw the beaming faces of Catherine, my mother, Catherine's mother, and her youngest sister, Teresa, who faithfully typed all my Engineering reports.
With the degree in hand, I went back to the corporation that had set me on the track to College. I started as a Construction Engineer at their West Point, Pa. facility. As the years rolled by, I was transferred to the North Jersey Facility for five years, then back to West Point. My work required traveling to different facilities as far away as Canada and up and down the East Coast. I was away from my wife and 8 children frequently. Eventually, I worked my way up the corporate ladder to become an Engineering Department Manager.
After all of our children had finished their own schooling, Catherine asked me to retire at age 62 1/2. Believe it or not, this was when the best part of my life began. Catherine and I traveled extensively, touring Italy, Quebec, Florida and many other places.
Looking back, I thought my Father had no real love for me. While attending the wedding of my brother's daughter, a man approached me while I was dancing with Catherine.
"You must be the Engineer who works for a large corporation who your Father is always talking about," said the man I’d never met.
"And you thought your father had no love for you," Catherine said, after the man walked away.
Every time I passed through Chicago on work related business, I contacted my Father. We’d meet for lunch or dinner and he’d relate his life experiences. He told me that he left my mother, sisters and me because he was unable to find work. Still, I found this hard to accept. To me, his excuses sounded like the old cliché, "When poverty comes through the door, love goes out the window".
Why did he settle in Chicago? I found out that when he arrived from Italy, his sponsor, lived in Chicago. My father and two of his friends were required to relocate to conform with immigration laws.
Over the years, my repeated visits brought us closer together. I felt that I finally found the father I never knew. Unfortunately, he passed away at the age of 64.
Chapter 2: My Mother’s Story
Some of my strongest memories of my mother took place on a blueberry farm in South Jersey. My mother and I worked at the farm every summer. As we worked together on the blueberry patch, my mother told me what had happened when I was a young child, and the events that led to my father leaving his family.
In 1917, my Mother was sixteen years old when she married my Father, who was three years older. My mother’s maiden name was the same as my father’s last name, but there was no blood connection.
Amid the backdrop of the Great Depression, and all of the financial turmoil that came along with it, the marriage seemed destined to fail from the beginning. My father's mother in Italy was married to an official of the town. In Italy when people met the wife of an Official they would bow and address her as Donna Francesca, a greeting that reflected her higher status. Her husband (my grandfather) died and the family moved to America. In their new country, my grandmother’s status was wiped away. All of the special greetings were gone. When my father married my mother, they occupied the prime room in the house in South Philadelphia. Three children were born within five years, and four years later I was born. Shortly after my birth, my Father abandoned us.
After my father left, he spoke to his Mother frequently by telephone. After my father secured work and a place to live, a plan was hatched. My eleven year old brother was to go to Chicago and live with my Father. But, my mother refused. Disappointed, my brother pestered her constantly. Finally, my mother agreed to allow him to take the train to Chicago for the summer. He was set to return in the fall before the start of school.
By this time, my father was in a much better financial position than my mother. Needless to say, my brother didn’t want to return to Philadelphia. During this time, I remember my mother frequently in tears or crying. To make matters worse, my grandmother blamed my mother for my father’s sudden departure.
After I married, the responsibility to care for my mother was left with Catherine and myself. My mother looked upon Catherine as her own child. My wife and I refused to let my mother live in poverty. In the end, three significant events changed my mother’s life. First, my father returned and asked her to sign Annulment papers. She agreed and in return he gave her a sum of money. Secondly, after my father died, his new wife visited my mother and gave her a death certificate of my father. This document allowed my mother to increase her Social Security income. Finally, my mother inherited the house that she lived in with my two uncles in New Jersey during the Blueberry season. At the age of around 73, she finally had her own bank account.
My mother was very skilled with needle work. She also loved to knit, and in grade school she knitted me a white sweater. My teachers admired her work. In her later years, she knitted afghans for each of my daughters and made dolls and baby hats for my grandchildren.
My Mother died at age 93. She was the last of her family’s generation.
Chapter 3: Early Life in the Depression
My early childhood was unusual at best. I can remember living in a large house with my two sisters, my mother and my grandparents. My father deserted us soon after I was born. I was told the story when I had grown to an age of understanding the facts of life.
My mother worked constantly and I was left in the care of my sisters who were six and seven years older than I. They supervised my schooling and made sure I ate my lunch each day. We grew up poor but all my friends were poor, therefore we never knew we were poor.
My grandmother spoke only Italaina. Through hand gestures and words I usually knew what she wanted me to do. For example, she would put up two fingers and say " andare compare due oova." Translated, that meant she wanted me to go to the store and buy her two eggs. She would give me four pennies. Each egg was two cents.
When I reached eighth grade, my Mother explained to me that we were moving into her mother's house in South Philadelphia on 12th Street. In this house, my sisters had their own room, and I shared a room with my Uncle John. It was the most enjoyable time of my life. My two uncles treated me like a son they never had. John never married and Mike's wife had died. My Grandfather loved to play checkers and at times we would play for hours. Because of the hostile neighborhood in South Philadelphia, my uncles monitored my activities. I played high school football and I would see one of them on the side lines. If I played basketball at the local boys club, sometime during the game, either Mike or John would show up. They never stayed long, though. Just a brief check.
I learned to play an accordion and my uncles would come into the room where I practiced. They asked me to play Italian songs. I loved my mother's family and the house with high ceilings, a grand piano and a glass chandelier dominating the living room. Some of my close friends played musical instruments and on occasions we tried playing together. A piano, clarinet, two guitars and trumpet never blended well. We really needed a musical director.
The mothers in South Philadelphia had the idea that if you practice music after school, then you would be off the streets during the hostile hours of school dismissal. Each year, a group of my South Philadelphia boyhood friends would meet for lunch. Unfortunately, there are only three of us left. We still meet each year. We often talk about the New Year’s Eve parties that we would celebrate .Each of us had to have date. At the last party we had, my date was Catherine, the girl I married. That year, Wedding Bells hit most of the group and the parties ended.
But all good things end quickly in my life. My mother notified me that we would be moving to a house of our own, because my sister Mary was getting married and we would be living together in the house. I began feeling sorry for myself because I knew that I would miss my uncles and my grandparents, but times were changing rapidly. Shortly after we moved, I was notified that I was being drafted into the armed services.
Chapter 4: Meeting the Father I Never Knew
Sometimes life can be complicated. My father deserted our family shortly after I was born. My two sisters were seven and eight years older than me and were very upset by my father’s departure. However, as was my mother’s wish, they were not allowed to discuss this with me until I was older.
In grade school, my sisters watched over me while my mother worked. The story about my father was finally relayed to me just before I entered high school. At the time, the effect on me was miniscule, just another stumbling block in life during the Depression of the 1930s.
As a high school freshman, I was able to find jobs and help support my family. I worked selling bread and rolls door to door for my Uncle John. I also worked after school at the local grocery. My third job was in school during periods when I had no class, part of a government program for boys without fathers.
During the summers, I worked with my mother and grandparents picking blueberries in New Jersey. Returning home after one of the blueberry seasons, I was greeted by a letter from Uncle Sam requiring me to register for World War II as a draftee. I’d just turned 18 and had yet to finish my final half year of High School.
In May 1943, I was inducted into the U.S. Navy and sent to the Great Lakes Naval Center, north of Chicago. Normally, boot camp would make for a boring story, except about half way through my training, I was informed that I had a visitor at the center. My commander told me that my father was here to see me. I told my commander that I didn’t have a father and was given the choice of going to the visitor’s center or spending the afternoon running around the track.
At the center, my father approached me and attempted to hug me .I resisted primarily because other than knowing that he existed, I knew nothing else about him. We spent some time getting to know each other. With three weeks to go in boot camp, he visited every Sunday. He seemed to express sorrow for leaving us and told me about my brother who was in the Army. Later, my mother explained that my brother went to see my father one summer and never returned home. He was about 11 years old when he left on a train to Chicago, Illinois.
As an eighteen year old boy, I had no idea how to handle meeting my father for the first time. He never talked about the past and never asked me to keep him informed of my whereabouts in the Navy. But, I found out later that he kept track of me through his mother, my grandmother, who lived close by my home in Philadelphia.
Chapter 5: The South Pacific
Once Boot camp was completed, I was sent to Morehead Teachers College in Kentucky. The course work at the school was generally Math &Science. It was here that I completed my high school education. After graduation, I was sent to an Army Base in New Jersey along with two other sailors. We laid low and blended in by wearing Army clothing and taking field trips off base. The three of us were sent to the Army base for the purpose of learning how to repair teletypewriters.
After one final segment of training at the Navy yard in New York City, I received my first assignment. I traveled by train and ship to the Hawaiian Islands and then on to the South Pacific. Our ultimate destination was one of the Palau Islands named Anguar.
Anguar Island is situated 6 degrees above the Equator, which translates to very hot living conditions. When we arrived, we were each asked to build our own foxhole. One of the other men built a foxhole large enough for two of us, so I climbed in with him. When our commander saw two of us together, he ordered me out.
I protested, saying, "But this one is big enough for both of us."
"So, when a bomb plane comes, do you want me to lose two men at once?" he replied.
I got out and built my own hole.
After a few days in foxholes, we moved into tents. Then the rainy season started. For the next month, we were constantly wet, day and night.
After the rains ended we moved into new buildings. With the much improved living conditions, I was quite content. But nothing lasts long – I was soon told to pack my gear because I was being transferred. The ship I boarded made one stop at a treeless island called Eniwetok. This was our R&R (rest & relaxation) time – one whole day. As nightfall approached, we were at sea again.
Our trip ended at Siapan. The next morning a plane took us to our final destination, Guam, where I worked day and night until the war ended.
During my time on Guam, a series of events changed my entire perception of the island. During a group meeting with our Captain, a Japanese prisoner showed me a picture of his family. He had a wife and two children. The armed guard behind him showed no concern when I held the picture on the side the prisoner’s face and nodded.
One of my causal friends, Perez, watched me as I returned the picture to the prisoner. The incident triggered something in Perez. He asked me to go an old church about a mile away. He said he wanted to take pictures. We found the church and he took his pictures. As we were leaving, a woman holding the hand of a little boy walked toward us. I reached into my bag and gave the women an orange and the boy a tennis ball. After this, Perez and I turned quickly and left. Neither of us wanted to take the risk of scaring the boy or the mother.
As we walked away, Perez's real reason for getting me away from our base surfaced. He had contact with a family in a nearby village and wanted me join him when he visited them. He led me to a small path through a wooded area. We followed the path until it opened up and I could see a group of small shacks. None of the shacks had doors. We entered and Perez spoke in Spanish with the father. I met the man's two daughters, their two girlfriends and other children. Everyone spoke English.
Perez and I continued to make trips to the village twice each week. We often brought food with us. The villagers asked me to teach them American songs and dances. They did quite well learning to sing and dance.
To entertain the children, I often performed simple magic tricks. After three months of visits, I told them I was leaving and going home. The children cried. I explained that I had not seen my mother in over two years and gave them a large container of cookies she had sent to me. It was another tearful departure.
During all of my visits to the village, I’d never seen any young men. The Japanese had no respect for the people. What they did to the people, I find very difficult to describe. Still, I hoped that my visits had provided some measure of dignity and joy for the family in the village.
After two years in the South Pacific, I was sent home for a 30 day leave. Once my home stay was completed, I was issued a train ticket at the Philadelphia Naval center which sent me to West Coast. There, I was assigned to a ship heading for China. Our mission was to pick up stranded soldiers. Upon returning from this last mission, I was discharged from the Navy after three years of service.
Chapter 6: Love and Marriage
The best decision I ever made was to marry Catherine Glenn. We met at a dance called "The Oaks".
While in the Navy and training at Fort Mammoth in New Jersey and then New York City, I was able to get home on weekends and I would to go to dances. But after the war, things changed. After serving three years in the Navy, I returned to the dances, and found that the group of friends I normally danced with were either married or committed to a boyfriend.
As I wandered around the dance floor, I noticed a pretty girl with a beautiful smile. I asked her to dance and she agreed. Her name was Catherine. We danced the entire night together. She asked me to come to the St. Boniface dance in the Kensington area of Philadelphia the next night. With her good directions, I found the church and also Catherine. It was a repeat of the previous night, we danced together all night. That was the start of a relationship that eventually ended with marriage.
I got to know Catherine's family on our date nights. Her father never failed to tell me she was" the prettiest girl in the house." Besides her two sisters at home, Catherine had a brother and two other sisters.
As we grew closer, I knew it was time to introduce her to my family. I took her to my grandmother's house first. After Catherine hugged my grandmother, my grandmother responded, "Lei `e una bella ragazza ma non italiano" (she is a beautiful girl but she is not Italian). When I translated this to Catherine, she gave my grandmother another hug. My mother and Uncles were also very happy to meet Catherine.
We were married on May 15,1948. It was a modest wedding. The hall was rented and the music was played by a Jute Box, a gift from my boyhood friends. Catherine and I managed to save some money during our courtship and we used it to pay for the refreshments.
During the process of planning our wedding, the biggest surprise I had was my father’s request to attend. He also said that my brother and his wife and their small child would like to come with him. I had never met my brother. The last time my mother saw him, he was about eleven years old. The day was a tearful reunion for my Mother .My Father made me promise that if I ever traveled to Chicago I would stop in to see him. At the time, this seemed like an empty gesture - why would I ever go to Chicago.
I discussed with my new wife Catherine about my desire to become an Engineer under the government sponsored education program for Veterans. She agreed. As the unpredictable often happens, I became an Engineer and my travels often took me to Chicago. Yes, I met my father many times. He was building homes on a tract of land that he had purchased. He offered me one of the homes if I would move to the Chicago area. Both Catherine and I refused the offer - . we preferred to stay close to our family.
I’d like to make one final note about my experience growing up without my father. A boy needs a father while growing up. Unfortunately, I was deprived of this experience. My four uncles tried to fill the void. I loved them for their concern, but my sights in life were higher than they could grasp.
Chapter 7: Raising Our Family
Catherine and I raised eight children. As with any family, problems did not escape us. Our seventh child, a young boy (Gerard) passed away at age fourteen from a Staphylococcal infection which was supposed to be easily cured with antibiotics. At the time, the doctors’ explanations were thin, we could never understand the failure. Some forty years later, we received our answer. A Doctor Valentine made a study of all the cases in the hospital where the standard treatment failed, and he concluded that another strain of the infection existed that was unidentified at the time. The strain was named Valentine after the Doctor that discovered it. Gerard's case would have been curable today along with many others. The sudden shock of Gerard's death showed me how fragile life can be. At times. life hangs by a thread that can easily be broken.
Each of our children chose their own path in life. Catherine and I never influenced them in any way.
John, our oldest, spent his career working in accounting and finance. His wife, Susan, worked as a school teacher and they have three children and four grandchildren. John and Susan live in Central Pennsylvania.
Our oldest daughter, Mary, was a school teacher. She married Dominic Visco, who worked in information technology for a large consumer products company. They moved from the Philadelphia suburbs to Cincinnati and back. Together, they raised five children, three girls and two boys. They now have six grandchildren.
Christine, a trained X-RAY technician, married Benjamin Beddis, a former detective and now an investigator. They had one girl and twin boys.
Joseph, a self-employed business owner, married a nurse, Eileen. Their family consists of two adopted boys.
My daughter Carol worked as a nurse for her entire career. She never married, but took great pride and joy in her extended family. She was a loving sister, cousin, and aunt. Her life is best described in her own words: "I may never become a mother, but I'll be a great Aunt." She was devoted to her nieces and nephews and even traveled to China to visit them. My daughter Carol, died June 1, 2013, at the age of 57.
Anne, who studied Human Development in college, married Joseph Maloney, an MD. They have five children and live in Bucks County, PA.
Beth, our youngest, is a school teacher. She married Michael Andaloro, a COO of a global logistics company. They have two boys and live in New Jersey.
Catherine and I were blessed with 20 grandchildren. Our marriage was a beautiful relationship built on the promise of never saying "no" to each other. When I asked Catherine about my desire to go to College, knowing this meant she would be left with the major share of raising our family, her response was "yes". She also told me to "learn a lot." When she asked me to retire ,although I wasn't ready, I could not say '"No" to her.
During the years when our kids were young, Catherine, planned our weekends. We often visited our extended family. During the summer, we took trips to the blueberry farm where my mother worked picking blueberries.
Catherine’s most outstanding characteristic was her generosity. I often teased her saying, that she never a saw a charity she didn't like. She liked to give small dollar amounts to many nonprofit organizations. Most of all, she would gladly help any of our relatives having temporary financial problems. She was there to help.
As time went on, the more money I earned, the more she donated. Today, I try to follow her system of gifts for birthdays, graduations, weddings etc. I had to learn how to donate, but my wife’s compassion for the less fortunate was part of her personality.
Catherine was also a planner, always thinking about the future. When I retired, our attorney recommended that some of my lump sum payout be placed into a trust in Catherine's name. As a result of this agreement, Catherine, gained financial independence. Of course, this served to expand her base of generosity...She often claimed that it was "unholy" to sit on money that does no good for our family or charities in need.
Catherine died at age 87, and she was the last of her family’s generation. Now I stand alone as a widower…the last of my generation. Catherine and I had eight children.
Catherine's Creed can be summed up in these Biblical words. "It so easy to get caught up with the trappings of wealth in this life ... Grant O Lord, that I may be free…from greed and selfishness..... Remind me that the best things in life are free..... Love, laughter, caring and sharing."