Tag Archives: Family

Riposa in pace, nonno.

My grandfather passed away early this morning. It wasn’t unexpected as he was sent home from the hospital with hospice care a few weeks ago.

I saw him around Christmas time after he had his knee surgery. He didn’t like the rehab facility, but he was doing
ok. A few days after, and before
I came back to Oswego, I saw him at home. We spoke a bit in Italian and English,
but as always not much. He asked his normal questions and told me the regular career path he always had. The new thing he asked, as a joke, was, “Sei professore matematica?” (Are you a math professor?). I explained that I study history, but it was close enough.

I went to Canada for a week and not too long after I came back my dad told me he got me a flight to come down to New York. He said he wasn’t sure if my grandpa would be around much longer and when school started again, he knew how hard it would be for me to come down. I visited him last weekend or so and said my goodbyes.

It was hard being there mostly because he didn’t know I was there. He was trapped in his own body. He no longer spoke and could only move his right arm. The tumor he had removed 4 years ago grew back, incapacitating him.

It was hard knowing that was the last time I would see him alive. I told everyone I was sorry for being so far away not able to help. They said that my grandpa wanted everyone to go to college and concentrate on that. Don’t worry about things at home. So I kisses him on the forehead and squeezed his hand and said, “I’ll see you soon.”

I was able to take some photos home with me from when he was a young man and from when I was a kid. Below, is a picture of my grandpa and I when I was about 3 or 4 years old at their old place in East Islip. I have a lot of memories with him and I’m happy that I have so many. I’ll miss him, but I’m glad he’s no longer trapped.

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Thought Provoking Words

My grandpa is in rehab after his knee surgery and I can’t call his room directly because he doesn’t like to talk on the phone. I’ve only spoken to him on the phone a few times and the last couple of times wasn’t in English, it was in Italian. I usually settle for calling my grandma and getting updates on how he’s doing. I haven’t had too many deep conversations with him and he hasn’t ever said anything that stuck with me. That doesn’t mean I don’t have plenty of memories with him; I have a lot of good times that I’ll carry with me for a long time, especially as a kid and before I went to visit our family in Italy. 

Anyway, the last time I called was different. My grandpa isn’t happy about still being in the hospital and he told my grandma, “I never thought the end of my life would be like this. I never thought it would be in a hospital. I always imagined being healthy at home.”

I don’t know why, but this has been running through my head lately. We’ve never been super close, but I spent a lot of time with my grandma and grandpa as a kid in their store. I can’t remember a time they said, “I love you” or anything mushy like that. My dad said they’re just not like that, which is fine, but it’s very different than my other grandparents. My connection with them is one of cultural and familial roots, something that is very important to me. 

I’m going to see him on Thursday with my aunt and I’m excited to raise his spirits.

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What I’m Thankful For

Recently I’ve learned not to complicate things; that I’m a simple person that thrives on the little things. So when I started thinking about what I’m thankful for, I thought of all the things I’ve learned over the last few years about myself and where I currently live, Oswego, NY.

My list may seem cliche and boring, but to me, after learning about all the hardships of those in my community without the same “Zella” luck that I’ve been able to take advantage of, it made me appreciate what I have even more.

With that being said, here’s my list of things I’m grateful for since I started living on my own and learning about what it takes to survive.

1) I can afford to turn my heat on: For many people, this is an unaffordable luxury. It’s not terribly expensive, despite National Grid charging $60 in “delivery fees,” but for some this is a burden that can only be combated with layers of clothes while in the house.

2) My car starts every time I need it to: Another thing that people may take for granted, my car is the most expensive thing I have and something I’m really proud of now that I am paying for it on my own.

3) I have a (two) job(s): They’re not much, but I can pay my bills and frankly, isn’t that all we need?

4) I can afford to eat what I want, when I want: My favorite part of Italy wasn’t the history or the sights, it was about what the Italian people really care about: Food, culture, and conversation. When I visited my family in Milan, we didn’t do anything extravagant; nothing that would get a wow out of a thrill seeker. We went on bike and car rides, swam in a river, went to festivals, and ate and ate and ate. Though this is something a lot of people don’t find to be one of the more important parts of their lives, the fact that I get to surround myself with good people and tasty food makes my life a little better, and I’m glad I can afford to do it.

5) My clothes fit: Everyone complains about clothes and I’ll admit, I do too. But when I really think about it, I have clothes that fit and make me look a bit better when I need to go into public.

6) I have people around me that genuinely care about my existence: Good friends are hard to come by and even harder to keep in your life, especially if you met them in college. However, I’ve been lucky enough to keep a good group of people in my life for quite some time now, even if they live 3 or 6 hours away. When I messaged old high school buddies to help me be a part of Movember, they signed right up with me. When I call a friend in Buffalo and ask what’s going on, we spend over an hour shooting the breeze and planning a visit to each other’s current residence. It’s amazing; something I’ll never take for granted. My family, too, has continued to be a rock for me to stand on in a time of need, even if it’s not of the fiscal nature. I can always call my parents or grandparents for a good laugh and some reassurance.

7) I’m on my way to a Masters Degree: I was lucky enough to have most of graduate school paid for by my employer, SUNY Oswego, making it easy for me to concentrate on my studies and complete my degree in 4 semesters. With one more semester remaining, I’m happy with what opportunities have turned into over the last 2 years.

8) And of course, my girlfriend: She’s put up with me more than anyone of the last 2 years. Between never being home, reading or writing papers when I am home, and making sure I eat every day, there hasn’t been a person more involved with keeping me on the right track than Leah.

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Thoughts on a Generation:

I was on the phone with my grandpa last night and I asked, “I called you last night. Where were you?” He answered, “What, are ya writing a book?” Mind you he’s 81 and for as long as I can remember no one knows what he’s really doing on a daily basis unless they’re with him. When cell phones came out he said, “I don’t need a cell phone. If I wanted you to know where I was I would tell you.” My aunt bought him a phone a year or two ago, though he never charges it or leaves it in his jacket pocket hung up on the closet. He also doesn’t own a computer and is still subscribed to magazines he actually reads.

After my grandma passed away, I made a promise to myself to be closer with family and that even if I couldn’t be with them, I would call once a week. I told my grandpa I was just checking in and saying hi. He replied, “Yeah, we’re all getting up there. Since your grandmother passed everyone is calling.” He’s always said things like that, “We won’t be around forever,” even going as far as to tell me how he’d want to be taken care of after he passes. It doesn’t phase him; he’s not bothered by it; he’s not afraid of that next step. He’s happy with his life; no regrets.

Before hanging up, he told me I was too skinny the last time he saw me and that he’s going to send us Omaha Steaks. I laughed and said, “I’ve just been running and eating healthier lately,” to which he replied with the list of what will be in the box.

After our talk, I started to think about how brave he is about life growing up during the depression and experiencing the home front during World War II while living with his grandparents, his sister, and his cousins. He’s traveled to every continent, well, except Europe. He said, “Why would I want to go somewhere that’s older than me?” He preferred Australia, cruises around Africa and South America, and white water rafting at age 65 in Colorado. He was in the Korean War, though just the tail end. His company was replacing another on the front lines and as they were walking to the border a truck stopped and told them the armistice had been signed. The joke in the family is that, “Stormin’ Norman showed up and they got scared.” I smile every time I think about that.

Anyway, after the war, he lived in Japan working different jobs within the military complex before heading back to the United States and getting married to my grandma when she was 18 and he was around 23. He worked as a carpenter in a union in New York City and even worked on the World Trade Center. He had two kids, a house, a dog, and a wife. He loves baseball and football and always buys an American made car. He is the American dream.

He’s part of a generation who didn’t need a college degree, could fix cars, went off to war as part of growing up, that worked hard their whole life and now enjoys their family with a pension and social security. He grew up when it was cool to be a guy; when there was so much hope and promise for the future; when people were breaking out of their shells, gender roles, and monotonous lifestyles; when Civil Rights, Women’s Rights, and all the great events and speakers were promoting freedom and equality; when there were real heroes fighting for real causes. I envy that.

It makes me truly upset to sit here knowing I’m safe. Other people built the security and I sit back and enjoy it without much thought. His generation was all part of something bigger than themselves, whereas most of mine sits back and is waiting for their handout. The mantra of their generation was, “Be a productive member of society.” Ours? “Do what you want. You can be anything.” When I think about it, that won’t work long term. Totally be happy and do things you love, but who’s going to pave the roads you want to drive on, make that notebook you write in, or even make this computer I get to blog with?

Maybe they did too good of a job and now we’re all used to it being there already built and ready for use. The problem is, now it’s starting to break, and all the college degrees in the world can’t seem to fix it.

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Being responsible for your emotions: A rant

We’ve all heard the saying, “Control your own happiness,” but what about other emotions? Sadness, regret, and anger are all things we humans experience on a somewhat regular basis. Why should we let other people have such a huge influence on the positive or negative aspects of our lives? I recently figured out a little bit about myself and started understanding why it is I do what I do.

I want to control my ALL of my emotions. If I’m going to be happy, I want to be the reason I’m happy. Whether it’s surrounding myself with family and loved ones, playing hockey or music, or just having a couple beers with some friends around a bar or a fire. I answer to no one when it comes to my happiness.

This goes the same for my occasional err…somewhat constant anger and aggressiveness. I choose to let it out when I want, which is probably healthier than keeping it in. Meh, what do I know, I’m not a doctor, nor is yelling at someone from my car for cutting me off going to change anything. Anyway, I want to be in control of those emotions, too. I’d rather get in trouble for something I did and be mad/embarrassed at myself than let someone else make me feel helpless and have anger towards them for something I can’t control.

I want to make my own messes and I want to clean them up.

I want to make my own mistakes and I want to own up to them.

 

I’ve been called abrasive, aggressive, angry, unorthodox, told that I worry too much and to slow down…yada. yada. yada. You know what? (Cue hardcore lyrics) “I’ll keep my failures. You keep waiting.” (Call It Fire) In other words, keep it to yourself. I’ll be over here learning something from what I just did.

I don’t mind being the guy who tells you what you don’t want to hear. I don’t mind being honest.

I do mind when people don’t do their jobs and I catch the raw end of it. I’d rather let them know and skip a few rings in the “chain of command” to make people aware of the problem than sit there and have no control and be miserable. Too many people sit idly by and let things happen to them. They get stepped on or skipped over all together. I want to learn from mistakes, because that’s what life is all about, right?

Sometimes bureaucracy is helpful, but most times it isn’t. For what my jobs have been and what I hope one day they will be, and that’s helping or educating others, we don’t have time for it. Face problems head on. Take ownership of the problems and mistakes made along the way. Then, move on. Put your pride away and learn something to help the people you’re supposedly in favor of.

The moral of this rant is, control your emotions. Not in the, “keep them in check” kind of way, but in the, “take them by the horns” kind of way. Be happy, be sad, be angry, cry, punch shit, be alone or with others, write a blog post about it, laugh SO loud, scream your face off – be emotional on your own terms.

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My Claim to Fame:

Since my grandma died about two weeks ago, I’ve been feeling nostalgic. I’ve had some rough nights thinking about her, but I try to make sure I’m remembering the positives. As I think about all of those great things we did together, I can’t help but remember other members of my family that have passed within the last decade; members of my family that did cool things; members I hope I never forget.

Most of my family never did anything amazing or ground breaking, hell, most of my dad’s side of the family is still across the Atlantic Ocean in the old country (Italy). However, there is one person in my family, my great aunt Helen, that not only lived over a century (she passed away at 102 I believe), but was also a part of something for the only two years of its existence and is my only real claim to fame.

She was the Queen of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in  1926 and 1927.

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 Now, don’t get me wrong. I love my family to pieces and to be honest, I could care less if they were “famous,” and that’s not because I know I won’t be unless I go on some crime spree and wind up in the papers. I like my simple existence and don’t need anything huge, even in my family’s past, to gratify a non-existent ego.

Anyway, when I think about the history of my family, where everyone came from, and all the things they did during a century that seemed to transcend what could happen in a century’s time, this is something I can proudly connect with. 

I remember being there for her 100th birthday party in Florida and on numerous other occasions. She remember everyone’s name, always sent birthday cards, and knew what everyone was doing. She loved everyone, and after 3 generations which followed, there was a lot of us.

She was the first generation born in the United States, making me the 4th generation, which from what I understand is a very long time for Jewish families in America.

The historian in me likes to better understand those roots and make sure I can tell the story to my grandkids one day. My dad’s side is much easier, as my grandpa and his brother came to the United Stats in the 1950s from Brazil and the Dominican Republic (respectfully) after leaving Italy when there mandatory military service was completed. They went to South America to avoid the low immigration quota that was placed on Italy after World War II, though I also know that many mobsters from southern Italy also went to South America to clear their names before coming to the United States, which is much more fun to tell people even if I have zero evidence my family was connected to that.

This nostalgia also helped re-kindle my idea to write about how social media and the internet will change how we are able to look at history. Not really sure where it’s going to go as of right now, but a friend of mine and myself will be slowly working on it in the near future (I hope). My grandma has a Facebook and Instagram, and though my Aunt Helen didn’t, I was able to find this New York Time article about her coming back to the parade as a guest of Macy’s.

It’s really cool looking back and it makes me proud to be who I am and where I came from, even if we’re just a regular family.

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August 8, 2013 · 11:20 am

Goodbye, Grandma

I don’t want to be cliche and annoying about something like this, but as a journal-type thing, I do want to use this as it was intended. I also want to make sure I get my feelings out somehow, well, in another way that isn’t sobbing.

My grandma passed away early Saturday morning and to be honest, it took me a second to process that. My girlfriend, Leah, woke me up after my mom had sent her a text message asking her to do just that. As I picked up my phone to call her, I saw that my grandma had liked a picture of mine on Instagram. Yeah, she was that cool.

As I unlocked my phone and called, I knew something was wrong, but having no real knowledge of my grandmother’s hospital visit a few days earlier, other than the fact that she was there, I didn’t know what went wrong with who.

When my mom told me that my grandma had passed away, she seemed broken. Naturally, I didn’t want to seem upset because I want to be there for her. I told her to call me back when she knew more and I hung up and crawled back in to bed. I snuggled up to Leah and just laid there for a few minutes.

Then it hit me.

I’ve been lucky enough to have all four grandparents around my whole life and the idea of not having any of them around is (still) unfathomable.

I had just sent her a text 2 days earlier and made plans to visit in New York City in 2 weeks when I go to Long Island for vacation.

I still have voice-mails, Facebook comments and messages, texts, and missed calls from her in my phone.

And as I sit here right now, and if I’m honest with myself, I don’t believe that she’s gone. It doesn’t make any sense. For as much as the media portrays death and that it’s seemingly all around us, on a personal level it seems everyone is very disconnected with the idea of it. When terrible things happen far away, like the Boston Marathon Bombing, you hear it on the news then walk right out of the house and it’s as if nothing happened. To me, it appears that we’re all desensitized to hearing about death and destruction, but once it comes to our front door we have no idea how to deal with it. It shakes us on such a deep level that we’re broken for days or weeks on end.

That’s how I feel.

It was all unexpected. My grandma had been in and out of the hospital for years and always bounced back, and at 74, when I called she still sounded like my grandma. Sure, she was tired sometimes and not feeling too great but hell, that happens to me, too.

I’ve been worried about this kind of call for the last few years and it was something I dreaded nearly every day. My grandparents were all getting old, and with the exception of my grandma (Joan, 74), they are all in the 80s. I knew my time with them was limited and it didn’t help that I was 6 hours away in Oswego; I knew it would be hard to race down to Long Island/New York City if something like this happened; I knew I would be too broken to drive.

As my (second) graduation date approaches, I’ve been thinking about where I want to live. Oswego is great. I have a lot of connections here and I think I have a good shot at getting some kind of job, even if it doesn’t pay that well. But after all of this, a part of me wants to be closer to family, and I want the same for Leah. We both live roughly 6 and a half hours away from our family, which makes trips home difficult to plan and, mostly to me as Leah likes driving (almost) any distance, it’s a pain in the butt.

I’m upset at myself that I needed something terrible to happen to realize something that appears to be quite simple and obvious. It also made me come to grips with the fact that I’m almost too busy to think about what I want out of my life. Sure, my hectic schedule may pay off as a job one day, but I’m not enjoying this ride as much as I should. All I want to do is make enough money to live, play drums and hockey a few times a week, and enjoy things with my girlfriend. I just want to be the things she thought I was and would become.

I’m a simple dude.

Anyway, today is feeling like a hard day. I can’t get the thought of her out of my head. A friend of mine, Tim, told me to hold on to everything I had. Luckily, I’m one of those people who keeps your birthday cards for no less than 5 years, so I have plenty lying around my mom’s house. I also  have voicemails from her, one of which is her singing happy birthday to me this past November.

I loved her more than I could put into words. She was good with words, always beat me at scrabble.

She was the one who made me love New York City, embarrassed me in stores by singing out loud, and brought me to the lake house in New Jersey.

I love  and miss you, grandma.

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