Not Your Average Heroes

As I wrote in this post, we have the bad habit of heaping praise and admiration on celebrity and athletic figures that are far from deserving of it.

But in reality, true heroes don’t have roles in movies, throw footballs, or star in television shows. They are all around you, doing everyday things, having their small but important impact.

When I think of true heroes, my mind always comes back to my grandparents. My grandfather, and my grandmother, the woman everyone called “Nonna”.  One of the inspirations for this blog, the very definition of what I perceive to be “old school” values.

They left their homes in Italy, coming to America for opportunity, for a better life. The trip to this country was far from easy. I imagine when they were arriving at Ellis Island, they weren’t treated very well. Beginning a life in America was just as hard.

They were here to experience the Great Depression, a time in the USA that made our current economic recession pale by comparison. Hard times looking at a bleak future. They made it through.

They worked physically demanding jobs in blue collar factories that were once the backbone of American industry. Proud of the work that made their living and fed their children.

They built businesses in the restaurant industry, putting in thousands of hours to make them successful, while supporting a family. The care that was put into the food and service for the restaurants was my grandmother’s stamp of excellence. No one roasted a better turkey or made a better bowl of pasta e fagioli.

They survived the worst family tragedy, having to bury a son, my uncle Anthony, when he was just a boy. I can’t even imagine the level of pain and emptiness they felt. Somehow, they made it through. Years later, Nonna would shed tears talking about him, then be smiling again just a few minutes later. Courageous.

They made a vow in 1936 and stayed together for over six decades. Through the good times and the bad, they never wavered in their commitment to each other. They had a better shot at being married for 72 years than 72 days. Take note, modern reality show wackos.

Later in their lives, they both had a variety of health issues, but very little stopped them. They never really “retired”. Just kept working until their bodies would no longer allow them to.

They rarely complained, if at all, and didn’t think they were entitled to anything they didn’t work for. They thought that people who would rely on the government for support were “misinformed”, and the only place that they would ever “occupy” would be their house, after coming home from another hard day’s work.

Heroes. How do you define them? Are they movie actors? Sport stars? Or do they have a little more…substance? I know my definition. There are no trophies or ceremonies, and the best of them may look like nothing special in day to day existence.

But they have more influence than they know. The world is a better place because they were here.

10 thoughts on “Not Your Average Heroes

    1. Jack, thanks for the tip. I am still in the learning phase with the technology of blogging. The best way to “back up” would be to self-host, correct? I’ll have to check if I can back up someway with The only thing I’ve done so far with some posts is copy and paste to a Word document. So low tech. I want my family to have the option of reading in the future, yes. I better get on this 🙂

  1. One of the 1st things I remember about when we met (over 20 years ago) was something you said, It was that your best friends were Gram and Zia Nicky, they were in their late 70’s. I knew that you were a special man to hold these women in such high regard and to spend so much of your free time with them. It was something I admired and loved about you. I learned so much from Gram and will always cherish the days I spent with her, whether it was in the kitchen being her student or just sitting and listening to her stories of the old days with the radio playing her songs in the background. Those days changed who I am today for the better and I am grateful our children were able to love Gram especially. She was truly one of the greatest people ever.

  2. DEar Cousin
    I remember the day Anthony died on July 13 th 1963. Your father was running down 14th street holding you in his arms. He gave this little “boy” to me(I was only 12 and scared as hell” and told me he had to go to the Poestenkill creek because they could not find Anthony/ It is all kind of a blur now but I can see that moments as if it just happened. I must have given you to my mother as I remember going to the creek and Mrs Flynn, told me that my cousin was gone as he wa trapped in the gorge.
    I remember my dear Aunt Rose fainting in the police car , and all was lost.
    I also remember my Uncle Sebastian going to the restaurant the next day, and my mother asked me to go with him. He was such a strong man. He went about his business cleaning etc, but again, it is just a blur and a nightmare.
    I am not sure if you remember the song I wrote for your uncle Tony from my show, but I always (and still feel to this day) thatI was somehow responsible for his leaving us so soon.If I only read him the Sporting Nerws that day , he might still be with us. Sorry you did not know him but he was my best friend growing up
    Love Uncle Tony

  3. Joe,
    Your Gram & Gramp were the nicest people around. They treated everyone they came in contact with the same way, with respect. And thier smiles were warm and genuine. And your Grams cooking was awesome…
    We’ll be the last of the “old school” generation I think, unless some how your children can go back in time. Our childhood’s shaped us, for better or worse, into who we are today. Kid’s today will never understand what we went through, cause they really can’t even imagine life without computers and mp3 players and smart phones. The youth of today can do what our generation had to go to college to be exposed to, and they have more computing power within easy reach then NASA did during the entire Apollo program. It’s a REALLY different world today… And has we all know, different does’nt always mean better…

    1. We are the last of the “old schoolers”. When we’re REALLY old, we’ll be the only ones talking, really communicating. Everybody else will be walking around, staring at their phone screens, making eye contact with no one. It makes me a little sad that my kids probably won’t live any portion of their lives without all these technological “crutches” that are now available. But that’s the trend. And it’s not going back the other way.

      Not that I have anything against technology, I do love it. The struggle is to use in moderation, and not let it take over your life. I carry around enough “tradition” where I don’t think that will happen to me.

      Thanks for the kind words about my grandparents. And that cooking is something I really miss…

  4. Hi Joe,

    Hope all is well. This is a very nice post and tribute. When I think of heroes I think of people like my mother who is so dedicated and selfless.

    When I think of past generations and how difficult they had it, the adversity they faced really shaped them as people. I imagine the mental toughness of someone from your grandparent’s generation compared to us. No comparison, right? 🙂

    I certainly agree that the world is a better place because they were here.

    I’m digging the new look here.

    1. Thanks, Craig. No comparison, indeed. They were far tougher than I could ever think of being, but as you said, they had to endure quite a bit of adversity.

      Appreciate the comment!

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