You Are Like A Hurricane: No “Over Hype” Here

“Can’t happen here, can’t happen here. All that fear they’re telling you, it can’t happen here” – Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow

Once again, nature proves that, no matter what, she’s the boss. As I sat in my house Sunday morning looking out my window at the wind gusts and flooding rains that were Tropical Storm (formerly Hurricane) Irene, I considered my family fortunate to still have electricity, and no tree damage like so many in more southern regions.

As a weather event, there is no finesse to a hurricane. She is pure power.

As an armchair witness to Irene making rain fall history, I’m having a surge of respect for people in the states of Florida and the Carolinas who deal with big time storms on a regular basis.

The only reason I left my house on Sunday was to plug in a lead cord for my next door neighbor to run his sump pump. He had lost power, and wanted to get the two inches of water out of his flooded basement.

Why do people venture outside during a hurricane? A tree can fall and crush you. Such events occurred on more than one occasion in Virginia over the weekend.

Why would you drive your car during a hurricane? If you’re not driving an emergency vehicle, chances are you would not know how to avoid a flooded road that could sweep you away to your end.

Why taunt the power of a lady named Irene? You put yourself in harm’s way without reason. The highways are shutting down, and the malls are closed. You have no reason to go out, really. Reacquaint yourself with the definition of the word

Mess with a hurricane and what she can bring – it’s an act that borders on sheer foolishness.

My dog is a great indicator of bad weather. Not the biggest fan of thunderstorms to begin with, you know if he doesn’t want to go on his “bathroom run” that something sinister is in the air. Dogs are good for this.

New York City was practically shut down by Irene. While residents of this state can be prone to hyperbole and the “worst case” scenario, they had it right by regarding Irene as the monster she had the potential to be.

As a resident of upstate New York, I have only seen the remnants of tropical storms in the past. This storm was an entirely different animal.

There are many that think that the coverage of Irene was overblown, and too excessive in the monies spent to protect.

For those that think this event was “over hyped,” feel free to witness the aftermath of Irene here in upstate New York: devastating flooding, with waters rising and rivers cresting. Roads and entire towns wiped from the map.

In my neck of the woods, they are many, many people suffering from loss of property.

In the right circumstance, fear and over preparation is a very positive thing.

Good riddance, Irene, and let all your sisters and cousins know that they are not welcome  in this part of the world anymore.

Giving All For God And Country

It would be hard not to feel a lump in your throat hearing the grim details of the soldiers that included members of Navy Seal Team 6 killed over the weekend when the helicopter they were being transported in was shot down over a terrorist stronghold in Afghanistan.

(There were also soldiers on that helicopter who were not Navy Seals. Here’s a riveting post about one of them.)

IMG_3904Notable was the story of Aaron Vaughn, husband, father of two, and staunch defender of our country’s freedom as a SEAL.

As I watched the interview with his widow and parents, I learned he epitomized “old school” principles that you hardly ever hear much about in the media, unless an event like this occurs.

Love of God

His father related that Aaron was a person of deep faith, who let that faith guide him to the convictions that he believed in. His father said “He believed…. that he was obliged as a Christian believer to fight fundamental Islamic terrorists around this world because he believed it was a threat to his children and to his wife and to all of our western civilization way of life.”

In an age where some individuals try to take the word “God” out of everything, hearing about this man’s beliefs was a refreshing change.

Love of Country

September 11 was a turning point for Aaron in his desire to become a Navy SEAL, according to his dad. He put his country first simply by making the decision to become a elite member of American special forces, and put his life on the line every day to protect our way of life.

At a time when patriotism is void from our minds, or at best a part time pursuit, men like Aaron prove to be the ultimate patriots.

Love of Family

Vaughn loved his duties as a Navy SEAL. I’m sure the job of being a dad was something he gave his all to as well. Those of us that are with our families on a very regular basis no doubt take that time for granted.

Vaughn was away from his family for hundreds of days at a time. Being a father of two very young children, he had little opportunity to see them grow and took full advantage of the limited time he had with them. He was with his newborn daughter only briefly before returning to combat.

These details make concrete the fact not only are these members of our American military the ultimate fighters, but also ultimate believers: God, country, family. Truly old school stuff we need more of.

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The Last Sicilian, and the Gift of Tradition

She worked in a kitchen that was small by modern standards. To see it, you would think it was the size of a walk-in closet in some homes.

She worked her magic on a tiny stove that had very little room to waste. How she managed to squeeze coffee pots, saute’ pans, and giant sauce pots on it without a major catastrophe still remains a mystery.

Old school boxing trainer Angelo Dundee once said that heavyweight champion Muhammed Ali could train his body for a bout in a space the size of a phone booth. My great aunt, Nicolina Carucci, did the comparable with her masterwork in her kitchen.

My “Aunt Nicky,” as most of my family members called her, was my grandmother’s younger sister, and she was my godmother as well. She helped welcome me here by bathing my little infant head in holy water, and it was the start of a beautiful relationship.

She passed away a few years ago, like her sister living well into her 90’s. It’s still strange without either one of them here to boss me around.

I grew up in a world where consistency was the name of the game. The sound of the Italian language, the smells of food always cooking, the ritual of the coffee, and all the holiday and family traditions. Steady as they come. Always present.

That world is nearly gone. For our kids to be reminded of tradition and experience how I grew up, we have to take that ball and run with it. So traditions don’t disappear from view.

If my wife or myself don’t make those wonderful meatballs with onions and bacon that was Nicky’s recipe, or set a pot of simmering sauce on the stove on Sundays, disappear they will.

Aunt Nicky spent her last few months of life in a nursing home, and my father and I would visit on Sundays. We’d wheel her out to the cafeteria, and talk about the swill she was about to eat. I would joke with her, telling her it was time to get out of the chair and go to work on the homemade manicotti so we could all have a good meal.

I hope someday, somewhere, I can find something remotely close to that manicotti again.

I’d also joke with her about how she was “the last in line” or “the last Sicilian.” She was not the last Sicilian of course, but she was the last of a long line of very influential people on my grandmother’s side of the family. Influential to me. The men and women who are now part of my history book, traditions needing to be chronicled before atrophy of the mind takes over.

My wife and I loved going to Aunt Nicky’s house just about every Friday for lunch. At times she would do just a cheese omelet with toast,  or a small pot roast on top of the stove. Or a stuffed meatloaf that she called Italian Style. A very simple meal, but one with great taste. The meal would always be accompanied by a glass of red wine in a tumbler glass. Or two.

She always fascinated my wife and I with stories of her younger days: living in the seaside town of Terracina in Italy, making it sound like the perfect vacation spot.  Of surviving bombing raids that were a little too close for comfort during World War II; and ducking German soldiers looking to loot through the properties that they had just destroyed.

Life wasn’t easy here in America, either. She did a lifetime of very physical work while she lived here, and she had more than her share of troubles and heartache. But like the rest of her family, she was a fighter that always moved forward and did what she could to live her best life possible.

My wife had thanked me on more than a couple of occasions for giving her the gift of a relationship with my godmother. I understand how she feels. She was a gift to me too.

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Best Job Title Ever – Father

IMG_3678Fathers’ Day will come and go, celebrated in a whirlwind of sunshine, breakfast on the deck, poolside cocktails, and a game of pitch and catch. As the years go by, and they go by rather quickly, I become more entrenched in the title of “father” or “Dad.” It has become my favorite line of work.

I’m grateful for many things in this life. When my wife had a little scare with her health, I was grateful that it wound up, in the end,  being nothing to worry about.

I feel gratitude for having so much time with my grandparents in their time on this Earth, especially my grandmother. We shared many cups of coffee over the years.

My life is what it is because of what they taught me as well. You know, enjoy the simple things in life, don’t stress too much, and forget about keeping up with the Joneses of the world. Good advice.

I’m grateful for the music too. Sounds that are constantly in my head, ringing in my ears, providing the soundtrack to life. Whether it was an old Sinatra standard blasting from an transistor radio in the house on 14th Street, or a song by Muse playing on my daughter’s iPod, it has been forty plus years of enjoying some really amazing sounds.

More than anything, I’m happy to be Dad. As I said, it’s my favorite job.  And my most important.

I took on this line of work on a ferociously hot day in late June 1995, when my daughter was born. Since that morning in the hospital, I’ve never looked back. I knew when I held her close to me, she would be the most important thing I would ever be a part of.

IMG_2681When my son was born five years later, he became part two of “my most important work to date.”

Now, they’re getting older, growing up way too quickly, and the work is becoming complicated. When you think you have a handle on what you’re doing as a parent, monkey wrenches appear from everywhere, and you realize you don’t know much. But you keep doing the work, and gain knowledge as you go forward. There are always new things to learn.

I was a guy who, at one time, felt there was no problem to be consumed by his job. The work. Whatever “nine to five” I was doing. But I smartened up, looking at the work as a means to an end, that glorious paycheck, and try to get really good at the important jobs. Job titles that include husband and…father.

When Gabrielle was born, at the time I wasn’t doing just a job. I was working in the family business, a restaurant where I managed the bar and spent the majority of my days tending it, serving the customers who would become, over the years, my friends. It was what I loved to do, and couldn’t see myself doing anything else.

But the days and nights at work were long, and they took me away from my little girl. To have more time at home, I gave up what I loved to do, and got a “real job” (Real? The concept of corporate jobs as being “real” is strictly a myth).

I gave up the restaurant business, a way of life that was important to me. But I gave it up for much more important work, a partnership with my wife with the job title of parent. Father. The fringe benefits are more than excellent.

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Reflections on Memorial Day And a Salute to a Soldier Long Gone

Here we go. The summer season has started,  greatly anticipated around these parts of upstate New York after withstanding the brutal cold and large snow totals from this past winter. We all like to celebrate the coming of summer just so we can say “sayonara” to the memories of winter.

Our family went a familiar Memorial Day route, spending it in the scenic Adirondacks. The weather became uncooperative with noisy thunder and downpours of rain, but we still managed to play, eat, drink, and do our chores. And just calling it eating may be a understatement. Steamed and clams casino were in such great abundance, I think we had an event I’d like to call “Clam-a-palooza” (hope to do it next year, too!)…

Everyone has their fun, but they call it “Memorial Day” for a reason. Most people that I know look forward to the first long weekend of the warmer months for good times and days off, but the meaning of this holiday runs much deeper. A Facebook friend of mine who has a way with words himself put it best:

“Happy Memorial Day”. That statement doesn’t make sense to me at all. Today is a day of reflection for selfless sacrifice both past and present. I am not celebrating. I am remembering.

I never met my grandfather‘s brother, PFC and former member of the 105th Infantry, Dominick DeGiorgio. Although he survived fighting in the D-Day invasion of Normandy, he was later killed in action in Germany in World War II, still a young man. As far as I know, he is my family’s only recipient of the Purple Heart.

Another brother, my great uncle Mariano, fought for the Italian Army during European campaigns. It seems incomprehensible now, but there was true potential in that war for brother v. brother, each fighting for their country.

Even though Dominick was killed decades before I was born, I felt like I knew him somewhat as my grandmother loved to tell stories about him. While my grandfather Sebastian was a man of few words, his brother had a huge personality despite his small stature. A good looking guy who was always laughing and in good humor, he was, as my Nonna would state, very popular with the ladies. So much so that he would draw big crowds of them at the ice cream shop where he worked before going off to war.

I always wondered what it would have been like to have him here. His bright and cheerful persona as counterpoint to my Pop, the “strong, silent” type. What fun we could have had with that.

Unfortunately, that’s the drawback of war. It takes away and erases what could have been.

He gave it all, fighting for the freedom of generations of Americans with, as my friend said, “selfless sacrifice”. I’m sure there were plenty of disappointed girls at the ice cream window at Manory’s store.  I’m happy I can sit on a porch on a humid May afternoon and reflect  and wonder about a man whose great life was over far too soon.

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