“Make America Great Again?” – You Can’t Be Serious

“Politics is an easy place to go to avoid dealing with your real problems. In fact, many of the people who spend their time worrying about partisan politics do so as a way to avoid addressing what really needs to change in their life. The changes you need to make are not going to be addressed by any politician or government agency. While elections are important, they aren’t nearly as important as what you can do for yourself.” – Anthony Iannarino

As we steamroll into these final months of an election season – with heated debates that promise interest and entertainment – this is not going to be another internet political rant.

I don’t have an agenda against one candidate, or for another. That’s not my deal.

As a small town citizen, who would I be to bash anyone that is running a campaign to acquire the world’s most demanding job?

I do, however, have a small problem with the slogan “Make America Great Again.”

Albeit, the slogan sells. Look at the campaign rallies – the citizens have come droves to bathe in the rhetoric.

With smart phone at the ready, clutching a Starbucks or upgraded handbag in their one hand, waving their rally sign with the other.

I look at our country of today and think to myself, “are we really in that much trouble? Has America lost her greatness?”

This slogan, and perhaps the campaign itself, preys on fears that you have created that have no basis – fears that you should put on the shelf.

A Different Perspective

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My great grandmother, pictured here, could possibly have told you about the greatness of America, if she could speak any English. Arriving here in 1929, she stepped off the boat onto Ellis Island just in time for the greatest stock market crash our economy has faced.

She left the comfort and familiarity of her small town in Sicily, and if my facts serve me correctly, the first home in that town with indoor plumbing and running water. Truly the lap of luxury.

I would not blame her if she thought she left her homeland to travel great distances to a country with big problems.

Luckily, she had a rock steady family unit around her. Up against the odds and mighty struggles, that family turned out successful business owners, physicians, teachers, cooks, artists, and all around American success stories.

The secret to that success?  Embracing simplicity, values, and a never say die work ethic.

New York Times columnist Frank Bruni wrote a wonderful article about our 2016 Olympic athletes – but as I was reading his words, I felt he was talking about my immigrant family more than anything:

They had a drive more powerful… They swapped resentment for goals. And they worked. By God, did they work. We tend to marvel at their freakish gifts, but we should marvel even more at their freakish devotion. That’s what made the difference.

They invested hour upon hour, day after day. They sacrificed idle time and other pursuits. They honed a confidence that eludes most of us and summoned a poise that we can only imagine. They took risks, big ones.

And they pressed on, because there was this thing that they wanted so very, very badly and the only way to know if they could get it was to put everything on the line.

And herein lies the issue with modern America – everything is expected, and little is earned.

Should we be shocked most people don’t think America is great? How could you, when the perception is – the wolf is at the door, at all times?

We all need to leave our warm, comfy cocoons and come to one realization – the resident of the Oval Office doesn’t matter. In the end, you are responsible for your life.

Statistics bear out that we live in one of the safest, and most prosperous, times in our history. We have running water. Indoor plumbing. Plenty of food. Perhaps, too much food. Modern conveniences that have no purpose other than to make our unfit bodies more comfortable, within houses and property so opulent that the rest of the world may not be able to fathom.

And we need to “Make America Great Again?” Give me a break.

My Italians came here with little hope other than to live as poor immigrants. They made themselves great. We can all do the same.

Embrace your inner peasant, your inner Spartan. Start earning what you think you deserve. Make yourself a little uncomfortable in the process, on purpose, instead of searching for the convenient answer.

As Mr. Bruni wrote – sacrifice your idle time. Instead of resentment, embrace the work. Cultivate a freakish devotion. Put it all on the line.

That’s what your ancestors did, and what we can do. That’s America, and her greatness.

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Letters From The Front, And A Hero’s Remembrance

dominick wwiiWhen my grandmother passed away four years ago, she left behind many possessions that my father had to take into his house, and keep in storage. Some of those most prized possessions are documents and letters written by Dominick DeGiorgio, from his time served in World War II.

Dominick was my great uncle, my grandfather’s brother, and the “life of the party” within my immediate family. While he was in training camps here and in combat overseas, he wrote many letters to let the family know he was doing well, and send his love and regards.

Many of the letters are in his native Italian, but a select few were written in English, showing off a skill with a language that was not his first. The letters are poignant,  and at times funny. The one I’ll share with you within this post was postmarked a week prior to his being killed in action.

He survived the D-Day invasion that took place 70 years ago today, but could not stave off the inevitable fate that some will say was God’s plan. War was Hell, and it extinguished a bright life from our family.

This letter in particular was addressed to my grandmother. At the time, I don’t think my grandfather could read English very well.

Words Of A Soldier

Dear Rosa:

A few lines to let you know I’m in the best of health. I hope this finds you, my brother, and Joey the same. I’m sorry for not being able to write more often, but we have been moving fast, and on the go all the time.

I guess you have been reading the papers how we are beating the Germans here in France. Well, this paper that I am writing on is German paper they have left behind while running away from our tanks. You would be surprised if you could see with your own eyes and the things they have left behind so that they could run faster towards Germany.

We have been doing a lot of walking, and some days are very hot, but at night it cools off so much that you need two or more blankets to keep warm. Of course, we don’t sleep much, and when we do, it’s usually without blankets.

Rosa, in your next letter let me know if you received any more mail from my family. I really miss everyone, and wish that I could be more near all of you.

I hope that this war soon ends, and then we can all start over again, just as if there had been no war at all.

The people that we free here in the cities are very happy. Did you see the newsreel of the parade of Paris?

It’s getting dark now, so I am closing by sending my regards to all who ask of me. Hello to Tony and family. Regards to your mother. Love and kisses to you, my brother, and Joey, as always.

Dominick

No War At All

As I go through life, I feel an immense gratitude for all that I have. Like many other people, I feel that family is a big part of that. To read these words again from the razor thin German paper they were written on, to be able to type them here and share the thoughts of a man who has been gone for 70 years, boggles my mind.

The old-school man in me can’t take for granted the technology that allows this. As I see his words on a page, I imagine Dominick with his pen in hand, still in his sweat and mud stained uniform, with artillery shelled city blocks surrounding him and his brothers in arms. Fearful of his fate, with the hope it’s all just a nightmare. As if there had been no war at all.

Like many others, he would pay the biggest price there is. His fear would be realized, and he would become a war time statistic. The battles are faded history. Many of us have forgotten.

Seventy years later, as the anniversary of D-Day looms, I’ll think of Dominick. The family man. The life of the party. The fighter. The patriot.

Hero.

 

Promise And Pain: The Year Of The Unforgettable

Image - Wikipedia
Image – Wikipedia

When John F. Kennedy made his now iconic address to the nation concerning the Cuban missile crisis in 1962, two young boys sat side by side, taking it all in. It was dramatic prime time viewing, in which nervous Americans were informed of missile sites primed to attack our shores just 90 miles off the coast of Florida.

My cousin (Little) Anthony along with my uncle (Big) Anthony watched transfixed as the President told them of “a clear and present danger”, and then spoke of initiated steps for the defense of our security from the Russian and Cuban threat.

My uncle’s response to the telecast?

“Well, there goes Christmas!”

My uncle was just a boy, knowing nothing of political strife, or wars between countries, or the madness of men seeking to rule the world.

He cared about his family, and about how this new situation with the President would ruin the holidays.

Their paths would converge again, in 1963, as darkness would fall and the world, and its history, would change in a profound way.

Nothing But The Pain

I was born in the middle of a ferocious snowstorm in March of that year, a new member of a family that was growing and becoming more prosperous. My parents hadn’t been married a year yet, and here I was already making my appearance.

The first child and grandson, I was new royalty, and these were happy times. The American Dream was being formed right in our household. An occasion to celebrate.

It was a time of celebration that was short lived. My uncle passed away only months after I was born, leaving a gaping hole in our family, and my grandparents wracked with grief and despair.

They had nothing now but the pain, and their adopted country soon followed suit. The year got no easier with America’s deepening involvement in Vietnam, escalation of racial tension in the south, and the final blow – the assassination of the President.

In the working class neighborhood where my family lived, the same shock was felt everywhere when hearing of the nature of Kennedy’s death. They had heard it on radio, read it in a special afternoon edition of the hometown newspaper.

If you were able to afford a television, you watched as Walter Cronkite gave you the timeline of events, wiping his eyes because he knew a promising young life had been cut short. The axis of history had been moved.

The Promise

Today, fifty years later, I find it hard to believe that my grandparents gave the President’s killing more than a brief thought. A life they held close, their Anthony, had already been cut short. There was no grief left to offer the Kennedys, or our country. They couldn’t have cared.

As my cousin said to me in a phone conversation, “It took them a really long time to get over it”. If they did at all.

1963 was my year, my beginning.

The year that began with much promise on a winter’s night took a turn down a wrong highway and could not turn back.

Our nation, with that promise of hopes and dreams to be fulfilled, became a bleak and bitter landscape. In Washington. In Dallas. On the edge of my town, in a house on a corner lot where my grandparents lived, there was sadness.

Fifty years later, there is remembrance. Our country was changed, our lives were altered. The promise was taken away, and we can never know what might have been.

We can only remember.

Your Life Is A Great Story. Are You Telling It?

If there is one thing that the march of time does for you, it has an ability to enhance  your observational skills. When I was younger, I saw ordinary people for what I thought they were: very ordinary.

Now that I’m…ahem…older, I see individuals around me as anything but ordinary. I wrote about it in a post about my grandparents, about how extraordinary they were. But there’s so much more to see.

As I see it, everyone has a story.

For the bulk of my life, I didn’t think I was anything special. A regular guy (average Joe, if you will) that grew up, went to school, got a job, met a girl, got married, blah blah blah. Just like everyone else.

Courtesy of Wikipedia

However, that opinion is untrue. Mine looks like an ordinary life, but there’s a story behind everything. You have them too. How are you telling them? As The Who’s Roger Daltrey once famously shrieked, “Can you see the real me, can you?”

When I was growing up, I lived in a neighborhood that was all about community, culture, and traditions. The kind of world that barely exists anymore. There’s a story behind that.

I was a fat kid that didn’t want to be fat anymore, and I made a decision,  after being inspired by a movie, to take control of my life and lose that weight and never gain it back. There’s a story behind that.

I went to middle and high school at a military academy, and struggled to fit in. There was conflict and rebellion, and it ended when I made it out and graduated. Another story.

Instead of getting a college degree, I decided to go to work in the family business. At the time, I thought it the only way to build on a relationship with my Dad. I was a bartender in his restaurant for nearly twenty years. There’s many stories behind that. 🙂

The working hours there were long, and at times went into the wee hours. If they didn’t, I probably wouldn’t have met my future wife one of those nights, while she was out having fun with friends. There’s a great story there.

If we didn’t get married and have our two wonderful kids, I probably wouldn’t have made the move to change careers, which was another struggle. I left my comfort zone behind to make sure I had enough time to spend with my family…and have no regrets.

The two loves of our lives, looking over the Queen of American Lakes.

Notice a pattern?? There’s a story behind that.

You have stories too. Just about everyone I know has a great story. Whether they believe it or not. They can be amazing, they can be tragic. Most of them fall in between. But “in between” is still worth telling. You live a bigger life than you know.

Growing up in the 70s and 80s, I was under the impression that all of the family that surrounded me were ordinary. That’s just plain crazy thinking. They had some of the best stories of them all. They had memories of living through the Great Depression, of the family farm, of surviving Allied bombing raids in Italy, and relatives that fought in the World War.

Many of those life reflections were shared with me around a kitchen table, told in the simplest of terms. I am grateful to have heard them when the opportunity was there.

Don’t miss your opportunity to share yours. Remember, there’s a story behind that.

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ItalianAmerican: Yogi Berra

Baseball season is right around the corner, and this I, along with many others, will especially look forward to this season as a symbol to the end of a harsher than normal Northeast winter. Although I never like to sound like a cry baby, I couldn’t even hack this winter. Too much cold, far too much snow. We actually just  got hammered again with more ice and snow.

While having coffee with my Dad last night, we were flipping channels back and forth between the Mets and Yankees spring training games, watching the action in those absolutely balmy Florida climates.

It looked wonderful. The crowd was dressed in short sleeves, and there was some sweating going on.

With spring almost here, I could not help but get excited about getting me some hardball. A name almost synonymous with the word baseball is Yankee Hall of Fame catcher Yogi Berra. An unquestionable Italian American sporting icon, he was named American League MVP three times, voted an All Star 15 times, and was part of 10 World Series winners for the Yankees.

As accomplished as his baseball career was, Yogi is best remembered for his sometimes unintentionally funny quotes about baseball and life. The most famous is “It ain’t over till its over“, but there is a literal goldmine of “Yogiisms” that many people haven’t discovered yet.

My current favorite is “People used to say the Yankees won a lot because we led the league in Italians.”

The content below, courtesy of Wikipedia, is just a sampling of the brilliance of Yogi Berra. These are some classic quotes, along with what may be their origin.

Happy spring (baseball season) to all!

  • As a general comment on baseball:  “90% of the game is half mental.”
  • On why he no longer went to Ruggeri’s, a St. Louis restaurant:  “Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.”
  • It ain’t over till it’s over.”  In July 1973, when Berra’s Mets trailed the Chicago Cubs by 9½ games in the National League East; the Mets rallied to win the division title on the final day of the season.
  • When giving directions to Joe Garagiola to his New Jersey home, which is accessible by two routes:  “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”
  • On being the guest of honor at an awards banquet:  “Thank you for making this day necessary.”
  • It’s déjà vu all over again“. Berra explained that this quote originated when he witnessed Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris repeatedly hit back-to-back home runs in the Yankees’ seasons in the early 1960s.
  • You can observe a lot by watching.”
  • Always go to other people’s funerals, otherwise they won’t go to yours.”
  • Responding to a question about remarks attributed to him that he did not think were his: “I really didn’t say everything I said.”