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Archive for the ‘History’ Category

Didn’t seem to be a big deal. Fellow came by yesterday. We were sitting at the kitchen table, just chatting, and he asked, “Do you know those little Tedeschi stores?” I just smiled and nodded that I did know them. Maybe my smile gave something away, I really don’t know. However, he followed up with, “What, why are you smiling?

I had to ask, “Do you know the history of the Tedeschi’s?”

“No, whadda you mean?” he asked.

Well, you know me, I’m not one to let an opportunity pass, so I had to tell the story…at least as I know it, and so I began…

Years ago, gosh, I couldn’t have been older than six or seven, we lived on the first floor of a two story house in Rockland, Massachusetts. The house was on Belmont Street, number 51 to be exact. Down the street from us was a little neighborhood grocery store. It was actually attached to the residence, but it had a parking lot that was big enough for maybe six cars. The husband and wife who lived there were Angelo and Katherine Tedeschi. There were days when my dad would take his shotgun and some shells, walk down the street and into the store. He’d yell, “Hey, Angelo, get the dogs and let’s go hunting,” and Angelo would tell Katherine to mind the store, and off he and dad would go to hunt. Remember now, this was late 1940, early ’41. If they were lucky, they would bring home a number of rabbits. Angelo would skin them and put them in his freezer. I have to tell ya, this store was just a little big larger than a two-car garage, so when I say it was ‘neighborhood,’ I mean, if you walked in there, you knew right away who was shopping. They were your neighbors. They knew you. You knew them, and it was a gathering place for neighborhood gossip as well as for picking up that night’s dinner.

It was later in 1941, December 7th to be exact, that America changed. We were drawn into a Second World War. Angelo and my dad were too old to join up, but some of the Tedeschi boys, as I was later told, went right down and enlisted. Ralph, the oldest, went into the Army as an officer. He fought in Europe and was promoted to the rank of major. To his misfortune, he was captured by the Germans. Ralph’s treatment at the hands of his captors was not too good. He was severely beaten. He was urinated on, and a number of other rather vile and despicable treatments were his wont in the camp in which he was held prisoners. He was isolated and thrown in a cell that had a dirt floor. As I understand it, he found a small stick at some point, and that dirt floor of his cell and that stick probably saved his life. You see, Ralph would diagram on that dirt floor his ideas for a new kind of market that he and his family would build when the war was over and he could go home. Different stores, different designs, different this and different that…all on the dirt floor as he was recovering from his beatings and his interrogation. Eventually, Ralph was freed from his captors by Russian soldiers. He was reunited with his family, and he began to plan.

The first “supermarket” opened by the Tedeschi family was on Market Street in Rockland. Ralph’s family, including brothers, Sam, Nick, and Bobby, as well as sister, Etta, were all part of the team. There could have been other brothers, heck, I could never keep track of all of them. Anyway, Angelo and Katherine were able to retire and watch their boys build a small empire. Stores in Braintree, Hanover, and a couple of other towns followed. Eventually, Stop & Shop, another major New England chain of supermarkets took notice. They offered to buy out the Tedeschi’s, and Ralph, as I understand it, drove a pretty hard deal, one that resulted in reasonably good wealth for all members of his family. Oh, and there was another proviso in the buyout. Ralph was prohibited from opening any other supermarket with the Tedeschi name for a period of ten years. Hey, they were all now millionaires, right, so what’s the big deal. Well, not so fast. The Tedeschi family hadn’t gotten to the position they were now in by being lazy and sitting on their collective butts. Within five years, the supermarket bug that had bitten Ralph was back and chomping away. As a result he opened some supermarkets on Cape Cod under the name of his father. They were called, “Angelo’s,” and they were big! As time went on, Ralph turned the business over to his brothers and other relatives. Eventually, another chain came and, once again, purchased the stores.

That, however, is not the end of my tale. My own Mother and Dad were in Florida when Angelo Tedeschi died. They read of his passing in a paper, and Mom called me. “Will you please go to the wake and the funeral and represent our family?” she asked. It was an honor I couldn’t refuse…probably would have gone anyway. When I walked into the funeral home, there they were, all of the brothers, greeting people who had come to pay their respects to this wonderful man who, along with his wife, had raised some pretty damned good kids. Ralph walked over and asked, “Excuse me, but who are you?” I explained that my folks couldn’t come and that I was representing the family because someone from our neighborhood had to be there. I no sooner got the words out of my mouth than Ralph grabbed me in a bear hug and carried me into the room where Etta was sitting with her mother, Katherine. “Look,” said Ralph, “It’s Dickie Bishop!” [Gad, how I hated that nickname…still do]. I spent some time with the family and, really, it was old home week. It was also the last time that I saw Ralph alive.

Years later, my wife and I were spending a vacation in Bermuda. As I was heading for the water at our little beach, a lady ahead of me yelled out to her friend, already in the water, “Wow, not like Green Harbor,” – a beach on the Atlantic to which our my family and all of our friends frequently visited. Being the smart mouth that I am, I responded from behind her, “Not like Brandt Rock either,” another haunt of our neighborhood and right next to Green Harbor. We both laughed and went for our swims. On getting out of the water, I told my wife of the brief encounter which she thought to be rather amusing. About half an hour later, I noticed one of the women talking to a man on their blanket and point over toward me. “Ah, what the hell,” I figured, “might’s well walk over”…which I did and introduced myself. “I’m {can’t remember the first name] Tedeschi,” he said. To which I responded, “Whose are you?” This rather confounded them, and I asked if they were from Rockland. “No,” the man said, “We live in Norwell.” I repeated my question, adding, “Which one of the brothers are you the children of?” It was as though the lightbulb went off, and he responded, “Do you know my family?” I allowed as how I did and asked them what they knew of their grandparents. Turned out that both Angelo and Katherine had passed on before these young people were born. “Did you know my grandfather,” I was asked, and thus, once more, I had the privilege of telling some folks a bit of their own family history. Did I embellish just a bit? Of course, because Angelo and Katherine deserved to be embellished. They, along with their children, believed in and became the American Dream.

I write this not out of a need to tell a story. I write it because another fellow came by yesterday, sat at the kitchen table, and asked if I knew the name Tedeschi. This fellow, too, is an immigrant. He and his mom, escaped from the Soviet Union about thirty-five years ago. He owns a small business, and I can see in his eyes and in his work ethic, that he, too, is pursuing this thing we call the American Dream. I think he’s going to make it, maybe not the way Ralph or his counterparts did, but I really think he stands a good chance of realizing what just about every immigrant dreams of when he or she enters the shores of our United States of America.

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I keep thinking that I’m living in one of the very worst political periods in the history of this nation. Yesterday afternoon I learned that I am wrong. Shocked? You shouldn’t be. I’m perfectly willing to be wrong, after all, I have been wrong once or twice in my life. I happened to arrive in the family room as Juli was beginning to watch an episode of “American Experience” on PBS (It’s on Amazon in case you happen to have that). If you’ve never seen one of these programs, your education is, as mine was, sadly lacking. This particular ‘experience’ dealt with the assassination of President James Garfield.

Here is the paragraph that displays my naked ignorance. I did not know that Garfield had served as an officer in the Civil War. Nor did I know that he made rank all the way up to Major General…at the ripe young age of 33. He was victorious in battle, brilliant of mind, and a dedicated abolitionist after seeing the way in which slaves were treated in the Confederate South. Although he was left fatherless at the age of two, he somehow worked hard enough to earn enough money to go to college, graduating from Williams in 1856. President Lincoln persuaded him to resign his commission with the Union forces and run for Congress, telling him that he could find plenty of major generals, but he couldn’t find many allies in Congress. He was reelected 18 times and became the leading House Republican, respected by all and hated by more than a few for his honesty and his ability to speak eloquently on every topic of the day.

Okay, you say, so why was then like now? Good question; glad you asked it…even with a little prompting. The answer is patronage, arrogance, and intimidation. In addition, like both of today’s Presidential candidates, Garfield had a scandal to live down. He was implicated in the Credit Mobilier scandal in which congressmen who owned stock in Credit Mobilier, a construction company for the transcontinental Union Pacific Railroad, were accused of turning a blind eye to corruption in the company.

Garfield was content with his position of power in the House and had no greater ambitions, at least, as far as we know. However, at the 1880 Republican Convention, he failed to get his friend, John Sherman, nominated and on the 36th ballot Garfield found himself elected to carry the Republican banner. He won by only 10,000 votes, and everyone wondered whether he would be just another clerk for the corrupt New York Senator, Roscoe Conkling, who had controlled the previous two Presidents or if he would be his own man by selling NY votes to whoever promised him the “best deal.” Conkling was “king” of patronage in New York, then the largest city in the United States, more than double the size of the next largest city. It had been Conkling who could deliver the votes – approximately 10,000 – necessary for any candidate to become President, and while Garfield didn’t promise him anything specific, he agreed to meet with and listen to the Senator prior to the election. He even agreed to accept Conkling’s lackey, Chester A. Arthur, as his vice presidential running mate. Conkling thought he heard what he didn’t really hear from Garfield’s lips and turned the tide in favor of the Republican candidate. When Conkling did not receive the expected largesse from the new President, he tried everything short of assassination to get Garfield removed from office. James Garfield, it seemed, was his own man and would run the country his own way, eliminating corruption and patronage from his administration.

Considered to be one of the four “lost” Presidents – Hayes, Garfield, Arthur, and Harrison – who served uneventful administrations following the Civil War, Garfield is best known for being assassinated…not a particularly notable feat. Since his assassination took place only 100 days after he took office, we will never know what kind of President Garfield might have been. What we do know, however, is that if you wish to enrich your own personal education, you will seek out programs such as “American Experience” on your local PBS television station.

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It’s difficult to understand why law enforcement, city, state, and federal, as well as the President of the United States, took so long to state the obvious about San Bernadino. I just don’t comprehend what is so difficult about seeing this couple, dressed as they were, not being immediately identified as ‘terrorists.’ However you wish to slice it, this was a terrorist act. It certainly terrified the crap out of the people who were being shot and those ducking for cover. With the discovery of the ammunition and pipe bombs in the house occupied by that couple and their baby would indicate preparation for a ‘terrorist’ attack. So we’re at war. Is there anyone in the USA who doesn’t understand that? Are there actually people whose heads are stuck so far up…in the sand that they aren’t aware that Americans are considered by some people who actually live and work here, as the enemy. Take a look at Dylan Roof who thought that blacks were taking over America. Can you understand why an ignoramus like that would think such a thing? Who does he see on television when the President speaks? Who does he see when the Director of Homeland Security speaks? Granted, the kid is probably not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but he’s probably just a wee bit prejudiced against black folks in the first place. Someone said to me the other day, “I saw a family of Muslims in traditional dress coming in the store and I didn’t panic,” as though that was a major friggin’ achievement. It’s clue time…this country is filled with all sorts of people; some came here to escape terrorism and want to live peaceful lives. Others are here but are nothing but crazy fucking assholes who are influenced by other crazy fucking assholes and who will go out and kill anybody they see who is not dressed or look exactly as they do. They do have sufficient smarts to make certain they kill at a gathering…just walking up and down the street is not going to give one maximum exposure nor maximize your kill rate…riiiight!

To top off our understanding that we are at war, we have public panic purveyors like Donald “I-can-fix-everything-but-I-won’t-tell-you-how-because-I don’t-really-know-what-to-do” Trump. I find it truly difficult to understand how this man became a billionaire. The only thing I can think of is that he bullied his way to riches; he was the loudest shouter in the room; his face got so red, his opponents thought he was going to literally explode and shit would be flying everywhere since he was so full of it, so they gave in. It’s all I can think of. He speaks such ridiculous bullshit that no one in their right minds could possibly believe what he says. And yet, what is he doing? He’s appealing to the frightened, the uninformed, people who don’t know, or care to know, understand or care to understand other cultures. These are the folks who believe that blacks eat only fried chicken and watermelon; they may see hummus in the store so that’s what “they’ eat; Asians eat only fish and seaweed or some other shit like that. They don’t know, and one who preys on their fears such as Trump becomes their hero. The media is proving to be just as gullible. Trump speaks; it’s a sound byte they have to get on the air before the competition. Don’t react; don’t cover, and see how long Trump stays in this race. The media are “feeding Seymour” and he continues to grow. If the media ignore him, Trump will be within his rights to demand an equal amount of time as is given to other candidates; that is his right. However, the minute his talk becomes inflammatory, as it has been through most of his campaign, cut off the microphone; he has overstepped his bounds.

On November 8, 2016, America will go to the polls to elect a new President. That is eleven months from this very day. Should this country, in its ultimate stupidity, elect Donald Trump, I will make every effort to move to Nova Scotia and to renounce my American citizenship. I have little doubt that the world will become a nuclear wasteland before his term of office has ended.

Lone wolf terrorists on American streets will become more identifiable and stopped as we move along in our war. At some point, they will be identified before they enter the country. ISIS or some offspring of it will continue to function in the Middle East. It is only when America says, “Enough, solve your own problems,” that we will be able to breathe easily again. If “secure the homeland” is a dirty turn of phrase, forgive me. However, I don’t want to see more gold star flags hanging in more windows than are already there. We can “preserve, protect, and defend” the United States of America by putting our own nation first and let other nations solve their own problems.

The United Nations appears to be a useless group of foreign representatives suckling at the American teat and little else. Let us move their headquarters to someplace like Belgium, Luxemburg, or Lichtenstein, and see how quickly they dissolve or get their collective acts together to solve the world’s problems. America is too rich and too developed a nation to be playing host to a bunch of spies and neer-do-wells. Is this laissez-faire attitude going to work? No, because it will never receive bi-partisan support, nor will Wall Street allow it to happen. It would be nice to give it an honest try; to attempt to make other nations wholly responsible for their actions. We can’t; we’re America. We’re the supposed 800-pound gorilla in the room. That’s why poor families raise cannon fodder and we cry crocodile tears when they’re blown to pieces. If we really cared about our young men and women, we’d be expanding our efforts to keep them out of harm’s way rather than putting them directly in its path.

We have a great many problems in our own country that are in dire need of solutions. We need solutions to our problem of poverty. We need solutions to our problem of racial injustice and profiling. We need a unified, national police force that is fully trained and fairly paid. We need to stop teaching our children to pass some damned standardized test and teach them what it means to be a citizen of this country. We need more, better trained, and again, fairly paid, teachers. We need term limits for members of Congress to weed out the do-nothings, hangers-on, and radical assholes who somehow find their way into Congressional seats every now and then. We don’t need equalization of wealth, because if you’ve got the brains and ideas, God Bless You for making the money you’ve made, but we do need workers who are paid above a poverty level to build what you’ve designed or to sell what you have made. We need equal pay for equal work. We need to stop treating women like second-class citizens by telling them what they can and cannot do with their bodies. Our problems are tremendous; they’re hard to solve and they will continue to get harder until and unless we take some positive steps to address them. However, remember this: Over half of the Pilgrims who made the voyage on the Mayflower died before a year had passed – OVER HALF – yet the rest didn’t just lay down and die. Seventy-five thousand colonists died in the Revolutionary War; that’s 1 in 20 what we now call Americans. Yet, the men who signed the Constitution didn’t give up and say, “Screw this; take it back England.” No, the problems of their day were no more or less complex than the problems we face today. Sure, the world’s a smaller place, and the problems are terrifying. Problems of the magnitude facing the Pilgrims and the colonials and that guy who lives down the street from you today are daunting, but they can be solved. That’s our job – yours and mine – to chip in and ask what we can do to help solve those problems. No, I won’t give you the Jack Kennedy tag line; you can do that for yourself. I will say a couple of things: “If you see something, say something,” and “Don’t listen to fear-mongers and loud mouthed know-nothings like Donald Trump, because he’s not worth your time.”

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I am an American.

I was born in America, educated in American public schools, attended college in America, worked all of my adult life in America, married an American lady, brought up three kids in America – not quite true because my wife did most of the kid upbringing – and I fully intend to die in America. I love the country of my birth and death, but I don’t much care for some of the things that go on inside it.

Please, don’t get me wrong. I’m quite certain that there people in other countries who feel the same way about their nations as I feel about my own…though that’s not necessarily true, because it seems to me that many people in other countries look to America as either being the hope of the world or the devil that is driving the world to extinction.

My complaints about my own country might be considered by some as marginally ludicrous. I don’t consider them such. For example, why does this country spend so much money on foreign aid when we have Native American people who don’t even have clean water with which to drink, bathe, or do their washing in? Haven’t we done enough to the Native Americans? First, we – the settlers who first invaded what we now call the United States of America – slaughtered as many Native Americans as we possibly could so that we could steal their lands. Then, when we came to a certain degree of our senses, we gathered them together and tried to place them on the most inhospitable lands that we could find. When they discovered that the land had value – beneath if not above – we pushed them into other areas where the land had no value above or below. Here it is, the 21st Century, and they are without running water in many of their homes? What is wrong with us? Have we lost all sense of what is important versus what is politically expedient? These people, whom we slaughtered, marched on a trail of tears, pushed away from the ‘real’ Americans, should be revered and treated as well as we treated the Italians, Poles, Germans, Irish, and so many others who came to this country seeking the American Dream and who actually found it. Native Americans, on the other hand, have known nothing but the American nightmare.

“It has been said the democracy is the worst form of government, except for all of the others that have been tried.” The quote is attributed to Sir Winston Churchill, although there are many questions regarding the date, place, time he might have spoken such erudite verbiage. Purists will tell you that America is not a democracy but is, in fact, a republic…and they are correct. According to ThisNation.com, “The United States is, indeed, a republic, not a democracy. Accurately defined, a democracy is a form of government in which the people decide policy matters directly–through town hall meetings or by voting on ballot initiatives and referendums. A republic, on the other hand, is a system in which the people choose representatives who, in turn, make policy decisions on their behalf. The Framers of the Constitution were altogether fearful of pure democracy. Everything they read and studied taught them that pure democracies “have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.” Sounds about right to me because if we allowed the people of Wyoming, Rhode Island, Florida or any other single state to enact laws applicable to every other state, the death of our nation would, indeed, have been swift and violent. The problem, however, is that those representatives we have chosen to make policy decisions on our behalf have, over our 228-plus years evolved from being men and women concerned with the welfare of the nation, to a group of idiots more concerned with perpetuating the goals of their own political party and their place of power within that party…and this is wrong. It is wrong, wrong, wrong, and I for one do not see any hope for a return to the days when, as Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill said, “It’s country first; state second, and political party a distant third.” We the people are represented by those we elected to office; however, their allegiance is being usurped by lobbyists, by political action committees (PACs), and by a few power brokers who can ensure their reelection or their defeat, ergo, their allegiance is really to themselves and to hell with the people who actually cast votes in their favor.

Everyone talks about a moral compass. America’s moral compass is so screwed up that the Founding Fathers are, I am quite certain, spinning so fast in their graves, they resemble a child’s toy on the kitchen table. We invade other countries and wind up starting bigger wars than we can finish. We feed the people of other nations, dig wells for their fresh water supply while our own citizens go wanting. We pay more attention to the infrastructure of other lands than we do to the lands in our country. I am but one voice screaming in the wilderness. I will continue to scream until things change or I am dead, and where I’m headed, I’m certain I’ll still be screaming!

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I have come to the conclusion that hatred really isn’t worth my effort. Oh, certainly, it’s a good thing to do every once in a while I suppose, but it takes more out of me to hate, and the person or thing – thing is the worst – doesn’t even know that I’m hating him, her, or it; how dumb is that? And what do we really mean when we say that we “hate” someone or something? Is hate the correct word to be using. In the case of these terrorists all over the world and the horrific acts they are doing, well, yeah, they are worth hating. A better way of putting it is that we shouldn’t really hate them; we should cancel them. It sounds so much nicer, and it eases the pressure on us. We don’t have to use all of our energy hating them…we just cancel them and not have to be concerned any more.

While I’m certain that psychologists and psychiatrists would disagree with me, I can think of only two reasons for hating. The first is if you suffered humiliation or harm at the hands of another, then you might develop a hatred for that individual or group. The second form that I define is learned hatred. Your parents, for example, might hate something for some reason, and they pass that hatred on to you. There is a song in the musical, South Pacific, You Have to Be Carefully Taught; its lyrics are absolutely frightening when thought of in the context of today’s world. This is not to say that they weren’t a bit scary back when the show originally appeared, but just read the lyrics:

 “You’ve got to be taught To hate and fear, You’ve got to be taught From year to year, It’s got to be drummed In your dear little ear You’ve got to be carefully taught. You’ve got to be taught to be afraid Of people whose eyes are oddly made, And people whose skin is a diff’rent shade, You’ve got to be carefully taught. You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late, Before you are six or seven or eight, To hate all the people your relatives hate, You’ve got to be carefully taught!”

 The song was first sung in 1949. It was considered too controversial for the stage at that time. We lived in a different world then. For Rogers and Hammerstein, two Jewish song writers who had just seen the atrocities of WWII, it must have been a painful song to compose. For the show’s first audiences, it must have been difficult to accept.

The truth of the matter has become all too obvious; hatred abounds in the world today. Much of it is born out of fear. We all have our fears, whether it’s of spiders, of terrorists, of making it to the end of the month with food on the table; of the crazy neighbor across the street who manicures his lawn with cuticle scissors; or, perhaps, it’s of that other neighbor with a differently colored skin or eyes that don’t look like ours, or whose cooking gives off different smells than our cooking. We don’t know who or what they really are so we develop a fear that easily – too damned easily – turns into a dislike that turns into an avoidance that turns into hatred. Sorry, folks, but it’s a fact of life.

The time has come for us to stand up, as a multiracial group in Chattanooga, Tennessee has done and learn from and about one another. If you haven’t seen the story, don’t worry, it’s somewhere on line. Briefly, an elderly man was tired of people not talking to one another so he invited a multiracial group to his house for dinner. Blacks talked about what it was like to grow up black; whites talked about how they felt different. The first few dinners, held at different houses….well, let’s just say everyone was happy the elderly man was there because they all respected him and he kept the discussions on track. As he said, “I never knew what it was like to wheel my carriage down an aisle in a supermarket and be followed by the manager because he thought I’d try to steal something…just because of my skin color. I just never knew.”

The point is that until we understand and respect one another in this country, we can’t possibly expect to goes through the minds of people we “hate” from other countries. Change is a bitch, especially such a radical change as learning to accept the beliefs of others. But then, change has never been easy; just ask the first settlers; the men and women who put their lives on the line so that America could become an independent nation, etcetera, etcetera. Yes, black and red and yellow and gay and straight and transgender people all have different lives. So do the traditional “white” people who inhabit this world. We have done a piss poor job – all of us – of reaching out to one another to learn our differences; to respect our differences; and to stop hating one another out of fear.

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July 4th 2015. Independence Day in the United States of America. Songs will be sung; America the Beautiful; the Star Spangled Banner; dances will be danced to Sousa marches; and, of course, fireworks displays will light up the skies all over the country. It’s a beautiful day and evening for Americans everywhere, right? Well…yea and nay. There are some of us, still thankful to Sam Adams and The Sons of Liberty; George Washington and his skills as a soldier; the Marquis de Lafayette and his French connection, but who also find Independence Day to have a tinge of sadness to it.

People die on the Fourth of July, just as they do every other day of the year. For their families who remain, the Fourth is always tinged with sadness; with memories of better days. Maybe they remember Dad in that ratty old apron, standing at the grille, his face red from the heat, smoke, and ash. He always wore a smile, though. “Who wants an overdone dog? Burgers are ready; come and get ‘em!” Dad hasn’t been standing by the grille for about five years now…one too many burgers or whatever, the heart attack took him pretty quick; now it’s Buddy who’s manning the grille. Oh, Buddy’s the oldest; guess that’s why he took over. First two years, we didn’t have the cookout, but then Buddy said Dan wouldn’t want us to just sit around, listening to patriotic songs and think about him…so…Buddy got it going, and it hasn’t been half bad. Mom’s still kinda quiet but she’s getting better and she even laughs once in a while.

There are a lot of Americans who are in that same position. They lost a loved one on a holiday or they buried a loved one on a holiday or, as in my case, they celebrated an anniversary on a holiday. July Fourth of this year would have marked our 58th wedding anniversary. We got to celebrate the first fifty together and would have made fifty-one if the cancer had just given us twenty more days. I’m sort of glad it didn’t; be even more difficult to die the day you had been married. However, be that as it may, life goes on. People are born; others die, whether it’s on a holiday or not. People used to kid us about giving up our independence on the Fourth of July. One of us would always remind people about the fireworks we created on that same day…whoopee. I never really thought of it as losing independence as much as gaining a partner in a pact that celebrated our independence from everyone else; as two, we made one, and that was a good thing.

So, for those people out there for whom the Fourth of July is tinged with something other than joy, I hear ya; I’m part of your circle. That doesn’t mean that we should hunker down and forget about celebrating America’s independence. After all, think about some of the Brits. I don’t think they’re setting off fireworks and having their backyard barbecues and celebrations today. Shit, they got stuffed. Think about that one for a while. Who knows, maybe Dad’s got the heavenly grille going and serving hot dogs and hamburgers to General George and the Culper Ring, and he’s probably wearing that same ratty apron.

Happy Fourth everyone!

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You really don’t want to ask any questions. It’s actually spelled Gregory Canuzopoli, and if the expression, “crazy as a bed bug” is familiar to you, it easily describes ‘E-roe-gerg Lop-oz-u-nac. While not in charge of the produce department at ‘my’ A&P, Greg was the heart and soul of the wall of lettuce, carrots, egg plant and any other vegetable you might be seeking. This was long before the days of pre-packaged salads or even bottled salad dressings. It was the day of vegetables that came in from local farms, and if you needed any information about preparation, Greg was your man. I swear he had more recipes in his head than Betty Crocker ever had in her cookbook. He also had the remarkable ability to speak English backwards, including the names of everyone who worked in “my” store.

Nick Capizzi was the produce department head; however, it was difficult understand this. Nick was tall and lean, quiet and extremely efficient in his job. Greg was always the one giving orders here and directing traffic there, questioning this supplier, or telling another that his goods were…shall we say, not as good as they might be? I believe Nick tolerated more than enjoyed Erogerg because whenever Greg launched into a spiel, whether it was with a supplier, Sy, Dick, or an unwary customer, Nick would merely shake his head and turn his back – although I must admit to seeing his shoulders shake with laughter on more than one occasion. Greg could pronounce every employee’s name backwards and in a voice that could be heard throughout the store. At just over five feet tall, it was the voice that made up for the lack of stature. Thick coal-black hair and what was once called a “Moustache Pete” growth under his nose; Greg was the clown prince of produce. Did I learn anything from him about the grocery business? If so, it would have to have been, “Keep your sense of humor at all times because the customer may not always be right, but he or she is always the customer.”

Dana Parks managed the meat department. There were no pre-packaged meats. Frank Perdue was still a kid on his uncle’s farm in Virginia without a clue regarding the chicken business. When chickens arrived at the store, they came in boxes of a dozen, featherless, headless, and packed in ice. It was up to the butchers to chop them into their various parts and lay them out in the display case. The same was true for beef, pork and lamb. The beef came as quarters; the pigs were whole, and the lamb was usually split down the middle. Easter meant hams, sometimes fresh and sometimes canned, but compared to what one finds in today’s supermarkets, we were in the pioneering days. Fresh fish? Never heard of it. If you wanted fresh fish, you went to a fish store because it wasn’t part of the A&P’s product line.

Dana was one to always ensure that customers knew he was “the man.” Although I never saw him wield a knife in the “back room” where all of the butchering took place, Dana’s white smock was always blood covered, and he showed it off with pride. Tommy Cunniff, one of the other butchers, would joke about Dana not knowing one piece of meat from another, but never to Dana’s face. Perhaps the most humorous event that concerned me occurred when I was stocking shelves opposite the meat display case one day. I could hear Dana mumbling to a customer about a smoked ham he was trying to sell her. “Are you sure this is a good one?” the elderly lady asked. Without missing a beat, Dana replied, “The Dick Bishop hams are the best we’ve ever received.” I dropped the case of canned tuna, damn near peed my pants and made a bee line for the back room. The lady bought the ham. It was the first time I ever called Dana Parks a son-of-a-bitch, but it certainly wasn’t the last time he made me laugh.

That pretty much wraps up the cast of characters with whom I worked at the A&P on my very first ‘real’ job. I held that job for my last two years of high school, working full-time during the summers and part-time when school was in session. I held onto that job all the time I was in college, working Thursday and Friday evenings and all day Saturday. I watched the introduction of Swanson frozen dinners and a number of other innovations. At times, I managed various departments when others were on vacation…yes, even the produce department. For a period of several weeks, I actually managed the entire store, but I wouldn’t want to do it again without a bit more training.  I dealt with customers who were aces and customers who were asses, but in every case I always remembered that we weren’t the only game in town so the customer better leave happy.

It was always my contention that every high school graduate should have to work retail for a couple of years before heading off to college. It gives you a perspective it’s difficult to get elsewhere. You meet and begin to understand people from every social and economic stratum, and you learn; oh, man, how you do learn.

All of those colleagues are long gone now. When I think about them, I miss them. Yes, there were times I thought of them as miserable bastards. Had I been more mature, I should have regarded them as tremendous teachers and mentors for, in truth, that’s exactly what they were to a 16-year old kid who didn’t know his ass from his elbow.

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