Being Polite Goes a Long Way

“Being polite goes a long way.”

-Dad

My Uncle Ron was my mom’s younger brother and only sibling. As a child and well into adulthood, Uncle Ron was rebel, a tough guy with a soft spot and loomed larger than life. He was about 6 feet tall and carried a husky frame. He had a tattoo of a sky-diving bunny with the word “Paratrooper” under it. I believe he got it while stationed in Korea serving in the Army.

As a kid, all my brothers and I saw was a guy who was cool as fuck.

Uncle Ron worked as a machinist at Anheuser Busch in Newark. If you have ever gone on a brewery tour at a Busch Gardens location, he was one of the guys responsible for keeping the line going, filling the cans and bottles and popping a top on them at the end. Watching the line in operation was mechanical poetry.

Before OSHA was established and safety was more of an advisory than a rule, there were many places where you could get hurt in a machine shop. While fabricating a part, Uncle Ron was hit in the white of his eye with a projectile. Like most tough guys, he just washed his eye and kept working.

Later that day, he felt that something was still irritating his eye and went to a doctor. The doctor agreed that something was still there and referred him to an eye surgeon near Orange, NJ. He asked my dad to drive him and my dad simply said to me “Let’s go. I’m taking Uncle Ron to the doctors.”

To this day, I’m always up for a road trip.

I honestly don’t remember much about the doctor’s visit other than it would take an hour or so. My father said that there was diner across the street and we were going there to get a bit to eat.

As we walked in to the diner, my dad let me right to the counter. He said “Michael, you can get whatever you want.” Now, this was a big deal. Dad was a no-frills guy and this departure was rare.

What the hell…I was going for it.

“May I get a chocolate milkshake?”, I asked – with a little smile on my face.

“Yes you may.”

Geez, was I excited.

The waitress behind the counter approached.

“What can I get you two gentlemen?”

“Coffee, black, please.” my father replied.

“And for you, hon?”

I turned to my dad, looking for one last approval.

“You can tell her, Michael”

That was all I needed – green to go.

“May I have a chocolate milkshake, please?”

A big smile came to her face.

“I’ll get those for you right away!”

Dad’s was simple. Invert cup, place on saucer, add coffee. The stronger, the better. When dad perked his coffee at home in the Farberware pot, it was strong enough to melt a spoon like you’d see in a Looney Tunes cartoon.

The waitress came over with a pot of coffee and my milkshake. I was in my total glory as I saw this fancy fountain glass filled with my shake. I noticed she had one more vessel – the steel cup that the she used to mix the milkshake.

“There’s a little more in there for you, hon.”

“Thank you!” I gleefully replied. I looked inside and there was almost enough for a second shake.

The waitress then turned to my dad and remarked, “Such good manners.”

You’d thought my dad just won an Oscar for directing.

After she walked away, I asked my dad why she gave me some extra shake.

“Because of your manners. You said ‘please’ and ‘thank you’. Being polite goes a long way.”

I never forgot that lesson. To this day, I go out of my way to be polite. Sometimes it’s acknowledged and sometimes it isn’t. Bottom line is that it didn’t cost me a thing to be polite. From a business executive to a person who holds a door for me, they will always get a polite gesture.

This lesson was passed from me to my daughters. There is a glow of pride when I hear either of them say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ to someone. I feel that it was a small gesture that goes a long way.

Epiphany

Epiphany School, Cliffside Park, NJ circa 1964

January 6th is the Feast of the Epiphany to the Christian world. Having grown up in a Roman Catholic home, the word ‘epiphany’ had an extended meaning: it was the name of our parish church.

As a child of the 60’s, many parishes had their own school, and, you guessed it – I went to Epiphany School.

K through 8.

9 years. 9 loooong years.

Whoa! I started slipping back to my repressed memories. But I digress.

Other than being a feast day in the church, it’s also known as Three Kings Day, Little Christmas, and other terms to commemorate the three wise men visiting the newborn Jesus and bringing gifts.

Religious aspects aside, Mirriam-Webster defines the word:

epiphany

noun epiph·a·ny \i-ˈpi-fə-nē\

·  capitalized :  January 6 observed as a church festival in commemoration of the coming of the Magi as the first manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles or in the Eastern Church in commemoration of the baptism of Christ

·  2 :  an appearance or manifestation especially of a divine being

·  3 a (1) :  a usually sudden manifestation or perception of the essential nature or meaning of something (2) :  an intuitive grasp of reality through something (as an event) usually simple and striking (3) :  an illuminating discovery, realization, or disclosure b :  a revealing scene or moment

Today, I want to focus on the third definition.

The day of January 6th has two additional meanings for me.

On that day in 1976, my father sat my brother and me down for a talk in our living room. We were 15 and 17, respectively. I knew this was going to be about something important because my dad was not a ‘family meeting’ type.

“Boys, starting today, I won’t be living here anymore. I’ll be moving up by grandma and grandpa.”

Because of the timing, the words came as a shock, but not a surprise.

I really can’t recall what he or my brother said for the next minute or two until I zoned back in.

“Michael, I want you to look out for your brothers and both of you to help your mom out as much as you can.”

For my whole life that I was able to comprehend words, my father had been telling me that I was ‘number-one son’, to ‘set a good example for your brothers’ and ‘if something happens to me, I expect you to be the man of the family’. Today, I assumed the job he was prepping me for all along – just not the way I expected it to happen.

Back in 1970, my father and mother separated for about 2 months. Because I was 11 at the time, I was sad but didn’t understand the dynamics of their relationship. In the following six years, I had a front seat for the disintegration of their marriage.

That chapter was closing and we were all embarking on new chapter of our family life. I always thought I was older than my years but the burden my father laid on me that day was almost tangible. I knew things were never going to be the same, and in some ways, that was good as it was painful to my mom and my brothers.

On that day, the Feast of the Epiphany, I was having another epiphany – exact to the definition above; it was the first seismic shift of my life. My father left our home for the second and final time.

‘Number-one son, you’re the man of the house now.’

Thursday’s Child Vlog – Episode 001: Roots

Before there was recycling, per se, you used to be able to get money. It’s not like there was a deposit back in those days. He just used to collect bottles and turn them in. That was one of his particular things and he was a little bit more of a, I don’t know, if you want to say, an early entrepreneur or…

Hey, good afternoon. It’s twenty-sixth of May, two thousand and seventeen, and I wanted to do something – I’m going to call this, I think, this particular episode “Roots”. Because, well, I was reminded while on the phone with my cousin – and I only have, let’s say four first cousins – which is really kind of strange I mean, I think that’s OK. I do have a pretty good extended family. But, only four first cousins and we were pretty tight for a long time because we only lived about a mile from each other.

And they were here and in Fort Lee, in case you’re wondering. I am at Madonna Cemetery. Here today it’s kind of a little bit cloudy, a little bit sunny, and I figure I’d take advantage of the sun.

I got to see my cousins a lot because of the close proximity. What is it? I think I’ve heard it said that the cousins are like brothers and sisters you didn’t have. Well, we’re kind of that way. They’re all girls, and there were us four boys – my brothers and I. I was talking to one of my cousins who lives down in Charleston, South Carolina, and during the summer they’ve got a place up in Vermont.

Anyway, she gave me a call, and we caught up a little bit. We’re just talking about things – reminiscing a little bit about the family and all and I’m just going to give you a peek back here.

There happens to be mausoleum with my name on it. Well, at least my last name and it’s kind of a big deal because here in the cemetery, there are a lot of headstones but not a whole lot of mausoleums.

My great grandparents are interred here Silvestro and Eusebia. When we talk about being an immigrant country – and believe me I’m not getting political or anything like that, because that’s a very hot topic – but yeah.

All of my immigrant relatives arrived here in the 1880’s, 1890’s, and so. But Silvestro, on my father’s side – he was kind of like, you can’t call him an ‘anchor baby’ because I think when he was a teenager – and I know somebody in the family or correct me if I’m wrong – when he was a teenager, he was sent by his father Michele, over here to the United States and took up residence in what is now East Harlem, Spanish Harlem, up in the 110’s in that area and all and they did whatever they could and he made somewhere around twelve trips back and forth between here in the United States and back to Italy because there are just, maybe, thirty five miles or so northeast of Naples, it was a pretty big deal.

He would come up, go back and forth and he sponsored a lot of people my great-grandmother, Eusebia, she is interred here. But my grandfather and many of his other sibs were all born here in New York City and what have you. They came across in 1915 to Fort Lee and that became where they lived.

My grandmother’s side of the family, they also were in Fort Lee and believe it or not, that side of the family – they were friends back in the “old country”.

Anyway, how does this all work out to roots? There I was in, I forgot where the house exactly was, might have been Ho-Ho-Kus or something. Somebody had a picture of Yankee stadium being built. Now on my grandmother’s side of the family, they owned a stone and gravel and sand company, like all Italians, right?

My grandfather had the distinct honor of driving in the second truckload of sand to what’s being built at that time, Yankee Stadium, back in the 20’s.

Every time that I would hear something like “The House that Ruth Built”, he was to say hey what about Grandpa Albert? Well, that was the deal, he drove it in and I saw this picture and I’ll throw it up on the video here so you can take a look at it.

Everybody’s got a story as to where they came from. When I went back to see some of the things that my grandfather or my great-grandfather had done – I mean he used to collect bottles long before there was recycling, per se. He used to be able to get money; it’s not like there was a deposit back in those days. He just used to collect bottles and turn them in. That was one of his particular things. And he was a little bit more of, I don’t know, if you want to say, an early entrepreneur. My grandfather – not so much he was more of an employee type. And my father he was a little bit of both because while he was an employee, he was doing the dutiful thing every so often he would venture out and try a little something on his own.

So, I think that I probably have a little bit more of my great-grandfather – at least, on my dad’s side of the family.

I mean it doesn’t really matter where you start, or how old you are. Take a look at Silvestro – he was sixteen, seventeen, eighteen years old? Me I’m fifty seven. You can keep on restarting, it doesn’t matter how many times you restart. It’s just that you keep on going for it, and that’s important.

I’ll leave you with this on this Memorial Day weekend, a little thank you to all of the people who have fought for our country. I even saw my great-grandfather – and if I go on Ancestry.com – he had signed up for, I guess. He was eligible to fight in the Army. This was his new place. Wasn’t so happy about coming over but I think once he got here, he made the best of it.

There’s a lesson to be learned there. Have a wonderful weekend, thank you for taking your time, and I’ll see you next time around.