March 6th, 2014 — Education
Rome was built on seven hills. Do you know them? They are:
And so too was the the city in which I was born, Providence, RI, built on seven hills. They are:
Prospect or College Hill
Tockwotten Hill at Fox Point
Federal Hill (My Mom and Dad were born here)
Christian Hill at Hoyle Square ( junction of Cranston and Westminster Streets)
Weybosset Hill, at lower end of Weybosset Street. Weybosset Hill was leveled in the early 1880s to construct the Turks Head Building.
My love of Providence and things Italian was destined.
March 3rd, 2014 — Guest Author, Humor
I completed my Army service in Germany and returned home to Providence in late 1964. My wife Jeanne remained in Rhode Island after we were married earlier in the year. Jeanne purchased a three year old 1961 Renault Dauphine for transportation to her LPN job at RI Hospital.
Upon my return, I got a job as a chemist in Massachusetts, so I inherited the Dauphine for my travel. Little did I know I would become its chief mechanic.
As with many European imports, I quickly learned that the car needed frequent maintenance, and I had to find the parts! Off to the junk yards I went. I found a yard that had three near-complete 1961 black Renault Dauphines. This should have been an omen that our car was a lemon. Who would leave a full car in the junk yard?
My first order of business was to replace the left front fender crushed by a driver who ran a red light. For ten dollars I learned to remove a fender from a junked car and replace ours. Imagine. Ten dollars and I did it.
It continued for years, I visited the yard for tires, generators, starters and other miscellaneous parts. I was vexed in never finding the emergency brake cable that broke so many times. The few Renault dealers in the area could not keep the defective part in stock… a major design defect.
One winter I had no heat because of a clogged radiator. At a mechanic’s recommendation, I had to remove the radiator and boil it in a large pan of water for fifteen minutes to get the junk out. Jean and I did that in our kitchen. It worked!
One day the motor was booming because the muffler was gone… broken… no surprise, I guess. The young man at a local shop, having never seen the underside of “The Dauphine” said I needed to replace a pipe at the rear end.
“Uhhh, the motors at the rear end,” I said. The muffler and the pipe are one piece.”
“We don’t have those,” he said with a perplexed look on his greasy face. Undaunted, I fought on.
Someone introduced me to the J C Whitney Co. parts catalog. God bless him. They had the muffler! For $9.95 plus shipping we had it, and I installed it with ease.
The day finally came when we decided to send our Renault Dauphine to the parts cemetery to rest alongside the other Renaults. It would be there for another Dauphine lover one day. But we had had it with foreign cars.
From that day on, we bought American made, parts accessible and mechanic friendly cars.
I learned a lot… how to fix a car, save money, spot a lemon and never do it again.
February 27th, 2014 — Guest Author
I was on my way back to Khe Sahn after spending 5 days in Japan for R&R. We changed planes in Da Nang and after 30 minutes, we encountered severe rain and turbulence.
The plane was bouncing all over the place. Fortunately we were strapped in with double cross shoulder straps. I clutched (again) the prayer beads in my pocket and prayed, “Please God, don’t make this my last day on earth. Please protect us.”
We landed the plane at the nearest base a few miles away. As we approached the small airstrip, the plane shifted from side to side. We touched down on the mud filled airway and as we did, the plane slid sideways, spinning out of control. I squeezed the beads.
The right wing struck a hanger and as the landing gear buckled, the plane suddenly shifted to the right and flipped onto its side. I took the beads out of my pocket… again. Marines might be tough but they were not trained for this.
I heard men scream, “Oh my God. Sweet Jesus. Oh my God! Sweet Jesus!”
We miraculously came to a stop and evacuated the plane just before it blew. We were safe, not one of us hurt. We looked at each other, dazed; making sure everyone alive and well.
“Thank you, God. Thank you, Captain. Job well done.”
Again, I asked myself why. Another lucky event? Or did the angel hear my prayers and guide our pilot and the plane to safety?
I never told my parents or friends about these incidents in my letters. I did not want to frighten them. Rather, I told them that I missed them, that I was well, and that I would be home soon; all the things for which I yearned and prayed.
February 24th, 2014 — Ingredients, Minna's Favorite recipes, Recipes
We had a nice crop of winter tomatoes going through December and into January, half-a-dozen plants with a load of green tomatoes (I was late planting) and stringbeans, too. Then the local prognosticators of atmospheric conditions commenced: “Wrap your outside faucets; Bring in your pets; Cover your plants; the temperature is going to fall below thirty degrees and it may last for a couple of hours”.
The sky is falling; the sky is falling!
Understand, my Green Thumbed Friends of the Northern persuasion, we live in South Texas, on Galveston Bay. Our last freeze of any consequence was back in “ought six”, as we old timers like to say. C’mon, we’ve got lemon trees. Ask Pete! And sweet, not Del Monte!
Well (said slowly and sounds like “Whelp”), I didn’t pay much mind to those often wrong, no account, silver tongued devils… and damn if they weren’t right, finally.
Now, I didn’t disregard the knuckleheads completely; I’m crazy, not stupid. So about 2130 (that’s 9:30 for you non-nautical types) as the temp fell to 32 degrees, I moved my warm, sittin’ in front of the fire, butt outdoors to pick tomatoes. To hell with the beans! Which brings us to the cookin’ part of the story.
I’ve got a mess-o-green tomatoes and almost no idea what to do with them. Every Italian guy can cook; thinks he can cook even if he can’t boil water or he has an inferiority complex. Kitchen envy! I can cook! And I can read, too, with some comprehension and memory.
One of Dr Ed’s blogs had Minna’s favorite recipes using green tomatoes. I found it: Abruzzo Green Tomato Pasta.
Not that hard to do: tomatoes, I got; garlic, are you kiddin’, fresh parsley, the freeze didn’t’ affect it, got the basil though, back to the frozen; olive oil; baking soda (?); some linguine and a couple of martinis for the cook. No need to go to the market except for some fresh spinach and knock-off Italian bread (no bakeries here like you guys have, Crugnale’s, et alia). Set the table, serve a simple Italian dinner, pour a glass of wine (red or white? After the martinis, who cares).
Lori loved it!
Thanks Ed and Minna!
February 20th, 2014 — Essay, Family, Humor, Iannuccilli, Stories of the 1940's and 1950's
My mother was well into fitness long before the craze. When we were children, we could remember Mom walking, sometimes running, to work four miles away. She did floor exercises in the living room…deep knee bends, back stretches, leg crossovers, etc.
Aunt Vera and Mom
She had a saying now repeated often by her children and grandchildren, “Don’t get a belly,” which of course warned us to be ever watchful of getting fat.
The phrase took even more meaning when I asked her to answer some questions for me. I gave her a book loaded with such questions as:
“What is your first memory?”
What was your first school?”
What was your favorite toy?”
Who was your first girlfriend? Boyfriend?”
How did you meet Dad?”
She wrote and wrote, and we are fortunate to have a book replete with her recollections.
One day, as I was strumming through the book, she stunned me.
“You know,” she rattled on, Vera (her sister) and I took Milk of Magnesia before we went to dances.” I looked up, stared at her for a moment and replied,
“Milk of Magnesia? You took Milk of Magnesia. Why”
“So we would go to the bathroom and have flat bellies.”
“You mean the bathroom because you had diarrhea?”
“Yeah, oh sure. Lots.”
“Why flat bellies?”
“To look good for the guys.”
I was incredulous. They were taking magnesia in the ‘20’s to make themselves more attractive to men. So they could have “flat bellies.”
“Mom, today they might consider that an eating disorder.”
“What do you mean? We ate. We just did it once a week for the dances so our bellies would be flat.”
I sat motionless, at first unbelieving, and then laughing.
“Mom and Aunt Vera purged themselves to be more attractive. Can you believe it?”
Mom died art 94.
“Don’t get a belly,” Mom would say.
February 17th, 2014 — Food, Minna's Favorite recipes, Recipes
Yes, I know; NOT ITALIAN! However, this is a delicious change of pace breakfast dish (or lunch or dinner – why not?). It’s from “Cooking from a Country Farmhouse” by
Susan Wyler; this book has many wonderfully tasty but not fussy dishes.
You can make this with leftover turkey, or a poached turkey breast. This recipe also works as well with leftover cooked chicken. 4 Servings
4 medium potatoes, about 1¼ pounds
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium onions, coarsely chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 cups diced cooked turkey
1 cup Tangy Barbecue Sauce (recipe follows) or use your favorite bottled brand
4 eggs (optional)
1. If you have leftover potatoes, by all means use them. If not, place the potatoes in a large saucepan, cover with water, and bring to a boil. Continue to boil over moderately high heat for 15 to 20 minutes, until the potatoes are tender throughout. Drain and cool, and cut into ½ inch dice.
2. In a large ovenproof skillet, preferably cast iron, heat the olive oil. Add the onions and cook over moderately high heat, stirring often, until they soften, about 3 minutes. Add potatoes, reduce heat to moderate, and cook, turning occasionally with a spatula, until both the onions and potatoes are lightly browned, 5 to 7 minutes. Season generously with salt and freshly ground pepper.
3. Add the turkey to the skillet and cook, turning with the spatula, until heated through and some pieces are crispy around the edges, about 5 minutes. Add the barbecue sauce and cook, turning, until mixed through and heated.
4. Serve the hash either as is or as follows: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Make 4 equidistant nests on top of the hash with a large spoon; drop an egg into each indentation and set the skillet in the oven for 5 to 7 minutes, until the eggs are set and the hash is slightly browned on top.
February 13th, 2014 — Stories of the 1940's and 1950's
I find that my writing time must be sacred with little to no distractions
Stay off the web for it can squirrel you down infinite roads of advice, education, contacts, etc.
Though I need the internet to do your research, I find it necessary to list the topic(s) for which I need information and stay on just that subject.
Otherwise, I am trapped into a dark hole of a quest for knowledge which is wonderful in and of itself but it takes me to unexpected places and away from my writing.
So, stay focused when online for your writing research.
Socrates said, “The great aim of education is not knowledge, but action.”
Actually, when you write, it is both… knowledge for the action…writing.
February 12th, 2014 — Wednesday's Wisdom
You should never lose touch with childhood friends.
Call a friend every day. Try, though not necessary, to make it a different one.
See how many you have.
You may be surprised.
February 10th, 2014 — Reflections
α and Ω
How would you define an intelligent person. I find it difficult.
A simple definition would be, “If he/she seems intelligent, then they are.” That limps considerably, so I made a list of features that might help the definition.
An intelligent person is:
Gets good grades
Has a high IQ (hmmm, this seems weak)
Likes opera and art
Reads the classics
OK, so maybe in the final analysis, I cannot define an intelligent person. Can you? If so, list some traits.
February 6th, 2014 — Music
Music can relax you and move you to another place. It can make you more accepting of stressful daily issues. You listen, you think, you fly away… traveling to other worlds. Bill Haley and the Comets did it for me years ago. So did Carl Perkins, Red Prysock and others. So too does opera, jazz and rhythm and blues today.
One day, when I was thirteen or so, I was listening to a Saturday morning disc jockey, Bob LaChance, with my mother. She loved him, and thus so did I. “I’m going to play a real oldie that many of you may remember,” he said. And he played one I had never heard, “The Music Goes Round and Round.” Big band stuff; Tommy Dorsey. “I love that song,” Mom said. “We danced to it over and over. In fact, it was so popular that one station played it for the whole day, over and over.” Bob sang along with and the band:
I blow through here,
The music goes round and around Whoa-ho-ho-ho-ho and it comes out here.
I push the first valve down, the music goes round and around …..
Listen to the jazz come out.
I push the other valve down.
The music goes round and around…
“Mom, what is he singing about?” Just then the song was over and Bob commented, “This is a song about a tuba. You blow in the mouthpiece, and the music goes around and comes out the big bell.” Really?
Just the other day, I thought of the song. It reminded me of what music can do for you; it makes you go round and round to another world and out of yours. What a remarkable thing. And it comes out here or….wherever…who knows?
February 3rd, 2014 — Travel
Peter was our guide for the safari we took in Africa last year. He was kind to write us a Christmas letter. I loved this part below, so I am sharing it.
Forests of, mesmerizing acacias’ with arthritic limbs bearing colourful foliage, distant curvaceous hills shimmering in the distance, puffs of cloud lending an artist’s brush stroke across the sky and lazy giraffes’ sauntering across it plains.
However, the ever change of colours, during the months seem to leave a distinguished imprint each time one traverses through these lands. Beautiful lush foliage one moment then the dry spells hit, leaving short brown grass plains, gasping for the first rain drop.
How can wildlife survive when, by all counts there is nothing to eat? They do, that is the remarkable thing.
One other imprint that always comes to mind it the leopard or should I add multiple,‘s’s’ on the end of that, considering each time I traversed across the Serengeti plains, we saw either one or two.
Their sheer beauty, the secretive lifestyles, the sleek bodies draped over branches, one minute they are there the next they seem to dissolve into the undergrowth!
I have been lucky to have seen at least 22 different leopards this year, how spoilt am I?
January 31st, 2014 — Books, Quick Quips
You can learn quite a bit by writing for in writing, you must do your research, your homework.
And that homework comes from reading, and reading, and reading. To write well, you must read well.
Surround yourself with books and read them.
Be sure the subject matter is different from your occupation.
January 30th, 2014 — Stories of the 1940's and 1950's
The holiday season reminds me of the joy, fantasy and pure fun of those wonderful days. And I think of friends. This is a story I wrote and broadcast on national public radio. Steve Mallett, my long time friend, did the broadcast with me. The audible is on the link above and on the blog site if you wish to hear it.
This I Believe*
I believe we should never lose touch with our childhood friends.
Steve called to tell me how much he enjoyed my stories of growing up in a cozy neighborhood in Providence in the late ‘40’s and early ‘50’s. He was an inseparable childhood friend who I had not seen in 50 years. He wanted to get together to reminisce, so we arranged a lunch date. I was eager to see him and when I did, I realized that fifty years was a chronological event and not an emotional loss, because we picked up where we left off, as if the last time I saw him was a week ago.
We quickly caught up on careers and family, and then moved to the old days, the days of uncontrollable laughter and simplicity, when all we had to think of was school, girls and fun.
“Let’s drive through the old neighborhoods and visit all the great places we enjoyed.” We did. From grade to elementary to junior high schools; from home to home, slowly driving the streets we frequented. It seemed like such a long walk then.
“That’s where Bob lived. His Mom gave us cold drinks after we played touch football on that hot street.”
“Look, the old netless hoop is still hanging.”
“And that small lot where we played football. My god, I thought those touchdown runs were so long! I hit a home run off the third floor of that house, a ‘Ballantine Blast’ as Mel Allen might have said.”
“And hardly forty feet away now.”
“Let’s go to the Box.” The box was a dam in the river behind the mills on Valley Street where we cooled after a summer sandlot game.
In those days, the river was less than clean. Passing us as we swam were things both animate and inanimate, and there were streams of pea green colors snaking along the middle. Did I see a dead rat?
Today, the river is different; as was everything else we passed, whether in size, appearance or loss. Sure, some of the buildings and houses were gone. But the river remained.
It now was a fish ladder for alewives and salmon, pristine, drinkable even. Nearby was a board full of pictures and explanations.
“It’s not the same.”
“Nope, but it’s good. The river is so much better.”
Steve opened his knife, and we played jackknife baseball while sitting opposite each other on a bench near the river as we did so many years ago. We talked some more of long ago friends and places. We looked at each other often. Things were different, but not by much. Childhood friends are forever
*Broadcast August 2009 on WRNI Radio
January 29th, 2014 — Wednesday's Wisdom
New friends can often have a better time together than old friends
— F. Scott Fitzgerald
January 28th, 2014 — Music
I received an e-mail from my longtime friend (I don’t have old friends), Steve, with a link to Dakota Staton and one of her great songs, “’What Do You See in Her?”
His reminder took me back to the two occasions that I had the privilege to hear her in person.
The first was at the Newport Jazz Festival when I was in college in the ‘60’s. I was transfixed by her sound, especially, of course, her great hit, “The Late Late Show.”
…. Gee, it’s cozy in the park tonight….
I bought he album and played it to the point of making it scratchy. It was an old LP, and the needle killed it.
Fast forward to the 1990’s. I saw an ad that she was appearing at Chan’s in Woonsocket. Chan’s is a bastion of jazz and John Chan has booked the place solid for years and years with many of the jazz greats.
So, I took my album, and Diane and I sat in the front row of John’s cozy club.
Dakota, now much slower, barely could get herself on the stage. As soon as she did, I went up to her with my album and had the tenacity to speak. “Miss Staton, I saw you at the jazz festival years ago in Newport and have loved your singing for years. Here, look. I have the album. Would you please sign?”
“Thank you.” She looked at me and paused. “Look at me now appearing at a small club in Woonsocket, a long way from Newport.”
“You’ll love this place,” I replied. “You’ll love the crowd.” She signed the album, whose cover, by the way, I loved.
Once she started and felt the warmth and love of the full house, she took off with her stylish jazz renditions, as if this small club crowd was now Newport again.
What a treat for us. Dakota Staton….”Gee it’s cozy in the park tonight…
It sure is.
January 27th, 2014 — Essay
Mark Twain said, “The older I get, the more I remember things that never happened.”
I think of this often as I write and wonder how to separate the truth from my imagination and what I think I remember. Something imagined becomes reality. Something remembered from the past, if thought of enough, whether true or not, becomes reality.
An instructor in one of our writing courses said, “Remember, an autobiography is fact; a memoir is truth.”
What I write of my past is true, whether or not the facts are perfect. The virtual reality may be only in my mind, but it is reality indeed… truth indeed… and I will write it for, if not, my experiences will be lost, forever.
Write your memoir. As you get older, you will remember things so very well.
January 24th, 2014 — Quick Quips
The policeman walked
With a Billy club
The sound of its spin
and the clack of his step
Gave me pause.
I respected him.
January 23rd, 2014 — Stories of the 1940's and 1950's
I am working hard at keeping my family…children and grandchildren mostly…connected to the past. To write the story of one’s “good old days,” whether they were good or not is an important act unto itself.
For if we do not do so, those experiences, those stories, will be lost forever.
Bruce Feiler writes, “The single most important thing you can do for your family, it seems, is to develop a strong family narrative.”
I too believe it may help them to face challenges. It certainly will help them understand what makes them who they are.
I like to tell the story of the many immigrants who came to this country over so many years, immigrants whose desire, strength, courage, whose drive to escape poverty and succeed, gave their offspring the chance to do much better.
Their strength is, and should be, ours.
I implore many when I speak of my roots and my immigrant families, to tell their story. If not, since we are so many generations removed, it will be lost forever.
Get out those old pictures. Look at them. Try to figure what the subjects were thinking, doing and planning.
There is a wealth of information that needs telling.
And, says, Feiler, “If you want a happier family…retell the story of your family’s best moments…… That act alone may increase the odds that your family will thrive for many generations to come.”
I believe it. Write your story.
January 20th, 2014 — Guest Author
One of my first duties was to spend the night in a foxhole with a fellow marine to protect the villagers just outside our compound.
The people in the village respected us and appreciated everything we did to protect them. More than anything, the children made our efforts worth it, especially when we saw their smiling faces and gestures of friendship when we gave them candy bars or small gifts. With all the horrible experiences they witnessed, they still found the ability to smile and laugh when we did something funny. That was our reward. But there was no humor on this evening.
My first night in a foxhole was one I wish I could erase from memory. Unassigned to a particular hole, the Marines jumped into the first one that was empty or assigned by our sergeant. As I walked by the holes, I looked for a familiar face. None to be found. The first four were full. As I approached the fifth, I saw only one Marine. As I was about to introduce myself, I heard someone yell from two positions down,
“Hey Mike, over here!” It was one of the guys I met at Parris Island. I quickened my pace and jumped in. “Hey, good to see you again.”
“Yeah, you too.”
We sat most of the night sharing stories of home, families and girlfriends. He came from Port St.Lucie, Florida, and I came from West Warwick, Rhode Island.
It was about 10:00 PM when we saw some flares shot in the air over the village. This meant someone saw or heard something in front of their positions and that we should be concerned enough to get our weapons and stand at the ready to open fire. Suddenly we heard a shout from another foxhole.
“Grenade!!” Then came a muffled explosion and a call for a corpsman.
When they saw the flares, one marine panicked, took a grenade, pulled the pin, and dropped it. He tried to pick it up to toss it out. He had only three seconds. Unfortunately, it was not enough. The marine who hollered grenade, was wounded in the legs and back while trying to climb out, while the other marine, whom I almost spent the night with, was killed instantly.
If my friend did not call out my name, I would have been that other man in that foxhole. I was saved.
I only wish my angel could have saved the others.
January 16th, 2014 — Guest Author, Reflections
I purchased my first car From Dr. Angelo D’Agostino just before he entered the seminary. It was a 1951 Studebaker Starlight Couple; a grey, six-cylinder with overdrive. My Dad fitted it with a silver spotlight in the middle of the roof so I could peer into the night to read directional and other signs.
In January, 1956, I drove it half way across country, eventually arriving at my first and subsequent Air Force duty assignments. Wernersville, to visit with Angelo; Prairie Village, Kansas to visit with Tony D’Agostino and family; Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas; Graham Air Base, Mariana, Florida; and enroute to Parks Air Force Base, just east of San Francisco,
By the time I got to Kansas, the car, ravaged by the winter weather, was black by driving through Pennsylvania coal country. Tony outfitted it with snow tires and had the car inspected and detailed by his mechanic. Across county, I was burning a quart of oil per tankful of gas. I eventually got a five gallon drum, used it, and had it refilled en route by previously used motor oil from gas stations along the way.
Driving alone across country in 1956 was an adventure — the Interstate system was not in place so I used the major highways, including Route 66 from Texas to California. The Studebaker had become really used by the time I reached Parks AFB. As I was leaving on furlough in mid-1956, a master sergeant from the motor pool offered to replace the rings on the car, but the writing was on the wall — fly home, and forget the Studebaker. I sold it to an airman, a friend of the master sergeant.
Fast forward: I attended a conference in California in Orange County in 1985. While walking along one of the roads nearby the hotel, I saw the rear end of a polished, grey Studebaker. It had undergone serious restoration. I told the friend with whom I had been walking that I once owned a similar car. We stopped. I inspected at the roof where Dad had installed the spotlight. It was not there, but there was a round cap at the location where the spotlight would have been. I looked more closely. There was a spinner knob on the steering wheel which looked like the one I had installed. There was one other thing.
I had installed a wooden flag pole painted silver and hung it between two silver clips on either side of the back seat to hang my clothes. There it was … the pole! Could it have been my Studebaker?
I’ll never know for sure.
But I can dream. Fond memories. Great car!