On my 80th birthday, some years ago, I realized that I was as happy as I’d ever been. How could that be? Maybe because I was in love. I not only loved Sylvia but I was in love with her. Still am. Being 80 and in love has got to be worth a lot of happiness points. Another factor is that our four kids turned out so well. In fact they are among the finest people I have ever known. (The grandkids are fine too but they are still a work in process. I haven’t been able to figure out millennials yet.)
But I think there is more to my happiness than love and respect. One of my birthday gifts was a book that our daughter Jill created and had published. It is a beautiful hard cover piece with loads of photos from across the years and comments from family and old friends. In a sense the book was a gift not only from Jill but from each person who described many of the events, experiences and people of my life. As I read it for the first time, and every time since, I had a feeling I was looking back on my life and I liked what I saw. Perhaps the ultimate of happiness is to be at the end of one’s life, looking back and saying, “You know it hasn’t been bad.”
So I’ve created a Looking Back page for the MichaelsThinkPieces blog where I will look back on the events and experiences of my life and people I’ve encountered. It won’t include accomplishments, positions held, opinions, advice, or even thoughts. Those are the substance of other pages of the blog. The page might sustain the happiness I feel. It might borrow from comments made by friends and family in Jill’s book. Others are invited to make contributions, but I’m not inviting them to. We’ll see how it goes. As always, I write mostly for myself.
My Mafia Connection?
In 1976 my brother Tom and I threw a 50th wedding anniversary party for our mother and father and of course all of the relatives were invited. While standing at the bar I overheard a couple of my cousins talking about our Uncle Joseph, someone I had not known because he died 5 years before I was born. They said something about Uncle Joe being in the Mafia and that he was murdered.
At that point in our lives, my Dad and I didn’t communicate very well. He would mostly grunt at me. But when we got home to my parents’ house, I asked Dad if Uncle Joe had, in fact, been murdered. He grunted “yeah”. I asked “what happened to the killer?” He answered “He had an accident.” Then he wouldn’t talk about it anymore.
Now I’m sure that my Dad was not involved in the retribution. He was a lifelong member of the Rochester Police Department, starting in 1926, and had a long distinguished career as a detective. He was a law and order guy; a right and wrong guy and I’ve been told that he hated his older brother for being a gangster.
So, for all those years since 1976, I made a joke of having a connection with the Mafia. But recently I decided to go on Google to see what I could find out about Uncle Joe in 1927, the year he was murdered. Here’s what I learned.
- There was an obituary in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle Wednesday, May 4, 1927 that was rather garbled. But it did say that Uncle Joe was survived by his father and mother (my paternal grandparents), four brothers, one of whom was my father (who was born Dominico, later used the name Tom, and still later changed his name to Michael), four sisters, a daughter Rosalie, (age 17) and three sons, (ages 9, 6, and 5). His wife died two years before he did.
- Uncle Joe had 8 siblings besides my father. His parents had more than 9 kids but some of them died young. I don’t think any of them finished 8th grade. My Dad only went to the 6th They had to go to work at an early age. But I don’t think they thought of themselves as being in poverty. They had gardens and chickens and raised most of their food. They would “can” fruit and vegetables.
- From The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle: “Hostilities between the various (Mafia) factions began to arise somewhere around 1926. The shootings started in the night of April 13, 1927, when a gangster named Boscarino was ambushed and shot. Less than a month after the Boscarino shooting, his main competitor, Joseph Lodato, was shot to death. Lodato was said by police to have been one of the leading bootlegging racketeers in Western New York. Boscarino, according to police was a known enemy of Lodato, and several of his associates were questioned. Seven of Lodato’s associates were arrested as material witnesses. Among them was Pasquale Amico who had been a partner with Lodato in the bootlegging business, and was among Lodato’s co-defendants in his 1926 liquor trial. He had risen quickly among the ranks of the Lodato group, and would become an important figure in the Rochester Mafia in years to come.”
So that’s my “Mafia connection”. But there is more to the story.
I don’t know who took care of the 4 kids right after Uncle Joe’s murder. His wife had died 2 years earlier. About 10 years later, the sons – Frank, Carmelo and Harold moved into our 3 BR, 1 BA house on Rocket Street. I was about 5 at the time. That’s 7 people sharing one bathroom.
My parents were certainly not well off but my father had a steady job on the police force, making about $1,200 a year, and my mother worked in a clothing factory but earned less than Dad. The boys lived there until they went off to WWII, probably in 1940 or 1941. So they were with us for about 3 or 4 years. They distinguished themselves and fought in real battles including the Battle of the Bulge (Frank), the Anzio Beach, Italy invasion (Mello) and in the Pacific as a pilot in the Navy (Harold). They were three great guys who raised wonderful families. The daughter, Rosalie, being oldest by 8 years married a guy named Ray Cook, who I didn’t like very much. He ran a restaurant and made a lot of money and I thought he was snooty.