This is the story of the youngest of three brothers who shared a life experience growing up in a happy home in South Philadelphia. Preceded by his older brothers Rocco in 1924 and Thomas in 1926, Anthony Petruzzelli was born to Donato and Rose Petruzzelli on Armistice Day in 1928, ten years after the guns of World War I were silenced at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.
As was the custom in Italian-American families of that era, my older brother Rocco was named after his paternal grandfather and I after my maternal grandfather. With no more grandfathers to honor, my mother chose the name “Anthony” for my younger brother simply because it appealed to her, having read a novel titled Anthony Adverse.
As to how much adversity my brother had in his life (all puns intended), I cannot attest. Yet, there are many who believe that a name endows a special quality upon its bearer. And, I believe that the same might be true of a nickname. One thing I can state with complete certainty is that a nickname can and often does follow its bearer to the grave.
My younger brother was nicknamed “Fats” because, as a toddler, he was pudgy, and the name stuck. In later years, after I was married, I would visit my Best Man Jim Tedesco and, as we exchanged pleasantries, he would always say “How’s Fats?” which always brought a smile to my face.
As a child, Fats was always getting lost on family outings. When things would get quiet, Mom or Dad would say “Where’s Fats?” and my older brother Rocco would start the search. Despite life during the Great Depression, our family enjoyed many outings, giving Fats lots of opportunities to get lost. In a far less complex world than that of today, our family enjoyed the simple pleasures of picnicking at parks, cruising down the Delaware River, hiking in Wissahickon Park, and viewing the many sights that the city of Philadelphia had to offer.
Then, along came World War ll, and we all participated – in our own ways – in the war effort. During much of the war years, Anthony was attending Benjamin Franklin High School in Philadelphia, majoring in Aircraft Mechanics. At that time, he also procured a part-time job as an errand boy at Central Type, a center city print shop.
His experiences at Central Type became a defining moment in his life. His employer perceived in Anthony an industrious, eager quality and offered him a Union apprenticeship – an opportunity that Anthony gladly accepted. Years of study and hard work produced a journeyman printer who would later run the business renamed The Composing Room.
Like his older brother Rocco before him, Anthony ascended to management status in his career. Also like his older brother, he achieved everything through diligence and hard work, coupled with the love of a supportive family.
Anthony also found time to serve his country – enlisting in the Naval Reserve when he came of age after the War’s end. As such, he was the only son to follow in the footsteps of his father Donato, who served in the US Navy as a seaman in World War l.
With the end of World War II, Americans across the nation turned their attentions homeward. The Petruzzelli brothers were no exception. We all got married and raised families. Despite the changes brought on by marriage and children, our family retained its closeness. Each Sunday, we would meet at our parents’ home in South Philly. Here, we all enjoyed each other’s company and a delicious home-cooked dinner. These Sundays together were among the happiest times of my life.
After 40 years of happy marriage, my brother Anthony lost his wife Dorothy to cancer and, once again, we rallied together as a family. After a time, Anthony called and indicated that he would like to meet my wife and I to discuss an important matter. We met at a local restaurant where he introduced us to a lovely woman named Palma. He then said he was considering marriage and wanted to know if I approved. I responded “if you’re happy, then I’m happy,” as I had experienced the same tragedy in 1975 at the sudden passing of my wife Midge.
When he married for the second time, I was delighted to be selected as his Best Man, an honor that had been bestowed upon me many years before when my older brother Rocco was betrothed to his bride Teresa Cifuni. Prior to his nuptials, Anthony held a family gathering at his oldest son Robert’s home. At that celebration, I met Palma’s son-in-law Tom who related to me a fascinating, true story about an occurrence during the Vietnam War. With his permission, I wrote an article about his story entitled Little Flower - an article that was subsequently published and for which I won an award.
Anthony’s marriage to Palma Ferri commenced yet another chapter in his life, a life enriched by caring friends and family. My brother Anthony knew that love was to be shared and share it he did. He “cast his bread upon the waters” and it was returned to him a thousand fold in love and affection from his wives, children, grandchildren, and friends.
This was a fact that was brought home to me recently when I attended his funeral, for – on June 7th - his Heavenly Father called him home. When his son Robert called to inform me, I was shocked, as I had just spoken to him days before discussing the pros and cons of immunization against Shingles. Perhaps I failed to mention that my brother, among his many other fine attributes, was also a planner for the unexpected – probably the Anthony Adverse syndrome.
As we close the final page on the life of my brother Anthony, I am sure that his earthly passing was the cause of great celebration in Heaven as Mom, Dad, and other departed loved ones welcomed Anthony into God’s eternal kingdom. Those of us remaining are left with fond memories and the hope that we too will join them someday in a family gathering that will last forever.
In the interim, however, it’s time to say goodbye with love.