Tag Archive | "Philadelphia"

La Famiglia

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Earth from Space 2

The Holiday Season, in the midst of which we find ourselves, is a time of giving, sharing, and reflection.  As we gather together to enjoy or endure (in whatever situation you may find yourself this year) the blessings of the season and conclusion of another calendar year, many of us will pause to remember Holidays past.  For me, what made those occasions special were not the gifts given or received (most of which I can barely recall) or the food and drink consumed, but the people with whom those times were shared.  If you were fortunate enough to have grown up within a close extended family, you have a sense for that about which I am speaking.  The offspring of members of two tightly-knit Italian-American families, I – of course – shared those joyous times with parents, grandparents, siblings, uncles, aunts, and cousins!

 

And, during my childhood and adolescence, our family gatherings were not reserved simply for Holidays, but were a regular part of life.  Every Sunday was like a mini-Holiday!  For, on that particular day of the week, my mom, dad, brother, and I all traveled from our home in New Jersey for a day with our families in Philadelphia.  We began with dinner at the home of my paternal grandparents in the early afternoon.  Later in the day and evening, we joined my mom’s side of the family at her parents’ home.  Why and how that particular schedule was established, I do not know.  But, what I do know is that for the ten-plus years that I remember our Sunday pilgrimages to the City, the dinners and family gatherings were attended, with extremely rare exception, by each and every aunt, uncle, and cousin.  Regardless of what was happening in our individual lives and nuclear families, we all made it a priority to join with our extended family for that one day out of the week.

 

My father was one of three brothers and my mother one of five sisters.  And so, our Sunday dinner with my father’s family was usually shared among fifteen adults and children, and the evening gathering of my mom’s clan customarily totaled twenty-one.  As Americans of Italian heritage, we always viewed our families as being more loving and closer-knit than those of our non-Italian friends and neighbors.  And indeed, I, to this day, know of no other non-Italian-American families who were more in each other’s presence or whose lives were more closely intertwined than were those of my mother or my father.

 

Imagine experiencing Thanksgiving, Christmas, or Easter on a weekly basis!  That is what my childhood was like.  The incredible food was just a small part of the equation.  The truly amazing aspect of those days was the overwhelming sense of love and fulfillment that was enjoyed by all on those occasions.  Now, I do not mean to suggest that my mom’s and dad’s families did not have their share of disagreements and even animosities, as most people do.  But, in the presence of each other, those feelings faded away, as the snow melts on a mild spring day.  Harmony reestablished, we were liberated to enjoy the reverie, camaraderie, and peace that one can only experience in the presence of those whom he or she truly loves.

 

It occurs to me now that there was one other individual who, although unseen, must have attended our weekly gatherings.  If Heaven is the presence of God, then He must have been there among us.  And, if His presence can create harmony and joy among biological family members, then why not among all his children?

 

The day is fast approaching when all of us must come to the realization that our peace, harmony, and very survival are interwoven with those of our brothers and sisters inhabiting this planet.  Fuel, food, and clean air and water, in diminishing supply, are among the commodities that we must equitably share.  The root causes of hatred and violence must be illuminated and eradicated.  And, we must all learn to tolerate and even celebrate our cultural and religious differences.

 

Perhaps, as naive as it sounds, we should begin by acknowledging ourselves as members of the same family, relatives not by place of origin but by common Creator.  Then, perhaps, we may feel inspired to gather together and discover the enriching power of sharing a meal or companionship with our brothers and sisters of every race, culture, nationality, and religious persuasion.  In the presence of each other and our Heavenly Father, we will surely see our differences melt away and be left with a sense of peace and fulfillment, as well as a blueprint for resolving the difficult problems that we share.

An American Hero

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Jim & Tom 2

We grew up in a neighborhood in South Philadelphia, bounded by Snyder Avenue to the north and the Philadelphia Navy Yard to the south and from Broad Street east to 7th Street.  It was an ethnically mixed neighborhood.  I lived in the 2400 block of Hutchinson Street, and he lived in the 2300 block.  As boys, we did not have a close friendship, even though we knew of each other.

 

We grew up during the Great Depression, but living in our neighborhood, as we realized many years later, was as close as you can come to Heaven.  As kids, we enjoyed the pleasure of playing in the streets without fear.  There was no television or home air conditioning or automatic gas heat, although we did have some modern conveniences, such as hot water, indoor plumbing, washing machines, and radio.  Life was much simpler then in an era when “spare the rod and spoil the child” was the order of the day.  Our parents worked hard trying to make ends meet.  It was here we learned family values, such as honor, duty, and respect.  The lost art of conversation still prevailed at family gatherings.

 

Pearl HarborThen something happened that would forever change our lives.  World War ll erupted in Europe. Initially, the United States remained neutral, until December 7th, 1941 when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.  On that fateful Sunday, President Roosevelt announced to the Congress and the American people that a “state of war” existed between the United States and the Empire of Japan and its ally Germany.

 

With the Declaration of War, America rolled up its sleeves, as every man, woman, and child, pitched in to help the war effort.  The Draft was instituted to call up men needed for the Armed Forces.  Factories all over this great country set aside peacetime products and retooled to manufacture implements of war.

 

I was two years younger than he, and while I worked at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, as an electrician helper, he was drafted into the U.S. Army.  He trained in the Infantry and was later sent to England as a replacement, with the Third Armored Division, for the Invasion of Hitler’s Europe.

 

Normandy D-DayJune 6th, 1944 the greatest Allied Armada ever assembled, crossed the English Channel and stormed the beaches of Normandy.  The German Army well entrenched, threatened to drive the Allies back into the sea, but by the end of a day that came to be known as “D-Day the Longest Day,” the American and Allied Forces managed to gain a beachhead on Fortress Europe.

 

Arriving in Normandy 13 days after D-Day, the Third Armored Division moved up to the line, for their “Baptism of Fire.”  Here at St Lo, the advancing American and Allied forces were stalled in what was to be called the Hedgerow country.  French farmers had planted hedges that surrounded their farms.  These hedges planted centuries ago, became a formidable defense for the German Army, who zeroed in on every opening with mortar, cannon, and machine-gun fire. 

 

A plan, dubbed “Operation Cobra,” was devised to break out of St Lo area. It called for the saturation bombing of the Hedgerow country in order to allow the American and Allied forces to break through.  On that fateful day, the sky was black with Allied bombers as wave after wave systematically dropped their bombs and opened a path for the advance of the stalled Allied and American armies.

 

Third Armored DivisionFollowing the break out at St Lo, the Third Armored Division raced across France, in pursuit of the fleeing German Army.  In a pincer attack they closed the Falaise Gap, trapping thousands of the enemy and causing their surrender.  In their rapid attack, they crossed the Seigfried Line, to become the first to enter Germany.  They penetrated into German soil, reaching the town of Stohlberg.  It was here they were ordered to return to Belgium to help stop the German attack called “the Battle of the Bulge.”

 

On January 3rd, 1945, near the town of Floret, Belgium, the hand of God touched him who was to become my lifelong friend.  It came in form of an enemy shell, ending the war for him.  As he lay on the battlefield with massive wounds of the arm and leg, the Medics who had picked him up informed him that he had “Million Dollar” wounds and would be returned to England for surgery and rehabilitation.  After his recovery, he was returned to his unit.  By this time, however, the war in Europe had ended and, in a short while, he would be going home.  With the defeat of Germany, and the introduction of the “Atomic Bomb,” World War ll ended on September 2nd, 1945 and with it came the return of the veterans of World War ll.

 

As the South Philadelphia neighborhood boys came home, they started to congregate at the corner of 10th and Ritner streets.  It was here that a long and lasting friendship began.

 

Jim & Tom

 

In the spring of 1951, we married two girlfriends, I married Madeline (Midge), and he married her dear friend Thelma.  He was our Best Man and Thelma was our First Bridesmaid.  A few weeks later, Midge and I would be the First Bridesmaid and Best Man at their wedding.

 

In the years to follow, they would become Godfather and Godmother to my first son born in 1954.  And, just a few years later, we would both relocate to the town of Maple Shade, New Jersey.  We continued a close friendship over the years, until Midge suddenly passed away on May 27 1975.

 

With her passing and the need to care for my two sons without the aid of a wife, my life became very hectic.  I altered my work schedule to allow me more time with my boys, and I didn’t have much time to socialize with friends.  In essence, I dropped out of sight.  With my children grown, I remarried eight years later and resumed my life.

 

In the fall of 1986, I got a call from my good friend who asked me if I had interest in attending a reunion of the “Boys of 10th & Ritner,” an offer I enthusiastically accepted.  This first of what would become regular meetings of all the old gang was a huge success – so much so that we held them every six weeks for more than 10 years!

 

We would meet at Sam Cobblestone’s Bar & Grill in South Philly on designated Tuesday evenings.  Here, we reminisced about growing up in the old neighborhood, told jokes, and related tales about our experiences in World War ll.

 

In 1987 I retired and, following a period during which I traveled about the country, took a part-time job with a local liquor store.  On occasion, my friend would stop in and shoot the breeze with me, discussing plans to attend our next meeting and any other news he happened to know.  

 

It was during one of these visits that I introduced him to my manager, Bob Sparks.  As usual the subject of World War ll came up.  Bob indicated that he also had been in the War and mentioned that he had trained together with Tony Lanciano from South Philly.  This coincidence almost blew our minds, for he had mentioned the name of one of the old gang.

 

On the 50th Anniversary of D-Day, he came to visit me at work.  He looked a little distraught as we discussed the Normandy Invasion.  Then suddenly, all the memories came back and welled up inside of him – then came pouring out.  Taking him aside, I calmed him down.  Then, I said to him, “50 years is too long to carry this burden, and it is time that you let it out.”

 

It was then that I came to the realization that, in all the years I had known him and all the times we had been together, I had been standing in the shadow of a real American Hero.  At that moment, I decided to set the record straight and give him the recognition he so richly deserved.  And so, whenever he was in the store, I would introduce him to customers upon whom I waited, saying “I want to introduce you to a real American Hero, from Normandy to the Battle of the Bulge where he was wounded.  This is one of the guys who kept you from doing the goose-step.”

 

As they would look at him in awe, he would laugh and say, “Don’t listen to this guy, I was only doing my job.”  Like all heroes, he did not consider himself one.  Yet, he held five Medals – Good  Conduct, Combat Infantryman’s Badge, the Purple Heart, World War II Victory, and European Theater of Operations (ETO) with five Campaign Stars for Normandy, N. France, Rhineland, Ardennes, and Central Europe.  And, the memories of his experiences in the War haunted him for the rest of his life.

 

But, it was not merely the memories he carried with him.  Many years after completing his service, he fell down a flight of stairs during a visit to a relative’s home.  Following an emergency room visit and thorough examination, he was released, but not before being approached by the radiologist on call who queried “do you know that you have a piece of steel behind your right knee?”  In response, my friend stated “it’s probably a German shell fragment, I guess they didn’t get all of it out.”

 

Like all heroes, he was matter of fact about his injuries, wounds from which he suffered both physical and psychological pain for the remainder of his life.  Yet, he never spoke of either the memories or the injuries.

 

Jim Tedesco 2

 

They say “old soldiers never die,” and I pray that this is true.  For, the hero of whom I am proud to have spoken was my good friend and Best Man, Vincent {Jimmy} Tedesco.  On June 19, 2003, he took his memories and injuries with him to his earthly grave at Brigadier General William C. Doyle Veterans Cemetery in Arnytown, New Jersey.  Yet, I believe that his spirit lives on.

 

And, so that he does not remain among the nameless who took the risks, paid the price, and returned to build the greatest nation in the history of our planet, I wrote this tribute.  To my good friend Jimmy and to all the Jimmies whom I did not know, I salute you!

 

Jim Tedesco

Yo Adrian!

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rocky

Having been born and lived most of my life in the metropolitan Philadelphia area, I am almost as familiar with the saga of Sylvester Stallone’s fictional character, Rocky Balboa, as I am with the lives of friends and family members.  I feel as if Rocky is a part of my family.  In the 1976 Academy Award-winner for Best Picture, Rocky, a small-time club fighter and collector for a loan shark, unexpectedly gets a prize fighter’s chance of a lifetime – a shot at the World Heavyweight Championship.  And, in losing a tightly-contested, split decision to a superior opponent, he displays that heart of a champion that is so endearing to the common man, for Rocky’s story – albeit fictional – is our story.  In Rocky’s imperfection, self-doubt, and struggle to achieve, each of us can perceive aspects of our own lives and stories.

 

If Rocky’s triumph in the original film is largely a moral one, his victories in sequels to the motion picture are tangible.  Arguably, the moment in the saga in which Rocky is most supremely triumphant comes at the conclusion of “Rocky II,” when having knocked out Apollo Creed, the champion to whom he had lost in the first film, Rocky stands in the middle of pandemonium at the center of the ring and, with the background music building to a crescendo, exclaims “Yo, Adrian, I did it!”

 

If we live long enough, I believe that each of us experiences “Yo Adrian” moments, times at which we achieve that which perhaps seemed impossible, or at the very least, unlikely to us.  At such times, we experience a sense of total joy and fulfillment.  But, we not only crave the sense of elation, but its acknowledgement by others, for our accomplishments seem incomplete absent acknowledgment and recognition by those about whom we care.  Thus, Rocky calls out to his wife, Adrian, to affirm and complete his achievement.

 

Perhaps, at such times, we also experience, or should, a profound sense of humility, for we can only achieve that for which we have the capability and those talents are gifts with which we have been endowed by our Creator.  In reality, there really are no men or women in this world who are self-made.  Of course, like Rocky, we may have worked very hard, often with the assistance of others, to hone those abilities.  But, in the final analysis, absent our God-given talents, the “Yo Adrian” moments of which we feel the greatest pride in personal accomplishment would not have been possible.

 

And so, the next time you are overflowing with pride over something you have achieved and are about to trumpet to those who would recognize and applaud it, pause for a moment and consider the true source of the talent that propelled your accomplishment.  If you do, you will experience not merely joy and fulfillment, but the humility and gratitude that will irrevocably change the way you view the universe and your place in it.

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