My Father

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My father (on left with brother Johnny) was known in the local area as "Nick the shoe maker." He had many friends of all nationalities.

Just opposite our house was the 3rd Precinct Police Station. Dad was well known and liked by the police officers and got substantial shoe repair business from them.  The local tavern was located down the street at the nearest corner. It had two entrances with half-height swinging doors. Dad got quite a lot of business here also.  On special holidays such as Thanksgiving and Christmas, the tavern would hold raffles for turkeys, chickens, baskets of fruit, liquor, etc. Lots of people attended these affairs, and they were good times.

My dad used to buy the tavern's empty liquor barrels. At that time, they were still shipping liquor in wooden barrels. He would use them to make wine. Since he was a good shoemaker and a member in good standing of the community, he had no problem with the prohibition laws.

Dad was remarkable in making hand-made shoes. He made all kinds of shoes, for both men and women, and from start to finish. Uncle Louie only wore shoes hand-made by my dad.

As I heard it told, my dad's life in Italy was a bit rough. His father deserted his family shortly after marriage, and he grew up studying shoe repair under the master teachers in Italy. They were very strict and tolerated no nonsense or smart remarks. Students would sometimes receive an unexpected backhand to the face if they erred in any way.


Recently my sister, Rose, told me that she learned from my mother that our father had studied for the priesthood as a young man. But because of his youth, good looks and curly, black hair, he became quite a ladies man. It seems that the woman would not leave him alone. He was known as Nicola, the "Cappoletti Reechee," or the Curly Haired One. Somehow during his period of study he strolled off the righteous path, and to make a long story short, he was excommunicated by the church.

After this, he met my mother, and they were married. They lived in a small village and were introduced through friends. That's how things were done in those days in Italy. Courtship was done through friends. Like "I have a nice girl for you." Or "I have a nice man for you."

In those days if you were courting a woman you could visit her, but not take her out unless someone came along as a chaperon. No physical contact was allowed. If you were invited to the family dinner, you were never permitted to sit next to her or even opposite each other.

Just with your eyes, that was the only way you were able to court one another. There was no hand holding, or any loving signs or gestures. That was the normal situation in those days and in Italy. In strict families, that same law was carried on here in America. It seems like they never trusted anybody. That was the reason for the strictness.

Later when I was about 17 or 18 years old, I remember my dad and I would wrestle on the floor of our Avon Avenue house. In those days, my dad was still young, about 45 years old. We were just fooling around. No one was trying to display any excessive strength or outshine the other. It was just a fun gesture. We were happy to be just playing around.

I know my dad loved me by his expressions. Italian families never said "I love you" to each other as, families do today. But I'll wager that the love expressed in those days was a more sincere love today's. Today, when people say "I love you," they go off and do what they like, and as they wish. Our love was love with discipline. For me it paid off, because of the way I turned out, with respect for all people.