Happy Birthday in Heaven

Today would have been my dad’s 91st birthday if he were still alive. This is no joke…even though for many years, with his birthday being on April 1st, we always told him, he was born a fool. We were joking of course, cause my dad was no fool.

I remember him when I was a little girl, he was so handsome and I loved the way he smelled. Old Spice and tobacco. When he started smoking a pipe, it was the sweet tobacco smell I just loved.

He was always a hard working man. He would, at times, work two jobs. Even when I got older, he would work on cars in our garage. It seemed the only time he had free time was on Sundays, when my mom would make a large pot of sauce and all my cousins would come over for dinner. The men would sit and watch football, baseball, whatever sport was on TV and the women would be in the kitchen. Those are happy memories.

My dad was the youngest of 4 children and the only boy. He was born to an immigrant father but his mom was born here. My grandparents married at a late age, they were in their 30’s which is old in those days. I’m not sure if my dad ever knew his grandparents or if they had died before he was old enough to remember.

My grandfather was a butcher but he loved to gamble on the horses. My grandmother was a housewife and when they needed extra money, she cleaned houses for rich, “white” women. Back in those days, prejudice against Italians was rampant. In fact, my great grandfather was a merchant marine who, once he saw America, fell in love with it. So, he went back to Italy and told his wife and six of his nine children, they were moving to America. They went through Ellis Island and set up home in Kings County, New York. My great grandfather worked on the docks in NYC, as did my grandfather once he was old enough. But he was also a skilled carpenter.

My dad was a Golden Glove boxer when he was younger. If I remember correctly, he won several trophies. My memories of life with my parents came after they purchased their house on Ryder Street in Brooklyn, I moved there when I was 2 and we stayed there until I was 9, so that makes sense. I remember when my dad worked for a mechanic shop. There were so many Sal’s they had to call my dad by his middle name, so I heard him being called “Tony” alot. He drove a yellow cab in Manhattan on his off time and he was so likable, he had many friends.

The guys used to come over for coffee and sit around the kitchen table. I enjoyed that. I was young but I still remember it. We all talked with our guttural accent that only New Yorker’s have. My parents had several couple friends they did things with on the weekends. The place to go in NY at that time was the Playboy Club. They would go for dinner and drinks and possibly entertainment. As I got older, they would allow me to babysit their friends kids. And the goodies they left for us were too good to pass up.

Because my dad was in the car business, not only was he a master mechanic but he was also a good customer service guy. He was also in sales so many times he came home with different cars. Porches, Audi’s, Ramblers, Chrysler’s, Fords, all depending on who he was working for. He left early in the morning and was usually home by 5 pm. He didn’t want my mom to work outside the home, but there was one time, she really wanted to get out of the house since all the kids were now in school. I was an unruly teenager, rebellious, so once I knew our house was empty during the day, I would ditch school and have my friends over for a party.

That didn’t last long as a group of kids decided to rip us off one day and that was the end of that. My parents decided to move us to California. I was going into my junior year in high school. Once we got to California, my dad started his own business, he purchased a lease for a Mobile station and he worked on cars and sold gas. He was always at work. He did purchase a ’62 Volkswagon Bug for me to drive only it was stick shift and I didn’t know how to drive a stick shift. He kept telling me he would teach me, but the business was growing and he didn’t have the time. So one summer day, I said the heck with it. I grabbed the keys and took off determined to teach myself how to drive my mode of transportation. I picked up two of my girlfriends, Pat and Gail, and we took off, driving around Mira Mesa. We had a blast in that car. Back then we had a drive in theater off of Balboa Avenue. My Bug had a moon roof and we would pile 4 of us in the car and go to the drive in.

My dad made more money in California than he had his entire life. He was doing really well. So well, he purchased two more gas stations. My mom and he would go on lots of cruises for their vacations. And once I had kids, they would spend time with them because let’s face it, I was now working all the time (2 jobs) and my parents were having fun. They purchased a motorhome and went camping all the time with their club. The kids loved it and it gave them something to do while I was working.

When my dad got Hepatitis from a trip down to Mexico, he got really sick. He was so sick, it ended up ruining his liver and he was never able to drink again. He didn’t know he had Hepatitis and my aunt and uncle had come out to visit and they drove to Las Vegas. He was too sick to even leave his room. He had to take off work for several weeks, but to see my dad laying on the couch was a new site for me.

Because his business was doing so well, they decided to buy a piece of property in Jamul, CA on top of a hill and build their dream home. However, shortly after moving in, my dad announced he was going to retire. He sold his business. Things were good for a while, he invested his money and he was enjoying his retirement. Until the recession in the 90’s hit. Most of his investments were with one guy who ended up having a Ponzi scheme. He milked hundreds of thousands of dollars from many people in San Diego and my parents ended up having to sell their motorhome, their house, just about everything they had. They moved to Florida where they were able to buy a piece of property and have another house built. But after a few years, my dad was over living in Florida and he wanted to move back to be closer to his family. Luckily, one of the investments they had did not foreclose and when it sold, they were staring at a large enough check that if they sold their current home, they could purchase another one in California. So they did it.

They moved to Riverside CA as they were able to afford a home in a senior community. My dad seemed pretty content there. He made lots of friends as he sat in the driveway with his dog, Velvet. He enjoyed the warm weather which didn’t consist of humidity. He was around his family once again.

In 2003, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. My dad took it very hard. We didn’t know how long I was going to live and I do know, my parents did not want to bury their daughter. I was dad’s little girl after all. Meantime, my dad was going to the VA docs on a regular basis. At the time, we didn’t know why because he didn’t tell anyone. But apparently, he was having heart problems. He was tired all the time, he slept alot. He didn’t have much energy. Although, he helped me when he purchased me a mobilehome in Hemet. I was going through my last treatment phase of radiation, but he would come over almost every day and help me fix the place up.

I was determined not to let my cancer dictate my life. So, I started looking for a job in June. By the end of July, I was working full time again. My dad seemed pretty happy about it. I remember one Friday night, my parents invited me over for dinner. While I was sitting around their dining room table, my dad sitting at the head of the table surrounded by all these widowed women. My uncle had passed just 6 weeks prior, and as I sat there looking at all these women, including my aunt, I kept thinking how lucky I was to still have my dad around.

That Sunday, my mom called and invited me over to dinner but I was too tired and told her I had just been there on Friday. So they enjoyed dinner with my brothers. On Monday, I had to work in San Diego, so I turned off my phone so I wouldn’t be disturbed. It wasn’t until 9 pm Monday night when I remembered my phone had been off all day. When I turned it on, I had 15 messages.

My dad had woken up early Monday morning and was feeling nauseous. While he was in the bathroom, he broke out in a cold sweat. Coming out of the bathroom, he lay on the bed and told my mother to call 911. He was having a heart attack. When the paramedics got there, they prepared him for a hospital trip. The VA was full so they couldn’t take him and the local hospital wasn’t prepared for heart attack victims so they transported him to San Bernardino, which was a good hour away. All my messages were from different family members trying to get a hold of me all day. At 9:00 pm, I drove over to my mother’s house where my brothers and neighbors had gathered. I got caught up on what was happening. He was stable but was not a good candidate for surgery. Apparently, his heart had started doing it’s own bypass. But where the bypass had ended up, there was a clogged artery and so, he had a heart attack. He wasn’t able to take in much oxygen because he was suffering from emphysema, which no one knew about.

He didn’t like anyone to fuss over him so when he became ill, he never told anyone. He didn’t tell anyone he had emphysema or that he had a bad heart. He kept it all to himself. I remember when we celebrated their 50th anniversary, we took a cruise to Alaska. He fell asleep on the train going up the mountain. I thought that was odd or maybe he just was tired. Some of the symptoms he had, lots of pain in his shoulders and neck, always asking me to massage them for him. Swelling in his ankles, all signs of a bad heart.

He went into the hospital on Monday and on Thursday, when we were all in his room, he was sitting up an said he felt pretty good. Told my mom to bring his shorts and sneakers, he was going home on Friday. We told him only if he improved could he go home. I got to the hospital in the afternoon and planned on spending the rest of the day with him. My kids had flown in, one from Washington the other from Boston. They had gone down to the cafeteria to get something to eat, and I was just in the hospital room, holding my dad’s hand and watching him. They had him on morphine and I wasn’t sure if he knew I was there until he opened his eyes and asked me to adjust his bed, his back started hurting him and he thought it was due to where the bed was positioned. I moved the bed and all of a sudden all these bells and whistles went off.

They pushed me out of the room and started working on my dad. At one point they came out and told me he needed more oxygen and wanted permission to put a tube down his throat. I told them no at first because he was on a DNR and I didn’t want him suffering by having them shove a tube down his throat, but they assured me it wasn’t life support it was just to help him breathe. Well, they lied to me. It was life support. Apparently, he had had another heart attack which was why his back was hurting him. They then told me to start calling the family back as he may not make it through the night.

So, I called everyone and told them what had happened and they all needed to come back to the hospital. Everyone started trickling in at different hours. Most lived in San Diego so it was a three hour drive for them. My sister in law and 2 nieces were the last people to come in which was around 11:00 pm that night. Once we were all there, we gathered around a circle holding hands and prayed. We all said something to my dad, hoping he could hear us. The doctor came in and removed the breathing tube. We all stood around in silence. Most of us were crying and then one by one, we went up to my dad, laying there on the bed, and gave him one last kiss and hug goodbye.

He was right that afternoon when he said he was going home. It just wasn’t the home we thought he was talking about. The next morning, I awoke to thunder. Now as most of you know, living in Southern California, we never get thunder. It was so loud, it was shaking my house. The kids were asleep in the living room, and I ran out there and opened the front door and said, “Listen?” They heard it too, loud, thunderous, earth shaking thunder. I turned and said to my kids, “He made it! He’s in heaven and he’s fighting with Uncle Tommy!” That was August 12, 2004. I love you dad, and still miss you…I will always miss you until we meet again.

RIP – April 1, 1928 – August 12, 2004. Wonderful husband, father, grandfather, son. Love you to the moon and back! Happy Birthday in Heaven!