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Having graduated from the old school of ‘Parenting After Puberty’, I’m certain my father had written me off for motherhood once my late 30’s loomed.
When I signed up for the job at 42 and again at nearly 45, the look on his face suggested his head had connected with a coconut dropped from the lofty heights of the Empire State Building.
Yet, he’s embraced ‘grandfatherhood’ with the genuine gratitude of a lottery winner, even if ‘the look’ has never quite faded.
So, it’s no surprise that—even after being tenderized for 80 years in the enduring brine of experience—he was eager to fly in from the remotely cooler climes of Ontario just to spend Easter with his 4 and 7-year-old grandchildren.
And this Easter, I had more than usual to be grateful for—a ‘rebirth’ that germinated at a deeper level than symbolism.
As older mothers with living parents, we bring a special gift to our children: living history.
Not a book or a documentary—but a person. One who was there and can satisfy the shower of questions about a past era only small children generate.
My father was born in 1929 in Ontario (Canada), the fourth in a family of five sons of Italian immigrant parents.
It was the year of onset for the Great Depression and—always the card—he’s quick to say: “Yes, I’m sure I caused it!”
When his mother died of breast cancer in 1932, he was three and his eldest brother Anthony (Tony) was twelve. Even now, his voice grows somber and his gaze seems to turn inward when he speaks of it.
For five “motherless” boys growing up in the Depression, “it was rough at home”.
But things could always get worse.
Back then, my Italian grandfather Michele Basciano—who struggled long and hard with the English language—worked for Quaker Oats in Peterborough, Ontario.
During the Depression, the company cut production back to 3 days a week, and the food shortage at home worsened.
On good days, my father says they got a slice of bread and a cup of cocoa for breakfast. On the bad days, nothing.
The neighbors where they lived on Elm Street (nicknamed “Spaghetti Drive” for all the Italians) helped each other out, sharing leftovers when they had them.
In 1933, with the first Christmas without their mother looming, Michele was desperate for more money to support his sons and he applied for a part-time job building the new highway from Peterborough to Lakefield.
During his first day on the job site, the unthinkable occurred.
A grader loosened a big boulder that rolled on Michele’s leg and broke it in several places. He was immediately hospitalized. His sons were temporarily orphaned.
My father and his brothers were sent to the local Catholic orphanage run by the Precious Blood order of nuns.
“It was the only time in my childhood I could remember having three square meals a day” he says.
On Christmas Eve, my grandfather walked out of St. Joseph’s Hospital in Peterborough wearing an oversized leg cast—and against strenuous admonishment from his doctors—to collect his boys from St. Vincent’s orphanage.
Eventually the staff called him a cab and when Michele arrived at the orphanage, he gathered his sons to him. They were so closely embraced as they walked home to Elm Street, they “were like one person” my father recalls.
When they arrived home on Elm Street for Christmas Eve, the cupboards were bare of provender–except for some meager preserves left over from their recently departed mother and the customary bag of flour Michele received from Quaker Oats.
But at least they were together.
What happened next would be recorded for posterity in “Miracle on Elm Street” (http://www NULL.thepeterboroughexaminer NULL.com/ArticleDisplay NULL.aspx?archive=true&e=831590) , an article appearing in the Peterborough Examiner (http://www NULL.thepeterboroughexaminer NULL.com/ArticleDisplay NULL.aspx?archive=true&e=831590) more than 70 years later, penned by one of Michele’s granddaughters.
There was a sudden knock at the door—when opened, Michele found a nurse from St. Joseph’s standing there.
Ready to fend off demands that he return to the hospital, he was stunned when she laid a 25-lb Christmas turkey in his arms, the prize for a 10-cent raffle ticket he’d bought during his stay.
It was a season of miracles to remember; but it was the harbinger of another, even more grand than the last.
World War II was looming darkly on the horizon. And little did my father suspect that two of the closest friends of his youth would one day become famous players on the stage of professional sports.
Read Part II in the next post.
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