St. Joseph's Day in Italy is celebrated with a feast... families prepare traditional spreads of special Italian breads and cookies. This is the day when families show their gratitude to their fathers with favors and gifts. This day is a big deal in many parts of the Italy, especially in the North. In Florence and Rome, this festivity is marked with several days of live music and dancing, and of course, food and drink. While we most likely won't be dancing for Father's Day, we will be feasting on ribs, Lisa's herb roasted potatoes and perhaps take in a funny film with Lucas.
Saverio (Sal) Finzi: My Dad
Saverio Finzi. That's was--and still is--my Dad. He was called Sal by most, Sally Boy by his buddies growing up, mistakenly called Xavier on his immigration papers, Daddy by my 3 sisters, but I just called him Dad. As he got older, once in a while I'd call him Pop, but he said he didn't like it. It made him sound too much like an old man (he was in his eighties at the time). I always thought it was cute the way he referred to other people his age as "those old people".
He was always a man of the "dirt" as he called garden soil. He taught me how to love and appreciate Home Grown Tomatoes. I still grow Heirloom tomato varieties every year and my son Lucas already knows how to start seeds in the cellar in February, how deep to plant the young plants, how to prune side shoots off the plants for bigger fruit. Dad taught me a lot about gardening. Some day I plan to have a grape arbor like he had in our little city back yard growing up.
He loved nature too. As he got older he loved to sit on his patio and just "watch the boidies" at his bird feeder. He was the one who started bringing home box turtles from "The Lake" when we were kids. At one time we had 15 or them in our little back yard. He loved dogs and cats and rabbits, too. He had a rabbit hutch that he kept his pet rabbits in... one was a huge lop-earred bunny with a powerful kick. And lord did he love the trees and the flowers. He once said to me "I love plants, I love trees, I love the sky, I love the birds... but I hate people". He wasn't a man who ever hated anyone, but I knew exactly what he meant.
He loved to fish and go crabbing. We used to break through the fences and trespass onto the old piers on the Hudson River where I grew up. He'd catch a bucketful of "Jersey Blues" as he called them, those colorful treasures the East Coast is famous for. He fished with a pole, surely, but he also used a simple string drop line, with a little screw-springy-bell gizmo that he'd screw into the wood at the edge of the pier. When an eel was "on" the jingle bell would ring and he'd pull up the string line by hand. He prepared the eel Puglian style... fried in olive oil and served in cut up little chunks with lots of lemon, like little oily fishy sausages. One day he caught a huge crab on the drop line and a big "Mama eel" (as he called the huge ones) in the crab net. I'll never forget that. He also caught the biggest catfish I've ever seen come out of Oak Ridge Lake, where we used to go when I was young.
Dad was more Italian in his ways than I realized when I was young. He knew how to speak the Southern dialect of Molfetta in Puglia, but never spoke it at home. But one time he ran into a "girl" that he grew up with in Hoboken, New Jersey--hadn't seen her in 50 years. It's amazing that they recognized each other in an instant. The Molfettese dialect flowed like thick honey from his mouth as they spoke.
He also had a habit of eating only de-constructed sandwiches--that is, he preferred to tear pieces of bread and eat the cold cuts, cheese and tomatoes laid out on a plate--and this was a deli man who made great sandwiches at work. He loved glasses of cheap or home made wine--often drank with ice cubes or even with some 7-Up added to mimic Prosecco. He told stories of his own father making wine and keeping the large damigiana bottle (demijohn is a very large teardrop shaped bottle) bottle in the cellar while it fermented and aged.
He is the one who taught me how to make Polpette (meatballs) bigger than my fist, and Virginia Ham at Christmas and how to roast turkey and roast beef. He always loved a "nice piece of meat", as Italians do, all on its own on a plate. He loved his ice cream and would eat out of the box--as I still do.
He was a simple man with simple pleasures. He love saving little sayings and poems out of books and newspapers... I found a bunch of his clippings in his wallet after he passed. As he got older, I'd go over and spend Saturday afternoons with him and Mom and Dad and I would sit at his picnic table a peruse books or magazines on gardening, cooking, old National Graphic magazines about volcanoes or exotic far off places... we'd look at the pictures, talk, have a soda and a peach for a snack and dream of going to Italy someday together.
Dad never made that trip with me... No. He was with me, and Lucas and Lisa. He was the reason we went on our Grand Voyage. Lucas and I blessed ourselves in his honor in the waters in his home town of Molfetta. I remember saying "Dad, we made it."
Thank you for being my Dad, Sally Boy. We miss you but you are with us in everything we do in life.
Happy Father's Day. Buona Festa di Papa!
--Jerry, Lucas & Lisa