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 to plant the young plants deeply for strong roots, and 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 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 Blue" crabs, 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 line, the jingle bell would ring and he'd pull up the string line by hand. He prepared the eel Pugliese 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.
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 (a "demijohn" is a very large teardrop shaped bottle) in the cellar while it fermented and aged.
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 away. As he got older, I'd go over and spend Saturday afternoons with him--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.
Thank you for being my Dad, Sally Boy. And on this Father's Day while I look at my beautiful son, Lucas, I know that I wouldn't have learned how to become --as Lucas calls me--"The Best Dad ever", if you didn't hold the same title before me. He was more than my father. He was my best friend.
We miss you, but you are with us in everything we do in life.
Happy Father's Day, Dad.