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 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 nature too. As he got older he loved to sit on his patio and just "watch the boidies" (as he called them) 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. Nature was pure and simple. People can be overly complicated.
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.
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 (a "demijohn" is a very large teardrop shaped 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 baked Virginia ham at Christmas and how to make 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 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.
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." I felt him right there next to us...
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.
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