Goodbye, Sweet Memory

 This is a different blog than I usually write. It's more of a memoir and a eulogy for a place that played an integral part of  the molding of a young boy an his friends in New Rochelle. It's gone now, just a memory that I will cling to until I can no longer speak. If you don't want to go on and read it, my dear friends, I will thoroughly understand. This is something that is close to my heart, and close to the hearts of the young men and women that I grew up with. I wrote it for them. I wrote it for myself. But it is open to any who have had places that meant so much to them be torn down or shuttered.
The New Modern Pizzeria



                                                 The Original Modern Through The Years

                                                            Memorial Day, 2012

 On Lincoln's Birthday, this past Saturday, February 16, 2013, the boys that grew up in New Rochelle in the '50s and '60s of the last century, had their latest Fellowship meeting at the Modern Pizzeria. I was going to attend, but I had previously agreed to help babysit my namesake grandson, so I had to pass this meeting up. I had mixed feelings about this meeting, because although we have been meeting at the Modern for years, it's different now. This was to be the first meeting since the original Modern Pizzeria on Russell Avenue, what we affectionately knew as PSA, or Pig Shit Alley, closed it's doors for the last time. The current owners said that the Pizza oven, which dated back to the thirties, was just too expensive to run anymore. It was originally a coal fired oven, but had been converted to oil some time ago. They had been casting about for another place for some time now. We had been hearing rumblings every time we came down for one of our meetings, every few months, but we never believed that they would actually do it. Where would they find a place that projected the same out of the past ambiance and nostalgia that our loveable old Modern could? To us, it was home.. a way to go back to when we were young. 
John Zaffino, Lou Vaccaro, George Ward, Jerry Trotta, Bob Sarvedio, Don Ward, Sam Mauro, Tom Annunziato

  
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The Modern, Memorial Day 2012
  I could almost feel my family in the old house on Everett street, just a long block away. It was very comforting, We would sit and enjoy the pizza, round and flavorful with that same smell that I remember from my youth. The one difference was that Angie's pizzas were never round, back then. They were.... oblong.... but still, delicious. The walls of the Modern were white tiled, beautiful to us, with an old-style barroom  where I can still see the regulars from the old days sitting on a weekend night. Many of the old neighborhood characters. Squiggie, Chubby Freer, among others. Always laughing and exchanging stories, while Angie looked on, with her imperious hairdo, and a slight smile always on her face. She never really smiled, to my knowledge; but, she never really frowned, either. We would go there and have pizza, or when we could scrape a couple of dollars together, go for a nice plate of lasagna, or a meatball wedge. Steak Pizzaiola was another big favorite. Whatever good Italian dish you craved, you could get it at the Modern. It was to the Modern that I went when I decided to join the Marine Corps. I was headed  to the recruiter on 241st Street and White Plains Rd. in the Bronx and I figured I would have a good meal before I signed up. It was to the Modern I went when I decided that I wanted to marry my girlfriend, Phyllis Margiasso,  just before I left for boot camp. The Marine Corps is still with me, Phyllis didn't last the first year. 
  When I was released from active duty, after four years in the Corps, I came back to New Rochelle and brought with me my first wife. I moved back to the old neighborhood, and we would occasionally get pizza from the Modern, until the marriage blew up, and I moved north to Putnam County. I went on to marry again and raise a family, this time we managed to make things work out. Somewhere, in the early '90s, Jerry Trotta found me through classmates and asked if I would like to come down for one of their fellowship meetings, which they had at either the Modern, or the Thruway Diner. I went, and have been going ever since. We watched, with sadness as they announced and closed that one place where you could get a decent meal at 3 in the morning, the Thruway Diner. Who would have believed that? It was always busy. But they did it and put up a Walgreens in it's place. It was a sad time for all of New Rochelle. Some still cannot believe it.
Great Pizza, Better Friends
My Birthday 2007
  Then, we started to hear the rumblings about the closing of the Modern. When we asked about it, we were told "No, of course not! Maybe in the distant future..." Meanwhile, they were looking.  So we continued to have our meetings there. It was there that I reconnected with Tommy Annnunziata.  Through our Fellowship Meetings and our emails back and forth, we became closer friends than we ever had been as children. What a great friend he was. We lost him to pancreatic cancer, and the last time that I saw him alive was at the Modern. I will never forget him, as I will never forget the people that came for at least one meeting. Bones Calabro flew in from Florida for one day, just to have pizza and cokes with us and talk about old times. That same day, Jerry Lynch had come down from Massachusetts to see us for the first time since the '50s.  Butchie Gallello, and Ray Moore came down from upstate, New York. Another time, my old friends Greg Williams and Richie Smith came for the meeting. Great times, seeing everyone. Then, there were the irregulars. Jerry Trotta, Lou Vaccaro, Sam Mauro, Bobby Sarvedio, Georgie and Donnie Ward, Fred Palermo, Rich Le Boeuf, Pat Sestito, Alan Kocka, Dom Totino, Charlie Sammarco, and my good friend and brother in arms, Bobby Brehaut. There are others that come and go and slip my old mind, like it was greased with the finest oil. Bill O'Mara, 'Big O', whom I also worked with.. but, the point is that all were welcome, and we would all come together there to breathe the common air, and renew our memories of the days gone by. Those tiled walls saw and knew so much. Some of the pictures up there reminded me of things that were important, and some local kids that made minor marks in the world of boxing. Ronnie Cohen, 'The Jewish Jolter', who was a well loved figure in New Rochelle. You could often find him sitting at the bar, a sweet soul.  
The South Side Boys.
 When we went there, the table and chairs remained the same, over the years. I swear that I saw Angie in the kitchen more than one time. Now, it's all gone. I wonder to myself: What makes people think that you can transplant all that meant so much to so many to a new location, just by bringing the name? I know that Angie and her daughters, as well as my friend Tommy A, and others who came and went in that beautiful little place are probably still there, if they are anywhere. Not confused, but saddened by the changes, as I am, as my good friend Lou Vaccaro is, as we all are. Another chapter has been finished in the story of our lives. Another door has been forever closed on our youth, and I cannot help but wonder: What makes people think that you can transplant memories? You cannot. You may take them with you, but once you have written the end of  the chapter, they are sealed forever. 
 Bless you, my friends. We get older with each tick of the clock, and that last, fleeting piece of our youth, the Modern Pizzeria, is gone forever, but it remains in MY heart, in OUR hearts, forever.
John A. Zaffino, February18 2013
Kent, New York  

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