Friday, May 23, 2014

My Back Pages: Memorial Day... My Personal Sorrow

My Back Pages: Memorial Day... My Personal Sorrow:    I have already posted my Memorial Day blog. While it is what I feel on this day of remembrance, I left one person out: My Father.   My...

Memorial Day... My Personal Sorrow

  I have already posted my Memorial Day blog. While it is what I feel on this day of remembrance, I left one person out: My Father.
  My father was a quiet man. A patriot, and someone who loved this country more than he could ever put into words. He also loved his family the same way. He was not outwardly affectionate. I can not tell you when my father kissed me, because, to my memory, and it goes back to when I was two, he never did. I don't know why.. all I can think of is that it, somehow, made him uncomfortable. I know that he loved me; he just never physically showed it.
  My father was of the Greatest Generation and, to me, at least, he was a hero. He joined the US Army to fight Hitler and his Nazi's. He met my mother at his basic training camp of Fort Sill, OK.... then, they shipped him to Panama. PANAMA! They wanted him to stay there for the duration of the war. They wanted to make him a sergeant  and put him in charge of troops guarding the Canal Zone. My father, bless him, had other ideas. He wanted to go to the European Theater, and kept putting in requests until they finally gave in. They told him that he would not get his promotion, but my father did not care. He wanted to help stop the Nazi war machine, so off to France he went. 
  They sent him to the Rainbow division.. ant there, my knowledge of what he did, stops, to my shame. Except for one incident, I know nothing of what my father did in Europe. That incident involved finding a German motorcycle with flat tires, doing some work on it, so that it would run, and riding it through an area that had not been secured. That was my father. He was a man who loved his family and his country in that order.
  I came along and was not the best son. I joined the Marines in 1966, something that, finally, made him proud of me.. even though he was afraid for me, and told me so. I did my time, and when I came back, we resumed our relationship of holding each other at arms length. I think that the only thing that my father finally approved of, after some time, was Sheryl.
  My father never talked about his war years. I had asked him so many times when I was growing up, but he really did not want to talk about them. Finally, in the last year of his life, he wanted to talk. He started telling me about his time with the Rainbow Division, but I was such an ass that I did not listen. He looked at me one Sunday afternoon, and said..'I want you to know what happened..'.. and I just did not retain a thing that he said. He died a few months later. To this day, I am so very sad and angry with myself for not listening to him. I thought that he would be around forever, until the day that I got the phone call that he had had a stroke. By that evening, he was gone.
 I have spent my life trying to atone for what I did. I cannot. All I can do is urge any of you out there that follow my blog, if you have a parent that served this country, that felt the call to defend freedom, Listen to what they have to say. It's important.. not only to them, but to you. It will preserve their sacrifice, and it will preserve their memory. Don't be a fool, like I was.
 John Zaffino, Kent Lakes, NY
Memorial Day Weekend, 2014

My Back Pages: Memorial Day. 2014

My Back Pages: Memorial Day. 2014: They didn't choose to be heroes. Freddy, Bobby, William, and all the others that heard and answered the call. They were just normal yo...

Memorial Day. 2014

They didn't choose to be heroes. Freddy, Bobby, William, and all the others that heard and answered the call. They were just normal young men.... boys, really.... who just went about their day to day lives, dreaming their dreams of a future filled with love and marriage, perhaps a couple of kids and a house with a yard. They walked the streets of my hometown, as so many others like  them did in their own hometowns across this country, filled with the bloom of youth, the promise of their futures which were still shining brightly.  Whether they joined, as I did, or were drafted as others were, they still made the choice, without question, to answer it. They were swept up in the war machine and and did their best to play their parts. They paid the ultimate price, did Freddy, Bobby, William and others. They could have run and hid, as some did. They could have done other things, as so many of those who beat the drums of war  today, did to avoid service at that time. They didn't, because they were taught, and believed, that freedom is never free. There is a price to be paid for all of the freedom that we, in these great United States, enjoy. No matter what their political leanings, if they had any at that tender age, they served for the idea of freedom. This is what made them great. This is what made them all heroes in my eyes, and in the hearts and minds of so many who knew them. They served with honor and they served with pride. Regardless of what you think of that war, they served their country well.
 Our fathers and grandfathers also served. They brought down killing machines that were laying waste to all they regarded as lesser than they. Shooting, starving, killing indiscriminately, women, children, men. Old and young. Men and women from the Armed Forces of the US joined with our European Allies to turn the tide and stop the killings. They did the same in the Pacific theater as well, at the cost of so many lives.
 Today, we are at war again. Whether you support the war, or not, you must support and honor those who, again, are serving and dying in the name of freedom. Regardless of politics, we must, as citizens of this great country, honor the memories of those who have served, especially those who paid the ultimate price.
  in quiet moments, I can hear the voices of those whose memories I honor. If I close my eyes, I can also see their faces. The easy smiles, the ready laughter... their voices and images echo through the decades, back to me. I don't need Memorial day to think of them, because I think of them every day, but I will take the time on Monday to honor them all, to thank them all, for their service to this country and to what it is supposed to stand for. I hope all that read my rambling tribute will do the same.
 Peace and Love to All.
 John Zaffino, Kent Lakes NY
 Memorial Weekend, 2014

Thursday, May 15, 2014

My Back Pages: Spring and Summer of '59 - "What doesn't kill you....

My Back Pages: Spring and Summer of '59 - "What doesn't kill you....:  While reading the posts from friends the other day, I saw one by my friend, Peg Teague Guelakis about how cruel some boys were back in ou...

Spring and Summer of '59 - "What doesn't kill you......"

 While reading the posts from friends the other day, I saw one by my friend, Peg Teague Guelakis about how cruel some boys were back in our day. It was about how some of them would torture animals, and how the mothers took a 'Boys will be Boys' attitude. As the day went on and I thought about this, I remembered how she also told  me that she was teased incessantly back then by certain boys. This brought to mind my Summer of Hell, in 1959. It actually lasted from mid-Spring until the fall; but, to me, it seemed to stretch out for an entire lifetime.
  We were a rough and tumble bunch of street kids, my friends and I. Most of us came from families that struggled every day. We never felt deprived,  because this is just the way things were. We made our bicycles from parts that we pulled from the city dump. Back in those days, every thing was taken there and put into the landfill, or burned. Things like bicycles, old baby carriages, toys, etc, found their way to the huge piles where they were unceremoniously left to rust or rot. These were golden pickings for kids like us. We would pick up a frame from one discarded bike, a seat from another. Wheels and tires from others. Sometimes, we had a 26 inch wheel on the back, and a 22 or 24 inch tire in the front. It looked 'Cool'.
 We would make the rounds of the factories where the workers would throw out their soda and beer bottles. They were like gold to us, because we would take them to the grocery store and cash them in to buy soda, candy, fruit... whatever struck our fancy at that particular moment. We had fun, and roamed all over New Rochelle on our re-built bicycles. We were, for the most part, good kids. A little dirty, a bit foul-mouthed, but we stayed out of trouble most of the time. We would discuss stupid things.. like, "Would you cut off your left hand for a million dollars?" and that sort of thing. We would argue, tease, and taunt each other... nothing vicious, just kidding. 
 One thing that seemed to fascinate my 'friends' was my American Indian heritage. Once in a while, they would call me a 'Red Skin', but usually just in jest. On this particular day, we had been arguing over whether or not we would grab a red hot piece of steel for a million dollars. This came up because my cousins owned an Iron Works, and we could always see them welding or cutting the steel with a torch. Anyway, they all said that they would. I said that I would not, because I did not want to be disfigured. Really, what I meant was that I was too chicken to burn my hand off. We were going back and forth on that, when, suddenly, things turned ugly. I don't remember who started it, or why, but someone called me a Redskin coward. This upset me and I told them to knock it off. Too late... the blood was in the water. They started taunting me, calling me a dirty redskin and telling me that I was not a 'Real American', because I belonged on  the reservation, like all the other dirty redskins. They started doing war whoops, and pretended to dance around like they thought Indians were. They poked me, and pushed me and kept it up until I started to cry and ran inside. I was all of 12 going on 13. This just seemed to encourage them, and they whooped it up and rode their bikes in a circle in front of my house until my father came home from work. Then they scattered. This was not the end of it, though. After dinner, they were back and war whooping as loud as they could. I didn't dare go out and show my face, because this would have just made it worse... or at least, that's what I thought.
 As the days passed, the taunting increased and I was isolated by these guys. You have to remember... they were all my friends!! Or, so I thought.... it's so strange how things cane turn so quickly. Parents, in those days, usually did not intervene. You were on your own to fight your own battles. These guys were just looking to either make me cry, or pick a fight with one of them. I was having none of it, because I knew that I would lose either way. I became stoic. As I walked past them, one of them might start reciting Longfellow's 'The Song Of Hiawatha'.. or they would start singing 'Pow Wow, The Indian Boy'. They did everything that they could to make me cry or attack one of them, but I refused. 
 The Summer dragged on, and I was alone. Finally, I started hanging out with children that were 2 or 3 years younger than me, just to have someone to play with. It was hard, and it was eating me up inside. Many hot Summer days, I would go to the local ball fields and play ball by myself. I was a very lonely young boy, and I could not wait for the Summer to be over.  
 There were glimmers of hope. Bruce Kocka, caught me when he was alone one day and said "Look, Zaff, I want you to know that I am not a part of that shit. I think that you're OK, but I have to live around here, so I hang out with them.. and that's it. No hard feelings?" I thanked Bruce, and told him that there were none on my part. As far as him hanging out with them, he did.. but he never once participated in the taunting.
  In late July, I got a two week respite from the torment, when my family made their trip to Oklahoma to see my grandparents and all my aunts and uncles on my mother's side of the family. I had a great time, fishing with my Uncles Mark, Parker, Keith, and Ken. It's the only time that I relaxed that whole Summer. Soon, though, the vacation came to an end, and I was right back in the crucible again.
  As July ended, and August got off to a hot and humid start, I started to realize that these taunts were not bothering me that much anymore. Oh, I still hated them, and would have preferred to be out riding around with these guys again, but I no long got that knot in the pit of my stomach. I no longer got an anxiety attack when I saw them and knew that I would have to walk past them. They were still giving the war whoops, but they had started to be done with less enthusiasm. 
 By the end of August, they had stopped. They would just go silent when I walked by. Nothing said... no taunts, no hellos... nothing. I secretly felt much better. As September started, and the School year started, I started making new friends. One day, Kevin, one of the larger of my ex-friends came up to me out of nowhere, stuck his hand out and said "Hey, Zaff. Can we be friends again? I don't know what happened.. it was stupid" I shook his hand, and with that, it was over. Like I said : These were my friends! Something went wrong, I don't know what. I have thought about it over the years, and never could figure it out. We remained friends, even though we drifted into different circles as we got older.
  Looking back on this experience from the distance of decades, I can see how this experience, although very traumatic for me, helped build my character and enabled me to get through the taunts and torment of Marine Bootcamp almost effortlessly. No matter how many names the DI's called me.. no matter how many times they hit me, they could not wipe the smile off of my face. I had already been through hell; this was nothing in comparison.
 I needed to put this down just to let my family know a little about my childhood. I don't talk about it much. This was the worst of it. I also want to show that we all have challenges to meet as we grow up. No one gets an easy ride. It's how you come out of them in the end that really matters. I wish that things like this didn't happen to children as they grow up. I wish that mine was an isolated case. I know that this is, sadly, not true. I wish them all the strength to persevere, as I did.
 Peace and Love to All.
 John Zaffino, Kent Lakes, NY
May 15, 2014

 September 27, 2016
  I wrote this post two years ago. The events of that Spring and Summer were very influential in what I became over the years. I have had many times where events in my life were difficulties that I had to overcome. This was just the first of many, but it may have been the hardest. 
  What I didn't say in the original post was that I had one friend that never turned against me. Despite the group cutting me loose and deciding to torment me like they did, this particular friend never did. Oh, he still hung out with the other guys, but he never participated in the harassment that the rest of my former friends rained down on me. He was always still pleasant to me. He never turned his back on me. I don't know if he ever had to answer for what was clearly against these guys, but he never was hard on me.
  Today, I got a message from a family member that he had died today. I have not seen him in years, but I heard from his family how he was fairing. It has not been good for him for the past few years. He almost died a few years ago, but, somehow, he pulled through. He lost his sight years ago and had to rely on others. When I heard this, it broke my heart. Why is it that the most terrible things happen to good people ?
  I won't mention his name, because his family want's his death to remain private. They are great people, one and all, from a good family. I just wanted everyone to know that a very good man has left this plane of existence, and the world is a sadder place because of his loss. I love you, my dear friend, and I shall never forget you!
  John Zaffino, Kent Lakes, New York

Saturday, May 10, 2014

My Back Pages: Mother's Day

My Back Pages: Mother's Day: Mothers..... where would we be without them? Well, for one thing, we would not exist... no miracles coming from someone's rib.. no gro...

Mother's Day

Mothers..... where would we be without them? Well, for one thing, we would not exist... no miracles coming from someone's rib.. no growing in a test tube somewhere, we simply would not be without one. For that reason, and for that reason  alone, we should bow down and thank them.. but that is not all there is to being a mother.. or having one.
  Whether your memory is of a woman in an apron who cleaned the house, cooked meals for you, did all the shopping and the heavy lifting around the house, while your father went off to work; or if it is of a multi-tasking, modern day mother, holding down a job, running a household, raising 2.5 children, and scheduling playdates and organizing all of the modern child's out of the home activities. Either way... she is the one who worried incessantly about your health and welfare, jumping up and taking your temperature at the first sneeze, comforting you when you hurt yourself, making sure that you eat a good meal (I won't get into a definition of a 'Good Meal' here, because it raises too many questions and debates). She took you to the doctor when you're growing up for your wellness visits, to the dentist to make sure that your teeth are healthy and straight. She attended your sports games, cheering you on to encourage you to win, and was there with a shoulder and more encouragement when you did not. Your mother was your friend when you felt that you had none. When you got out of line and misbehaved, she was judge and jury, meting out punishment with love, because she wanted you to grow to be a strong and law abiding human. She was always there when you needed her, and just when you made a mistake that you thought that she could never forgive, she opened up that huge heart of hers and let her loving forgiveness surround you. She taught you respect for others beliefs and taught you acceptance, not tolerance, of all people in society. She taught you to love with an open heart, and if she was like my mother, with an open mind.
 As you grew older, and approached those awkward teen years, she was right there with you.. giving advice, if you wanted it, and giving you a shoulder to cry on when your heart was broken. She, along with your father, prepared you for the harsh reality of life after childhood. We could not have survived without her love and guidance.
 Some mothers were more outward than others. Some stood in the background and waited for when you needed them. Others were always right there, over your shoulder, arms at the ready, in case you should fall. 
  When you married, she was there with tears and pride as you took your vows. As you brought children into the world, she beamed with pride and doted on them, giving advice, welcome or not, on raising children. Whenever she did, believe that it was with love and respect for you and your loved ones.
 Whether you called her mother, mom, ma, mama or whatever it was in your culture that was acceptable. Whether she was your birth mother, your adoptive mother, or your step-mother... if she is the one that took the responsibility to raise you, she is your mother. Mother is another way of saying unconditional love.. 
 So, when you honor your mother on Mother's Day, remember all that she has been for you. How she has always been there, waiting to help in any way that she could. If you are lucky enough to have a mother who is still living, thank God, or whatever that you believe in, that you still have her and cherish every second that you can still talk to her. If you, like myself, has a mother who is gone.. take the day to honor her memory. Make an effort to wish every mother that you know a Very Happy and Loving Mothers Day! I just did!

Love and Peace to All
John Zaffino, Kent Lakes, NY
May 10, 2014

Saturday, May 3, 2014

My Back Pages: Regrets...

My Back Pages: Regrets...: I wish I could paint. Oh, not just slop some paints on a canvas and call it my artwork, really paint what my eye tells my mind that it see...

Regrets...

I wish I could paint. Oh, not just slop some paints on a canvas and call it my artwork, really paint what my eye tells my mind that it sees. I am convinced that we all see things slightly differently.. pick out different subtleties in the world around us as it presents itself. I am quite envious of those who can. What remarkable beauty they can lay out on a canvass. I wish that I could paint, especially now, at my late age. Not only do I see things differently than others, I see things more intensely, more acutely, than my younger self. That young man was much too busy working and interacting with his co-workers, bosses, wife and children to notice the world around him.. at least, not as I do now. I used to be able to draw a bit when I was young, but that talent, sadly, has left me as the years flew past. Oh, to have taken advantage of that little trace of talent that I had. You have to nurture these things, coddle and work with them so that they may grow and bloom into something special. Sadly, I let it starve and die from lack of encouragement. Now, I see the beauty in the world around me in intricate detail. I know what I would like to put down as art, but the ability to do so is gone.
 I wish that I could play an instrument. I love music of almost all types.... from Blues to Big Band, through Country and Cajun to Rock and Roll, Jazz and Swing. Folk, Folk Rock, Classical, Contemporary.. you name it. I can pick out a tune by trial and error on a keyboard or a piano, but I cannot smoothly play with two hands.. only one, and not smoothly. I would love to play a guitar, or even a ukelele.. hell, I'd settle for a Harmonica. Unfortunately, being a bit ADD, I never had the patience for learning to play. I wanted to pick up the instrument and just PLAY; but things just don't work that way. You have to dedicate yourself to learning all the basics, one slow step at a time. So, the best that I can do, much to my regret, is play air guitar... or just sing along. Which brings me to....
  I wish that I could sing. Oh, I can carry a tune, and I can sound good on some songs, but my range is small. I wish that I could sing like Pavarotti. I wish that I could sing like The Beatles (Harmonizing with myself, because no one wants to sing with me). Sometimes, I embarrass my wife when we're out in a place that has music, and I get caught up in the magic of it all and start to sing along.... loudly.. usually after a few cocktails. Unfortunately, voice is another thing that starts to fade as we age... but I will continue to try.
 I wish that I could write.... not that I can't put a paragraph or three together to put my passionate thoughts down via things like this blog or a Facebook rant.. but I'm talking about real writing... a novel, a short story... something creative. Unfortunately, it just doesn't happen for me. I've tried, but it just never comes together for me. I just am not that creative when it comes to putting fiction down. I love to write. I love to put myself out there, but as far as fiction is concerned, I just don't have it.
 I wish that I was handy and able to create things out of would and brick, like my talented son in law can. When I was young, I did put up a wall and build two sets of bunk beds and closets, but they were very rudimentary. I guess that, if I had the time, I could have built on this, but I was too busy working and raising a family, so I never developed as a handyman. I was a very good telephone universal tech and Union Steward, so I have to be happy with that.
  I wish that I had been a better person when I was younger, but I can console myself with the knowledge that this is something that develops over time. You can't change the past, but the mistakes of the past do shape the path to the future. So, while there are many things that I wish that I could have done or been, I have learned to reconcile what could have been to what is. In the end, we can have regrets, but we cannot let them cast a shadow over who we are now. Life, with all the fits and starts, has been good.

John Zaffino Kent Lakes, NY
May 3, 2014

Post Script
 After reading some of the comments made on this particular blog, I guess that I should have stressed my positive ending, as so many took it to mean that I regret my life. I do not! The blog was about things that I do regret not doing, but in the end, being satisfied with the my life as it has played out. As I said at the very end: Life, with all it's fits and starts, has been good. Would I, if I could, change things? That is very hard to say, because any change in my choices would have an effect on my life as it is, and who is to say whether these differences would have been good or bad? All in all, I think that I would stay with what I have, and let the road not taken remain so. 
 Love and Peace!
John Zaffino Kent Lakes NY
May 4, 2014