Have you ever had one of those moments in your life that whatever your actions were, affected the rest of your life? Today is one of those days in the lives of Susie and myself. You see, it was 45 years ago today that Susie and I met, and I can honestly say it was love at first sight!
Back in the Summer of 1977, NABET was in the middle of a 5 and a half month strike against ABC. Rather than running the board on the 8th floor of the ABC Building for WABC and WPLJ, I was picketing 3 days a week for 3 hours at a time. Thankfully, I was a 27 year old single guy, so not going through the financial peril a lot of the older married folks were suffering through. It was a sad, kind of poor summer, but I did have lots more free time than I normally would., and that’s why I was able to accept an invitation to a Fourth of July backyard Bar-b-cue on Sunday July 3rd!
The party was given by my friend Bill Epperhart and his wife Maryanne. I met Bill when we both worked at the CW Post College Radio Station, WCWP, and now Bill worked at WNBC. Bill’s wife Maryanne was a Registered Nurse at the Glen Cove Community Hospital, as was the the young lady I met that day, Susan Lynn Johnson, RN! Turns out that Susie had called in sick that day to attend the party, and many years later we found out from Maryanne that getting us together was the main inspiration for the party!
I’m very happy to say that it worked! We were thrown together at the party when I helped Susie light some fireworks she’d brought back from a visit to her Great Aunt in North Carolina, and as I said before, it was really Love at First Sight! The following weekend we went out on our first real date, and at the Dynasty Chinese restaurant in Roslyn, my fortune cookie said, “You Will Marry Your Current Lover and Be Happy”. 45 Years later, the fortune cookie is still correct!!
Happy Anniversary baby! I L Y J T W Y A then, now, and forever!! XO XO XO XO XO XO
Ten years ago, when Billy and Lori got married, Susie and Krissi, in preparation for the wedding had a manicure and a pedicure. They didn’t know it then, but that was the beginning of a tradition of long standing in our lives that came to be called “Nail Night!”
Late afternoon, every other Wednesday after work, my two ladies would go to see Kim at Best Nails on Second Street in Mineola and have their nails done. This continued even after we’d sold the Mineola house and made Ocean City our permanent home. When it started, Krissi was working in a cardiologist’s office by the train station in Mineola and living home. It continued as she still worked and went to CW Post for her Master’s of Public Administration degree. It was still a thing when she stopped living at home, and moved to Astoria, and she commuted via the Long Island Rail Road after she got her MPA, and started working at Weill Cornell Medical Center in Manhattan.
It just so happened that separated from Best Nails by an alley, was the St. James Restaurant. While Mom and Krissi went and had their nails done, Dad held down a seat at the St. James’s Bar and waited for the girls. When they were done, we’d all have a drink at the bar, and then get a table in the restaurant and Dad would buy dinner. In fact, the St. James and Nail Night was the place we first met Michael shortly after he and Krissi started dating (she actually left him alone with me that first night), and for the rest of the time, every Nail Night, Mike and I joined the bar crowd at St. James waiting for our girls to show!
And quite a crowd it was! There were Doctors and other staff from Winthrop hospital just down the street, there were folks stopping for a shot or two on their way home from the train station, there was Ed who was a local Judge, and as Mineola is the seat of the Nassau County Government, there were lawyers, like Glenn the real estate lawyer, who actually handled the selling of our Mineola house for us! It was an interesting mix of folks who lived and worked in the neighborhood, with lots of regulars. It was a great location, and a good bar, but the real reason that these folks gathered at the bar of the St. James was the man behind the bar, Dennis Sweeney!
Dennis had been a commodity trader on Wall Street, who just had enough. His brother owned a bar and restaurant, and Dennis had done his fair share of time behind the bar, so he knew his way around. As he told us, it was a better life, with none of the pressure and the BS of his former life. I know we were very happy he made that decision, as were the rest of the St. James regulars! When Krissi worked at that local Doctor’s office next to the Mineola Train Station, she and her co-workers would often stop in, as did her Mom and Dad on days other than Nail Night, sometimes just for a drink with Dennis! Dennis was the father of two daughters, and we knew that he would watch out for Krissi, and in fact, when Mike started hanging around with us, Dennis gave Krissi a thumbs up on her new boyfriend!
Unfortunately, after years of having the same owner, new owners bought the St. James, and things started changing. Menu items that had been popular for years were re-worked, often times missing the mark in the opinion of regulars. The new owners wanted a new “vibe” and started to mess with personnel and the atmosphere. Gradually, the place felt less like Cheers and more like a sleazy sports bar, with too many TVs and too loud music! If their intention was to chase away the regulars, they were doing a good job!
Eventually, our Nail Nights ended, as we spent more and more of our time in OC and had less and less desire to be on Long Island. Eventually we heard that Dennis had less and less desire to be behind the bar at the St. James, and he moved on. We were sad, but totally understood! The last time we were in the St. James was 3 years ago on the weekend that Krissi and Mike got married. We were doing the rounds of Mineola, and in an effort to re-create those early Nail Nights with Mike, we went back to St. James for a drink. We found that without Dennis behind the bar, the bar that you had trouble finding a seat at back in the day, was now deserted! (Don’t get me started on why people buy a popular restaurant/bar and then change things and drive away the regulars!)
So turn the clock forward to the end of May, when we ran into a former neighbor who had been a fill-in bartender at the St. James. Turns out he knew that Dennis had moved on to Leo’s in Garden City, the next town south of Mineola and just blocks away from the St, James. With this new information, Susie and I resolved to stop in and see Dennis the next time we were on Long Island, and we did exactly that!
We got two seats at the end of the bar, and there was Dennis at the other end. As he walked towards us, he realized it was us, put a big smile on his face, and we had a wonderful reunion! We talked about our respective families and what was happening in everybody’s lives, and of course, we had two Grey Gooses Vodkas…shaken, cold, served up with a twist, with the marinated ice on the side! It was great to see him again, and reconnect with an old friend! Susie and I love the relationships we have in life with bartenders, waitresses, and waiters, and we were very happy to once again see this man, who we’d literary spent hours with over the years! As always, it’s the people that make a place special, at least that’s what we think!
This recent Memorial Day, Susie and I did something we haven’t done for years. In a very real sense, we Turned Back the Hands of Time! Let me give you a little background….
In August of 1986, Susie, Billy, and I moved to our new (to us) house at 40 Fairfield Avenue in Mineola, NY. About 3 months later, our family of 3 morphed into a family of 5 when Billy’s sister and brother Krissi and Kenny were born. For the next 31 years, we called 40 Fairfield our home and the Village of Mineola the place where we lived. When Billy was in first grade, he along with several of his school friends wanted to join Cub Scouts, so off we went to Cub Pack 246 that met at Mineola’s First Presbyterian Church. Billy’s friend John’s Dad, Andy McInnes, volunteered to be Cubmaster, and as I remembered my great experiences being a Boy Scout, I volunteered to help in anyway I could, and I became the Pack Treasurer. Starting that first year, in May of 1987, Billy and I joined Pack 246 and marched in the Mineola Memorial Day Parade. For the next 28 years, with and/or without our sons Billy and Kenny, I continued to march in that parade…first with Cub Pack 246, and eventually with Mineola’s Boy Scout Troop 45.
Whatever happened on that year’s Memorial Day Weekend, marching in Mineola’s Parade was a given. In the early years, we’d go to see fireworks at Bar Beach in the Town of North Hempstead on Friday night, and then many times head down to the Jersey Shore for Saturday and Sunday, and then head back to Long Island for the parade. Starting in 2005, when we bought the house in Ocean City, NJ our routine changed. Now instead of Fireworks on Friday, we’d head down to Ocean City, and spend the weekend at our house with our Ocean City friends! Some weekends we had kids and their friends with us, and some weekends we were alone, but every year, we’d set an alarm for 5 AM on Monday, throw clothes on, and head up the Garden State Parkway, to Long Island and our parade.
In 1998, our good friend Steve Grosskopf became the Scoutmaster of Troop 45 (I talked him into taking the job), and starting that first May, we gathered at their house and he fed the boys breakfast with the help of his wife Pat and my wife Sue. Eventually the breakfast morphed into an after-parade gathering for the Scouts and the families of the Troop at their house, and we were always there! We’d arrive home about 9 AM, I’d change into my Scout uniform, Susie would get herself ready, and we’d head over to Pat and Steve’s house for the parade. After we all headed off to the start of the parade, Susie and Pat would settle on the house’s front porch, and watch the parade pass by, yelling their support for the Boy Scout contingent!
It was a tradition of long standing, that continued through 2015! Then something changed… I retired from WABC in January of 2016, and now since I was no longer working, there was no reason not to extend our celebration of Memorial Day at the shore. It was very strange for us, that something that had been a part of our family’s life since 1987 was no longer there. It only got stranger when we sold the Mineola house in 2017, and now we really had no connection with the village! We might not have been there for the parade, but it was still a part of me, and every Memorial Day, my Facebook posts were filled with pictures of the Scouts of Troop 45 carrying flags and marching in Mineola’s parade!
So since that first May in 2016, our Memorial Day Weekends have been centered in Ocean City, but we have fondly remembered our time in Mineola, our friends in Troop 45, and years and years of parade participation. For six years that was our MO, but not this year. This year, we grabbed that clock and turned back the hands of time, proving once again that you can go home!
What is different? Well, our friend Steve Grosskopf announced that he was in his last year of being the Scoutmaster of Troop 45. 24 years of work and dedication, and of making Troop 45 one of, if not the best Boy Scout Troop on Long Island, had not been easy, but Steve had done it, and now it was time for him to pass the torch to the next generation. A couple of weeks ago, I got a crazy idea, and one day I shared it with Susie. “You know, we were there for Steve’s first parade, what do you think about being there for his last?” Susie liked the idea, and for the next week or so we batted around the idea. We really wanted to be there for our dear friends Pat and Steve, but wondered if we’d feel out of place and would we know anybody? After all, the last time we’d been there for the parade was 7 years ago in 2015! On Sunday afternoon, I sent him this text message, “Just checking in with you…How are you doing? Are you all set for the parade?” His answer to that text took away any doubt we might have had. “All good thanks! I know this will be my last one, so it is bittersweet. Wish you guys were here having cocktails on the porch.” Game On!
On Sunday we picked out the clothes we were going to wear, made sure our overnight “to go” bag was fully packed, and filled the car with gas. A shower before and an early bed time, and we were ready to go! The alarm woke us at 5:15 Memorial Day morning, and by 6:25 we were backing out of the garage and on our way to the Garden State Parkway! The trip back to Mineola is just under a hundred and 20 miles, and since we were on the road early, traffic was not an issue. The parade was scheduled to start at 11 AM, and we were in great shape time wise. At about 9:15, we rolled down Westbury Avenue, and parked the car around the corner from their house!
Activity was already in full parade mode as we walked up to the house, with Scouts and Adult Leaders gathering flags, and preparing for the after-parade party. As we came around the corner, and walked up to the front of their house, Steve came off the front porch, looked at us, and said, “Oh My God…what are you two doing here?!” We exchanged hugs and told him, “We were here for your first one, no way we were missing your last one!” Mission Accomplished! Pat was equally surprised when she came downstairs, but thrilled that we were going to be there for the day! She insisted that we spend the night, and we gladly agreed.
As the 11 AM hour got near, Steve and the Troop moved over to the parade starting point around the corner, and Susie, Pat, and I settled in on their front porch. Something new for me this year…for the first time since we first marched in 1987, I was going to see the parade, and what better place to see it, than Patrice and Steve Grosskopf’s front porch, a location on which the 4 of us had spent many, many enjoyable hours over the past 20 years they’ve owned the house! Promptly at 11 AM, the parade set off from Mineola’s Wilson Park, rounded the corner of Union Street and Westbury Avenue, and sailed by our front row seats! Lots of memories and lots of folks we recognized from our 31 years in Mineola, and we enjoyed all the groups from the Boy Scouts to the Mineola High School Mustang Marching Band (which all 3 of our kids were members of), and from the Mineola Fire Dept to the Portuguese Dancers and their castanets, and everybody else!
The parade route is 1.8 miles through the village, ending at Mineola’s Memorial Park for a brief service of remembrance and placing of wreaths. Steve was the MC for the event (I wrote his speech), and from all accounts it was a brief but meaningful reminder what the day was all about. Just after 12 noon, the Troop started to arrive back at the Grosskopf’s house for what has become a Troop 45 Tradition over the years, the Troop’s Memorial Day Parade after-party! The men of the Troop immediately went to work grilling hamburgers, hot dogs and bratwurst, while the boys changed out of uniforms and into proper attire for the pool and games. Troop Families showed up, and a great time was had by all!
Susie and I looked at each other several times during the afternoon, and commented about how the 7 intervening years since we’d last been in Mineola for a Memorial Day seemed to melt away, and how easy it was to fall back into old routines. A lot of the people we knew over the years are not still involved, but the folks of Troop 45 are always like family..old or new. We were welcomed back and made to feel at home, and were so glad we were there for Pat and Steve, and Steve’s last Memorial Day as Scoutmaster. All in all, it was a great plan, and worked out perfectly! As TR used to say, “BULLY!!!!”
I have been blessed to spend 44 birthdays with Susan Lynn Johnson D’Elia since the day I met her at a barbecue on July 3rd, 1977, and 42 of those birthdays since she traded a simple last name like Johnson, for an often mispronounced or misspelled one, D’Elia. We have been at each other’s side raising 3 kids, buying houses and cars, sending the 3 kids off to college, watching them get married, through work and play, adding 3 great grandkids to the family, and through us both retiring. Now I am the lucky one who gets to spend 24 hours of every day with my best friend, the love of my life, and the lady who puts me ahead of her, in everything she does. I’m sorry, but I can’t say that I was “lucky” to have her come in my life, I have always used the term “blessed” believing that some higher power ordained us to spend our life together! To me, we are a “Match Made in Heaven” and the perfect example to prove that “Love at First Sight” does indeed happen!
Last week, four of our six kids surprised her for her special birthday. On Wednesday night, after 10 o’clock, our son Kenny and his husband Chris walked into the house, having just flown up from St Pete, Florida and being picked up at the airport by our friend Sue Waniak. That was surprise number one. On Thursday night, the four of us went to Angelo’s in Atlantic City, as is our normal course of action. That was the place for surprise two, as Susie walked into the bar and saw Kenny’s twin sister Krissi sitting at the bar along with her husband Mike, who Susie thought was going to be on a business trip to Oregon! Unfortunately, our oldest son Bill and his wife Lori couldn’t join the group, as Bill, in the last months of his MBA program at the University of North Carolina was in Iceland as a part of a special class.
Let me let Susie tell you about Friday….The following is from Susie’s Facebook post….
“So…day #3 of Birthday surprises from my family! I was told to dress ”cute casual” and be ready at 11 AM today! We all made our own sandwiches and the cooler was packed! At 11AM we ventured outside to a tie-dyed van! “DaySippers!” We were off for a 6 hour adventure! First a Winery for tastings and purchases! Next to a Brewery for Beer Flights and our sandwiches. Throw in a few games of Shuffleboard and a lot of laughs! Our last stop was a Distillery for some delicious cocktails! Tonight’s dinner will be Pizza and Ice Cream for dessert….my 2 favorite foods!
It has been a fabulous surprise Birthday celebration, well planned by my loving family! I’m a Lucky Girl!😊❤️”
There were special cookies, bottles of Vodka with her picture on it, and lots of love and fun, as is only right for someone who loves her kids and their spouses as much as my Susie does!
So Susie Q, on this May 28, 2022 I’m here to tell you once again, that my life started the day I met you, so as far as I’m concerned this is your 44th Birthday! Have a great day as you remember our life together and all the fun, joy and love we’ve shared and that our 3 kids and 3 grandkids have brought us. My life is the best, mainly because you’re in it!!
ILYJTWYA now and forever baby!
PS – Frank D’Elia is totally responsible for the contents of this blog, as it was prepared, and published without the knowledge (or the proofing) of his partner in crime, and the love of his life!!
If you have followed along on our adventure, you probably already know what I am about to tell you, but for those who may have forgotten or not read those blogs, let me recap.
For a number of years, I had very bad knees. Arthritis, combined with weight, and maybe even some damage from when I jogged when Susie and I were first married (yes I did jog daily when we lived in Port Washington), combined with other factors to make my knees not happy. I went to an Orthopaedic Doctor on Long Island, but it was not till we officially moved to Ocean City in 2017 that I started getting serious about my knees. We found Dr. Zabinski at Shore Orthopaedic, just across the bridge in Somers Point. In November of 2018, we started the process with X-rays, and we set up an appointment for knee injections. That’s when Susie and I started on our low carb regime to lose weight for the surgery, and I started getting alternating Chicken Fat and Steroid shots in both knees (and if you’ve never experienced that, boy is it fun!) Then on July 11, 2019, I had my left knee replaced at Shore Memorial Hospital in Somers Point. The pandemic screwed up my schedule, and it was not until September 14 of last year, that I had my right knee replaced, also by Dr. Zabinski at Shore.
I impressed many (even myself) in the way I recovered from these two joint replacement surgeries, healing and getting back to normal in record time. Now, some 5 months after the second surgery, I am feeling incredibly better, having absolutely no trouble standing, walking, sleeping or doing any of the activities my knees were preventing me from enjoying. I am pain free, and I joke, bionic and doing great. Of course, one of the major factors in these joint replacements, was my partner in this life, and the woman who has been taking care of me for over 42 years, my wife Susan Lynn Johnson D’Elia, Retired Registered Nurse, Mom, and all around great lady! For the first 5 days post-op, ice on for 20 minutes, off for 40, elevating the knee for 22 hours a day, sleeping on the couch while I slept in the recliner, or feeding me everything I wanted in the days post surgery, she was there at every turn! Well, now the shoe is on the other foot, and it’s my turn to play nurse!
In less than two weeks, on Tuesday, March 1st, Susie is scheduled to have her hip replaced by Dr. Zabinski. This has been an ongoing thing she has suffered through for a number of years, and had several cortisone injections to the hip (the needle wasn’t pretty…i was there…it was about 8 inches long!) But she decided that I should get my second knee replaced before her hip. That way she figured that I would totally be able to take care of her when she was recuperating. From what the Doctor, our Physical Therapist Grady, and every other source you can look at on the internet says, the hip is easier to rehab from than the knee. Dr. Zabinski is also going through the front, rather than the rear, and that too makes it easier as the muscle isn’t cut. Like mine, she will be in the hospital in the morning and home that afternoon/evening. We don’t know yet if I will have to stay away like she did when I had my second knee done, or if I will be allowed back in to be with her pre and post surgery. Time will tell!
She’s passed all the pre-surgery tests so far with flying colors, with her last one being a Covid test that will happen next week, five days before surgery. As we are fully inoculated and boosted, and we’ve been very careful for some time, we don’t expect any issues with that either. As he did with my knees, Dr. Zabinski has her on a regime of vitamins pre and post surgery, and the only variable is ME, post surgery! I will do my best to help her through the first difficult week, but I am no excuse for her ability and her temperament. I will also be a pain in the ass, I am sure, because in some ways Susie is a lousy patient, never wanting anyone else to do things for her! That won’t change in the next couple of weeks, but I will do my best to do what she needs, when she needs it, without her resistance! The ice on and off will be a part of that first week, as will sleeping on the recliner and couch, but we will switch places. I know I won’t be as good at anything as she was, but I will do my best! She already has a list of meals that she wants post surgery, so that at least I know I can pull off with a certain level of competence that will be acceptable!
So there you have it! The bionic transition of Sue and Frank D’Elia continues! Jaime Sommers and Steve Austin got nothing on us! See you on our post surgery walks Ocean City!
Today is January 6th, 2022. January 6th marks the Feast of the Epiphany, or the day that the Three Wise Men paid their visit to the Christ Child. January 6th is also known as Little Christmas, and like many across the world, it is the day in our house that the celebration of Christmas ends. After the 6th, the outside lights get turned off, and the tree and decorations get put away for another year. As today is Little Christmas, it will also be the last post on this blog having to do with our Christmas holiday.
For today’s blog, I’d like to tell a story about one of the most familiar symbols of Christmas, The Christmas Tree. According to Wikipedia, “Sources have offered a connection between the first documented Christmas trees in Alsace around 1600 and pre-Christian traditions. Tree worship was common among the pagan Europeans and survived their conversion to Christianity in the Scandinavian customs of decorating the house and barn with evergreens at the New Year to scare away the devil and of setting up a tree for the birds during Christmas time.”
Susie and I are never happier in the beginning of the Christmas season, then when we see our first Christmas Tree tied to the roof of a car, and never sadder than when we see our first undecorated, discarded Christmas Tree on the side of the road.
My story today goes back many years, to the first Christmas in 1968 after my folks and I moved from Jackson Heights to Bayside…..
I grew up in a four room, 4th floor walk-up (that means no elevator) apartment in Jackson Heights, a highly urbanized area of Queens. Jackson Heights is serviced by the very nearby #7 elevated subway line, which was literally just outside our windows. When we moved in early 1968 to a single family house in Bayside Hills, it was like we’d gone from the city to the country. Still a part of Queens county, Bayside is one of the most eastern areas of the county, and was one of the places we used to do Sunday drives to when I was a kid. On those days we said we were going on a drive to “the country,” and now we lived here!!
In Jackson Heights, when you bought a Christmas Tree, you got it from in front of the local A&P, or from a random guy set up on empty lot. In Bayside, when you bought a tree, you went to Kiel Brother’s Nursery and chose one from their section of hand-picked trees. That first Christmas Tree in December of 1968 was a beauty, and a central part of our first Christmas in our new home. It served us well before and during the Christmas season, but as we approached Little Christmas, it was time for it to go!
My Mom had read something about what to do with your tree when you were done with it in your house. Perhaps based on that Scandinavian tradition, she’d read that you should stick it in your backyard, and “decorate” it for the birds that had not gone south for the winter. Things like seed pods, peanut butter, suet, and other things that could give the birds stuck in the north substance when the ground was snow covered. As this was the first year in my folks 20+ years of married life that they had a backyard, I guess she was feeling “countrified” in our new home.
Only problem was that almost the day after we got the tree out of the house, it snowed…a lot! This left the D’Elia Family Christmas Tree buried deep in snow. It stayed buried for the next couple of months, as snow storms kept coming with incredible regularity. We really didn’t see it again till almost Spring thaw. By that time, my Mom had lost her desire to set the tree up, and honestly the need was probably almost non-existent. Rather than “decorate” the tree for the birds, it went out to the curb to wait for the garbage men to pick it up. Picking up trees in late December and early January is I’m sure a pretty common thing for New York City garbage men, but I always wondered what they thought that day in March when they picked up our very dead Christmas Tree!
So, on Little Christmas, as we end our Christmas celebration, Susie and I, and our whole family hope that you can keep the light and joy of the Christmas season in your life, until it’s time for Christmas, 2022! See you again, next year Christmas!
Ah Christmastime…As Andy Williams and many other singers tell us yearly, It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year! And it is…. This time of year is always a wonderful time to make memories, and to reflect on those memories years later. Here’s some that easily come to my mind!
Susie and I met in July of 1977, and right from our first Christmas together that December, I knew that she loved Christmas. That’s why, a year later when I had a permanent job at ABC, on Christmas Day of 1978, I managed to get her alone upstairs at my folks house in Bayside, and I asked Susie if she’d marry me, and then ran through the house, telling all that would listen, “She said yes!!!” That’s probably my best Christmas memory! Happy 43rd Anniversary of the day you said “Yes” Baby!
Unless Christmas Eve was on a Sunday, my folks always had to do at least one performance at the Metropolitan Opera. When I was small, after they’d gotten home from a show on Christmas Eve, was their time to do the tree, and set up presents and stockings. When I got older, we developed a habit of having Italian Cold Cut Sandwiches, and cheap champagne (them when I was younger, all of us as I reached my teens), while we opened Christmas presents. This made it easier for my folks to sleep in a bit on Christmas day, rather than have me wake them up at 6 AM! Because we’d started this years ago, Christmas Eve was always a day we celebrated with our version of the 7 fishes and then cold cut sandwiches at midnight. The Christmas Eve of 1979, Susie and I had only been married a couple of months, so that night, after I’d worked at WABC, we went to my folks house in Bayside for our traditional Christmas Eve. We left very late at night (really early in the morning) and headed home to our apartment in the Manorhaven section of Port Washington. Tired and wanting to be in our own house, we were happy to park in front of the small 4 apartment building we called home. The great memory of our first Christmas Eve together was not being with my folks, or the microwave oven they gave us for Christmas, but rather the fact that the front door of the building, which had never been locked and which we didn’t have a key for, was indeed locked! A great memory of our first Christmas Eve together (we eventually did get in after our banging woke up another tenant)! Christmas Eve is still an important day for our family. We no longer open presents on Christmas Eve, but we have traditions that we do every year! So for us, Christmas is a two day celebration. Christmas is the time for traditions!
Christmas of 1982 held many great memories, because our oldest Bill was less than two months old. Not that he knew what was going on, but first time Parents and Grandparents enjoyed it that year! The next year was also a great Christmas, but for entirely different reasons. My Dad suddenly died just 10 days before Christmas of 1983. It’s hard when you lose your Dad when you are 33 years old, and was sad for my Mom as they’d spent 35 Christmases as husband and wife, but now Billy was 1 year old, and had a little grasp of what Christmas was. I think the entire family concentrated on him, and while we had every reason to be sad, we weren’t, and had a great Christmas. The Miracle of Christmas?
Christmas of 1986 found us in our new home in Mineola, and our family expanded to five from three. Krissi and Kenny were born six weeks premature on November 20th, and our fervent wish was that our entire family would be together for Christmas. Krissi spent 18 days in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and Kenny spent 28 days in the NICU. Kenny had a little stocking ornament on his incubator that said, “Home for Christmas.” Our prayers were answered that year, and on Christmas morning ,our two little bundles of joy joined their older brother Billy for Christmas in our Mineola house! Our family was complete! By the way, Kenny still has that ornament!
So many wonderful memories of Christmases as the kids were growing and getting older. Memories of doing Christmas Eve dinner at my Mom’s or at our house with Susie’s folks, of having a leisurely dinner till the last minute, when suddenly the clock had run out, and we had to dash out of the house because we couldn’t be late to the kid’s Christmas Pageant at Church, and then the Service of the Carols. Then memories of coming home, of the kids getting into their jammies, and then the whole family continuing my Mom and Dad’s tradition of Italian Cold Cut Sandwiches and cheap champagne, and of watching Christmas Story and Christmas Vacation. As the kids got older, we even made it to the end of Christmas Vacation! Then they’d go to bed, and the real work started! Putting together presents that needed to be assembled, pulling Toys R Us tags off items that were going into their stockings (Santa didn’t shop at Toys R Us!), getting to bed way too late, and then getting up way too early! Of making the kids wait at the top of the stairs till Dad went down and made sure the house was all set up for Christmas morning. Then there was wrapping paper everywhere, and suddenly it was time to all get dressed so we could head to Susie’s folks or her sister Barbara’s house for Christmas, or getting the house cleaned up because the whole family was coming to our house! They were crazy, exhausting Christmases, where we operated with all together too little sleep and too much to do, but I wouldn’t change a thing about them! They are all the wonderful memories that live in your heart when you get older!
Let me leave you with one more memory that means a lot to us and our kids. The first year we were married, Susie found these leaded glass toasting flutes at Sterns Department Store. They have been a part of every one of our Christmases over the last 42 years. This year, through the magic of Ebay, I was able to find enough of them for sale that we just were able to send a set to every one of our kids and their spouses, plus have enough so that when we are all together, we will have them too! It’s our hope that this year Bill and Lori, Krissi and Mike, and Kenny and Chris will all toast Christmas the same way their Mom and Dad have for all their married life, and that they will have as great a life and memories of Christmases as we do!
So yes, perhaps another day older and deeper in debt, but I wouldn’t trade any of it for all the money in the world! May you and yours have a joyous Christmas, spent with family and friends that are like family, and make new memories that will warm your heart on Christmas for years to come! Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!
On the occasion of last month’s celebration of Veterans’ Day, I posted on Facebook a couple of pictures of my Dad in World War II, performing in Irving Berlin’s all soldier show, This is the Army. I’m going to use this blog today to expand a bit on that post, and to also tell you a story that was a staple of my childhood, that today has a different ending than it did when I was a kid. Let’s start at the beginning…
My Dad, Frank Vincent D’Elia (so no…I’m not legitimately a third as I don’t have a middle name), was born on October 5th, 1910, on the lower east side of Manhattan. He was one of 13 kids in a typical big Italian family, and like many kids of his generation, never went to High School because he had to go out into the world and earn money to help support his family. My father was different from many folks in those days though, in that his chosen profession was to be an opera singer. (One of the questions I wished I’d asked my Dad when he was still with us was, “Why an Opera Singer?”) Jobs were hard enough to find, but finding a job as an opera singer was even harder.
From stories I heard growing up, like many performers, my Dad had many jobs that did not involve singing. From selling pretzels in the park to being a messenger for a Wall Street firm, to acting as “secretary” to his voice teacher, Madame Novelli, he did what he had to do! Long story short, that’s why he was very happy when he got to audition for, and then was offered a job in the chorus of the Metropolitan Opera. Meanwhile, in the rest of the world, the Germans and the Japanese were edging the world towards war and this would impact my father’s life in a very large way.
Sometime in that first year of being a member of the Met chorus, he got his draft notice! After years of struggling and scraping by while supporting his family, he was finally at the point where he had a regular job, and now the US Army was going to change all that. He went to his draft board, looking to get an extension so that he could at least complete the season before reporting for duty. Ultimately, they did give him that extension, so he finished out his first season at the Met, and then went off to the army. (If you read the blog post, My Dad and His Family then you know the whole Draft Board story, if not, here’s a link https://rnewadventures.com/2020/10/06/my-dad-and-his-family/)
After kicking around at Fort Dix for a couple of weeks, my Dad was sure that he’d be sent off to some area where his background and experience would have no use to him. That’s why he was very surprised to be assigned to Camp Upton, in Yaphank on Long Island, to audition for Irving Berlin and his all soldier show, “This is the Army.” He passed the audition and joined the cast that included Broadway actors, movie stars, musicians from famous orchestras, and one singer from the Metropolitan Opera! For most of my childhood we’d be watching a movie or TV show, and my Dad would point out one of his “army buddies” that he’d traveled the world with in the show.
After rehearsals, the show opened at New York’s Broadway Theater (the same theater that gave us Mikey Mouse’s debut in Steamboat Willie) on July 4th of 1942, and was expected to run for 4 weeks. It was such a success that the run was extended several times, and eventually it ran to the end of September of that year. Since the show was loved by so many, including Eleanor Roosevelt, who saw it 3 times and wanted her husband the President to see it too, next up for the company was a National Tour, with all ticket sales going to Army Relief. Washington was their first stop with a special Presidential Matinee scheduled at Washington’s National Theater. The day after that performance, the entire company of This is the Army was invited to the White House to meet President Roosevelt, where festivities lasted late into the night! Another story I’d heard when I was a kid! When the National Tour ended in February 1943,This is the Army had earned $2,000,000 for the Army Relief Fund.
The next stop for the TITA company was Hollywood. Warner Brothers had offered $250,000 for the film rights of the show, and like the profits from the National Tour, this was donated to the Army, and the entire company spent 6 months in Hollywood making the Warner Brothers movie, “This is the Army.” Although, for the purpose of the movie, a sub plot was added that enabled Warner Brothers to include movie stars like Ronald Reagan (the only one of the “stars” who was in the service as an Army Lieutenant), George Murphy, Alan Hale, Sr., and several others. The musical numbers from the show were still intact and the performers in those numbers were still the soldiers. A camp for the 359 members of the company was set up near the Warner Brothers lot (with heated tents built by the Warner Brothers Prop Department), and each day, the company would march from their camp to the movie studio. As well as shooting the movie, the singers, dancers, and musicians all participated in regular army drills, as befitting soldiers in the US Army.
The real reason for the making of the movie was to raise funds for Army Relief, and towards that end, it was an unqualified success. It earned $9,555,586.44, which Warner Brother’s donated to the Army Relief Fund.
After their American performances, the company was reduced to a cast of 150 men, including my Dad. Their next assignment was to be shipped off to England, and play around the country for 3 months, but prior to that, they returned to Camp Upton on Long Island to re-stage the show taking into account the reduced cast. On October 21st, the company sailed for Liverpool aboard the Monarch of Bermuda. After 10 days of very crowded conditions, sailing in the dangerous North Atlantic, their convoy reached its destination. This is the Army played in London for Royalty and for American and Allied troops, and then embarked on a tour around Great Britain. On February 6, 1944, they returned to London and performed for General Eisenhower. At this point the cast thought they had reached the end of the road, and the show would be disbanded, and they’d all be sent off to regular Army units. However, after seeing the show, General Eisenhower thought that it would be a great moral tool for his troops, and requested from Washington that the show play to Troops at the front.
General Eisenhower’s request was granted, and a week later the This is the Army Company sailed for Algiers. This was to be the the first stop on their tour that would take the company around the world, and not end till October of 1945 in Hawaii, almost 2 months after the September Japanese surrender! Rather than performing for Army Relief Drives or heads of states, now they would chase the front, and perform for the soldiers actually fighting the war! Some of the places they performed were regal, and some just a thrown together stage in the jungle, and their audiences were now groups of soldiers who had just come out of combat and who would be heading right back into it after the show.
TITA Posters, The Original Cast Album, and pictures of Irving Berlin
After 2 weeks performing in North Africa, they sailed for Naples, Italy. In Naples they were billeted in the partially destroyed palace of Victor Emmanuel, and that’s where the story of The Box starts. This was not my father’s first visit to Naples. Back in the 30s, he had sailed from New York to Naples with his voice teacher Madame Novelli. Madame Novelli was originally from Naples, and they stayed with her family for several months while visiting . Among the members of the family was a young man about my Dad’s age, and the two of them became fast friends. Turn the clock ahead to 1944 and the American liberation of Naples. As soon as the “This is the Army” company got to Naples, my Dad looked for his old friends and found them living at the same address he’d visited as a young man. The war years had not been kind to his Italian friends, and my father did all he could to get them food and other supplies that they’d been without for years. One of the benefits of this was that my Dad got to eat with the family, and had home cooked Italian meals for the first time in several years. From my Dad’s stories, simple ingredients like SPAM in the right Italian hands could be turned into gourmet food, so this Italian kid from New York truly enjoyed his meals with his Italian friends!
The royal palace in Naples had been German headquarters in the city, and as such was a favorite target of the allied bombings. My Father would tell stories of sleeping in incredibly opulent surroundings with bomb blasted holes in the roof. The doors at the palace were about 10 feet tall and decorated with intricately carved and painted 4 inch by 10 inch panels. In a typical GI move, my Father pried one of these panels off the door as a souvenir. He told his friend about this and even took it with him to dinner one night to show the family. His friend said that he knew a wood carver and how would my father like it if he could get him to carve a box to match the panel, and use the panel as the lid? My Father liked that idea, and a plan was hatched. About a week later at dinner, his friend showed him the box. The wood carver had done an excellent job of matching the lid, and the carving was exquisite. All that was left was to paint the box to match the lid, and my father’s souvenir would be completed. He left them that night and promised to be back for dinner in 2 nights, and in turn, he was promised that the box would be ready for him to take. As they say, best laid plans.
On the afternoon of the second day, the “This is the Army” company was ordered to load their trucks and be ready to leave Naples within 45 minutes. The Allied forces were continuing up the Italian boot and their show was needed closer to the front lines to entertain the troops. There was no time to get to his friend’s house and no way to tell them what was happening, so that was the last of his stay in Naples, and of the carved box.
That happened in 1944 and was but a brief episode in all the escapades of the This is the Army troop, as they continued through Europe and eventually island hopped in the Pacific theater too.
So now turn the clock forward to the summer of 1971. I’ve just graduated from college and we’ve planned a 4 week trip through Europe. It starts at the Ford plant in Cologne, Germany where we picked up a new Ford Capri. We traveled through Germany, Switzerland and down one side of the Italian boot and up the other side. I very distinctly remember the day we got to Naples. After getting situated in the hotel room, my Dad went down to the lobby and found a phone book. He looked up the last name of his friend’s family and found a listing at the exact same address they’d lived at when he first met them in the 1930s. My Father placed a call and when a young lady answered, he explained who he was and asked for his friend by name. She said that he was looking for her Grandfather and that she’d get him. In a few minutes his friend, who he hadn’t seen or talked to in over 25 years, came to the phone. He couldn’t believe that this voice from his past was on the phone and was in Naples. One of the first thing he said to my Dad that day was, “Frank…I’ve got your box!”
That happened 50 years ago this past July, and was the culmination of a story I’d heard my Father tell all my life. Now his story of “The Box,” the souvenir that got away, had a new, and almost impossible to believe ending! My Dad died in 1983, but I must admit that I have continued to tell the story, and I guess keep him and his “This is the Army” stories alive. My Father was a great story teller, and after growing up on so many of these stories, and then finally seeing the movie, I’ve always felt very connected to this time in my Father’s life.
Oh…and the box? Well, for many years it resided on my Mother’s coffee table in her living room in Bayside, as it had since we returned from Europe in 1971, and it completed its trip started in 1944! When my Mom died in 2011, the box moved to our dining room hutch in our Mineola home. When Susie and I moved to Ocean City permanently, and cleaned out the Mineola house, our youngest son (Kenny…the performer and spiritual heir to my Mom and Dad’s profession) asked if he could have the box. It’s traveled around the country with him and his husband Chris, and now lives in their St. Petersburg, Florida living room. I hope it will always have a place of honor in our family, as a reminder of one of our family’s member of the Greatest Generation.
This is the Army was my Dad’s life for over three and a half years, and was how he fought the Second World War. My Dad made friends and had experiences that he talked about for the rest of his life. As well as entertaining thousands during the war, and making millions of dollars for Army Relief, This is the Army was America’s first integrated company in uniform! Up until I finally saw the movie at the Museum of Modern Art in the 70s, all I had were those stories of my Dad’s of this period of his life. Believe me, I heard lots of “This is the Army” stories growing up, but none of them was any more prominent that the story of “The Box!” His stories of This is the Army continued to be told for the rest of his life, especially every 5 years when the alumni of the company would get together for a reunion. Reunions my Dad relished going to until his death. Sadly, most of the folks that my Dad spent these years with are gone, and the reunions just a memory for those of us who heard our Dads talk about This is the Army.
Thanks Dad for your service!
One of the great sources that I had for filling in some of the TITA details was Alan Anderson’s book, “The Songwriter Goes to War.”
Here’s an excerpt from that book detailing a story my father often told about TITA in Italy – Click on the book cover below to open the passage…
The 1969 movie of the above name, detailed the adventures of a group of Americans on an 18 day whirlwind bus tour of Europe. The hectic tour traveled so fast, and to so many places, that it was only by remembering the day of the week, that they knew what country they were in. Susie and I have just had our own whirlwind tour, and although it wasn’t to Europe, we did travel extensively. We call it…
Our 2022 Thanksgiving Weekend
About 9 AM on Thanksgiving morning, we loaded bags, food stuff, clothes and ourselves in the CRV and off we headed over the 9th Street bridge and out of Ocean City. Our destination? Sara and Gabe Smith’s home in Ellicott City, Maryland. Sara and Gabe are our son-in-law Mike’s sister and brother-in-law, and for a number of years now, they have been kind enough to include us in their Thanksgiving plans. Of course, last year there was no traveling to Maryland, and no big family celebration, so we were looking forward to a return to tradition!
In addition to us, the participants were our daughter Krissi and husband Mike, Mike’s Mom and Dad, Jerry and Paula, Sara and Gabe’s teenage kids, Maddy and Ethan, Gabe’s Mom Linda and her husband Bill, Gabe’s sister Danielle and her husband Erik along with their kids Genivieve and Scarlet, and wrapping up the group, Gabe’s sister Darcy and her guy Ken. It was a full house, and a wonderful time for all. Susie had made her traditional Turnips, Mashed Potatoes, and Cheddar Cheese mash-up, but the real star of the meal has, and continues to be, the meat that Gabe smokes. This year, thanks to a new pellet smoker, the traditional turkey was joined by the most delectable brisket!
It was really a wonderful day, being a part of this big family celebration, and of course eating way to much, but hey Thanksgiving calories don’t count, right? So there you have stop #1 on our Thanksgiving weekend!
That night, we were off down the road about 15 or 20 minutes with Krissi and Mike to Columbia, Maryland, and Jerry and Paula’s home. They’d graciously offered us lodging for the evening and we gladly took them up on it. Everybody got in their PJs, and we hung around until the food coma became too overwhelming, and we headed off to bed! The next morning we were up and by 10 AM had the car packed and Susie and I, along with Krissi and Mike Mikowitz were off to our next destination….543 Main Street in New Rochelle, New York!
Over to Interstate 95, up through Maryland and then Delaware to the Delaware Memorial Bridge, to the state of New Jersey (hi home…see you soon), up the Jersey Turnpike, across the George Washington Bridge (the toll plazas still stink at the GWB), across the Hudson River, and up the New England Turnpike to New Rochelle! Night two (It’s Friday in case you’re keeping score) we were spending in Krissi and Mike’s new condo in New Rochelle. This was just our second visit to the place and we loved the further things they’ve done since we last saw it in May. We also loved getting to see our Grand Cat, Marz!
Later that day, we helped Mike out by testing a couple of new vodkas that his company is representing (Mike works for the liquor distributor, MS Walker). I mean come on…you’ve got to help your kids, right? Then it was out of their building, just down the street to a wonderful Mexican Restaurant and some great Margaritas and food!
After a good night’s sleep, our now seemingly domesticated daughter served us a delicious vegetable frittata accompanied by an arugula salad as a very nice Saturday brunch. A very nice way to end our stay with two of our favorite people, because it was now day 3 of this weekend, and time for us to move on to our next stop!
Back to The New England Thruway, but south this time, across the Throgs Neck Bridge, back to a place we know very well…Long Island! First stop, Joe’s Sicilian Bakery in Bayside, just down the street from my former family home. We needed some friselles for our Christmas Eve Spicy Shrimp and Linguini, and Joe’s has the best! Once the friselle’s were in hand (and a Sfogliatella for me and a little cheesecake for Susie) we traveled back to our neighborhood of 31 years, and the Hilton Homewood Suites that is literally down the road from our old Mineola Home.
For 26 or 27 years, Susie and I were involved in Boy Scouting in Mineola, first Cub Pack 246, and then Boy Scout Troop 45. Well, tonight (it’s Saturday by the way) a huge 100th Anniversary Gala celebration for Troop 45 was planned, and we wouldn’t have missed it for the world! Chartered in 1921, Troop 45 was probably even older than that, but 1921 was the only date that could be proved, and over 300 people were scheduled to be at Mineola’s Jericho Terrace to celebrate this event. We relaxed for a couple of hours and then showered and got into our “adult clothes” and headed over to our dear friends Pat and Steve Grosskopf’s house to pre-game. Steve has been the Troop 45 Scoutmaster for more than 24 years, and I am proud to say that I am the one who convinced him back in the late 90s to take the position! Steve was, of course, directing last minute activity at the catering hall, but we had a nice visit with Pat, their son Dan and his wife Michelle, and Steve’s brother Freddy and his wife Linda.
It was a wonderful night, seeing so many old friends, young men who we knew as kids, and even middle age men we knew as kids! Folks who were involved when we first started and folks who are still involved. There was great fun, slide shows with old pictures, and just a feeling of pride that we were involved with a group that has ben around for 100 years and that has probably helped well over 1000 boys transition to young men!
It was a great but late night, and we were thrilled when after 2AM we slid under the covers of the king-sized bed at the hotel!
Sunday was a relaxing morning at the hotel. We slept in, were bad and had McDonald’s for breakfast, and vegged till early afternoon. Then we showered, got once again dressed as adults, and headed out to Susie’s sister Barbara’s house in Huntington. What with covid, surgeries, and the like, we hadn’t seen the Vincents (Barbara, her husband Rob, and their son and our Godson Ryan) since their Mom’s funeral in February of 2020! A visit was long overdue, and we were happy that we were able to make it happen! After a nice visit with them and getting to see some of the new projects they’d recently done in their house, the five of us journeyed back in time, to a place that Susie and I have loved for years, and that we have exposed so many family and friends to over the years.
32 years ago, the night we bought our 1989 Ford Taurus station wagon, Susie and I stopped in at a place we’d passed many times. It was on Jericho Turnpike in Mineola, and it’s a place we’ve loved since that first visit…Piccolos Italian Restaurant! The Francescini Family is more like friends to us, as we saw the two boys who run it now (Robbie and James) grow up from little kids. Their Dad Bert is still involved and we still miss their late Mom Debbie who was a real spitfire! From my Mom’s 80th birthday party, to Susie’s Mom’s 90th, to after funeral meals for Susie’s Dad and my Mom, Graduation celebrations, and everything in-between, it was our go-to place!
The 5 of us had a wonderful meal, got to see Robbie and James, reminisce about the old days, the great meals, and the great times. It was fun to go back in time and who says you can’t go home again??
As I write this, it’s late Monday afternoon and I’m sitting at the island in our kitchen in Ocean City. I’m going to be honest with you, as this weekend was approaching, the two of us were a little bummed that we had so much to do and so many different places to be this weekend. Between the time we crossed the 9th Street Bridge on Thursday morning till we crossed it again this afternoon about 2 PM, we covered 663 miles. But now, with the weekend in the rear view mirror, we are so glad we didn’t make an excuse or beg out of one of the events we were involved in. From our Thanksgiving in Maryland, to our evening with our Daughter and son-in-law, to the pride we felt on Saturday to be back with our Boy Scout friends, to the love of spending some time yesterday with Susie’s sister and family, remembering experiences over the almost 45 years that I’ve been a part of their lives, to capping the weekend with a great dinner with family and our Piccolos restaurant friends, we agreed we wouldn’t change one thing! We did agree however that life is too short, and we won’t wait as long to enjoy what we did this weekend all over again!
Hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend, filled with family, friends, love and reminders of all the things you have to be thankful for. I know we did!
Have you ever been in an Automat? Do you even know what an Automat is? Well, let’s turn to Wikipedia and see what they say…..
“The first automat in the U.S. was opened June 12, 1902, at 818 Chestnut St. in Philadelphia by Horn & Hardart. Horn & Hardart became the most prominent American automat chain. Inspired by Max Sielaff’s AUTOMAT Restaurants in Berlin, they became among the first 47 restaurants, and the first non-Europeans, to receive patented vending machines from Sielaff’s Berlin factory. The automat was brought to New York City in 1912, and gradually became part of popular culture in northern industrial cities.”
The listing further goes on to state that in New York City there were eventually 40 Horn and Hardart Automats, with the last one closing in 1991. Automats were prominent in New York City when I was a kid in the 50s and 60s. In fact, when the Metropolitan Opera was located at 40th Street, there was a basement level Automat on 7th Avenue, between 40th and 41st Street, and we went there a lot. It was a place to get a quick cup of coffee, or for a little kid to get a bologna sandwich!
If you’ve never been a little kid, with a handful of nickels, looking over what you could get in an Automat, then you probably weren’t a kid in NYC at the same time I was. It truly was the quintessential New York experience from back in the day. So much so, that in the 1962 movie ,That Touch of Mink starring Cary Grant and Doris Day, Doris Day’s best friend (played by Audrey Meadows of The Honeymooners fame) worked behind the scenes in a local Automat that was prominently featured in the film. Here’s a clip from that movie that gives you an idea of what an Automat looked like.
The two things in the Wikipedia quote above that surprised me were, (1) that the first Automat opened in Philadelphia and (2) that it was basically a copy of Berlin Automats using the machines that dispensed the food as produced in Germany. Who knew. As I said, the Automat seemed like the quintessential New York Experience! My personal relationship to this blog, and why the Automat will always hold a special place in my memory, centers around a story that my cousin Jeanne Pratt and I have laughed at many times over the 60 plus years since it happened to us.
My Mom’s parents were visiting New York from Chicago. This time, they also had my Chicago cousin Jeanne with them (the daughter of my Mom’s younger brother). One day, my Grandparents, Jeanne, and I were in Manhattan. We could have well been at Radio City Music Hall seeing the movie and show – something my Grandma liked to do. At some point in the day, we stopped in at an Automat. My Grandma always seemed to be picking up strays, and this day in this particular Automat, she picked up, what we used to call back in the day, a bum. He was dirty and smelly, and my Grandmother fell for his story that he’d been a famous brain surgeon, but when his wife died, his life fell apart, leaving him to beg on the streets. I think my Grandma was the only one to buy his rap.
She invited him to sit at our table, to the dismay of myself and Jeanne (she was probably 10 at the time and I was 8), who were not buying his tale of woe! Immediately, she dispatched my Grandfather, “ Go get him a cup of coffee Bill,” and off he went to one of the famous Automat coffee dispensers. Jeanne and I looked at each other, as the story unfolded as he drank coffee and regaled my Grandmother. I have no recollection of how we finally got to get away from him, but I’m pretty sure my Grandfather left with a few less bills in his pocket, at the insistence of my Grandmother!
While we don’t see Jeanne and her husband Walt that often as they live in Connecticut and Florida, and we’re in Jersey, the once or twice a year we’re together, invariably one of us will bring up the “Automat Incident.” Some 60 years later, we still both laugh, and shake our heads, and just acknowledge that, “That was Grandma!”