by Nicholas J. Vocca
Having read a recent article where a survey pointed out that black women are the best dressed ladies when attending church services, I found myself agreeing totally that they are as I remember how Taneshia would spend considerable time getting ready prior to our attending mass at Saint Mary of the Assumption when we lived together in Mentor in 1993.
Exquisitely elegant, and fashionably flawless, are the only words to define how she looked. Everything from her hat, to herearrings, long skirt, accessories and shoes, all matched perfectly; and no man could be prouder of her than me.
Recounting those days caused me to scale back to the days of my youth in a decade far, far, away, the early 1960's, and what life was once like, as compared to what it is today.
Regardless of what faith or denomination, families then took pride in how they looked when entering their chosen place of worship. Dads with their best suit, high-buffed shoes, and fedora hats. Moms attired in a nice dress, high heels, and also head coverings. The boys and girls, even infants and toddlers, also donning their best.
Though I am light years away from being being the strict Catholic I would like to be, and realize that the Lord gages your heart when coming forward to exalt and honor Him, I do confess that I often fall into a rut of scrutiny of those whom enter His home wearing tank tops, polo shirts, and other casual attire when I saw them decked to the nines at the bar or club the night before.
Sometimes I take a drive down the street I grew up on, Allen Avenue, just south off of West 13th, and while the homes still look the same with their crisp, clean upkeep and well-groomed lawns, the atmosphere of the old neighborhood that Tommy Clint and I so religiously terrorized seems as isolated and remote as a rural South Dakota highway.
Back in the day, neighbors were not those people who lived next door, or across the street, they were your friends, and extended family with whom you shared laughter, tears, dreams, and even meals with.
Because Tommy's dad was a well-respected lieutenant on the local police force, no one suspected that this home at the far southern end of the block was our primary place to plot mischievous deeds or pranks. I was their daily, if not hourly.
If you wanted to learn something about H.A.M. radios, cameras, the latest high-tech equipment or any specialized information about building and repair work, you went to the far northern end and saw George Hubbard, a man whose I.Q. was so high that only his dog Bullet could hear. I checked in a few times.
If you needed some good, sound advice, or had to pour your heart out about how some girl at school rejected you, you consulted his lovely wife, Elanor. I camped out there a lot.
In between, I have to say that the home of Dominic and Filomena Iarocci was the social center; one where you could shop for whatever entertainment or recreational activity you were looking for.
Need a good laugh, or pick-me-up from a hectic day? Dominic, the patriarch of this most impressive and talented family, never failed to deliver with his easy going and often self-effacing wit. Dom, my gut still hurts!
Need a good cup of coffee, some delicious treat, or have a tall tale to tell? Fil, the matriarch, would open her door and heart in a heartbeat. Yes, I told some whoppers, and gained about 20-pounds there.
As for their children, the mothers of the neighborhood loved them. Why not? Moms could kick back and watch 'As the World Turns' or 'The Guiding Light' in peace, and maybe even take a nap! Some even slid away to shop, knowing full well their tender little brats were in good hands.
Donny, the eldest son, would teach the boys how to set up a tee-pee, throw or catch a ball, and other fundamentals about sports while stressing the importance of good grades in school as a "must" to make the team.
Janice tended to her flock of younger girls reading them books, demonstrating how to twirl a baton, do their hair, sew, make some kind of easy snack, and how to behave like ladies.
Nicky, the youngest, followed the suit of his dad and kept you entertained with jokes, spontaneous acrobatics, and sometimes dare-devil antics envied by all.
Did he just run full speed for about 50 feet and slam head first into the back of his garage? "Yep, but he's laughing about it, so he must be OK!" Wow! He came out of nowhere, tackled the paper boy, rolled, and then kept going! "I saw that! And to think he is only five...hate to meet him on the high school football team!"
For all of the fun and enjoyable times on that street, there were some dark times, and it was during such that all neighbors showed their true colors.
When my aunt Marie, who lived directly across from us, became stuck in the wake of an early morning snow at the base of her drive early one morning when leaving to pick my uncle Tom up from work, Dominic, Tony DiDonato, JerryGotthard, Joe Cefalo, and Emil Crjmel, were out there in seconds to push her out. Hearing them yell all was well when they got her on her way, I stepped outside to see just about every other man and their sons in the neighborhood making trek to help. Then, not long after she cleared the scene, the DiDonato boys, Ray and Louis, along with Donny, and some others, were dispatched to shovel the drive clean.
Judy Clint was God's testament to Allen Avenue that all of his creations are beautiful. Her thick, natural wavy red hair, soulful, mesmerizing blue eyes, elegant, graceful charm, and soothing voice sparked not only the attentions of those boys coming of age, but also my Dago temper when they made comment how they would like to be alone with her. Though some parents despised me, the local dentist, nose and eye doctors liked me because I sent them new business.
The day she fell out of our 14-story tree fort was one I will never forget. Though my knees turned to butter as I saw her back crash to the ground with a loud thud and my mind became swamped on how I would provide for her through the years on a caddy's pay, mothers, and fathers who worked night owl shifts, all reacted on instinct, and came rushing to the scene.
Prayers for her quick and total recovery along with daily checks from the adults certainly overshadowed my lighting a candle, and within the week, Judy emerged as wholesome, pristine, and gentle as ever.
Today, neighbors seem to have abated the caring for other neighbors that was once the mainstay and catalyst of my youth.
Peek out from the curtains and see an ambulance nearby? "Don't go over there, there may be trouble." At best, most answer the door by opening it only as far as the chain hook allows when a neighbor knocks seeking help, and waves them away by saying they are "busy", or can't get involved.
In many neighborhoods, neighbors are not neighbors anymore, but only "those who live next door," and creatures whose individual habits or characteristics that fall below our expectations or do not meet our standards of how they should act most often become fodder for suspicion where speculation about them becomes fact to anyone you do communicate with.
The old T&H restaurant on Center Street! Open 24-hours a day! Nothing to do at ? Let Lynette sleep, she had a rough time on 2nd shift at Burger King. Get washed up and dressed, leave your Chestnut Avenue apartment, and walk on down to T&H. Someone is always there, and willing to talk.
Striking up a conversation with the adult person next you then was as easy as ordering a cup of coffee and drawing a Camel cigarette to smoke, even if you were only 16.
Ask someone today in a public establishment about the latest Best Seller, political controversy, or how they are doing, and if they don't respond by turning their head in the opposite direction, the best you may get is "What's it to you," or "Get the (pluck) out of here!"
You're in line at the check out counter of some store with a cart full of merchandise when you turn and see that the person behind you has only one or two items. As is customary courtesy, you bid them leeway, and allow them to move in front of you. Whether or not they thank you is irrelevant. But for them to brush by you with a air of self-importance and glare as they look you up and down like some piece of dirt and be even more rude to the clerk is totally unacceptable.
Day in, and day out, sometimes for 12-hours, you work with a guy for several years in the mill. You develop a chemistry, a bond, and know each other as well as you do yourself. You cover for him where or when he is weak, and he reciprocates. You don't have to tell him you had a sleepless night, he knows, in the same way you know his ulcer is kicking in. No problem. Today I stoke the furnace, you push the buttons, and is another day, brother.
Connie made raviolis from scratch the night before, and you pack extra for him, along with several slices of your home made bread. Jeanette made cherry cobbler , and he brings you a generous slab . Reaching over his shoulder when he feels your tap upon returning from a restroom break, he takes the salt pills, cup of hot tea with lemon, and digests them in trust that you would never hurt him. He knew that you knew that he was getting ready to "bend out" from the heat. Two days later he is swabbing your face with a cool rag, and sending the floater to get you some Gatorade, because the white salt marks on your coat tell him you are ready to bend.
Hit the check pool this week, let's do some steaks and a keg at my place! "Sounds good to me!" He buys a new boat months later, and it's an all day fishing fest at Pymatuning! The girls may gag as you eat the eyeballs of the fresh Walleye and Bass, but eventually dismiss it as "the boys showing off".
Weekends weren't made just for Michelob or National Guard meetings, they were made for many other needs and wants. Connie wanted an all-ceramic bathroom, he needed a larger greenhouse to grow his vegetables, Jeanette needed the floor of her dance studio refinished, and I wanted to outfit my '55 Pontiac with a better sound system and some new plugs.
One morning he bounces into the diner and tells you over breakfast how he was a taking a vacation day to apply for a better job, and then a week later does the same, only this time saying he has an interview the following .
Handing in his two-week notice when returning to work , the two of you make a pledge to remain steadfast in your bond, and for a brief moment after he leaves, that bond remains, yet that bond becomes watered down as the tides of time ebb.
A few overnight visits to each others homes during the first couple of months, followed by a couple of hourly ones, then some phone calls, and eventually a dead line as to what is happening with each other. After that, you may occasionally cross each other and make small talk at a store or restaurant, but even these fade over time. Eventually when you do by chance see other, the two of you just nod, and seem to stare and look at each other as if from a thousand yards away. The bond is gone; there is nothing between either of you, anymore.
I guess the point I am trying to make here is that humanity has lost its human touch over the years; we are no longer friends to anyone, but more self-abosrbed in our matrialistic and technologically strung world where memories are stored only on the computer, and not in the heart, which is where they count.
Yes, I am sure it is the same all over the nation, and even the world; but does it really have to be that way? No, it does not!
Take a bit of extra time to improve how you look before heading out, only because you deserve to look your best, and make note of how others will then look at you with more favor.
Take time to be the first who approaches your neighbor by doing something nice, or saying something nice to them, because the return result(s) may surprise you greatly.
Take time to rekindle those old friendships, by sending a card or making that special call, while keeping in mind that perhaps that long-lost friend may feel the same loss as you, and perhaps they are too reluctant to do the same in apprehension that you no longer care.
Most of all, take time to count your blessings and smile, because life is too short to address it with ingratitude and a frown.
Do these things, and give yourself a treat...you deserve it.