Re-Stocking and Moving On August 24, 2012
The property on which our family’s summer home sits in North Carolina was purchased over 40 years ago by my husband’s 101 year-old father and his second wife. Yes, he’s alive and living comfortably with Winn, his third wife! This amazing man is the son of a poor Italian immigrant who arrived at Ellis Island in the first decade of the 20th century. His bride-to-be, who was hand-picked for him by his brother back in Italy, arrived the next year.
Grandpa and Grandma Raffa’s four sons became well-respected citizens who led long and happy lives. After my father-in-law’s first wife Julia—my husband’s mother for whom our daughter was named—needlessly bled to death after birthing their second child, Tony eventually remarried and moved to Florida to establish a medical practice with his younger brother Nick. As far as my husband and I, our children, five grandchildren, and various in-laws who now also live in Florida are concerned, the tragedy of Julia’s death was transformed into countless miracles of new life and creative opportunity.
Tony and his second wife, Helen, found their way to the North Carolina property through friends and fell in love with it. Each summer for many years they pulled a silver Air Stream up from Florida and lived with their children in a nearby RV camp. From there they’d drive up the mountain, ford the bold creek, and explore this wild land.
In those days there was one small cleared site. It contained an old stone root cellar built into the mountain, a dilapidated barn, a source of fresh spring water, and an electrical hook-up for the the trailer the former residents had lived in. The clearing was surrounded by giant hemlocks, white pine, native rhododendrons, an outhouse, and wild blueberry bushes on either side of an old animal trail which wound through the woods. Helen’s discovery of an arrowhead suggested it had once been used by the Cherokee.
Beside the clearing was a huge hole 10 or 15 feet deep and dozens of yards across. The former residents had hopes of turning it into a trout pond for tourists, but despite the rains and fresh spring water that emptied into it, it never held more than a few stagnant puddles. Years later we plugged the leaks and stocked the new pond with trout. Helen was too ill to travel by then, so she never saw it. Despite Tony’s worries that it would become an “attractive nuisance” that would end in tragedy for unwary neighbor children, the pond has been a great source of pleasure, especially to our grandchildren who love to watch the trout fling themselves at food which, to them, must seem miraculously to fall like manna from heaven every summer.
We consider the trout pets and never catch or eat them, but there are those who think differently. When we return each summer there are always several missing. Last week we came across the headless body of a huge 3-year old lying in the nearby pasture. Neighbors speculate it may have been the victim of a great blue heron, or perhaps the magnificent bald eagle who’s taken up residence nearby. This is always upsetting, especially for the grandchildren, but in the end we re-stock and move on.
Carl Jung said of the violent changes that regularly occur both in the psyche and in the world, “The grand plan on which the unconscious life of the psyche is constructed is so inaccessible to our understanding that we can never know what evil may not be necessary in order to produce good by enantiodromia, [swings in opposite directions] and what good may very possibly lead to evil.”
I find it almost impossible to judge a thing either blessing or tragedy any more. I wonder if I’ll still feel that way after the next election!
That’s Amore: A Father’s Day Tribute June 14, 2011
In 1904 a young man named Antonio Raffa stepped off the boat onto Ellis Island with a small bag of belongings, $9.00 in his pocket, and hope for a better life. His first act was to kneel and kiss the ground. As he told us years later, there was nothing for him in his small hill town near Messina, Sicily where his only choices were to be poor or join the Mafia. Neither option sounded good to him. With help from his older brother Phillip who was living in New York, Antonio established a barber shop in Brooklyn and settled in.
The next year Phillip returned to Italy and chose the lovely Giovannina Iannelli to be Antonio’s wife. Escorted by her parents, “Jenny” came to America and met Antonio over dinner on Friday night. They were married the next day. After a while she contracted a lung infection and their growing family left Brooklyn for the mountain air in the Catskills town of Liberty, NY. This is where Anthony Raffa, Jr.,or “Tony,” the third of four sons, spent his youth. (He’s the third son from the left in the picture.)
Growing up as children of Italian immigrants wasn’t always easy in those days and Antonio wanted his sons to have every advantage. His first rule was to speak English. The second was to work hard and do well in school. The third was never to leave their house without being well-dressed and immaculately groomed. Tony Jr. was an especially intelligent, well-meaning, and attractive young man, (he could have been Ronald Coleman’s double with his wavy black hair and thin moustache), who thrived in the land of opportunity and made his parents proud.
After working his way through the College of Osteopathy in Kirksville, Missouri where he joined the Acacia club, played the violin in a small combo, and paid his bills by ironing his friends’ shirts for four cents apiece, Tony returned to Liberty and started a medical practice on the downstairs floor of a Victorian house on Main Street. When he married Julia Vera Segar, a nurse of Scotch-Irish descent, they set up housekeeping above the office. My husband is their firstborn son, Fred. His favorite memory from those days is of coming home from school and meeting Rocky Marciano whom his dad was secretly treating in preparation for his upcoming match with Roland La Starza! Wouldn’t the paparazzi have had a field day if they had known?
Sadly, Vera died after the birth of their second son. Five years later Tony married Helen Scobell, a home-economics extension agent, and they moved to Tampa where he was blessed with three more healthy children, a thriving medical practice, a sophisticated home filled with art, music and laughter, and a country club membership. Active in the Masonic Lodge, he was awarded the 33rd Degree and became a Noble in the Mystic Order of the Shrine. Tony retired from his medical practice at age 74 and lost his second love, Helen, to cancer at 82. At 85 he married Winn Wiley who still fills his life with love.
Unlike his feisty, cigar-smoking bantam rooster father, my fun-loving and even-tempered father-in-law is the most humble, gentle and tolerant man I’ve ever known. I’ve never heard him criticize anyone or speak an unkind word, never seen him angry. As one whose favorite saying is, “Family is the most important thing,” he brought his parents to Tampa and looked after them until they died. Last weekend I was reminded of the wisdom of these words when his family and friends gathered to celebrate his 100th birthday! I can’t imagine my life without him, his son Fred, or our children and grandchildren.
Family. As Dean Martin, a fellow Italian-American, once sang, “That’s amore!” Happy Father’s Day to Tony and fathers everywhere. May your lives overflow with amore!