He Would Have Been 80 Today

The American Plan

He was born in a province of southern Italy that gets so much snow, one of its biggest winter tourist attractions is its ski resorts.

His most profound childhood memories were of a German soldier waving a bayonet in his mother’s face, dead Allied soldiers, severe hunger, and children from his town losing limbs to leftover, live grenades.

When old enough, he tried to emigrate to Australia, because Australian Allied soldiers were very kind to the Italian children they encountered in “the race to Rome” against the Germans. A grudge against his family, however, led someone to report to the Australian authorities that he was a member of the Communist Party, a lie. His visa was denied.

He turned to America, and booked steerage on an ocean liner. At the last minute, fearing more sabotage, he canceled his ticket and took a plane, though he hated to fly.

Although he had wanted to be a lawyer, the war and the Italian government’s dilatory response to rebuilding the worst war-torn parts of the South left him with a fifth-grade education. After work in construction, he taught himself the intricacies of locksmithing. He would be regularly called to repair night depositories, safe-depository boxes, and time locks in banks throughout New York State.

One of his more memorable jobs was servicing the Federal Reserve Bank of New York in Downtown Manhattan. He traveled what seemed like a mile underground to a vault whose door was so thick it was impossible to move manually. He disassembled and repaired the time lock so it would once again open and close on schedule and automatically.

He left the Catholicism of his early years for the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod so he could receive the sacraments with his family.

He performed his responsibilities as a father and husband with unfailing rigor and consistency. Not a day passed that his family did not know where he was. Never did they worry that a single one of his paychecks would go toward anything but bills.

He had two fears in life: being without work and aging in such a way that he would be totally dependent on someone else.

He asked very little of life, being happy to have survived a brutal childhood and content with the necessities and only the occasional indulgence. Life gave very little back. He was poorly paid all his working life and received nothing in the way of benefits.

At the age of 62, he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, though both his parents lived into their mid-80s and his grandparents into their 90s without signs of dementia.

The disease would finally force him to retire when still capable of experiencing profoundly the loss of his much-loved work. As his condition worsened, his only lingering memories were of his childhood—the war, especially having to remain very quiet for fear of the enemy during the days of occupation.

When finally confined to a nursing home, his wife would drive from Whitestone to Far Rockaway almost daily to see and care for him, then back home to Bayside. Anyone who knows Queens knows how wearying this could be day after day. She picked a nursing home in an “inconvenient” location because it was very clean, bright, and provided state-of-the-art care, or so she had been led to believe. A previous facility saw him being robbed of his cross and chain his first day there.

Despite the attention he received, he began to lose weight at an alarming rate, causing his family to suspect that the nursing-home attendants did not have the patience to sit and feed him and that, just as in childhood, he was slowly starving.

The Providence that saw him safely through a war and to the shores of the New World handed him over to his worst fear for the end of his life and stripped him of his dignity and personality.

He died just short of his 69th birthday, from pneumonia, not uncommon in Alzheimer’s patients.

His wife assumed he would die on the 13th of the month. Her mother had died August 13. Her father, May 13. Her younger brother, December 13.

He died January 13, 2001. (She, however, did not die on the 13th. She died on December 31, 2009.)

I can count the number of arguments I had with him on the fingers of one hand.

He loved soccer and hockey, and I tried to love them too.

He enjoyed spy novels, biographies, and the folk tales of Ignazio SIlone.

He played the guitar and loved opera. His car often resounded with arias on cassette, the inevitable birthday and Christmas present.

Every morning he bought the New York Daily News and read it over lunch. It was the working-man’s paper.

I worked with him one summer. We traveled to a bank on Long Island so he could repair the combination lock on the small safe that held the day’s cash, which was lodged inside the main vault. He tipped the safe over to empty it of literally tens of thousands of dollars in neatly wrapped bills. A bank employee was standing at the vault entrance watching, of course (the only cameras, at least in those days, were outside). And then she said, “Let me know when you’re finished, Tony”—and walked away. My father’s reputation for honesty was that indelible. No number of church sermons on virtue could possibly have impressed me as much as that incident.

We had thoroughly memorized the dialogue from Young Frankenstein and would break out into bizarre snippets of it at odd moments, to the puzzlement of onlookers.

I can remember virtually every movie we ever saw together and the theater we saw it in. And there was a time when we were going to the movies together once a week. The first Star Trek, the Astoria Theater; Animal House, same theater; Rocky, Five Towns Theater on Long Island; Raiders of the Lost Ark, the RKO Keith’s in Flushing; Rollerball, the Fresh Meadows, where we also saw Network and Terminator II; Blade Runner, the Sutton on 57th Street; Bicycle Thief and Miracle in Milan, the Thalia Soho, then we walked the few blocks to the San Gennaro festival in Little Italy; Alien (special screening), the Loews Twin on Second Avenue; The Seven Percent Solution (special screening), the New Yorker on the Upper West Side; Apocalypse Now (special screening), the Ziegfeld; The Deer Hunter (special screening), the Baronet/Coronet; The Abyss (special screening), Radio City Music Hall. I could do this all day.

I wish he had lived to see my byline side by side with Sylvester Stallone’s, something he would have gotten the biggest kick out of.

Midway through his illness, when he was still able to live at home, my mother was diagnosed with cancer. I came to stay in the house to care for him in her absence. He asked me repeatedly, “Why would the Lord allow this to happen to her? She’s such a good woman.” “To her.” Never “to me.” Never. He never complained. Even though he must have been terrified. (My mother recovered in such miraculous fashion that her case made the pages of an oncology journal.)

I still have the very first Bible he ever owned. It was given to him by a Lutheran pastor. It’s in Italian.

Not a day passes that I don’t miss him.

His name was Anthony Sacramone Sr. He was my father. And he would have been 80 today.

And I wanted someone to know.

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20 Responses to He Would Have Been 80 Today

  1. Ellyn says:

    That was beautiful. Absolutely beautiful!

    Like

  2. I find that, as I grow older, I have become more emotional. And I think that’s really good. It means I suppressed a lot when I was younger, to the point, I was an angry young man for a good many years.

    I wept quietly as I read this. The love between a father and son is something amazing. I thank you for this glimpse into his life/your life. I can pray that my son might write something of the sort long after I’m gone that way of all men.

    Like

  3. Lars Walker says:

    Blessed be the memory. Thanks for sharing.

    Like

  4. Daniel Buringrud says:

    Thank you Anyhony. My father died when I was 17 and a day hasn’t gone by where I don’t miss him terribly for 30 years. I hope my sons will feel the way about me when I’m gone that we both seem to feel about our dads. Thank you again.

    Like

  5. TT says:

    Beautiful, thank you.

    Like

  6. Jon Parks says:

    Thank you for this post, Anthony. My Mom would’ve turned 68 yesterday. Her name was Clarice Parks. She died of cancer when I was 7.

    Like

  7. Mary says:

    The title of this post says it all—always love. I wept. Take care of you, too, in your grief. The grief after caring for my Mom after 31 years was tough. Make certain you get plenty of hugs.I will keep you and yours in my prayers.

    Like

  8. Todd says:

    A beautiful tribute and a beautiful remembrance. I am blessed by it. Thank you.

    Twelve years after losing my wife, the love of my life, I am reminded that, though our memories fade, the Father’s does not. May he uphold you today.

    Like

  9. batiansila says:

    I am reading this two years after my dad’s funeral. He died of cancer, the healthiest cancer patient you ever saw. He grew up in the projects of New Orleans and to this day we (all 10 of his kids, his 35 grandchildren, and my mother) do not know what or who urged him into the ministry of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. There are, however, after Dad’s 45 years as a parish pastor, hundreds of people who are grateful to the Lord that he answered that call. I am thinking of you as we both miss the stories and the love that comes from our earthly fathers. My dad would have been 80 on Feb 29, special from birth to death.

    Like

  10. pcxian says:

    Similar to Daniel’s comments above, my father died when I was 18, forty years ago. I, too, miss and think of him daily and often wonder what my life would have been like if he had lived longer to see me as an adult with a career, and a wife, children and a grandchild. Then I come to my senses and remember that his very soul is in the glory and presence of the Living God.

    Thank you for letting us get to meet your dad.

    Like

  11. Gene Veith says:

    The same birthday as my mother!

    Like

  12. A beautiful, moving tribute. Thank you for sharing your memory of him.

    Like

  13. Anthony Sacramone says:

    Thanks to everyone who took the time to both read the post and comment. I appreciate your kind words and sentiments.

    Like

  14. kerner says:

    He sounds like quite a guy. And his son’s writing does him justice.

    Like

  15. A moving tribute by a loving son… what father could ask for anything more…

    Like

  16. Richard says:

    This was so good. Thank you, Mr. Sacramone. He fulfilled his God-given vocations as Father and Husband. The best tribute I can think of. And what a tribute to your Mother, as well. Thank you.

    Like

  17. Lora says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this loving tribute to your father and your mother as well, Mr Sacramone. This is very beautiful and brought at once both tears of sadness and joy to my heart. You are a soul of the most profound inner strength and character to have written this from a place in your heart of such bare, raw emotion. I like you. I wish I could have known your parents. I know I would have liked them, too. God bless you!

    Like

  18. chris says:

    Hi Anthony,

    My Father passed when I was 19. he was only 48 years old. Thanks to Tony, I began working in the same field and learned a lot from him. I now have 27 years years in and am considered by some pretty knowledgeable. I was 21 when we started working together and we grew close and he was like a father figure to me.

    incredible write up. Knowing your father as well as I did it means that much more.

    “My father’s reputation for honesty was that indelible. No number of sermons could possibly have impressed me as much as that incident.”

    thats ironic, I have been left alone in a vault with cash exposed also. I guess his work legacy lives on in me…I am proud of that.

    “One of his more memorable jobs was servicing the Federal Reserve Bank of New York in Downtown Manhattan. He traveled what seemed like a mile underground to a vault whose door was so thick it was impossible to move manually.”

    we have the Fed now at Diebold. when I was still working in the city it would be a yearly event to go there and service the gold vault. the guy who I went in with is Maltese and much like your father only he is about 4 years older than me.

    I dont remember having “the Fed” when Tony and I worked at ISD but he, I and Armando did repair the counter weights of a retractable floor in the sub basement of the Empire state building. it is one of my fonder memories.

    I did not know what he had bad experiences in the nursing homes.

    “The disease would finally force him to retire when still capable of experiencing profoundly the loss of his much-loved work.”

    I think I do remember when it started and he was still working. he cut his arm with a grinder at work and thats when things started to get odd. once I had to go help him finish changing a combo and I was like Tony, whatsamaterwith you…you taught me this shit. but mid way through he sort of snapped to and was like what are you doing here…I did not know what to make of it and told Armando. I felt like I was told to mind my own business…I wish I had not

    then when I knew something was wrong was when I had to go meet him someplace. he said he put his tool box down to put a quarter in the meter and someone stole his stuff….not that it doesnt happen but he was so confused that I just had the feeling he put it down and forgot it and by the time he came back it was gone. I hated seeing that stuff happen.

    he was such a good guy, loved you, your mom and Anthony SO much. I try to keep a piece of him with me in work and at home. I am certainly not as “good” as he was but I hope in some way I made him proud of me.

    oh, and

    nice knockers

    why thank you

    once of my favorite movies of all time

    Like

    • Anthony Sacramone says:

      Thanks, Chris. Much appreciated. I remember his having fond words for you as well.

      P.S. The Fed job was for the firm that immediately preceded ISD.

      Like

  19. Mary says:

    What a beautiful, loving tribute. What beautiful memories.

    Like

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