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.