I cut my teeth in the 50s and grew up in the 60s. Back then, my hometown, Corning, N.Y. was a Norman Rockwell painting in motion. It was a time for adding. And baby makes 3, 4 and 5.
But what brought the reason for being into focus, was Microwave Popcorn. That’s right. It took microwave popcorn to give microwave ovens a reason to be. The legs to succeed. An important lesson/point of history that is too often ignored. The reason to be. Far beyond the belief…I do it because I can!
It Was Only Yesterday
Mom and Dad were WWII Vets. They met at Fort Benning, Georgia. Dad was part of the 2nd Armored Division. The spearhead that struck the heart of Hitler’s Germany. Mom was a field nurse. Dad went all the way to Berlin. Mom got as far as France and then spent the next year in a hospital fighting for her life.
Dad lived a couple months shy of 97. He served in Corning’s City Government for almost 30 years. No matter where you lived, if you had a problem, he helped it go away. From a local industry needing support for a new highway and bridge system, to a widow needing her driveway plowed, a teenager needing to secure a summer job to help with college expenses, to parents needing to find a teenager who had gone astray. No problem was too big or too small for Dad. He was there, 24/7.
Mom nurtured our family and her roses for 94 years. From the PTA, to the Little League, to the hospital and meals on wheels, she filled her days with love and hope. Together they ran a general store that taught me more about business and people than all the years I spent in college and working for GE and TI.
I forgot one important thing. They loved me and my brother throughout all the seasons of our lives. We were never put on the sidelines. Being on the field of play with them, meant work and caring for those who couldn’t care for themselves.
Things That Last
Once upon a time the Big Apple was magical. On one of my last visits, my son and I spent a weekend creating memories that still brighten my pathway. We hiked from mid-town to the financial district enjoying the architecture and the little shops along the way. I still remember a stationary shop and a chandelier shop we stopped at. It was not too long ago that I used my last piece of stationary from that day. As I put a stamp on the envelope and sent the letter on it’s way, I remembered.
We walked out to the waterfront and admired the integrity of the Brooklyn Bridge. American genius. Woven steel.
We then wandered over to the World Trade Center. We stood at her base and talked about getting a drink at Windows On The World. But the day was slipping away and the hike back to mid-town was before us. The play we were going to see that evening would not wait on us. I told my son, don’t worry, the World Trade Center will always be here. We will catch it on our next visit. The date: December 2000. Months later, I stood on the shoreline of Long Island Sound, and watched the smoke from the World Trade Center fill the skies.
The play we saw that December Eve was Contact. After a year of being locked down and locked up, it’s something we all need.
At the age of 73, I am back in school learning some of life’s most important lessons. My teachers: six year old Sydnee and three year old Adi. The little ones cut through all the chaff. Reality isn’t lost in a mountain of fog. For them, actions speak more loudly than words. Papa, It’s Friday. Donut Friday. Where’s the donuts? They have learned well from Daniel Tiger. They use their words. They have too. Most of their world is above and beyond their reach. Something us big people should remember. Use our words for clarity.
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America has never been a piece of real estate. America is a way of thinking.
When we are doing it right, what makes us distinctive, is the spirit found in our homes, and in our neighborhoods, and in our churches and in our schools and throughout all our institutions. We are inclusive. We are no respecter of persons.
Our common language and the covenant–the understanding we have with each other– that everyman bares the stamp, the signature of his Creator– are America’s force multipliers. Together they secure our cohesiveness and enable our unmatched social mobility. Whether a rich man or a poor man– dignity is every persons birthright.
America has always been greater than the sum of her parts. America takes the best of all people, all nations, all ethic groups and all religions and transforms this sea of humanity into a unique creature. An American.
I am a swarthy Italian with skin born of the Mediterranean. My complexion is the result of my genes and the sun. But something else took place at my birth. I became heir to both the Tammaro family and my American family.
And with this lineage–comes both an opportunity and a responsibility.
My Journey, Is The American Journey
In the late 1800s, Grandpa and Grandma Tammaro came to America. Grandpa and Grandma made their way to Ohio. Grandpa worked on the railroad. First as a lineman and then in the roundhouse, as a machinist. He learned to speak English and demanded that his children learn to speak English. He insisted that they get an education and use their God given talents to help the family and their fellow man. They all did that.
My Dad and Mom when they returned from the battle fields of WWII, opened a grocery store at 131 Baker Street., Corning, New York.
Dad was known as the Mayor of Baker Street. Dad found joy in the opportunities that dropped into his day. At least once a year, Amory Houghton and his wife Priscilla, would spend an evening with Mom and Dad, enjoying both conversation and a plate of homemade lazona. The conversation was always about our Country, the city and her people. Mom would always toss in a few hints on gardening. Like my Mom and Dad, Amory Houghton and Priscilla, loved our country. Priscilla had a special place in her heart for children. In the end, the decimal point in their futures, did not define their relationship.
When Grandpa and Grandma arrived in America they created, along with their countrymen, a Little Italy. Just like Europe, Little Italy bordered Austria and Switzerland and Germany, which bordered Poland and Ireland. Each new immigrant family brought a piece of their homeland to our shores and the melting pot began to simmer.
After the war, my Mom and Dad, along with the rest America, not only spread across the neighborhoods of their hometowns, they spread across the neighborhoods of all 48 States. The Polish lived next to the Italians, who lived next to the Germans, who lived in houses next to the Irish who lived in houses next to the Swedes.
Color. Black people. Not too many Black people in my hometown. But the Black folks that lived in my hometown, lived right next door to the Irish Catholics and the German Lutherans and Jews.
But not every neighborhood and town across America, was like my hometown. In my hometown, a man was judged by the quality of his character, not by the color of their skin. This belief and understanding was taught to us by my Mom and Dad.
Dad let me know, there are racist people in America but she is not a racist Nation. Mom and Dad believed in the promise America makes to all of her people. For those willing to put themselves onto the field of play.
When we are at our best, we seek justice for every man. And we hurt when we see injustice. And we never quit until we right the wrongs. God doesn’t distinguish by zip codes. We should not either.
When we are at our best, we strive to be the force for peace. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall see God.
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The Greening Of America
Us Italians are all about family and food. The breaking of bread is our excuse for getting together. Moms, Dads, Kids, Grandparents, Aunts and Uncles. The storytelling, the do you remember when moments, take over the meal and we feast on the family ties that braid us together.
My Dad believed the recipe for quality families, quality neighborhoods and quality communities was like the recipe for Mom’s meatballs. A mixture of quality ingredients. When it came to Mom’s meatballs, quality demanded just the right mixture of ground sirloin, veal and the leanest pork sausage, blended with several carefully chosen fresh herbs and spices. Perfection by design, not by accident.
Quality ingredients, Dad would say, will always make for an exceptional experience. This is what he believed about neighborhoods and communities too. Just the right amount of the right ingredients. Too much of anyone thing, will spoil the neighborhood. And any amount of the wrong ingredient, will spoil the neighborhood. Once you get the right ingredients together, then it is all about time, time to let things simmer. Giving everyone and everything the time to get acquainted. To know one another. Another word dad and Mom would use–authenticity. yes, it is all about the company you keep.
From the early days of America’s National Exploration, when we circled our wagons, huddled up and held on to each other and formed the night ring, our identity, our entrepreneurial spirit, our hungering and thirsting to seek a better life perfected us. This spirit created a band of brothers enabling us to beat back every challenge we have faced– from the life-ending winds of Valley Forge to the molten hot fires that brought down the World Trade Centers. We have never given in. We have never given up. But today, there is a riptide pulling at the soul of America. An undertow that doesn’t make America’s tomorrow as certain. Yesterday seems so far away.
There is a lesson worth remembering from yesterday. A time when we raised barns together. Planted gardens together. When Abigail stood in her kitchen with soldiers from the Continental Army, melting down her silver so there would be bullets for the next day. While others stretched out on her floors and tabletops, beds, chairs and couches; catching a moment of rest, preparing for the next day’s battle.
I am reminded of a request, Abigail made of her husband, John. Please bring me back from your trip, some bobby pins. My dresses are tearing and need mending.
A Diamond In The Rough
He was born in 1864, a slave on a farm near Diamond, Missouri. Shortly after his birth his father was killed, and night raiders kidnapped his mother. Stepparents raised him. His name was George Washington Carver. Before he died Carver won international fame in agriculture research. In 1916 he was named a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts of London. In 1923 he received from the NAACP the Spingarn Medal for distinguished service in agricultural chemistry. In 1939 Carver received the Theodore Roosevelt Medal for his contributions to science. He made more than three hundred products from peanuts, including milk substitutes, printer’s ink and soap. Before he died he gave his life savings to the Tuskegee institute to establish the George Washington Carver Foundation for agricultural research. More than all of these accomplishments, George Washington Carver’s world was defined by his love for people…people of all races, all creeds and all nationalities.
His friend and colleague Booker T. Washington, Founder of Tuskegee Institute, best summed up the secret to his life; I will let no man belittle my soul by making me hate him.
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A Father That Did Not Abandon His Children
Shortly after George Washington’s death, Thomas Jefferson penned these words.
Perhaps the strongest feature in his character was prudence, never acting until every circumstance, every consideration, was maturely weighed; refraining when he saw doubt, but, when once decided, going though with his purpose whatever obstacles opposed.
His integrity was most pure, his justice the most inflexible I have ever known. He was indeed, in every sense of the words, a wise, a good and a great man. On the whole, his character was, in its mass, perfect. It may truly be said, that never did nature and fortune combine more perfectly to make a man great.
It is not the old that are wise or the aged that understand what is right; it is the Spirit in a man, the breath of the Almighty that makes him understand (Job 32).
Never Give up. Never give in.