This piece ran several years ago on the editorial page of the Sunday Post. I wanted to share it once again. Perhaps you’ve read it before. If not I hope it brings some fond memories of past Christmases to you as well.
I sat the other evening with my youngest son, Rich watching Christmas movies and having one of our ever-increasing in frequency talks. Richie was a late life surprise as we learned that my wife and I were expecting our fifth son at the age of 43. There is a 10 year difference between him and the next youngest, Tim. Everyone else is grown and out of the house. People told us that having a child at that age would keep us young. It’s true, although at Little League and Peewee football we always looked like the grandparents. Being born to older parents has its rewards. Hopefully, we have gotten it all figured out by now, although we sometimes wonder. But what he missed is the chance to know his grandfathers better.
My wife’s Dad died when he was 8, and Rich’s memories of him are strained by the time that has passed. Kathy’s Dad was a man of little education, leaving school in the 8th grade to work to help his family. John Mucci was a simple man with a gift. He could play the trumpet. With no formal education outside of music he spent most of his later adult life painting nosecones for then Avco-Lycoming in Stratford. From him I learned that for a union man there was one source for all knowledge more sacred than any encyclopedia: the guys in the shop. No matter the topic, once he invoked “the guys in the shop said. . .” all debate ended. I found myself at times trying to make a point about the law, presumptuous of me with four years of college and three years of law school. No matter, once “the guys in the shop” spoke it was akin to the Pope speaking ex cathedra.
He was a diminutive figure with this marvelous mane of white hair. I met my wife when we were 16 years old. I recall the rare times he permitted her to date at that young age, going to their modest home across the street from the cemetery in Stratford, on a Saturday. There he would be gussied up in his tuxedo ready to play another gig. His was the big band sound of the era of Tommy Dorsey. He had studied trumpet in New York City, a rare accomplishment for the son of immigrant parents.
His other claim to fame was his cousin, Lt. Col. Henry Mucci, the founder of the Army Rangers. The “Colonel” as everyone around Bridgeport called him, was memorialized in the Book, The Ghost Soldiers, the basis for the movie, The Great Raid. The Colonel lived with my father-in-law’s family as a youngster before his appointment to West Point. It was a great source of pride in John Mucci’s life that the State named the lower section of Rte 8 in Bridgeport as the Colonel Henry Mucci Highway.
This little Italian leprechaun could blow that horn with the best of any of them. I recall sitting with him as he would listen to a recording and then write out each melody or harmony line for the various instruments like a stenographer taking dictation. Each time we hear a great horn player we think back to this marvelous little man and his amazing gift.
Richie spent two more years with my Dad before he passed on. We sat and reminisced about him the other night as we watched the Jimmy Stewart classic, It’s a Wonderful Life. It was my Dad’s favorite movie. In particular, he loved the English character actor, Henry Travers, who played Clarence Oddbody, the would be guardian angel trying to earn his wings. In his later years my dad actually favored Clarence in his likeness.
In contrast to the life my father-in-law led, my dad pursued a different dream. He labored as a Bridgeport cop for 14 years, 9 of which he spent in night school– first at the University of Bridgeport for 5 years; then a wearying 4 year trek to Hartford to UConn law school, eventually becoming the first cop in Connecticut to become a lawyer. Richie got to go fishing and attend Giant games with his grandpa. In his later years we spent a great deal of time together; simple time on the boat or just sitting in front of the tube on a Sunday afternoon.
Sitting watching Jimmy Stewart’s character, George Bailey, lament to Clarence Oddbody I shared with Rich one of my fondest Christmas memories. I was raised in an era where Christmas wasn’t yet a major marketing extravaganza. It was a simple time in the mid-fifties and we were literally as poor as church mice. We lived in a third floor attic apartment through the kindness of my grandparents, who lived downstairs. Each Christmas eve my dad walked the beat on the East side of Bridgeport. We would go to sleep that night, no Christmas tree in the modest living room. We would awake Christmas morning to what was a true Christmas miracle. There was the tree with modest presents. No Nintendo Wii or Playstation3. It didn’t matter; to us it was still a miracle. Every Christmas eve for nine years it was the same. My dad would finish his shift and a local merchant who sold Christmas trees would give him one of the last stragglers to take home. To us it was the Rockefeller Center tree come to life. Dad, being a true Irishman, of course would stop at the local pub to hoist a few before finally arriving, perhaps with a little too much Christmas cheer in him ready to transform that tiny living room into our Christmas miracle.
Each of these men, in his own way, brought a richness to Richie’s young life. As time passes I am now the grey bearded Papa to a growing brood of grandchildren; six granddaughters and three grandsons, with no end in sight. Hopefully, as the years pass and they become young men and women, there will be some special memory of this Papa they will carry with them. For now we cherish the memories of these two marvelous men.