Sunday, February 19, 2017

Good Ole Daniel, a short story

Good Ole Daniel, by Frank DiBona

Both the doctor and the patient were looking forward to the upcoming appointment. Dr. Vince Riggio had heard about Daniel Coleman almost as soon as he opened his practice in South Carolina a dozen years ago. One of his first dialysis patients, Queen Coleman, Daniel’s niece, spoke so glowingly about him. A few years later Riggio hired a physicians assistant, Darius Singleton who was Daniel’s nephew. Darius told the doctor that his uncle would be his patient “very soon.”  He was currently a patient at the Veteran’s Hospital outpatient clinic and he was showing signs of advancing kidney failure. Darius kept him up to date on Daniel’s progress and told him a few weeks ago that his uncle would be seeing Riggio soon. Darius also told him that there were five other family members with various degrees of kidney disease. “You’re going to be the family nephrologist.” 

Daniel Coleman had likewise been hearing about the “great” Dr. Riggio for years. At Queen’s funeral he noticed the doctor, one of a handful of whites, of the hundreds in attendance, conversing with many of the mourners, some of them patients of the doctor, others family members. He knew that Dr. Riggio had referred Queen to the Medical University of South Carolina for a kidney-pancreas transplant, the first referral for the two-organ transplant for the doctor, and one of the first referrals to that program. Queen’s kidney failure was well controlled by dialysis but her diabetes had always been uncontrolled. A pancreas transplant, Riggio had told her, would cure the diabetes and end the roller coaster swings of her sugar; a kidney transplant would end her three-times a week sessions on the dialysis machine. Queen was accepted onto the transplant list but, unfortunately, died before a suitable donor was found. 

When the doctor entered the examination room, Daniel Coleman and his wife, Claudette, stood to greet him. Daniel was a big man, well over six feet tall and 265 pounds. He wore his weight well so that he did not appear so much obese as just large. He had a slight limp which Riggio judged was an old football injury. Claudette was nearly a big as her husband. Dr. Riggio’s wife, Kim, often remarked how unfair it was that a black woman could be a hundred pounds overweight and still look good, feel attractive, and command the room. If a white woman had five pounds extra on her she felt ugly and wore sweat clothes all day.

Daniel wore a white-on-white dress shirt, open at the collar, with French cuffs and cufflinks bearing the seal of the NAACP. His trousers were black striped, cuffed dress pants, his wing-tipped dress shoes black and recently shined. He had a gold watch and a solid gold ring with the seal of some fraternal organization. Dr. Riggio, in his tan khaki slacks, casual walking shoes, GAP shirt with no tie, and his rumpled white lab coat, felt underdressed.
“Hello, I’m Vince Riggio,” he said, extending his hand to Claudette then to Daniel.
“So, you’re the great Dr. Riggio! Queen and her mom bragged on you forever. I’m not sure if I should shake your hand or bow,” he said with a grin. “I’m Daniel Coleman and this is my wife, Claudette.”
They were on a first name basis from then on, at least when alone. With others around, Daniel generally called Riggio, “Doc” or “Dr. Riggio.” 
“Queen passed three or four years ago, I think,” said the doctor.
“It was six years ago,” Claudette corrected him.
“Wow, time flies. I think of her all the time. She was special to me, to a lot of people.”
“She sure loved you, Dr. Riggio,” Claudette said.
Daniel Coleman had a personality as enormous as his body. He had a self-assurance that didn’t need bravado. He was not someone who had to “find” himself. He never knew what that meant. He was the grandson of a slave. His grandfather, Noah Coleman, born in 1860 on a farm less than ten miles from where the Coleman’s now lived, was a blacksmith, a much needed skill. He turned his blacksmithing know-how into a successful wrought iron fence business, his artistic, elaborate, front gates treasured throughout the area. His son, Aaron, Daniel’s father, expanded the fence business, adding barbed wire, chain link, split rail, and picket fences to the repertoire. Aaron’s calm and relaxed personality, his honesty and his competency, allowed the business to thrive. By the time his fourth son, Daniel, was born in 1926, the Coleman family was as close to prosperous as a black family in the Deep South dare dream.

Daniel’s trajectory was not as soaring. “I spent a bunch of my younger days whoring and drinking, Doc,” he told Riggio after Claudette was excused to the waiting room. “I ain’t proud of it, but lucky for me, World War II came along and I managed to get a hold of myself.”
When he got out of the Army, after two years in France and Italy, he went to Hampton University on the GI Bill. He quit after two years, itching to get to work and not enthralled with the rigorous academics expected at Hampton. “I didn’t want to learn all that Shakespeare and calculus stuff,” he told Riggio. He worked for his father and soon knew the business as well as him. Daniel noticed that people in his poor rural area wanted to build and repair their homes but could not afford to buy new materials. He started tearing down dilapidated houses, salvaging as much of the wood, fixtures and appliances as he could, then sprucing everything up to look almost new. Soon Coleman’s Used Building Materials was born. Later the name was changed to Coleman and Sons Building Materials, eventually employing twenty people and enjoying a fifty-mile wide reputation.
During the initial consultation, Dr. Riggio focused in on his statement about whoring and drinking. “Did you ever drink moonshine?” he asked. “I think I drank one of the Great Lakes dry of moonshine,” Daniel replied. 
“Well. Daniel, you have high blood pressure, gout, and now kidney disease. I think you might have lead poisoning.”
“Lead poisoning? Don’t you get that from paint?”
“Moonshine is full of lead. Did the VA ever test you for lead?”

Riggio once had a conversation an internist, whose Deep South country ways and thick accent belied his keen intelligence. As a third year student at the Medical University of South Carolina, he spent six weeks on rotation at the prestigious Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital in New York City. He told Riggio that all of the other doctors thought that he was stupid and backwards because of his South Carolina upbringing and accent. They had never heard of  Wofford College, one of the South’s finest, and didn’t think much of  MUSC. On rounds with the Big Chief, they came upon a patient with the trio of gout, hypertension, and renal failure. They did not attribute any significance to this and were about to exit the patient’s room when Mark asked the patient if he ever drank moonshine. “By the boatload,” was his response. Mark announced that this man had saturnine gout caused by lead poisoning. The residents and students were dumbfounded. The Big Chief had never heard of this. On rounds the next day the Big Chief told the whole shindig that he was happy anytime he learned something from one of his students. Mark was dead on right about the lead poisoning.
“No one ever looked at me like I was retarded after that,” he told Riggio.

Over the next several months Riggio proved that Daniel had lead poisoning but his kidney disease was too advanced to be reversed. A year after their first meeting Daniel had to start hemodialysis treatments. At the dialysis unit Daniel brought his extra-large personality with him and he was soon the darling of all of the nurses and most of the patients. Anytime Riggio visited the dialysis unit to make rounds, Daniel, as soon as he spotted Riggio, would shout out, “Everybody spruce up. Here comes the Big Boss.” Or, “Here comes numero uno.” Or “Watch out, here come that Mafioso doctor.” One Halloween, Dr. Riggio rounded at the dialysis center dressed as Don Corleone, in a double-breasted pin stripe suit, spats, a penciled-in mustache, and a fedora with a large plume feather. He went to Daniel and told him, with a Marlon Brando gravelly voice, “I have a request you cannot refuse.”

When they spoke alone they would be more serious. The doctor continuously warned Daniel that his blood pressure was too high, but Daniel refused more medication because it took away his “manhood.” 
“Y’all might as well cut my dick off, Vince,” he said. “And you can take my balls too. I won’t need ‘em.”
And Daniel’s cholesterol was too high, his protein level too low, his potassium always too high. Daniel accepted these in stride. “You’re doing the best you can do, Doc. But I ain’t giving up my hammocks and beans. Or cornbread. Or watermelon or peaches. They grow them peaches right here in South Carolina. It would be unpatriotic to not eat peaches!” Riggio pretended to shovel bullshit out of the room. Daniel knew it and stopped.
“Listen,  if I die tomorrow, rest assured I lived a good life and did everything I wanted to do. It isn’t your fault I have such a hard head. It’s genetic,” Daniel said.

Two years after starting dialysis, Daniel had his first heart attack. He underwent emergency open-heart surgery and had a prolonged, but ultimately successful, recovery. Three years later he had second heart attack but the clogged artery could not be opened. This heart attack damaged a significant portion of his heart. Three days after admission Daniel asked the ICU nurse to step out so he could speak to Dr. Riggio alone.
“I have a request you cannot refuse,” he said in his best Godfather imitation.
“I’ll do what I can.”
“When my time comes, I want you to let me go, my friend. I’m not the kind of guy to live on an oxygen bottle, or in a bed. I really do not want to be kept alive on machines.”
“You’ve been on that dialysis machine for a lot of years,” Riggio said.
“You know what I mean. Let me go.”
“Have you talked to Claudette about this? What about your children?”
“They all think you walk on water. Hell, I know better than that. But they will do you tell them.
 “Daniel, you’ll have to tell them yourself. I’ll set up a meeting, tonight, with you, Claudette, as many of your children as can make it, with the nurse, and with the social worker. I’ll explain what you told me, but you’ll have to tell them in your own words, with your own voice. The social worker will get all the papers, nice and legal, and I promise that I will let you go if and when the time comes.”
Daniel’s time came a week later. His ICU room had four generations of family, the youngest a newborn great grandson, Daniel Noah Coleman, III. There was not a dry eye in the room, including Riggio, who sobbed uncontrollably. Claudette and Riggio embraced and kissed each other before they departed the room.

The Reedy Branch AME Church in Ridge Spring, South Carolina, sat on a bluff in a field on the edge of town. It was a wood framed structure with horizontal wood planks, painted white, six stained glass windows on each side, a red metal roof, and a small portico with a matching roof. A plain crucifix topped a tall wooden steeple. Riggio wore black slacks, a black cashmere sports coat, and black tie with a caduceus on the front. Still he felt underdressed. Most of the men had elegant dark suits, many with dark shirts with white collars, most with silk pocket-handkerchiefs. The women donned elegant dresses, ornate hats, and their best jewelry. The crowd, gathered outside the church, could not enter the until the family came out to invite them in. Among the three hundred in attendance, Riggio, his wife, and one other woman were the only whites. Once in the church, they walked single file up the right isle, to the altar, past the family, and past the casket. Riggio thought Daniel looked as dignified in death as he looked at that first meeting years ago. After passing the casket they filed down the center isle and were directed into the pews by the ushers. The organ played quiet hymns until everyone was seated. The congregation rose to its feet as the pastor stepped to the pulpit. He spoke for ten minutes about Daniel, reminding everyone how instrumental Daniel was in the construction of the church, supplying much of the materials at little or no cost, and rolling up his own sleeves to work for hours on the construction. Daniel and Claudette not only raised six God-fearing children of their own but had adopted four other children who they treated as their own. Following these words, the choir sang, Didn’t My Lord Deliver Daniel, an old spiritual, so touching and fitting. Then Patricia Coleman, who also had kidney disease, and who worked at the hospital keeping the rooms and hallways spotless, sang a soulful rendition of Come Ye Disconsolate. Daniel’s eldest son, Aaron, gave the eulogy, interrupted three times by by his own tears. The choir then sang Jesus Promised Me a Home Over There. Finally Patricia Coleman stepped up once again and brought tears to everyone with the slave spiritual, Wonder Where is Good Ole Daniel.

Riggio thought the service was over. But the minister went back to the pulpit with an announcement: “The Coleman family wishes to recognize the presence of Daniel’s beloved Dr. Vince Riggio. Your presence here honors us, doctor, and Mrs. Coleman requests that you come up here and say a few words.” 
Riggio could feel the blood drain from his face, the weakness in his knees as he started to stand, holding the back of the pew, and the lump gathering in his throat. He walked slowly to the podium, stalling to gather his thoughts. He had thought that the service would be more of a viewing, with friends and family passing by the casket and paying their respects to Mrs. Coleman. He never expected such an elaborate service. And he never expected to be part of it.
“Reverend Johnson, Mrs. Coleman, to all of Daniel’s family, his children, Darius, who used to work with me, Patricia, who I knew from before but never knew what a beautiful powerhouse voice you had, to the many of you out there I know, and to those of you I have not been blessed to meet yet, it is my honor to speak to you. I was blessed to know Daniel.”
He was not sure of what to say next. He liked Daniel, loved him in a sense, but had not appreciated how big of a man he was in his own community, in his own family. But he did not want to say that.  He tried to say something of his admiration of Daniel.
“ Most of us never get the chance to meet great people. Not me. I knew Daniel. I could sense the wonder of this man from the first moment I stepped into the exam room that first time I met him. I learned some things about him today that I didn't know before right out in front of the church.” Riggio realized how awkward that sentence was as soon as he said it. He had to get some rhythm or he would put these folks to sleep.

“I learned that Daniel gave ten percent of every penny he ever earned to charity, especially to this beautiful church. He never told me that. I learned that Daniel spent hours with a hammer and saw building this church. He never told me that. Claudette, you are such a strong woman. Daniel told me that often. He told me about some of the adversities you had to confront and how you faced every one of them head-on. You and Daniel were lucky to be together, both such strong, beautiful, people. Daniel spoke to me a lot about Noah, his grandfather, the last slave in the family, and Aaron, his father, who went before him. He beamed with pride over his children, his nieces and nephews, and all of his friends here at Reedy Church.”

Riggio paused for a moment and whispered something to Rev. Johnson. Soon someone brought him a glass of water. As he waited for the water to arrive and then as he sipped some, something struck him about the song Patricia had sung, Wonder Where is Good Ole Daniel.” He had thought of it when she was singing but he had no idea then that he would soon be at the podium.

“Patricia, you sang that beautiful spiritual, Wonder Where is Good Ole Daniel. It made me cry. But to tell the truth, Patricia, I don’t wonder where is good ole Daniel. I don’t wonder at all where is good ole Daniel. I know where is good ole Daniel.”
 Someone in the audience shouted, “Amen.”
“You out there, his friends and neighbors,  you don’t wonder where is good ole Daniel. You know where is good ole Daniel.”  
Now he heard a dozen “Amens.” 
Riggio looked at the audience. There were about ten people out there he knew by name. He repeated the same phrase with each of them. The amens became raucous. He heard a few, “That’s right!” and some, “I know where he is.”
“Reverend Johnson, you don’t wonder where is good ole Daniel. You know where is good ole Daniel.” 
Riggio paused for a few seconds, wondering how to end this. He saw Claudette Coleman in the first pew, tears in her eyes, fanning herself.
“Claudette, I know you, of all people, don’t wonder where is good ole Daniel. You know right where he is.”
“Goodbye, my friend, Daniel. I know where you are. I feel you smiling down on me and all of us gathered here. Someday, not right away, mind you,  but someday I hope to see you there myself, to gaze upon your gentle spirit, and to hear your precious voice once more. Amen.”

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Things My Grandfather Taught Me, a memoir.

Things My Grandfather Taught Me
by Frank DiBona (Revised 2/15/2017)

If you are nailing two pieces of wood together don’t be upset if you bend the nail. Everyone bends a nail now and then. If you don’t never bend a nail you are not hammering hard enough. If you are hammering a nail and it starts to bend stop before it is bent all the way. You can straighten it out by tapping your hammer against the bend and then drive it in. This nail will hold better than a nail that was never bent.

My grandfather had no power tools. He did carpentry with a handsaw, hand drill, chisels, a hammer, and several flat-bladed screwdrivers. Add to that a few squares, a miter box, and a large wooden vise. I watched him make mortise and tenon joints with just these tools.
“Grandpop.”  I never called him anything except that. When I was five my mother tied to teach me to say, “Nonno,” Italian for grandfather, but that never sounded right. English was my language and “Grandpop” it was. He was born in 1885 in a small town in Abruzzo Italy. In 1910 the Pennsylvania Railroad was looking for men with strong backs and good work ethics. There was a man in Philadelphia who came from the same town, Torricella Peligna, and had risen to an executive level in the railroad. He went to Italy to recruit workers and naturally he went first to his hometown. My grandfather and several dozen other men got a free ride to “L’America” and a three year commitment to work for the Railroad. It wasn’t until those three years were up that he called for his wife, my Grandmom, to join him in Philadelphia.
         While working for the railroad, he travelled as far west as Denver, Colorado. I’ve been told that he mostly worked laying tracks. His youngest daughter, my Aunt Linda, told me once that in Denver he had a job as a bouncer for a fancy bordello. Once my wife and I were in Denver on business. We stayed at the renowned Brown Palace Hotel, a ten-story sandstone and red granite building in the heart of downtown. We took a tour of the hotel. In the basement the guide pointed out a bricked over archway that he said was once a tunnel used to keep the wealthy male guests from being spotted while making their way to the brothel across the street. “Ah, Grandpop!” I thought and felt an instant connection to the place.

         Always measure twice before you cut once. If you are nailing the end of one two by four to the end of another, use two nails and aim each one at a slightly different angle. The joint will hold better. For a two by four the nail got to be four inches long.

         My grandfather’s name was Nicolantonio D’Amico. As far as I knew, he was always “Nick” to his friends. He acted like he was the richest person on the planet. My grandparents owned a second story flat, about 800 square feet, above a poultry shop, with three bedrooms and one bath. He raised his four children there. I can remember going with my grandmother to the poultry shop below the apartment. She would pick out the chicken she wanted. That big fat one over there with the red feathers. The man would pick up the live chicken by the feet and go into a small back room. One minute later he would come out with the chicken, now featherless, cut up into pieces. Grandmom would go upstairs and cook the bird.
After the railroad, Grandpop worked delivering ice from a small pickup truck. He could pick up a 50-pound block of ice with huge tongs and carry it up three flights of steps to deliver it to his customer. He had an assortment of ice picks that he would use to cut the block into smaller pieces for his customers.

America is the greatest country in the world. A person works here and can make a living.  You work, you eat. You no work, you no eat. When we were in Italy we never knew if we would eat tomorrow. We only knew if we were eating now.

         Grandpop hated Benito Mussolini, the Fascist dictator of Italy. Mussolini was a traitor to Italy and deserved the hanging that he got. Grandpop was proud that his oldest son, my Uncle Eddy, signed up for the U.S. Navy immediately after Pearl Harbor. My grandfather was too old to join the military or he would have gone himself. He was relieved to learn that Uncle Eddy’s ship was going to fight in the Pacific where it was highly unlikely that Eddy would have to shoot an Italian soldier. He wanted America to beat Italy and Germany, but it would feel better if his son did not have to kill any Italians.

These things I’m telling you about wood and carpentry are not things I made up myself. I learned them from my father and my nonno, just like you. I’m sure that St. Joseph taught his son, Jesus, how to do these things. Did you know Jesus had to make his own cross? He was the best carpenter, so they made him make his own cross. He used a cross-lap joint, wood glue, and wood pegs that he made himself.  I could teach you how to make this joint, which is the strongest for two boards that cross in the middle.

My father once told me that my grandfather made things up but I didn’t believe him. Grandpop knew everything about wood and about stones and bricks and cement. He knew how to use every tool there was. He knew about Jesus and all of the Saints. Grandpop and Jesus were a lot alike since they both made things with wood.
Every time a new Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis movie came out my grandfather would take me to see it. They were the funniest people on earth as far as I could tell. My grandfather’s English was pretty good. He had to deal with the public at his work. But understanding people talking fast like on television or the movies is harder than engaging in a conversation and I knew that he didn’t follow everything. He would often lean over to me and ask, “What he say?” But when the audience and I would burst into laughter, so would Grandpop, even if he didn’t get the joke.

         If you are screwing two pieces of hard wood together always drill a hole first. The drill bit should be just smaller that the spine of the screw. You can hold up the screw and the drill bit together to see if the size is right. Always rub the screw with a little bit of nafta.

         “Nafta” was the hard yellow cake of soap he kept in his toolbox. It smelled pungent, like the soap Grandmom used to scrub her three outside marble steps three times a week.
Grandpop always had a cigar in his mouth. He called them stogies. They were not fat, fancy, hand-rolled cigars from Cuba or Honduras, but twisted dark brown gnarly things that had been soaked in Anisette, an Italian liquor. He did not have a humidor, a fancy cigar cutter, or a high-powered lighter. The cigars came in cardboard boxes of five, which would last a day, so no humidor was necessary. Wooden box matches worked fine. The cigar stayed in his mouth all day, but frequently went out. I saw him keep the unlit cigar in his mouth for hours. Other times he would relight it as soon as it went out. I loved the smell of those cigars and still do. If I’m walking down a street and catch a whiff of cigar smoke, especially an anisette soaked stogie, I will follow the scent until I can take it in full.

When you put a nail into something nice, like a bookcase, and you don’t want to see it, use a finish nail. Then take the punch and drive the nail below the surface of the wood. Take a little bit of wood glue; add some sawdust from the wood you were using, and make a thick paste. Then put some of this into the hole. When it dries you can take a piece of sandpaper, wrap it around a small block of two by four and sand down the wood paste. Always sand in the direction of the grain of the wood. You will not be able to tell there was ever a nail there.
Always buy the best tools you can. And then take care of them. They will last you a lifetime. When you are done working for the day, dust the sawdust off of your tools and then take a little bit of oil and rub it on the metal parts. Then oil down the wooden handles but be sure to wipe away the excess. If the head of your hammer becomes loose take a small piece of hard wood and use your chisel to chip a shim. Put this into the place where the handle is loose and hammer it in tight. Good as new.

         Most of Grandpop’s tools were second hand which he bought at the Italian Market on 9th Street in South Philadelphia just a few blocks from his apartment. This place was a cacophony of sounds, smells, and sights. When I was a child I thought this place was gruesome, dirty, and stinky. Vendors did their best to keep the place clean but it was impossible. Now, this place is “in”. Urban yuppies have “found” the market and have colonized it, seeking out the real McCoy, or in this case, the real Guido. Nowadays, vendors try to keep the place dirty and smelly for “authenticity”. Where once the vendors practiced speaking English the best they could to impress the “Americans,” they now use fake Italian accents and insert Italian words to make the “cognoscenti” feel that they have arrived.
In the market, stalls were piled high with fruits and vegetables. Large bulbs of finocchio (fennel) and aglio (garlic) were next to dark purple eggplant and oven-roasted peppers. Pigs, lambs, chickens, and beef were hung from rafters by huge hooks, blood staining the cement sidewalks below. Italian sausage, hard salamis, large whole prosciuttos, wrapped in cheesecloth and tied with string, and hard smelly cheeses completed the picture. There were dentists, lawyers, and accountants, mostly on second floor offices above the vendors. Number runners were everywhere. There were also Italian bakeries, delicatessens, and specialty shops. I remember one store that sold nothing but ravioli and usually ran out by 2 or 3 PM. There were clothing stores specializing in Italian clothes. Skilled tailors made handmade suits and shirts, while the store next door might have imported Italian shoes. My father got most of his clothes here.
There were also shops that sold used furniture, curios, and second hand tools. These were the stores my grandfather was interested in, He would spot a saw, pick it up, and sight down the blade like it was a rifle. If he saw any curvature he would put it down and condemn it as trash. “Even Jesus Christ could not saw a board straight with this saw.” “Look, they made this one in Japan. Junk!”  If the blade was true he would then carefully inspect the stock, searching for any cracks, any weakness in the attachment to the blade. Only if it passed full inspection would he consider buying it and then only if he could get it at a bargain. It was in the Italian market that Granpop bought me my first hammer, first saw, and my first plane, all before my tenth birthday. Then he bought some wood and he and I built a wooden tool box for my new possessions.

When you use a stepladder always be sure that it is firm on the ground. All the feet have to be on the ground. If you are working on a wall turn the side of the ladder to the wall. Use both hands when you climb the ladder. Don’t reach too far when you are working on the ladder. If something is out of reach get down and move the ladder. If some day you can’t reach something and you cannot move the ladder any closer and you have to lean, do you know what to do? First say three Hail Marys, three Our Fathers, then make the Sign of the Cross. You will be okay. I’ve done this for 50 years and I never fell off a ladder.
Grandpop taught me how to use a combination square, a chalk line, a folding yard stick, a retractable measuring tape, a plumb line, a plane, a crow bar, a hand drill, an augur, chisels (and the stones needed to keep then sharp), a wood scribe, wood carving tools, saw-horses, vises, wire cutters and wire strippers, files, pliers of all kinds, open ended wrenches, plumbers wrenches, a cross-cut saw, a hacksaw, a coping saw, and a miter box. He showed me how to use a steel square to lay out and measure stringers for steps but I never understood that. The last (and only time) I built some steps for my house, I bought pre-cut stringers from Lowe’s.

My grandfather bought a business that sold newspapers, cigars and cigarettes, magazines, snacks and soft drinks to commuters using the Philadelphia subways. He had the best spot on the system, right at the Broad and Market Street junction. Tens of thousands of people walked past his news stand every day. He would greet every customer like he or she was his most important friend. He would stand there holding up a newspaper and shout out the headlines. “Eisenhower, he elected for President.” I spent many hours by his side at the newspaper stand. If someone bought a newspaper he would say, “You come back tomorrow. News going to be all different then.”

Your grandmother is the most beautiful woman I ever see. She could have any man she wanted but she wanted me. And she could sing like an angel. I saw her for the first time in her church in Torrcella Peligna. My family came to that church one Sunday to hear a famous priest give a sermon. When I saw her I was in love. I was 17 and she was 14. I could tell that she was looking at me too. After the Mass we got to talk for a few minutes. Then it was anytime I could get to her town we would meet. Soon we were in love. Seven years after we met we got married, but three months later I moved to America and I didn’t see her again for three years.

I had a hard time believing that my grandmother was ever pretty. She seemed so old and decrepit. In her mid forties she used a cane. She had broken her hip as a young adult from falling out of a rumble seat of a car. I don’t know what kind of treatment she had, but she never walked straight again. But when I saw a picture of her as a young woman I could see how Grandpop might think she was beautiful. She looked a lot like my mother, who was beautiful.

When you make a mortise and tenon joint you have to make both parts the same width as your chisel. You have to measure everything out and mark it with pencil on both pieces. Use the square to make the lines. When all of the lines are drawn then put the wood into the vise. For the tenon use the miter saw for every cut. For the mortise, take the chisel and punch the line all the way around. Then start to chip away the wood. You have to keep measuring how deep you are. When you are done the tenon should be a little too big to go into the mortise. Then use the chisel like a plane to get it to fit.
         Most of my mother’s family was ravaged by diabetes. My Grandmom was the first person with diabetes I ever knew. I can remember seeing glass syringes and reusable needles soaking in alcohol in a glass tray with a stainless steel lid. Three times a day she would give herself a shot of insulin. She was fortunate that at about the time she developed diabetes, insulin had become available for treatment. Before that there was no treatment. My grandfather became diabetic later in life but it hit him harder. Before he died he lost one leg, most of the toes on the other foot, and was partially blind. Three of his four children became diabetic, including my mother. My brother and I have also become diabetic. One of my two children is diabetic. The unusual thing is that not one of us who became diabetic was obese, the usual prequel to Type II diabetes. Both of my grandparents became demented before they died. It was so hard to visit them, especially my grandfather, who taught me so much and spent so much time with me. I hated seeing him in this state and I was too immature to overcome this feeling. My grandfather died while I was in medical school. I was 1000 miles away and in the middle of exams. I was crying on the phone with my mother. There was no way I could attend the funeral. Mom said that Grandpop was so proud that I was becoming a doctor and that he would want me to stay and finish my exams. Still, it was difficult.

When you are building a cinderblock or a brick wall you must always make a strong foundation first. If the foundation is small or weak the wall will fall down or crack. You dig a trench at least two times as big as the cinderblock. And it has to be three feet deep. Then you fill it with cement and wait for it to dry. When you are ready to start the wall, the most important block of the whole wall is the first one. It has to be perfect. Put it in the corner. Make sure the outside is exactly where you want it.  The cement has to be thick enough to stay on the trowel when you turn the trowel sideways. It has to be thick enough that when you put the block on it, the weight of the block does not squish it down. Use the handle of the trowel to tap the block so that it is level and exactly in the spot you want it and exactly facing the direction you want it. Once you get the foundation perfect and that first block perfect the rest of the wall is easy.
The End

Monday, February 6, 2017

Hilton Head Island (Again)

(This was posted 4 years ago but was damaged and needed to be republished.)

We love Hilton Head Island. For about 25 years we had a vacation place here, starting out with a timeshare and ending with a very nice house. We sold that house in 2008, at the top of the bubble, lucky us. But we still enjoy coming back for vacations.

Hilton Head is billed as a family vacation spot and it is one of the best we have seen. And we've been all over the country, Canada, and Mexico. There are many places that are nice but none that surpass it.

First of all the beaches. that's what you go to the beach for, right? HHI has a contiguous 12 miles of white sandy beach. At low tide you can ride a bicycle the entire 12 miles.
Debbie and Frank riding bikes on HHI beach (four years ago)

There are a dozen designate public beaches. Each feature easy access with lots of free parking. Our favorite beach is the Hiliday Inn beach, more properly called Coligny Beach. the entrance has a water feature.

The entrance to Coligny Beach. There is a place to drop people and "stuff" off.
There are changing rooms, toilets, and cold showers

If the beach looks crowded that's because it is. It is the most popular beach on HHI.
Many of the major hotels. timeshares, and condos are nearby.
Also, the photos were taken at high tide. Everyone in crowded into a narrow strip of beach.
At low tide there's plenty of room

The parents and grandparents taking this infant picture may
 very well have had their own picture taken here as infants.

Hilton Head has 50 miles of paved, protected bike paths. There are over 120 restaurants. There are dozens of places to listen to live music most nights.  We went to a free concert in Shelter Cove Park featuring the Headliners, a great local group we have been paying dear money to hear for over 30 years.
Gregg Russell has been entertaining families under the Live Oak Tree in Harbor Town for 47 years.
Grandparents who heard him as children are now bringing their grandchildren to enjoy.
Many restaurants have outdoor seating with water views.

Delph Blue Pottery, a short story.

Author's Note

This story is one of several about the same main characters. As such I did not provide full background information. Vince Riggio is an American doctor in the United States Air Force, stationed in Germany. His wife is Kim. They have two sons. They met while vince was in medical school in Wisconsin. In other stories, Vince has suffered a serious concussion as well as a possible dissolution of his marriage. That story can be found HERE. In another story his teenage daughter gets in trouble. HERE.

Delft Blue Pottery, by Frank DiBona,   May 12, 2016
Kim and Vince loved everything about Holland. They loved the landscape. They could see a Dutch master’s painting out of the window of their car at every turn. They loved the food: cold cuts, boiled eggs, a variety of breads, and deep rich coffee for breakfast; the lunchtime sandwiches that resembled American sandwiches but were different enough to let you know you were not in Kansas. Vince loved the pickled herring available from street vendors all over the city. Both loved the cities and towns, the windmills and canals, the shops and restaurants. But most of all they loved the Dutch people themselves. They were so warm and kind.  Vince and Kim loved watching people in the large squares, walking and riding bikes, chatting and drinking coffee or dark beer, while reading newspapers or engaged in animated conversations. They spoke a language, Dutch, which foreigners would never learn. So the Dutch all spoke several languages and spoke them well. The average adult knew one or two languages, in addition to their own.
They found the Dutch to be very helpful and accommodating to tourists. On their first trip to Amsterdam they arrived late on a Friday evening without hotel reservations. They had been told that the tourist bureau (VVV) maintained an office, right next to the central train station, to help visitors find hotels. But they couldn’t find the train station. They parked their car and were walking around, scratching their heads, when a middle aged Dutch man approached them to ask them if he could help them.  When he found out what they were looking for he ran to his car, a block away, and came back with a better map than they had and gave it to them. On the map he marked where they were and where the train station was and the exact route to take to get there. Vince offered to pay for the map but he refused.

            On this current trip they were travelling with Kim’s parents, hard nosed American Gothic  Minnesotans, Lutherans who hated everything about Europe in general, and Germany and Holland specifically. Kim’s father, Gunther Schneider, was of German and Scandinavian extraction. He had fought the Germans in WWII at the Battle of the Bulge. His memories of Europe were of damp, muddy trenches, cold feet, tough mutton, and the smell of gunpowder. Kim’s mother, Hilda, was also from German grandparents and had a deep-seated distrust of “outsiders.”  If you drew a five-mile circle around Hilda and Gunther’s house, anything and anyone outside the circle were “outsiders.” These Dutch were completely out. The Schneiders hated the landscape, even though in many ways it resembled Minnesota. The cattle were not properly cared for. The fences seemed so flimsy. The hotels had such narrow steep stairs and the breakfast was cold. Why did they serve cold boiled ham and hard salami at breakfast? And the coffee was too strong and had grounds in it. They didn’t like the crowds, with people riding their bikes every which way, almost crashing into them. They didn’t like people talking to them in stores and cafes like they knew them.
It was a difficult trip for Kim and Vince. They expected it to be so but underestimated how bad it could be. Kim had pressured her parents to visit them in Germany where they were stationed with the United States Air Force. Her mother had many excuses not to come. The flight was so long and expensive. Her arthritis would kill her. She couldn’t sleep on the plane. They had things that they needed to do at home. But at last they relented and came grudgingly, “to see the grandchildren.” At Kim and Vince’s home in Traben Trarbach Germany, a dozen miles from the Air Force Base, her parents expressed how backwards it was that there was no central hot water heater in the home. They didn’t like they way Germans drove their German cars, Mercedes, BMWs, and Volkwagens they had never seen before, with such ferocity.  They didn’t like that some of their favorite TV shows, like Bonanza, were dubbed into German.
            They had trouble finding places to eat. The Minnesotans found the  restuarants too filthy inside and they couldn’t eat outside, what with all the pigeons landing right on tables. When they finally found a small café that was not too dirty, the food was just not American enough. Couldn’t these people just cook a plain old pork roast?
            At the famed Rijksmuseum , the state museum of art, the paintings were too dark, or too complicated. There were paintings that shows women’s breasts and look at that, Gunther, that one shows a man’s penis. Don’t children come to this museum?  And some of the famous modern works of art looked like school children, and not very talented school children at that, had painted them. At least on that, Kim and Vince could somewhat agree with them.
            At the Ann Frank House the parents were upset that the entire exhibit was about the Nazis, the Dutch people, the Jews, and the Franks. Why wasn’t there anything about the brave American soldiers who saved all of their lives? “Well not all of their lives, Gunter,” Vince pointed out which resulted in some very dirty looks from the Schneiders. Gunther added, “And what did the Jews expect after they killed Christ?”
            Kim and Vince avoided the De Walletjes, the famed red light district of Amsterdam. On previous visits they enjoyed strolling through the only streets they had ever seen where prostitution was legal and well regulated. But not with the Schneiders. They saw sin, lust, decadence, and depravity everywhere in Amsterdam. They would probably die of stroke if they saw the red light district. Even so they saw many women who looked like hookers to someone from Minnesota. And why did people have purple hair and dress like hippies? And what was that funny smell from the hand rolled cigarettes that they saw people smoking?
            So after three miserable days and three miserable nights in Amsterdam, Kim and Vince were hopeful that a visit to the small town of Delft might be just what Kim’s parents would enjoy. Delft was famous for its Delft Blue Pottery, which had been made there for centuries and was much copied throughout the world. It was the birthplace of Vermeer, the great Dutch artists whose paintings at the Rijksmuseum were “not as bad as the rest.” It was also the birthplace of van Leeuwennhoek, the inventor of the microscope and the father of microbiology. Surely Kim’s parents would find something to like in this beautiful town, but, if they did, they kept it to themselves.
            Delft, like most Dutch towns, has a large central square, surrounded by Sixteenth Century buildings housing shops, cafés, book stores and, of course, outlets for Delft Blue Pottery.  Gunter and Hilda did seem to enjoy looking in the stores but were outraged and the high prices. “How do these people afford this stuff?” Never mind that these shops were for tourists, mainly form all over Europe.  Some shops had items of a distinctly sexual nature, which drew disparaging comments from both of Kim’s parents. 
“They have this stuff out in the open. It makes me feel so dirty,” said Hilda.
Gunter replied that it was such a shame that so many good American boys had died to save these sinful people.
            The final straw for both of the Schneiders came when they saw a couple with a baby stroller walking down the street. The woman was fair skinned and blue eyed. The man looked African, probably from one of the former Dutch colonies in South Africa. Their beautiful infant had obviously inherited characteristics from both parents. But to the Schneiders this was an outrage. See what happens when you let people do whatever they want? This may have been happening all over the world but not in rural Minnesota.
It was a relief to both Kim and Vince to finally get into the car and to start the ride home, back to Germany. The Schneiders would be leaving for Minnesota in a few days. The Fiat 128 they owned was average size for cars in Holland and Germany but very small compared to the ocean liner Lincoln the Schneiders owned. Vince got into the driver’s seat and Kim into the front passenger seat. Her parents got into the back to the tune of exaggerated groans. Kim and Vince normally shared the driving duties but not with her parents, who felt that it was the man’s job to drive. Traffic in the Delft square was slow moving but once they got onto the boulevard that would take them to the Autoweg, the main highway, they moved along at a nice pace. The radio was playing something from the Beatles. They would soon be home.
About two miles out of the center of town the traffic unexpectedly came to a crawl and then to a stop. Vince could see drivers exiting their cars and running to the front of the line. There may have been an accident.  Vince got out of the car and asked Kim to drive.
“I’m going to see what’s going on,” he said.
“Get back in the car!” said Hilda. “You could get into trouble.”
“You’re not going to go up there, are you?” asked Gunter.
“Let’s just try to get out of here,” said Hilda.
“I’ve got to see if there is anything I can do,” said Vince. He joined the others jogging to the front of the line.
The first thing he saw was a bus stopped right in the middle of the intersection. He could see the uniformed bus driver arguing with two other men. They were animated.
Then he saw the bicycle. It’s front wheel was mangled and it handlebar was at an impossible angle. He got right up to the bicycle and saw the boy. He looked to be ten or twelve years old. He was lying on his back. A half dozen people encircled him, protecting him from any further injury. No one was actually caring for him.
Vince went to the boy. He knelt at his side and tried to access his status. He could see blood coming from his left ear, a sign of a possible skull fracture. As Vince put his hand on the boy’s head several people shouted to him in Dutch. A few put their hands to the back of their necks indicating that he should not touch him because the boy might have a broken neck. Vince wanted to be sure he was breathing. He was not. He checked the boy’s carotid pulse. It was beating about twenty times a minute. His lips looked as blue as Delft Blue Pottery. Vince needed to start CPR.
“Does anyone speak English?” asked Vince.
Several people said that they spoke a little English.
“I do,” said a young man holding the hand of a small boy, apparently his son.
“Has an ambulance been called?”
The man asked something to the crowd in Dutch and said to Vince, “Someone is calling now.”
Vince put his right hand under the boys chin and extended his neck slightly to open his airway. He then breathed ten rapid breaths into the boy’s lungs. He could hear gasps in the crowd but none from the boy. He then gave the boy about twenty breaths over the next minute. He then rechecked his carotid pulse and was gratified that it was now up to about 80 beats. He would not have to do chest compressions.
Vince asked if anyone had a blanket or sweater. Two people took off their sweaters and one woman got a blanket from her car. Vince directed them to roll up the sweater to place under the boy’s neck and to cover him with a blanket to keep him warm. He also asked for something to place under his legs to elevate them. He was sure the boy’s blood pressure was low. All this time he continued to breathe for the boy and to monitor him for any changes. The CPR continued for about eight minutes.
Vince heard the siren before he could see the ambulance. When it was about two blocks away the boy groaned and coughed. He started breathing on his own. The crowd became excited. Vince couldn’t tell what they were saying but he knew that they had witnessed something remarkable and were so happy that the boy was responding. Vince was able to stop breathing for the boy. The boy’s pulse was a strong 100.
The ambulance attendants took the boy’s vital signs, which were good. They carefully strapped him onto a gurney, protecting the boy’s neck, rolled him into the ambulance and took off.
Vince looked at his own hands, which were covered with blood from the boy’s ear. He asked the man who had translated for him if there was some place he could wash his hands. The man led him to a five story building, a few yards away, that had a national bank on its ground level. In the bank two guards, who apparently knew what had happened led Vince to a bathroom. Vince cleaned his hands, splashed his face with water and used paper towels to dry off. He walked back into the lobby.
“Can some one help me find my car? I don’t know where it is parked now.”
The English speaking man said, “Your wife is waiting for you around the corner. I will take you to her.”
The man grabbed Vince’s upper arm with his hand and directed Vince out of the building. The man’s hands were trembling. When Kim saw Vince coming she ran to him and gave him a hug and a kiss.
“I heard what happened,” she said. “They told me you saved that boy’s life. I’m so proud of you.”
“When this sort of thing happens at work, at the hospital, I just take it in stride. But that poor boy. The bus must have hit him straight on. He was just lying there and everyone was worried about his neck but nobody was paying attention to his breathing.”
Kim took Vince’s hand and said, “Let’s go back to the car.”
“You drive,” said Vince. She gave him a smile.
The Schneiders were out of the car and were quiet. They didn’t say anything at first but as they were getting into the car Hilda said that Vince had done the right thing and that both of them were proud of him.
Kim started the Fiat and was about to pull out into traffic when a man ran up to the car and knocked on the passenger window where Vince was seated. Vince recognized him as the man who offered his sweater during the CPR. The man signaled Vince to roll down the window. When the window was down the man offered his hand to Vince and said, “Thank you.”

The End.