Yes, that's me. I can't truly tell you how old I am in this picture, I am 4? not sure. I'm standing in front of my grandparents house at 4212 Barnes Ave in the Bronx. 233rd St. intersects with the corner and it's approximately 2 blocks to White Plans Rd. and the Elevated subway which carries the 2 and the 5 trains. The 2 train ends one stop away at Nereid Ave, and the 5 train ends at the next stop. It is the most northern subway stop in the NYC subway system and where I grew up. Seton Ave, where we lived above my mother's parents is 1 mile away. Our Lady of Grace School where I went from 3rd grade till 7th grade is .6 of a mile. My entire universe from my birth until just before my 13th birthday was in this area.
There were cousins who lived across the street, my Grandfather's sister, Aunt Mary, her husband Uncle Leonard and their two sons Salvatore and Leonardo (Sal and Lenny) lived upstairs. My Uncle Lenny, my father Lawrence and my Uncle Tommy (Gaetano) lived there on the 1st floor. Around the time of this photo, I believe, my Uncle Tommy was about to move out, actually next door, for he and my Aunt Jeanette were married and lived in the ground floor apartment. Both my Uncle Lenny and Uncle Tommy and their wives are all healthy and still with us enjoying life.
My Grandfather, Gaetano (Tom) Toscano was the first person in the family to see me. They had taken me to that room with glass where all new borns await family viewings and he was the first one there. It's something he reminded me of often. We were inseparable in many ways and as my life went on it was my grandfather who was my greatest support. He always looked out for me, gave me hours and hours of advice. As a kid and teenager, when he was at home, ( and not in Florida) he never missed a performance of mine. When ever we were together he filled me with all the folk lore, stories and traditions that he had learned when a child in Màscali, Sicilia. His father was an overseer for an enormous estate owned by a Sicilian nobleman, a Cavalieri ( a Sicilian knight). There he learned farming, wine making, citrus trees, animal care, toyed with his mechanical genius which would come to the fore later in his life, and eventually apprenticed with his Uncle Giuseppe as a baker. He was the first person to teach me how to garden, we planted rose bushes together at our new home in Mahopac, as well as planting our garden where wonderful crops of tomatoes, zucchini, eggplant, broccoli, herbs etc. etc. were our summer harvest.
He was also a master mechanic, joining Buick at a very young age and working for them until his retirement. He also had a partnership in a garage on Bronx River Rd, with his cousin Tony Morano. I have very fond memories of hanging out with them at the gas station on sometimes on weekends. They were great to be around, and Uncle Tony was a wonderful person. I watched my grandfather go through a very serious loss when his friend Johnny Paglia died of lung disease in his early 60's. I remember that soon after he lost his best friend, my grandfather announced his retirement at 62. My parents didn't seem to agree with his decision but, it was his. Uncle Johnny had never smoked a day in his life. My grandfather didn't want that to be his fate. He lived until he was 83 he passed in 1991, soon after that year's Indianapolis 500.
My grandfather, for a very long time, was the most important person in my life. I was the first grandchild for both sets of grandparents, all Sicilian immigrants, and was (supposed to have been) named after him. You see, when I was born, my mother told my father they were naming me after my grandfather. So, they wrote the name Thomas Toscano on my birth certificate. However, my mother, at that time, for some reason, was not aware that my grandfather's name was actually Gaetano ( why is still a puzzle to me). You see, when he came to America his nickname was Tanu, the Sicilian diminutive of Gaetano. Tanu, became Tom and everyone outside and inside the family eventually called him Tom ( when speaking English). Two years after my birth she understood that his actual name was Gaetano, but, it was already set in stone, so to speak. Perfect name transition or not, I was and am very much my grandparents offspring. I returned to Sicily, started a music festival in my maternal grandparents town, have written music in Sicilian poetry written by my grandmother Toscano's father Lorenzo Gusmano, my great grandfather.
My mother's parents were also extraordinarily important in my life as well. Interestingly enough, I had "adults" in my life reprimand me for considering myself to be Sicilian. They are no longer with us, and in my adulthood have a simple reality to express. I am who I am and I decide who I am not anyone else. I don't exist through anyone else's description of myself, I exist through my own decisions and feelings. What is in my heart is simple, I am a proud Sicilian and that was instilled in me by my grandfather Toscano as well as the rest of my grandparents.
They were all wonderful and very loving --- great examples of hardworking honest people who instilled in me old world values and beliefs. Paramount among these, was the reality of magic in our lives. My grandfather Toscano worked with a three legged table which would tap out answers when he would ask questions of it. He was also a dowser and found the spot where our well in Mahopac was drilled during a 30 year drought in 1964. This well, returned 14 gallons a minute and never went dry in the 21 years that we owned that property.
There's an interesting anecdote around the table. My Uncle Sal and Uncle Lenny came downstairs one Sunday afternoon after dinner to go out on the boulevard with my father and Uncle Lenny. As the two boys arrived from upstairs they saw that my grandfather was having a session with the table. Sal, who did not believe at all, began to poke fun of the process and results. My grandfather asked him if he had money in his pocket, answering in the affirmative he was told to put his hand in his pocket and hold the money. My grandfather asked the table how much money was in Sal's pocket. The table gave the answer through the knocking and when he took out his hand with the money the table was correct. Sal never poked fun of my grandfather again. These stories and many others were a lifeblood of adventure and imagination. And that spirit, volcanic power, energy and magic continues to support me through any and all reality that comes my way. Is it any wonder that when Etna erupted in 2001 during July an August that I received a message from that magical source which warned me of events to come which manifested in 9/11 which I witnessed from my loft in its entirety? But, that's a story for a future post.
My parents were very loving, kind and generous people, but I would not be who I am without my grandparents, especially my grandfather, Gaetano Toscano. Even my love of fishing has a great deal to do with him. I remember fishing with him and being very surprised that we all had fishing rods and reels and he was using a simple hand held line and would catch fish with no problem. Flounders, black fish, etc. all that would come our way he was able to capture with his hand held technique.
I was very blessed to have my grandparents with me for a very large part of my life. My grandfather Francesco Mazzoni died in '75 and grandmother Francesca Mazzoni in 81. My grandfather, as I said, passed in 91 and my grandmother Rosa Toscano in 94, I was 42. I think of them all very often and hold them close in my heart. I owe them my very essence and am eternally grateful for all they taught me through actions and words and lots and lots of emotion of every kind all interspersed with a great deal of laughter. As a teenager I often spent Saturday nights playing cards with Gaetano and Rose and their sisters and brothers and cousins. It was and remains a great joy of my life the time I spent with them.
My grandfather Toscano was a great peacemaker, he had two brother's in law, Uncle Gus and Uncle Joe who were constantly arguing. He was always there to make peace between them and whenever necessary between others. Interestingly enough it was not necessarily something that I took over that role after he passed. Instead, I struck out on my own path, and have often wondered what he would think of my trajectory today. In some respects, I'm sure he would be quite amazed at the life I've led, so far. Thanks gramps! Say hi to everyone for me!
Thank you all for being with me today. Thomas