A wonderful life

By Kris Ferrazza | Jun 20, 2019

In a week we will celebrate my father’s 90th birthday. It’s remarkable to me, mainly because he’s been an old man for the last 40 years.

When my dad turned 50, I was just 11. I remember thinking he had one foot in the grave. It didn’t help that he was prematurely gray, so he looked like a senior citizen long before he was one.

My friends would remark on his white hair, which didn’t help matters. It was clear he was older than everybody else’s father, so I began to worry about him around that time, and for the next four decades I feared he’d be gone any minute.

Well, 40 years is a long time to worry. And in hindsight, I should have just spent the time enjoying his antics, which never really matched his distinguished looks.

Born in 1929, the son of Italian immigrants, he jokes his birth launched my grandmother’s great depression. The fifth of six children, he admits he was a bit spoiled and tried to get away with as much as possible as my grandma’s youngest boy.

The six Ferrazza kids grew up in Providence and their childhood sounds like something out of “The Little Rascals.” They would sell tickets for stage shows and carnivals in their backyard, fish, swim, and play marbles, kick the can and other games in the street. He and his brothers built rafts, boats and even a miniature cannon using a set of wheels and a threaded pipe. It kicked back when they fired it, and nearly burned the house down.

I often ask my dad about famous moments in history, but he seldom gives me a straight answer.

“Hey, do you remember the Hindenburg?” I might ask.

“Yeah, it came down right in our yard,” he quips.

But he was an eyewitness to history, and remembers the hurricane of 1938, which devastated Providence. It brought winds of up to 160 mph and caused more than $300 million damage. He recalls his school dismissed all of the students early, sending them out into the streets to walk home. In hindsight, it wasn’t the best decision. My father remembers clinging to a lamppost as the wind actually lifted his feet off the ground. Then a massive ventilation circulator blew off a roof and nearly struck the children as they tried to make their way home. It came crashing down right near them, and window panes were breaking. He said they were scared to death.

“Being as small as we were, it looked like the end of the world,” he said. A man recognized my father and invited him inside where it was safe until one of his brothers could escort him home.

Dad studied horticulture in high school, tending grapevines on the school roof. But he left in the 11th grade to go to work in a textile mill with his father for $1.28 an hour. My dad left after five years, but my grandfather stayed for 35.

My father was devastated when both of his older brothers enlisted to fight in World War II. The oldest, Nick, was a radio operator on a submarine chaser in the Coast Guard. Cosmo was a Marine who went to Okinawa. He faced the Japanese and then a terrifying typhoon, ironically, after the war had ended.

My grandmother had a flag in the window with two stars on it and my father says he wanted to be the third, but was too young to enlist. My grandfather had served a year in the Army in WWI, but had never seen combat. Fortunately, my uncles returned safely.

In time he joined the Army National Guard to make a little extra money and see what he was missing. He had just turned 21 when the Korean War broke out. His time with the guard was nearly finished. He was planning to leave, but before he had a chance, the 43rd Division was called to war.

“I didn’t volunteer, we were federalized,” he said. “We were on maneuvers in our pup tents and we hear ‘Read all about it. The 43rd’s been federalized.’ We thought it was somebody fooling, but it was a newspaper man. I had no choice. I had to go.”

He transferred to the 1st Army Infantry Division and volunteered to go overseas, insisting it was going to happen regardless. He and his buddies received four required vaccinations, packed their duffel bags and waited. But then came the good news: anyone who had been in the guard was not going. They did not want to break up the division. And the best news of all? Those with three years of National Guard service could be discharged. He said it felt like “a gift from God.” Sadly, many he knew from Providence went to Korea and were injured or killed.

“I went in as a corporal and I left as a corporal,” he said.

He remembers his short time in the Army as being full of camaraderie. He was stationed at Fort Pickett Army Base in Blackstone, Va., where he drove a jeep, delivered messages, ran errands, drove the captain around and watched the others train and fire the heavy artillery.

“They were good with those big guns,” he said. The guys would play poker in their spare time, and my father brags he would win so much money he couldn’t close his billfold.

Back home, he settled down and joined the Providence Police Department. A great storyteller, my dad has funny tales of life on the beat. After he retired from the police force he painted houses for a while, ran an antiques business, and opened an Italian restaurant with my mother.

As time marched on, my friends would marvel that my father, who used to seem so old to them, “hadn’t changed a bit in 30 years.” In the end, he got the last laugh.

Approximately 20 years ago he had a cardiac episode that led to a minor heart procedure. We were concerned, naturally, and I called his hospital room with apprehension. He answered the phone sounding exactly like he was at home in his recliner.

“Hell-o,” he said, sounding almost bored. I marveled at his ability to recover and take it all in stride. Then I asked him what the prognosis was.

“I asked the doctor if I’ll ever be able to eat macaroni and meatballs again, and he says I will,” he joked. Clearly the crisis had passed.

The summer my daughter was born my father underwent surgery and had one lung removed. It was a scary time, but he has done wonderfully well for the last 13 years. He still lives at home with his wife, drives, takes weekly trips to the casino, goes to restaurants and enjoys his life.

“It’s a funny thing, but in my mind it’s like I’m still 20 years old, Kris,” he tells me. “It goes so fast. And the older you get, the faster it goes. I can’t believe I’m going to be 90.”

Well, believe it, old-timer.

And the beat goes on.


Comments (1)
Posted by: Mary A McKeever | Jun 20, 2019 14:40

Great story and shows up the love and respect of a son for his father.

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