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  • MY FATHER'S HOUSE--A posthumous 100th birthday tribute

    MY FATHER’S HOUSE

    By

    Chuck Cascio

    My father, Modesto “Morris” Cascio, was born on August 19, 1919 and passed away far too young.

    This is my modest tribute to him in the month of his hundredth birthday.

         His house blossomed as he walked Brooklyn’s streets helping his father bring home meat, bread, and occasionally a small piece of cake from the Depression-induced lines filled with hungry people in a land that once held promise for them all. 

         Remarkably, the promise remained inside him in the form of the house taking shape slowly within his agile mind, a mind capable of seeing hope during the days and nights on those dark streets miles and years away from the home in the rolling hills of Virginia that gradually grew as real to him as the stench of beer billowing from the brewery near the tenement where he lived with his parents, a sister, and two brothers. 

         His house evolved out of the spirit of his mind and took shape through his own will and desire. But first, he fought in the Second World War and then, four years after it ended, he took his small, beautiful wife and me and moved us out of Brooklyn, leaving behind the tenements, the stale brewery odors, his siblings, and his parents as one life slipped forward and the other slipped into the past but both made up the man who left Brooklyn. 

         The move saddened his immigrant father whose greatest fear was to lose any of his four children. All three of his sons had returned safely to Brooklyn after the War, but their wartime departure and his fears for their safety had turned his hair gray and furrowed his brow. Now this son—the second eldest child, the son who loved jazz and opera and who could make his mother laugh by turning her through a new dance step and who read someone named Shakespeare and who showed kindness to his siblings through a tease, a taunt, or an embrace—this son said he would be leaving because he felt a new life and a house growing inside of him. 

         Before he left, he assured his father, “Papa, you will hear from me often and we will visit, and you and Mama will visit us too. You’ll see; it will be good—good for you and good for me and for my family.” 

         The house he built in that strange land called Virginia became him—solid brick, 

    sturdy with quiet nuances of beauty, and a yard filled with trees and rolling emerald fields of grass. With dignity and simple elegance it faced the street—a street that began as dirt, eventually graduated to gravel and, then, finally to asphalt as the world around both him and his house began to change…a world that had graduated in stages inside him as he grew from a dreamer, to a man making dreams come true, and eventually to his fulfillment of a new life. 

    thumb IMG 6659

    My father’s house—our house—just outside of Vienna, VA.

         Every morning I watched as just prior to sitting at the kitchen table he would silently glance outside at the backyard, a view unimaginably different from the narrow streets and alleyways of his youth. Sometimes he nodded quickly and seemed to smile at the contrast. At other times, with his ever-present newspaper folded tightly under his arm, he would open the back door and stand there for several minutes, carefully surveying what was now his—and ours from him—before quietly sitting down. 

         How many days did I watch him sit at the breakfast table already in his suit and tie, reading his morning newspaper, ready for office work…another thing he had once only imagined but now lived?  He would sip coffee and occasionally give me and my younger brother and sister subtle reminders about how to behave, encouraging us to work our hardest, helping us understand that we must have a dream and we must be willing to pursue it. 

        And there were those times he would call us all together, excited about some small idea that had emerged: 

          “How about if we nail a backboard to that tree way in the backyard so you can practice shooting baskets anytime you want?” 

          “Let’s have a cement patio put in right at the bottom of the back steps connecting to the carport; then we can all eat outside!”

         “Gotta get together this weekend to start raking up the leaves. Fall is here!” 

         And in those brief, informal family meetings, he made his house and his dreams a part of his reality, a part of us, a part of all that we would be.

         His father visited the house only once. I still can see my grandfather, a Sicilian immigrant, sitting on the cement patio by the carport on a plastic and aluminum lawn chair, looking confused, as if he had once again migrated to a foreign country…this place with trees and space and fresh air. Over several days, he gradually sat smiling comfortably as he smoked a short, crooked, black cigar, sipped wine, and looked up occasionally from his Italian magazine to glance at the sky. On the day he left, a tear formed as he held his son, and the son, being the kind of man who could kiss his father, did just that. 

         His father returned to the solid streets of Brooklyn, his  place, the place he  had imagined as a boy who left Sicily with a dream, but he had briefly experienced the air and space of his son’s house and had seen the man his son had become. Neither man had regrets and both men knew they would always share certain realities—the family, the bread lines, the beer stench, the War, the fear of detaching from where you are and losing the essentials of who you are…but the absolute importance of taking that step. 

           After his father left, my father again quietly surveyed what was his and what he had become…the foundation of his being. Through his house he had proved that there is no detachment where there is real love; there is only an emergence of things that at first exist in the spaces of the mind, then take root in the soul, and eventually blossom from the heart.

         I have wanted so much of what he had, but nothing has consumed me more than his house—not the structure or the eclectic décor nor the lasting irrefutable loveliness of its grounds—no, it is not the house itself  that I have wanted. It is his quiet pride, his brilliant vision, his deep courage, his belief that this was it! He had achieved his sense of place and he had fulfilled the hope that had grown from the depths of his heart and his mind. He had absorbed the risks, built a new life, and shared it all with those he loved. 

         My father had taken his dream to reality and, in doing so, he had planted dreams inside us all.

    THE END

    Copyright: Chuck Cascio, all rights reserved.

     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
  • This Is My Father...

    dad

          This is my father, Morris (Modesto) Cascio. He was born on August 19, 1919. He passed away far too young in 1994. I think about him every day, but recent events in our country have brought him more to mind than usual. Why? Well, I keep imagining how he would be reacting, what he would be saying, what his hopes and fears would be for the lovely great grandchildren that he never got to know.

         See, he was an Italian kid off the streets of New York whose name was changed from Modesto to Morris by the school system as a way of assimilating immigrants in those days. Along with his siblings, Dad stood in bread lines during the Great Depression to bring food back to the tenement in which his family lived. Once a week, the family shared a dessert--a tiny cake that my immigrant grandfather would cut into six equally small pieces so each member of the family could enjoy a bit of sweetness.

         World War II was swelling when Dad graduated from Grover Cleveland High School in Brooklyn. There was no money for college, so he did some work as a photographer, and then just before entering the Army, he married my mom, a woman he had know for several years, the younger sister of two guys who were friends of his. The story goes that he charmed her by approaching her when she was sixteen and asking her suavely, "Feel like a soda?" That was a line she never forgot, and in later years she admitted that her instinct was to provide a smart-aleck response, but she was enamored at the time and said, "Sure." The rest, for our family, is history.

         Dad entered the army, was trained in communications in various locations around the country, my mother traveling with him--two kids off the Brooklyn streets finding themselves in places like Kansas, Texas, and California. But then my father was sent overseas to the "Burma, China, India Theater," stationed in a remote outpost in the Himalayan Mountains, channeling secret communications with a small group of other soldiers. He sometimes flew with the Flying Tigers, delivering important documents to various outposts.

         Many years later, when talking with me or my brother or sister or anyone else about his army experiences, he never bragged, he never complained about the emotional pain of being removed from his young wife, he never spoke of the hardships of being as removed from the busy streets of his youth as he could have ever imagined.

         No. Dad, like thousands of others, did what he had to do. He fought for democracy. He fought against hatred. He fought the dictators who were trying to mold the world in their image when, he knew from personal experience, that the world is made of many images, many colors, many beliefs. Dad believed instinctively that all that matters in the end, whether in a Brooklyn tenement or the Himalayan Mountains, is how you carry out your beliefs, how you treat others, to what degree you value fairness, equality, opportunity.

         After the war, my dad, one of my uncles, and two of their Brooklyn pals all took jobs with the government in DC, careers they valued, work they saw as important, roles they took pride in. Dad was no fool--he was not afraid to question those in power, but he also knew that in that post-War era, many of the people in power were inclined--for whatever reason--to listen. Dad, and others who experienced life events similar to those he experienced, had an instinct about what was essential to maintain the joys of life for all--joys such as the opera music that floated through our home every Sunday as Mom prepared an Italian dinner, or the dancing that he would do with Mom complete with moves that made others on the dance floor stop and applaud, or the powerful affection he was not afraid to display openly for his family, friends, and anyone he felt was helping to move the world in a more understanding and equitable direction. He did not judge by political affiliation, race, creed, or any societal designation. He valued actions.

         Once, when a friend of his criticized the fact that an African American family had moved into an all-white neighborhood of Vienna, VA, my father calmly looked at his friend and said, "That man is moving into a bigger house than you or I have and in a better neighborhood. Instead of asking if his neighbors will associate with him, you should be wondering if he would want to associate with us."

         So these days, as I read the childish tweets of a vindictive, small-minded president whose actions fuel the hatred that lingers in our population, a president who denigrates the very people who work diligently day and night in the interest of all people in this country (as my father, uncle, and their Brooklyn pals did), a president who does not have the courage to acknowledge that he was born with a sliver spoon in his mouth but not everyone was, I think increasingly of my father and the men and women of his generation, the ones who helped save the world from the very dictatorial actions and societal hatred that we are now seeing arise in our own country.

         Dad was not one to make big pronouncements, so he would probably not have said, "This is no time for silence," but he was a man of action and belief and he would have helped figure out a way to promote equity, empathy, sympathy, and understanding, even if it was just on an individual, personal level. Even if it just meant saying, as he sat with friends listening to opera or jazz, or as he rested from a dance with Mom, or as he toiled into the wee hours of the morning in his CIA office, something along the lines of what he said to his friend that day about the African American family. Dad would have helped spread the word of fairness through modest, meaningful actions, actions learned from a life whose roots he never forgot, always valued, and used as a way to direct his own life.  

         Sitting in his backyard just a year or two before he was diagnosed with lung cancer, Dad was savoring the last bite of a steak he had expertly cooked on his grill. My mom, my wife, and I chuckled as he made a show of slowly savoring it, swallowing it, and sipping the last bit of his wine. When finished, he pushed gently away from the table, looked at his empty plate, and said, "That steak was so good, I hated to see it end." 

         I thought then, as I think now, "Yes, Dad, exactly...it was too good to end."

     Copyright Chuck Cascio. All rights reserved.