An American Life

The Lazer Speaks

 My father’s parents came here at the end of the 1900s like so many other immigrants. They came here separately four years apart and came from the same region in Italy, just south of the Amalfi coast. I asked my dad why they had come here, and he relayed that southern Italy was very poor, not the tourist attraction that it is today, and there was little prospect of improvement.

My grandparents married here in America, had six kids (my father being the youngest) and bought a house in 1922. My father was born in the house in 1928, and with the exception of two years of military service, and one year after getting married, spent his entire life living in that house. Next year, 2022, will mark the 100th anniversary of the house being in the Pastina family.

My grandparents gave their kids the opportunity to seize the American dream. Of their six children, only my Aunt Rose and my father did not go off to World War II. My Uncle Tony fought in the Battle of the Bulge and was a Purple Heart recipient. My dad took full advantage of what New York and America offered going to public grammar school, Boys High School, and City College. Upon graduation, he entered the U.S. Army and spent two years in Europe.

My dad was a very good athlete. He played amateur baseball in 1940s and ‘50s and was offered a try-out for the NY Giants. He played against Whitey Ford in those amateur games. He loved sports and was extremely competitive in-between the lines. Outside the lines, he was the nicest person you could ever meet. He played basketball at City College (now Baruch) at a time when the main school won the NCAA and NIT tournament in the same year. I often asked him if the two teams scrimmaged, and he always shrugged and said yes, and that the main school beat them badly. But I was so impressed that he played against those guys.

My dad met my mom and got the approval of her six Irish brothers and sister and married her in 1956. They had four children and we lived in the house my grandparents had purchased. There were five other apartments in that building and when we were young, they were all occupied by family. I was extremely blessed to have family all around me.

My dad worked for the same company for 37 years. In an era when companies were very paternalistic; he trusted them, and they took care of their employees. My dad retired and almost immediately my mom got sick. For the next 14 years my dad dedicated himself to taking care of my mom. In addition, he started a tradition of taking the whole family away on vacation, so that he and my mom could have access to their grandchildren non-stop. Twenty-five years later, we still do those vacations, and those grandchildren grew to know their grandparents well.

My dad dedicated his life to his family and his faith. My parents got married at St. Cecilia’s in Greenpoint. This week would be their 65th wedding anniversary. At St. Cecilia’s, he was a Trustee, managed the Tuition Committee, The Alter Society, was an usher and Eucharistic Minister, and more recently worked at the food pantry. He continued to go to Mass every Sunday. If the Church needed him, he was there for them.

My dad passed last week. The funeral fittingly was at St. Cecilia’s. He was 93 years old and the last of his siblings. He has a great-grandchild on the way. He had the blessing of passing in the same house that he was born in, the one that his parents bought 99 years ago. I had the gift of him passing in my arms. His parents came to America to build a better life, and he built upon that legacy by carving out his own mark, giving life to four children that honored and loved both him and their mom, and have further passed that on to eight grandchildren. As a testament to him and the American dream, he attended the college graduation of every one of his grandchildren.

Amidst all that is going on the world, it’s true what they say in the movies, it truly is a wonderful life.

 By Lou Pastina

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