Eulogy read at Dad’s Celebration of Life dinner, November 22, 2015
My dearest Daddy,
If I were to express all you mean to me, we’d be here until at least Super Bowl 50, and since everyone here has to work tomorrow, I’ll try to be brief.
You made me feel special as your daughter in so many ways. From those first moments you held me as an infant with such a beautiful love, until the final kiss we shared in the hospital, I was blessed.
You were a Daddy who not only eagerly tackled diaper duty, but you fed me, bathed me, and played with me. You expertly built a picket fence, reinforced with steel and concrete, at the Southwood Drive house so I couldn’t toddle out into the street. You constructed a sturdy baby swing from a tree in the backyard.
You brought me to Keansburg, Long Branch and Asbury Park, so I could have a big adventure on the kiddie rides. You took movies as Mom pulled me, giggling on the sled, as I experienced my first snow.
Our trip to the Fontainebleau in Miami in the ’66 Caddy when I was 4 is one of my fondest memories. Our 1982 vacation to Niagara Falls when I was 15 was reminiscent of that trip, just the three of us, though I helped steer that time—instead of dozing or playing with Franklin the bunny in the back seat.
As I grew, you and I became buddies. I helped you mow the lawn and wash the cars. I watched as you changed the oil and greased the boots, and did body work. You taught me how to check the tire pressure, oil levels and replace washer fluid.
I liked “going bowling with Daddy” at Federal Lanes in Elizabeth on the occasional Sunday morning. I even walked like you sometimes. You encouraged my tomboy tendencies as Mom tried to coax me into skirts. I so admired my Daddy.
Boy, could you shoot pool. You won tens of thousands of dollars over the decades.
What was portrayed in the movie The Hustler, and staged for actor Paul Newman, you did for real: 24+ hours of razor-sharp shooting in a smoky billiards hall in Manhattan in front of many intrigued onlookers. You bagged a cool 15 grand, and you then gave that money to Granddaddy to buy the building in Newark that would eventually house Salvato’s Club Warren. You were absolutely fearless on the table.
Notable players arrived at Pop’s Place from far and wide to see what “that skinny kid from Newark” could do. “Chicago Bill” never had a shot, leaving with his wingmen in an indignant huff. “The Masked Marvel” gave up pool for many years after getting soundly smoked. You were dangerous, especially on your own turf.
One night in 1985, you snagged $1700, and that money sent you and Mom on your final vacation to Puerto Rico. You set yourself apart from the pack, and in the early ‘90s befuddled professional player Allison Fisher with a 4-rail trick shot that you invented, but she could not replicate.
John and I were fortunate to recently witness the two games that would conclude your storied billiards career, in mid-July. You won both.
I’d like to imagine you and your old friend and rival Jackie Colavita from the neighborhood have now reunited on the table.
Your bowling prowess wasn’t shabby, either; a consistent 200-average kept you in top circles of the leagues, and you excelled at the sweeps. Uncle Johnny and Frankie played a significant part in those memories, as you all bowled together and supported each other.
You and Mommy were a duo to be reckoned with throughout the years, eventually competing under the team moniker “VAL Vending.”
I was honored to bowl with you in a “Just for Fun” league as recently as 2011. You were still super competitive, and a wonderful instructor. I was amused when you glanced around and commented about the “scrubs” on the other lanes, and I laughed and reminded you that this league was indeed just for fun.
Your carpentry skills were evident in your beautiful work. You finished Nana’s basement like an expert, with paneled walls, tiled floor, ceiling with recessed lighting, laundry room, and full wet bar with shelves and a “flip-surface” entry.
You also finished the attic on Southwood Drive, and the basement on Old Bridge Turnpike. That workshop, with built-in power tools, drawers, cabinets, and recessed lights, was crafted with professional touches. Mom was delighted when she first saw her new laundry room, food pantry and storage closets.
You were always an automobile aficionado, and had the phattest ride in the ‘hood. The girls would stare down from their bedroom windows as you glided by in your gleaming new convertible. You owned 17 Cadillacs.
Some of your other favorite cars were the Corvettes, the Porsche 944, Mercedes SEC and ’56 DeSoto Adventurer. You loved your Buick LeSabre in later years and spent many happy miles visiting the family, playing pool and going for your favorite sandwich, the McChicken.
During the years you lived with us, I scouted out local classic car shows for us to see. I was on the hunt for ‘60s and ‘70s Cadillacs and was always impressed at how you knew all the makes and models of the cars. One of our favorite shows was on Brighton Avenue in Long Branch. You’d treat me to a hot dog and fries at the Windmill, and I bought us ice cream.
You taught me how to drive on our ’76 Coupe de Ville, and that sage instruction benefits me to this day. Once in the ‘80s on the Tractor-Trailer, on the way back to Ferro, you got me behind the wheel of the Road Boss 2 on Jutland Norton Mountain on 78. You were so proud that your daughter had driven an 18-wheeler.
I loved going on the Tractor-Trailer ever since I was little. You maneuvered 18 wheels and 40 tons with ease as I played with the CB radio and stereo you’d installed. You kept your rigs spotless, and were given new trucks whenever the fleet was upgraded. Your CB handle was King Cobra.
You received the distinction of “The Pallet King” at your retirement at Mr. Ferro’s home, an honor that no other driver had earned before or since. Mr. Ferro thereafter told you that had you not retired, he would have stayed in business.
I learned from you and Mom what a good marriage is made of. I remember walking into the kitchen as a child to find you hugging, and you shared many inside jokes and pet names. When Mom became terminally ill, you cared for her with a devotion that demonstrated true love. I cannot imagine how bereft you felt when Mom went to Heaven in 1986. It truly brings me joy to know that you are together again.
You charmed everyone you met. Always the slapstick jokester, you had people laughing, and if there was a small child in the vicinity, out came the famous “finger trick” and you acquired yet another fan. All your nieces and nephews crowded around you. Your smile and laugh were contagious. You helped others whenever you could, even if it was at your own inconvenience. Your generous heart was an important example to us all.
Your presence on my wedding day was so meaningful to me. You, my First Love, had always supported my relationship with John, my Forever Love.
Among those memorable moments: posing with you for pictures on the front lawn by the Japanese Maple tree you and Mom had planted, slowly making our way to the altar where you “gave this woman to be married”, and our Father/Daughter dance at the reception. I was wearing Mommy’s wedding dress, and we danced to your own wedding song, Theme from A Summer Place. I know Mom was there with us that day, blessing my union with John.
When you moved into our home in 2002, you became a cool roommate. We all were very respectful of each other’s belongings and mindful of space and routines. You made delicious things for us to eat, including stew, rice and beans, macaroni, potatoes and eggs, round grill cheese, Reubens, eggplant, peppers and eggs, linguine with crab sauce, escarole, pasta e fagioli and ice box cake. We also included you whenever we made meals, so we could all eat together.
Dad, I think of you every day. I’ve noticed the signs from Heaven you have sent to me. I walk through our home, and in my mind, fleeting images of you are in every room. I look at your pictures, and hold them close as the tears flow. I saved your little notes to me in a special scrapbook, and I’m happy that you enjoyed looking through it, and you knew what a difference you’ve made in my life. It warmed my heart to see all of the notes from me that you’d saved, too.
I’m grateful to have been able to take videos of you telling old stories. You were a brilliant storyteller and always had us in stitches.
Throughout your illness, we were a team. I was your coach, and you showed remarkable determination and strength as you encountered some significant challenges. Always the fighter, you did your best.
Now you’re free to run and climb again, and even to fly, as you’d always dreamed. You’re strong and eternally young, in Heaven. You aced life, and now your work is done.
I’ll treasure being your daughter forever. I anticipate the elation of some day once again embracing the best Daddy and Mommy I could ever have hoped for.
I’ll see you later, Vinnie Nineball … King Cobra … The Rock … The Pallet King …