I grew up with parents who were loving, caring, supportive and generous. I owe so much of who I am to them… but there was always something about my grandparents that had me captivated. I loved their house on Charles Place and the giant oak tree that we would spend hours sitting in front of and talking about life. That entire house smelled older, worn but safe; the aroma of nan’s perfume and hairspray filled the house. But it was pop’s calming voice that always made me feel loved and happy.
Legacy is what every man lives for. Whether it’s fame, fortune, love or the simple fact of leaving behind a name that will carry with it the utmost respect for eternity. Carmine is just that… whether you knew him as Uncle Junior (Sooranos reference), Uncle Carmine, Babe or Pop… Carmine will forever carry with it images of a selfless man who loved his family more than anything else in this world. He was a man who stood up for what he believed in and never told you what you wanted to hear. He told you the truth. He was my Professor Dumbledore even before Harry Potter was published. I learned to value what I hold near and dear to me and that the choices we make are at the heart of who we are.
I still remember the day I told him I was giving up baseball and taking up track… the silence was short… but his words were strong… “Are you crazy?!!” It was hard feeling like you disappointed the man you looked up to, the person who taught you everything you knew about sports. But when he learned how serious I was he supported me more than anyone… that was him. Say what you mean and mean what you say and support those who mean most to you. When he knew you did he believed in you. To him, “words were, in his not-so-humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic. Capable of both inflicting injury, and remedying it.” He didn’t always say he loved you, but you knew he did.
I had more conversations about the Yankees with him than Mike Francesca had with Chris Russo. I learned how to turn a double play like Phil Rizzutto, I learned how to shoot a jump shot (by the way… I never ever once beat him in around the world), and recently he taught me how to hit my 5 iron. Those are the images that will forever be burned into my mind.
But for me and anyone who knew him it was who he was in the quiet times that made you love him. Whether it was a long time customer who came in to ask his advice on an air conditioner he sold them in 1983, or a granddaughter who couldn’t wait for a plate of pasta on a Tuesday night, he was always there.
He was a Military Veteran, but refused to think of himself equal to others who served out country. He would often tell a story of his cousin who was fighting on the front lines in Germany. He would write home from overseas and tell Pop to be careful and stay safe. Pop, at the time, was playing baseball for the army, traveling up and down the East Coast entertaining the troops… He called it the “Battle of the Hudson!”He would tell this story and with a laugh say, “he’s getting shot at by Nazis and he’s telling me to stay safe… like crossing the Hudson River on a bus for a doubleheader was more dangerous than that!”
When nan passed away… I honestly think I learned what real selflessness was. He went to that cemetery everyday. He planted grass seed (and for everyone who knew him you weren’t surprised that it was the greenest, most well groomed plot of grass in the whole cemetery). He loved her more than he loved anything in this world and he never let anyone forget it. He loved her more than an Eli Manning touchdown pass, more than nan’s potato and egg sandwiches, even more than a Yankee World Series championship… although that was definitely a close second.
I once read a quote that said “today is a new day. God gave us the this day to use as we will. what we do today is important because we are exchanging a day out of our life for it. When tomorrow comes this day will be gone, leaving in its place that which we traded it for. We want it to be good, not evil, gain not loss, success not failure.”
That was pop… if you were to measure a man’s life against that quote… then he won. He was a legend who left behind a legacy of good, gain and success. He leaves behind family, friends, a grandson and great grandson (both who share his name) and both who will forever be better people because of him.
Until we meet again (and I finally get that rematch in around the world)… Rest easy Pop… and tell Nan I love her.