My Dad...

My Dad...
Herbie "Pompeii" Pilato

Sunday, May 13, 2018

"Don't Mess With My Son"

I used to be picked on when I was a little kid, mostly every day, and mostly because I was cute and talented, and in many instances, cuter and more talented than any of the other kids, especially the other little boys, the bullies, who were always jealous of me because I had all the little girls after me.
As a result, every day I would be called dreadful names or be physically assaulted in some way.
But through it all, there was my Mom, who would stick up for me and do my battles for me.
And when I would want to fight back, she would say, “Don’t you dare, Herbie J. Don’t you be like them. Don’t dirty your hands.”
Then, one day, the bullying got so bad, that my Mom went across the street to the house where not one but two bullies lived - they were brothers. Yes, I was double-teamed against. But then my Mom demanded to speak to their mother. In tears, she cried and said to the other Mom, “My son can’t walk down the street without one of your sons making a remark or picking up on him in some way. I want it to stop!”
My usually docile, never-bothered-anybody Mom was now standing firm in her faith; practicing what she always preached; realizing that Love was not a doormat; and not being lukewarm, but confirming that sometimes it’s okay to be hot under the collar, especially when it came to the protection of the son she loved.
So, as my Mom stood there, furious and in tears, the message was clear: “Don’t mess with my son.”
Sadly, Mom is gone today, and incredible as it may seem, there are still the adult bullies of the world who attack me today; the mean-spirited, the insecure bullies who make an easy target of good-hearted souls like myself who they envy. But they don’t envy me because of my talents; they envy me because of my sincerity, which scares them. They are so busy being insincere in their everyday lives, that they simply do not understand sincerity when they see it; and in order for them to make themselves “okay,” they feel the need to lash out at the sincere for being sincere.
And that’s okay. I forgive them. As we should all forgive anyone who hurts us.
If we don’t, then we become like them. We “dirty our hands,” as my Mom would say.
And that’s just not productive.
We just have to be at peace in knowing that the bullies of the world...are hurting…and dealing with their jealousies; their lack of self-worth and inability to be sincere.
They try to take the good-hearted with character assassinations, and the good-hearted have no choice to all allow this: the good-hearted and sincere can’t lash out…because the more they lash out the weaker they will appear.
So the good-hearted just have to let Love and Forgiveness and the all good Moms on Earth and in Heaven do the battling.
It’s what Love, and Forgiveness, and Heaven and Moms were made for.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Blessing Babies

One of my Mom's many endearments was that she used to bless everyone with her Rosary, including me, especially after each visit to her home.  And she would do so before and after she was diagnosed with dementia.

I would walk outside to my car, turn, and there'd she be, standing at her front window, with her Rosary in hand, blessing me with the Sign of the Cross.

That said, the Democrat and Chronicle, the local newspaper from my hometown of Rochester, New York, publishes an annual baby announcement supplement with photos of all the infants born in the previous year.

A few months before my Mom passed away in 2008, I remember walking into her apartment that year on the day the supplement.

She was sitting on her sofa, with the supplement on her lap.  Her left hand was holding steady the supplement; her right hand was holding her Rosary, the crucifix from which she was using to tap the photo of each infant.

When I asked her what she was doing, she replied, "Blessing babies."

We should all have such dementia...or at least be graced enough to be "blessed" - at any age - by who does.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Roe, Wade, My Mom and Me

I live in Cerritos, and I usually try and attend the daily 6:30 AM Mass at St. Pancratious Church in Lakewood.

But I had an appointment today in Burbank and figured I would not be attending church this morning.

At least, I thought would not be...until earlier this morning, when I awakened with this thought:

I can attend the 8:00 AM in at St. Finbar's Church in Burbank, which I used to attend all the time when I lived in Burbank.

So, I was good to go.

But due to the usually-congested traffic on the 5 Freeway between Cerritos and Burbank, I had to go by 6:00 AM.

Then once on the freeway, and half-way to Burbank, I realized I forgot my rosary, a rainbow-colored rosary that once belonged to my Mom.  It's the only one I have left from her collection of rosaries, including a dark green rosary that I lost in Florida when I lived and worked there a few years back.

Though disappointed about my lack of rosary in hand, I continued on to St. Finbar's in Burbank.

Upon arrival, I started toward to the left middle pews of St. Finbar's to where is my usual spot in any church I attend, mostly because that general area is where I also used sit in church as a kid, and especially whenever I would attend Mass with my Mom.

Before taking my seat, however, I ran into a friend of mine in the vestibule who lived in my former apartment building when I resided in Burbank.  We were happy to see one another and I thought after, "Wow...what a coincidence."

But I had not seen anything yet, as in, "You ain't seen nothin' yet."

When I eventually walked to my side of the church inside, I found my regular pew, to the left of stands a statue of Jesus.  I kneeled, said my initial prayer, sat down in the pew, and waited for Mass to begin.

As the priest and those assisting entered from behind the altar in front of me I happened to turn to the pew behind me, and noticed a rosary, hanging over the front part of the bench.

I'm like, "Alright!  I have a rosary for Mass!"

It was only after I picked it up and started to pray that I realized it was a dark green rosary...just like the dark green rosary that once belonged to my Mom, who passed away in 2008.

I did a little "gasp," just as the Mass began to an audience which also happened to include the First and Second Grade classes of St. Finbar's School, all of whom sang this morning.

This day, and each day before when I would see those blessed kids at the Morning Mass at St. Finbar's in Burbank, it always reminded me of when I would do the same with my classmates at the three different parochial elementary schools I attended in my hometown of Rochester, New York.  Those being St. Peter and Paul's on Brown Street, St. Agustine's on Chili Avenue, and St. Anthony of Padua on Lorimar Street (which, by the way, is near exact replica of St. Pancratious Church in Lakewood, which is one of the many reasons why I love that particular church).

Back in Burbank at Finbar's I listened to the first reading, and then to the priest who gave the homily, which mentioned how today is the 45th Anniversary of the Roe v. Wade landmark decision.

I gasped again upon the realization and reviewed the events that brought me to this moment this morning.  My 9:00 AM meeting...the trek to Burbank...seeing my friend in the vestibule...seeing the new green rosary on the pew behind, as if waiting for me to reach for it...the school children at Mass...and then the revelation relayed by the priest of what day this was Father Francis Mendoza.

My mother's name was Frances, and in her later years, she used to jokingly refer to herself as "St. Frances."

This morning, that didn't seem so far off.  In fact, it seemed all meant to be.

After Mass, I approached one of the sweet church parishioners about what to do with my new green rosary.  I told the story of what had just transpired and asked if it was okay to keep the rosary.  I felt awkward about it, thinking someone may have left it there.

The nice church parishioner, a woman, told me keep the rosary.

I was delighted, and it was now 8:45 AM, she was heading a separate church group in additional prayers.  I decided to stay with them, hoping the extra prayers would be completed by my 9 AM meeting, which would be taking place at the Starbucks up the street.

I finished praying with the prayer group at 8:59 AM.

I had one minute to make it to my meeting.

Once outside the church, I telephoned the colleague who I was scheduled to meet and told him I might be late.

"No problem," he said.  "I'm still on the freeway."

A blessing in of many this morning.

In all my thoughts are this:

First and foremost, my Mom was saying hello to me this morning from Heaven, while wanting to make sure I had a rosary.

Seeing my former neighbor in the vestibule was great.  My appointment went wonderfully, and my heart was full.

As to the Roe v. Wade issue...and abortion, I can only speak for myself and offer my personal opinion regarding this issue or any issue. I don't sit in judgment of anyone's religious, social, or political beliefs.  Each of us should have the right to do anything they want to do about anything.  And while I don't think there is a woman in the world who would want to put her body through the trauma that transpires during an abortion, I believe each woman or any human of any gender should be able to do whatever they want with their bodies.  We're all doing the best we can, and any good-hearted individual tries to make the best choices they can; to make all the right decisions.  And, for better or for worse, we all live with those decisions.

I also believe that we are dearly loved by Heaven where God resides with endless mercy, and loving-kindness.

That being said, I am pro-life.  That doesn't mean everyone has to be pro-life, but it does mean that I pray everyone would be.  And that's the way I see it, and I'm just sharing who I am and where I stand on the issue, and nothing more.

However, Father Francis this morning at St. Finbar's stated it infinitely more perfectly and  beautifully...and I paraphrase here, in quoting him:  "We should live in a world where there is room for EVERY life."

And I can only add this to that:

I just sure am glad that there was room in this world for me.  I'm so very happy and grateful that my Mom didn't abort me, or that any parent of those precious children singing in church this morning did not abort them, and for that matter, that any parent of anyone I know, know of, or love, or any parent of whose ever reading this, decided not to abort them either.

Monday, January 15, 2018

In every way that matters...

Neither of my parents received a formal education.

But they were two of the most intelligent people I knew.

They were never motivated to be more to have more.

They were fine just the way they were.

They had just enough to get by in this world, while they had nothing of what this world calls secure.

They never bought a house; had no investments.

No annuities.

No money.


Not a dime.

But they were happy and smart in every way that matters.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

"Thank you, Mom, for raising me right."

Happy Birthday Blessings to Mom in Heaven
Today, my Mom, Frances Mary Turri Pilato, would have been 96 on Earth, while she remains Immortal in Heaven. To honor her, and all the Loved Ones that each of us has known in our lifetimes, I share a favorite essay that I wrote for my Mom. Blessings to All and Everyone as I say...
Thank You, Mom, For Raising Me Right.
Thank you for always being home when I got there...for always welcoming me with a smile...for teaching me all about Love - and how to Love and forgive everyone...even and especially when they hurt us.
Thank you for catering three meals a deal, with snacks in between...for doing my laundry...for helping me with my homework...for being a best friend...and for being a beautiful parent.
Thank you for not having any aspirations other than to care for your children...for not studying, focusing on or investing in anything other than Love.
Thank you for not making me feel like you sacrificed any career opportunities in order to Love and care for me - and thank you for making me feel like I was always your proudest and most important accomplishment.
Every good thing I ever said or did...or every good thing I ever say or do today, even in the smallest way, is because of the Love that God placed in my heart and in my life - through you.
So, again...thank you, Mom...for raising me right.
As I used to say to you and Dad before I fell asleep each safe night I lived in our beautiful home, "Thank you SO much...for everything!"

Monday, May 29, 2017

Tribute to My Father: Herbert "Pompeii" Pilato

My dad was always the first one in my family who remembered to play a joke on April Fool's Day. Only on his last celebration of the holiday in 1995, a mere five days before he died of lung cancer, did I find out why.

On April 1, 1924, when my father was just a boy, he lost his mother when she was 35-years-old. As her eldest child, he and my grandma Rose were quite close. I don't think he ever got over losing her. He must have thought it was a bad joke that a twelve-year-old boy would lose his mother on April Fool's Day. It's like he made some kind of promise to himself that he would always be the first one to do a funny every year. It was probably the only way that he knew how to deal with the pain he must have felt every year on what should have been a very humorous day. Inside, I don't think he ever stopped asking where his mother was. From the day she passed away, there was no one there to comfort when he fell, so he fought. There was no there to guide him through school, to encourage him to get a formal education, so he quit.

He was on his own.

Still, when push came to shove, my father did remarkably well in this world. He always managed to enjoy himself in our hometown of Rochester, New York, and during his time in the service (World War II), which allowed him to travel to California and to the Philippines. He married at 40, and the good times continued with my mom, my sister and myself. In the fall of 1977, after years in the inner-city, we moved to a beautiful suburban townhome that we rented, and he loved it there. We all loved it there, from the moment we first went to inspect what would be our home for the next 18 years. Even after taking the long way, down the wrong road, on a rainy day, we somehow managed to end up at the right place.

After a time, however, my father grew bitter, thinking he had made the wrong decision by paying rent all those years and not purchasing a home. I tried to tell him again and again, that in life, no one really owns anything, that the life we all shared was good, even if we argued nearly every day, that a person's true success is measured by the quality time he has with others, not the quantity of material gifts he or she is able to gather in this world.

But he didn't want to hear about it. Then, when he got sick, he really didn't want to hear about it. And I didn't blame him.

Along with my father's physical ailments, his emotional state deteriorated. I prayed for his soul because I believed that he would not. At least, I thought he would not.

Then, one day, shortly before he passed away, I was trying to arrange the huge family rosary upon the holy mantel we had in our home. I couldn't find the right position. I gave up, and huffed away upstairs. About one half-hour later, I started back down the steps, and noticed my father situating the rosary in the most perfect way. At that moment, I knew that so simple and graceful a move had somehow cleared his path to heaven. All the times when he chose not to pray, all the moments when he could not find the strength to forgive himself for not going to school, finding the right job, paying into the right pension, winning the lottery, or losing at OTB; all the bitterness and anger that was eating away at him, was wiped clean. His heart was replenished. My father had faith, after all. But like so many of his other emotional truths, he concealed it.

Though, I had underestimated his integrity before.

While in fourth grade, I wanted to go to the circus.

"Get a good report card," he told me, "and I'll get you tickets."

I began to worry. I was a horrible student in the fourth grade. And when my report card arrived, as I had feared, I received all Ds and a great big F. After stalling for an hour or so in my room, I called him upstairs and showed him the card. He took it down into the living room. About 20 minutes later, he returned it to me. Inside were the tickets he had purchased weeks before. He granted me those tickets, when I thought he would punish me. But I punished myself by not comprehending the scope of my father's love.

Where was my faith?

Where was my faith when I worried how I would get to college, in a family of three drivers and one car? When my father showed up with a brand new car for me with which to commute to a local college, I was embarrassed. Once again, I had miscalculated the magnitude of his love, and the generosity of his spirit.

In the last weeks of my father's life, I did all I could to beautify his physical surroundings. Colors of creme, beige and eggshell filled each room. I wanted to make his transition to heaven real smooth. The new sofas and rugs were great, and I knew their staying power was weak. But they were strength-inducing for my dad. He walked around the house, looking at the new mini-blinds and kitchen floor, and said things like, "Well, it looks like we're going to be here at least a couple more years."

The rent began to matter less to him.

My sister, my mother and myself decided not to verbally inform him of the severity of his illness. And we're glad we did not. Every case is different, and had we acknowledged to my father how sick he was, he would have left us at least seven months earlier.

The bottom line? My dad knew in his heart how sick he was (how could he not?). We gave him all the proper medications, helped him to eat all the right food, etc. Telling my father (who viewed himself a failure all his life) that now, at 83 years old, he didn't have long to live, somehow just didn't mesh. So we all pretended he would get better, and, as a result, his last days were happier.

All the while, I would ask God to grant my father more time. And God complied.

I later prayed, "If it is your will to take my father, then grant us the strength to deal with the loss."

And God complied again.

We retained the strength, and I don't know how people with no faith deal with any loss.

Strangely, before my dad became sick, I asked God to show me what really matters in life.

Shortly thereafter, I went to get my hair cut. I was complaining about how it doesn't grow tall anymore, just long. The stylist put down his shears and told me this story:

"A little boy with thick curly, red hair came in one day, and I commented on how full his hair was. The little boy came back with a startling revelation. 'Well, you know,' he said, 'I have leukemia, and I'd trade in a second, my healthy hair for a healthy body.'"

Then, one night, I was watching Unsolved Mysteries on TV. There was a beautiful little girl, dying of cancer, and talking about how she spoke with the angels. How, for her, heaven was a place with colored clouds that taste like different kinds of ice cream; a place where the angels wonder what our favorite ice cream flavor is. She said "Chocolate Chocolate Chip." And then suddenly, one huge white cloud became one huge scoop of Chocolate Chocolate Chip.

In light of this happy thought, I pray today that my father's dairy dessert-flavored cloud is "Heavenly Hash," which he so enjoyed with my Mom many times on Earth. And if his sole (soul) mission in life was to bring the reader and the writer together now, with this communication in celebration of his life, then he completed his journey with flying colors -a term of which also may have its origins in those ice-cream flavored flying clouds.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

My Mom's Dreams Came True After All

One day, in January 2007, approximately 18 months before my Mom passed away, we had a special visit.

As we watched The Golden Girls together, as we would do frequently, I thought about how full and successful the lives and careers were of the senior actresses who performed on that show.  I also thought about my own aspirations, personal and professional.

I then looked over at my Mom - and thought about her life - and her dreams.

"Certainly," I thought to myself, "she had to have some of her own when she was young."

So, after a moment, I asked her to shut off the television.  I wanted to talk with her.

While I was quite aware of her memory issues, long and short term, I still wondered about her child-hood dreams, and asked, "Mom...what did you want to be when you were a little girl?"

"What do you mean?" she said.

"Well," I continued, "Did you ever have any dream job that you thought about doing when you grew up?  Or did you ever have any dreams in general of what you wanted your life to be – or how you wanted your life to turn out?"

She sat there with these questions, searching her memory, which had been savaged and erased by the various stages of dementia; and still, she was determined to give me an answer:

"I guess," she started to say, " was always my dream to one day go to a senior center on a daily basis, where I would have a good meal, be with people, play cards and bingo.  That was always my dream."

At first, I was startled and sad for her.  Whatever aspirations she may have had as child, a teen or a young adult, were lost – gone, somewhere in the deep, dark sleep of her memory.

But then I was happy for her.  She had convinced herself in the short new history of her life that going to the senior center (every day for the previous seven years) was the fulfillment of a life-long dream.

I felt God shining upon and through her that day.