My Dad...

My Dad...
Herbie "Pompeii" Pilato

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

My Mom Made a Difference

I grew up on Erie Street in the inner-city of Rochester, New York. 

My family lived in a red-brick house that was built to last.  It's still there, in fact.  Eastman Kodak had purchased all the property in our neighborhood and turned the entire area into a parking lot.  But not our house.  They couldn't touch it.  The Landmark Society wouldn't let them.  The foundation to our home was too strong...too solid...and it was deemed a landmark.

In perspective, in more ways than one.

There was so much Love in that house, I can feel it today; that was its true foundation.  The house was built on Love that was placed there by my Mom.

She did so much for so many people for so many years.  In big and little ways.

I remember every year she'd visit homes in the neighborhood and collected money for what was then called the Leukemia Society charity organization.  There weren't many homes left in the later years, and many of those who lived in those homes had little or no money at all to donate.  But that never stopped my Mom, even during the winter months, when she mostly made her rounds for the charity.

There she'd be in the middle of February, putting on her coat in that big ol' fashioned kitchen that we used to have.  She'd then take her little manila envelope with the tiny strings, and walked out the door.

One year, for some reason, I went with her.  She visited maybe only 5 or 6 houses, and returned home with maybe just $5 or $6.  She knew it wasn't much...and even as a little kid, I knew it wasn't much either.  But I also knew Heaven thought that little $5 or $6 was worth a great deal.  

As such, my Mom's little neighborhood collections for funds from those poor families that would help an even needier group of people...who were dying...well...there's just no measure for the amount of Love that she collected - and that was collected for the Angels.

There's no measure the eyes of Heaven...she counted in so many other ways. 

She made a difference.

Just as she would decades later...when she was in the early stages of dementia...which thankfully...never turned to full-blown Alzheimer's.

One voting the last of her 86 years...I was going to the local fire station to place my vote in the local elections. 

"I want to come, too," she said.

"Ma, but..."

"But nothing," she added sternly.  "My vote counts, doesn't it?"

How could I say it did not - and how could it not?

Of course her vote counted in the local elections...because SHE my the eyes of her friends at the senior the complex where she lived...and in the eyes of Heaven...where SHE received countless votes.

So, that one voting day in November '07...she did come with me.

The voting booth organizers at the fire station said I could help her make her voting selections.

Truth is, she didn't know who was running for what office...and she was going to forget what she did and who she voted for about ten minutes after we got back to her apartment.

But for that moment in time...her vote counted because SHE counted.

She ALWAYS counted.

Because she always did her part...whether for the Leukemia Society...or the local elections....or for Heaven.

Either way, she did her part and she counted.

And she still does...most likely more than I will ever know.

In this life.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

St. Frances of Turri (my Mom) Says Hello From Heaven

Monday, November 4 was my Mom’s birthday.

I usually remember her birthday, of course, because she's my Mom, but also because I served as a her primary caregiver for the last 13 years of her life; as I did for my Dad in his later years.

But more than serving as her caregiver, I was her best friend and she was mine.  She was also most likely my adopted-daughter.

Clearly, caring for a parent in their later years may be defined in several different ways.

That said, I was just plain shocked that I forgot that it was my Mom's birthday on Monday, November 4.  I had recently moved so I just chalked it my memory issue to the "moving" stress.

Fortunately, on that Monday, November 4, my cousin Marie emailed me with the subject line, “Happy Birthday, Aunt Frances!”

Grateful, I went to Monday morning mass at S. Finbar’s Church in Burbank.

My Mom loved going to Church – and she made me love it, too…which I do to his day.

So, it was fitting that I attended Mass on her birthday and say a special prayer for her.

It was then the "awareness miracles" began to unfold.

November 4 happened to be All-Saints Day.

Banners of each saint were draped around the church.

Interestingly, the banner of St. Francis of Assisi was draped across the lectern and podium in front of the church.

I took that as a "hello" from my Mom, because she jokingly used to refer to herself as "St. Frances," spelling the name differently, of course, in the feminine.  I, myself, sometimes refer to her that way, adding her maiden name of "Turri" to the moniker, and calling her, "St. Frances of Turri"!

Anyway, I still found it quite intriguing how the St. Francis banner ended up at the lectern, instead of any of the other saints.

I wondered, if November 4 held any particular significance in the life of St. Francis of Assisi.

A call into the rectory of St. Finbar’s Church clarified the assumption:  no – it was not the birthday of St. Francis, but “Francis” did happen to be the name of our new pastor at St. Finbar’s (not to mention that "Francis" is the name of the our new Pope in Rome!); and he mused that his staff had placed the banner of St. Francis of Assisi at the lectern in his honor.

The following week, the day after I hosted an NBC Page Reunion, on Wednesday, November 13, I felt compelled to attend mass once more....for no particular reason except to give thanks for what I believed was a great party and gathering of good friends.

In general, since moving to Burbank in March, it's been my goal to attend Mass every day, as my first apartment in Burbank - on Myers Street - was just across the street or so from St. Finbar's.  But now that I moved to Buena Vista Street near Olive Avenue, the Church is somewhat further from where I live. 

Either way, I try to make it to mass on at least a semi-regular basis, on Sunday or any day during the week...whether it's an ordinary day or a special day.

So, as I said, I went to mass on Wednesday, November 13.

Upon arrival at the Church, Father Francis, the pastor said is the feast day of another saint St. Frances of Grabini.

I’m like, “Oh, come on!”

So I smiled again - as I had on November 4, once more receiving yet another hello from my Mom.
But then I kept receiving more "hellos."

As I looked around the church, there seemed to be a numerous amount of newborn infants with their mother.  Usually, there's one or two during a Sunday mass....but to have three or four during a weekday mass was...well...unique to say the least.
And these babies were everywhere...I looked to the right...there was a Mom and her baby; to the left...another Mom and her front of me...a Mom and her the back of me...a Mom and her baby.
This time, I didn't just smile, I almost laughed out-loud.
Not only did my Mom absolutely love babies (she used to bless them and children with her rosary whenever she'd see one), but the last time I took her to St. Cecilia's Church (in Rochester, New York, our hometown), she was in the later stages of dementia; and the priest was baptizing a new baby in the parish.
So, as the priest stood at the podium, and said, "Let's us welcome a new baby to our parish."
Well, at that point, my Mom turned around and said aloud, "Baby?!  I don't see no baby!"
And everyone on our side of the church just burst-out laughing.  They knew my Mom was having perceptual issues, and we all just smiled in joyful acceptance of her condition.

Either way, back to last Wednesday, November 13th at St. Finbar's Church in Burbank, I took seeing all those babies as yet another hello from my Mom, this time with a "wink."
And I left the church, smiling....thinking, of course, that I would not "hear" from my Mom for a while.
But, such was not the case.
I saw and heard her again in several other amazing ways.

After Church, I went to the bank to make a deposit. 
I arrived in at 8:50 AM.  The bank opens at 9:00 AM, but the bank manager let me in early.
Banks don't do that.  Like the post office or the DMV, banks open when they open - and not before.
Except, apparently, for me - on Wednesday, November 13.
I don’t like waiting in line for the bank to open…(who does?)…but since the mass at St. Finbar's was longer than usual, I was willing to wait until the bank opened.
But upon arrival at the bank, I didn't have to wait at all.
Thanks, Mom!

Then - I went to the supermarket…to get some - my favorite.
And once in the bakery department, there they were.  So I bought a whole box of 'em.
And then I noticed that my favorite green drink, which is usually sold-out, was in giant supply.

So, I bought a ton of those, too.
Thanks, again, Mom!

St. Frances of Turri was clearly working her miracles.
And really?  Miracles happen every day to each of us.  We just have to be open to be mindful...and to look for those laughing-crying "babies"!

Saturday, October 19, 2013

God Bless Boo

It was right about this time - in mid-Fall 1982, when we lost Boo Boo, the little American Toy Shag of Erie Street, Rochester, New York (my hometown).
I was in Los Angeles with my cousins Evie and David, and I remember my sister Pam calling and telling us the unfortunate news.
All of us, of course, were devastated.
I remember talking with my Dad later; he explaining how even he cried when Boo he took little Boo's body to Uncle Tony's backyard on Lime Street - where my father grew up - and buried little Boo there.
My Dad did so for a few reasons...but he told me about one reason in particular.
Decades before, when he was just a little boy, his favorite dog died - and he cried then, too.  But he didn't bury that dog in the Lime Street backyard.  Instead, he buried him in the empty lot that was behind Lime Street.
Dad would have buried Boo there, to his little dog's grave from the past.  But on that lot now stood a gas station. 
So burying Boo directly in Uncle Tony's backyard was the next best thing.
Either way, it was a fitting burial for two little pups that clearly meant a great deal to a whole lot of humans.
And yet, Aunt Amelia, my Mom's sister, used to say that Boo was "just like a little human being."
And as I look back, of she was right.  We all thought that.
He was.
Love you, Boo...and miss you...but we all know you're up there in Heaven...with my Mom and Dad, Herbie P. and Frances Turri; Uncle Carl and Aunt Elva, Aunt Amelia, Aunt Rita (who so loved Boo, too!), Aunt Antoinette and Uncle Joe; Uncle Tony, and all the other good souls whose lives you brightened with your happy waggin' tail - and that little puppy smile that by the grace of Heaven somehow became human - and which now remains eternal. 

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

"Here Comes The Sun: A Story of Hope"

Today, there are many wonderful charities that organize various "walks" to earn funding for their selected nonprofit organizations.

Years ago, in Rochester, NY (my hometown), circa 1971, my sister Pam and her high-school friend Joyce marched in the "Hike for Hope," which was then a charity walk for the then-medical big-line ocean cruiser that was essentially a massively floating hospital on the water.

At the time, the "Hike for Hope" was a pretty big deal. In fact, Rochester's turn-out that year was legendary, as it became the largest documented march in "Hope's" history.

I wanted to go, but I was too young. Although I did participate in something called the "Walk for Water" the following year, I don't recall exactly which charity that particular march served.

However, I do remember the water that poured down as rain during the monumental "Hike for Hope."

And I remember that rain clearly, because I felt so sad how it drenched the noble "Hikers."

Actually, all of Rochester was upset about the substantial downfall of rain.

But as the old saying goes, none of that dampened anyone's spirits. And to quote another maybe more applicable saying (of the era), the "Hikers," thousands of them, "kept on "truckin'."

Meanwhile, I kept on truckin' - with my parents, Herbie P. and Frances, in our green 1969 Pontiac Catalina, as we decided to set out and find Pam and Joyce in the rain, during one of the largest charity group events that ever took place.

I really didn't understand how we would be able to scout out my sister and her friend amidst the literal "sea of people," but that posed little threat to my parents, especially my Mom. She was determined to find them...despite the rain...and even a little opposition from my Dad.

"Frances," he said to her as I listened from the back seat. "We're not gonna' find those girls. Are you kidding me?!"

"Keep driving," my Mom instructed, ever so calmly.

Meanwhile, all three of us were simply amazed and what we did see. The dedication, loyalty and heart and soul of "all those kids," as my Dad put it, was just awe-inspiring.

Neither of us had any conception of what to expect as we commenced this journey to find Pam and Joyce in the wet masses that were soon surrounding us.

But now all that mattered was somehow, we were going to cheer on "all those kids," by offering the only support that we had at our disposal. And for the moment, that meant maybe playing some music.

As our Pontiac continued to nuzzle through the Hikers and the rain, with the windshield wipers, flumping, at full-speed, I asked my Dad to turn on the radio. At first he declined, but then my Mom doubled that request. "Turn it on," she said to my Dad.

He then reluctantly did so, and as if on cue, we heard the song, "Here Comes The Sun," by The Beatles.

"Oh, Herbie," my Mom said to my Dad, "Turn the music up - and open your window!," she added, as she opened the one on her passenger side.

"What?!," my Dad objected. "I'm not opening nothing. It's pouring out there."

"Do it," she insisted. "Look at those kids. They're soaked out there...and they're walking for something important. So, turn up that music...and open your window!"

That said, in seconds, my Dad did as my Mom requested. He opened his window after she opened hers (both by manual power), and out from our two-door sedan, poured the beautiful sounds of "Here Comes The Sun" to do battle with the pouring rain that was attempting to again, dampen the spirits of the Hikers.

But no way.

When "all those kids" heard that music coming from our car, with the little kid in the backseat and the two older adults in the front, they went wild with emotion.

We never did find Pam and Joyce, but we heard from their thousands of peers, as they shouted, one after the other, "Yeah, man!" "Thank you, Sister." "You're alright, Brother!" "Peace and Love to you!"

And on and on they went - as we drove on and on through the crowd, which was now melted - not by the rain - but by a little bit of Love that came shining through from a slow-moving vehicle operated by a sweet little man, a fast-thinking woman, and the illuminating sounds of very "en-Light-ening" music.

(Click on the link below to hear "Here Comes The Sun" by the one and only Beatles.)

Sunday, June 16, 2013

My Dad Had Twenty Hearts

Way back in 1994, when I was doing early research for The Bionic Book, I was fortunate enough to visit the set of the third and final Bionic reunion movie, Bionic Ever After, when Steve Austin (as played by Lee Majors) and Jaime Sommers (Lindsay Wagner) finally married. The movie was being filmed in Charleston, South Carolina - a place I had then yet to visit.

Meanwhile, and unfortunately, my Dad was suffering from lung cancer back in my hometown of Rochester NY, and I was concerned about whether or not to leave him for the film.

But my Dad, ever stoic, insisted that I take the trip. He knew how much being on the set of that movie would ultimately mean and contribute to my book. He also knew that I needed a rest from caregiving. That's the kind of man that he was.

So, I made my plans to leave for Charleston. Yet, before doing so, I took a walk with my Dad to the pool that was part of the townhome complex where we lived.

There I was - young, healthy, excited about the trip. And yet sad...because I was walking with my elderly, ill father, who only months before, had been the picture of health himself. In fact, he had not been sick a day in his life, and at 83-years-old, he had always looked much younger. If anyone could have been a movie-star, it was my Dad.

But not at the time of our walk. Not with his walker. And not with the tubes that ran from his nose to the oxygen tank.

My Dad's heart, however, was in peak condition, physically and emotionally. His pride was there for his son - as was his generosity - which was "on the money."

For in the middle of the walk, my Dad stopped, and reached into his pocket and pulled out a twenty-dollar bill - which he had somehow prepared to give me before we started the walk.

"Here," he said, "you take this...for your trip. In case you need it."

At this point, of course, I was making money as a writer. Not hundreds of thousands, but certainly enough to get me to Charleston and back.

But I could not turn away from Dad's mere twenty-dollar offer.

I looked in his eyes. The sincerity, with which he was giving me that small amount of money, was so loving-kind, pensive and massive. It would have cracked his heart in two had I rejected his offer.

What's more, by this time, the cancer in his lungs had slightly started to affect his emotions - and his thinking. My Dad's age, combined with the general inability to grasp onto just how different the world had become, how twenty dollars was really not a lot of money - for a young man or even a senior - all worked to cloud his perspective.

Ultimately, for my Dad, that twenty dollars was a lot of money. For me, it was a modest amount that became a priceless gift.

Friday, June 14, 2013

"My Mom's 'Circle of Peace'"

May 5th marked eight years since my Mom passed away.

I want to thank all of you for your patience with me in dealing with the grief. I realize that not everyone is as fortunate as I was to have such a healthy relationship with their parents. And in no way do I mean to state that in a boastful way.

We all come here - into this world - for different reasons and with different contracts with different people. With specific regard to my Mom and Dad, towards the end of their lives here on Earth, they became more than my parents. The roles were reversed as their needs increased.

Ultimately, my parents became my "children" - and my best friends. And today, I make every attempt to live to the fullest the life that God (= Love)gave me through my parents.

I ever feel compelled to never forget and forever celebrate their legacy - by living as joyfully, generously, and productively as possible - sharing loving-kindness along the way.

I don't always reach that daily objective. But I make a valiant attempt to do so. And it is my great hope that somehow I inspire others to do the same.

That all said, below please find an essay I wrote, titled, "Circle of Peace," which is a tribute to my Mom. At the end of the essay is a link to a full tribute to both my parents.

I invite you to read that as well - and to have a blessed, full and happy - and every day.

My Mom's Circle of Peace

My Mom, Francesca Maria Turri Pilato, passed into spirit, on May 5th, 2008. But as I wrote in her eulogy, her Earthly-demise was concealed in so many beautiful new beginnings:

"St. Frances of Turri," as I call her now, died in the Spring, the season of rebirth, shortly before Mother's Day, on May 5th – Cinquo de Mayo – a joyful 24-hour period that kicked off her hometown Rochester, New York's week-long festival of Lilacs, which bloom in the many shades of lavender - which her favorite color.

I'll never forget her – or my Dad (Herbie P. - a.k.a. "St. Pompeii," who died in 1995) – and the wonderful memories and instructions they left with me, all of which I believe remain to this day as whispers of guidance from God(=Love).

That said, my Mom was the least judgemental and confrontational person I have ever known. And, this year, one particular memory of her stands out as I reflect on Mother's Day and her passing.

Many years ago, when I was maybe ten or eleven-years-old, I journeyed with my parents to see my father's sister and her husband who lived in a suburb of Rochester, New York called Greece. En route to Greece from my childhood home (on Erie Street in the inner city) we traveled down Mount Read Boulevard to the roundabout entrance way to West Ridge Road.

In the center of that roundabout was an empty field of green grass, which is still there.

This one particular day, circa 1971, as we made our way about that circular turn, a group of teens were standing, in confrontation to each other. One group was on one side of the field; a second band, on the other. A few of the kids had broken bottles in their hands, while others had knives.

These two groups were either two formal rival gangs, or two very opposed bands of kids who, either way, were planning on a nasty fight.

But they had no idea with whom they would soon be dealing.

Upon noticing these two opposing young groups, my Mom turned to my Dad in in 1969 green Pontiac Catalina, and instructed him to "Stop the car."

My father was like, "Uh? What?!"

My Mom reiterated with a slightly firmer and halting tone.


So, my Dad gave in and pulled over on the side of the circular exit near the field where cars usually never tread.

My Mom then exited the vehicle, shut the car door behind her, and stood, glaring at the two groups of kids. She wasn't budging - and she wasn't kidding.

Meanwhile, I turned to my Father and asked, incredulously, "Dad – WHAT the heck is she doing?!”

"Who knows?!" he replied in complete exasperation.

We then both looked on in awe and in fear of the scene before us, waiting for God only knew "WHAT."

By this time, my Mom and all the kids from the two rival gangs were staring at each other. It had now become a contest not between the two opposing groups of teens, but between both of those bands – and my Mom.

A few minutes passed, and as my Mom remained firm in her stance and her glare, something miraculous started to transpire.

One by one, each of the teens from both sides of the field, started to drop their knives and bottles. In a few more minutes, the two groups began to disband, and get into the cars of their own, or walked away into the distance.

Soon, the field had become empty again, save for that beautiful green grass.

At that point, my Mom got back in our Pontiac, and we drove away.

Somehow, my Mom prevented a riot, and possibly some very tragic, if not fatal injuries.

Years later, when I saw the movie Gandhi, starring, Ben Kinglsey, I was reminded of this one day with my Mom. In many scenes of the movie, Kingsley's Gandhi remained steady and calm - as violence transpired around him, experiencing threats many times against his own physical being. And still, he never struck back. He remained firm in his stance and belief that violence solves nothing – and that aggression is weakened by doing nothing in retaliation.

That's how my Mom was that day near the green field of troubled young souls. She stood there, as Gandhi would, but looking like Clint Eastwood (minus the "hardware"), as if to say, "Go ahead...make my day."

But for my Mom, "make my day" meant, "Put down your weapons, hurt no one, and cause no harm."

And somehow those bands of kids listened as my Mom spoke her "peace" - her silent wisdom – all the way across that field and around that circle – and into their hearts.


Read more about my Mom - and Dad - in the tribute to them, by cutting and pasting to the link below.

Monday, May 6, 2013