My Dad...

My Dad...
Herbie "Pompeii" Pilato

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.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

THE TRIBUTE TO MY DAD (who passed into spirit on April 5, 1995)

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 loosing 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.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Eva Easton Leaf: A Celebration of Everyone's Best Friend

One of my best friends has died.  Eva Easton Leaf, otherwise known as Evie.  Although Evie was a first cousin to me and my sister Pam (our mothers were sisters), she was more like a sister to us.  We grew up in the same house, a duplex with two households. My sister and I lived with our parents, Herbie Pompeii, and Frances Turri, on one side.  Evie lived with her parents, Carl and Elva, on the other side.  The address was on Erie Street, in the inner city of our hometown of Rochester, New York (which is located today one block away from where now stands Frontier Field, behind the global headquarters of Eastman Kodak).
Evie moved to Los Angeles in the 1970s, and married David Leaf.  Theirs was an astounding love-story.  Theirs remains an astounding love story.
David honored me with a request to say a few words at Evie’s memorial service on April 8th.  Below is what I said about Ev.  


Every day we see unspeakable tragedies - and we respond by being sad.  Yet our faith tells us to “rejoice and be glad…for this is the day the Lord has made.”
So how can we be sad and have faith at the same time?
We either have faith or we don’t.
It doesn’t make sense, and yet it does…because we live in a broken world…and it’s impossible to seek perfection in an imperfect world. 
I say all of this because Eva…Evie…Ev…Eve… had faith…an unwavering faith…a steady faith that kept her strong and on target every day of her life.
St. Augustine had said “A prayer sung is a prayer said twice.”
And Eva had the kind of faith that sings.
She understood the power of music…heavenly music…which she recognized on a daily basis.
She understood the music of life...and the delicate dance of life.
A few hours after she passed away in the hospital, I got in my car to drive home.  I turned on the radio and heard the song, “I Can See Clearly Now...the Rain is Gone.”
I never realized the true beauty of that song until I heard it that day…when…I viewed that as a message that Eva okay….enjoying “a bright, sunshiny day”…in Heaven.  And when I later told this to David…he said that same song was always one of his favorites.  To me, that doubled confirmed Eva’s “bright sunshiny day” - and new life - in Heaven.
On Earth, Eva was my number one fan.
She was everyone’s number one fan.  She always made you feel like you were the only person in the room. 
So, it’s tough not to be sad in this broken world.
But we have to be tougher….because that’s truly what Eva would want.  She would want us to “rejoice and be glad”…as much as possible.
We should not deny our tears…because they make us human.
But Eva would want us to be comforted by our faith…by every good faith…which is based in Love…because Love is God…and God is Love…and no one that I know knew that more than Eva.
She mirrored Love when it mattered.  She was generous in every way that mattered. She was Love in the way she listened…in the way she lived…in the way she died…and in the way how our faith tells us she now lives again in Heaven…with dignity, intelligence, courage…and music.


Click on the link below to post your memory of Eva Easton Leaf.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Thank you, Mom, for raising me right

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!"