Here’s an idea I’ve been mulling around for a while.
You see, I have a pretty rad and interesting family tree. So, leading up to Christmas, I figured I would start an “Interview with Fam” series. Let’s be honest, most of them are way more fascinating than me.
A mother with nine lives and occupations continually reinventing herself; a dad born in Cuba and living in Mexico running his own company; a New York Italian grandfather legally blind and perhaps used to be involved with the mafia; a grandmother who nearly died last year, but has fought to tell the tale; another grandmother who escaped Cuba who walks over a mile every morning and worked in a factory for 25 years in New York; an Uncle who dresses up as Santa Clause in a different remote country every year for the last 25 years, and has never worked for a company not in the Fortune 500; and a sister who is raising a child on her own and is the first Green Certified Realtor in Maryland and speaks Spanish.
First off, GRANPA HARRY!
And, since I’m writing this for my Grandfather who is legally blind, but still reads my posts everyday, I will WRITE THE REST IN ALL CAPS (AT LEAST THE QUESTIONS. HE KNOWS WHAT HE ANSWERED).
I’D LIKE TO INTRODUCE GRANPA HARRY. MY GRANMA LOPEZ HAS DEALT WITH HIM FOR 30 YEARS, AND SHOULD BE SAINTED FOR IT. HE’S THE GUY ON THE RIGHT, AND IS 87 YEARS OLD.
WE CAN ALL LEARN FROM WHAT HE HAS TO SAY. (IT HELPS TO IMAGINE HIM TALKING IN A THICK NEW YORK ACCENT. BRINGS IT TO LIFE.)
WHERE WERE YOU BORN? WHAT WAS DIFFERENT ABOUT GROWING UP WHEN YOU WERE A KID THEN IT IS NOW?
I was born in a palatial mansion on Long Island. The property ran from 4th St to 8th street. It ran for 4 blocks, it had 6 columns on the front.
Respect for elders. I find that so different today. I find it sometimes in the younger people – like my nephew shows that old school respect. I remember Mr. Maltini, a neighbor of mine and I used to ask him advice on how to invest some of my money. Things like that.
WHO WAS YOUR FIRST GIRLFRIEND?
A girl named Florence. I was in high school. I had one girlfriend in high school who was beautiful and a nice girl but she had a nose that looked like it was broken.
One summer she went to Canada and came back and had had a nose job and she was so beautiful! I never even noticed her figure because her face was so beautiful. She came to school one day with an envelope with $600 – 6 $100 dollar bills and came up to me and wanted to know if I wanted to run away with her. I asked her where she got the money and she said she had taken it from her family. I was scared and I didn’t know what to do so I went home and told my father and he called her family and they got the money back and I never talked to her again.
HOW DID YOU PICK UP THE LADIES? WHAT LINES DID YOU USE?
“You’re as pretty as a picture – nice frame too!”
“You look prettier and prettier every day and today you look like tomorrow.”
“I love my wife but oh you kid.”
“Hi good looking – not you pie face.”
Oh yes, the ladies fell for my lines. I was quite the ladies man. But it was a different time and the guys weren’t after what guys are after today. If it was a pretty girl, it was just important to be seen with her, not to have any other notions.
I was going with this girl, Gwen McInerny, and I went to pick her up and her mother said to me – “Harold, I like you very much and it has nothing to do with you, but she can’t go to the party with you tonight because she didn’t do something here at home but if you want to talk to her you can go up to her room. So, I was at the foot of the stairs and I was speaking to her and she said she was sorry she couldn’t come but at least she knows that someone at the party will be thinking of her. I replied – “who?” Wow, did I light a fire!! Boy was I a stupid bastard!! What should I have replied? She was a red head and good looking. That was an innocent answer!!
WHEN DID YOU FIRST MEET MY GRANDMOTHER, ADELA?
I was having my car repaired and the repair shop was adjacent to the parking lot where Grandmom used to park her Mustang. Grandmom was standing next to her Mustang with the engine running for about 15 minutes, probably to warm up the car. I walked over and asked her if she had a problem and her reply was that she didn’t speak English very well. I charmingly told her she spoke English well and then asked her if she would like to go to dinner. She immediately replied “when?” I finally got her phone number and then didn’t call for about 2 weeks. When I called I invited her to dinner and she accepted. This was in Astoria and I was about 45 and Grandmom was about 35.
I had a beautiful red, convertible Cadillac El Dorado.
WHAT DID YOU FIRST LIKE ABOUT HER WHEN YOU MET HER?
I don’t know. I found her beautiful but I really just wanted to know to know if she needed help with her car. She wasn’t snobbish and her demeanor was pleasant. What can I tell ya? What do you want me say – “that I swept her off her feet and carried her off on a while horse?” I was dating another woman at that time and I dumped her right away. She was a nice girl too.
WHAT WAS YOUR IMPRESSION OF MY FATHER AS A YOUNG MAN?
At the time I was very proud of him because this country was at war, and like myself, he wanted to serve his country at a time when many young men were running to Canada. He enlisted in the Marine Corps. That means a lot. Carlos was 17 when I first met him. When I met him, he was never afraid to work. He was not a lazy guy. He was a neat kid and liked to read a lot. He was a notch above most of the kids at that time. Carlos suffered in the Marine Corps. It’s tough basic training.
We got along great but he did get me mad one day. I took his mother up to CT and I took him and his girlfriend along with us in my beautiful red El Dorado Cadillac convertible and Carlos asked me to put the top down. It wasn’t “top down” weather so I refused to put the top down. We stopped at one point along the way and I went into a store. While I was in the store, Carlos decided to put the top down anyway. This meant that at that time, the top needed to be unzipped around the glass rear window and the glass then went into a pouch before the top was put down. Well, Carlos didn’t know that is how it worked and needless to say, the rear window shattered and boy was I pissed off. It cost $250 to have the window replaced and that was in 1968. Thank God he didn’t rip the convertible top because that would have cost about another $1,000.
IF YOU COULD LEAVE ONE LEGACY ABOUT YOUR LIFE AND WHAT YOU’VE LEARNED, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
I have learned always to tell the truth. You never have to remember what you’ve said in the past. I’m saying this because of the past when I’ve suffered by “bending or distorting” the truth. I was so good at lying that I believed my own lies.
When I started in the construction industry, the foreman asked me if I knew how to do arch work. I said, yes, but the truth was I didn’t even know what arch work was. I was partnered up with another worker, we climbed the steel girders on a high rise building under construction, I watched what the other guy did and mimicked what he was doing. That was one example of how I bluffed my way through life.
WHAT DO YOU GET THE MOST PLEASURE OUT OF LIFE? HAS THAT CHANGED OVER THE YEARS?
Yes it has changed. Reminiscing. No one can take away your memories.
TELL ME ONE OF YOUR MEMORIES.
My father was in the construction business and worked very hard. Therefore, he would go to bed early. This was in 1928. We had a dry cell battery operated radio with a huge horn for a speaker which produced a lot of static. A news report came over the radio that Marie Dressler, a prominent movie actress, had passed away. My mother shouted to the bedroom to my dad in Italian (Vincenzo) si cu muri (Do you know who died?”) to which my father replied “Cu”? My mother repeated the announcement again and he in turn asked again “Cu”? My mother replied “You know who.” 15 minutes elapsed and my father appeared in his Sunday suit with his new topcoat with a Chesterfield collar and his shiny Derby. To which my mother asked “What are you doing?” Dad replied “I am going to Morisco’s (our local mortician) to pay my respects. My mother said “Idiot, Marie Dressler, is a movie actress in Hollywood, CA”. To which my father replied “This fucking whore – she had to die tonight.”, thinking that it was someone in the neighborhood who had passed. End of story. . . .
(Thank you Mom for recording his answers)