Thursday, December 31, 2015

"Remembrance of a Cool Guy"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
The first time I met Carmine Pikero, the man who would become my father-in-law, he was standing in the parking lot at Stamford (now Trinity) Catholic High School in my hometown of Stamford, Connecticut. It was 1971 and he was there with my future mother-in-law, Jo, and the girl who would become my wife, their older daughter, Sue, whom I always had a crush on.

Sue and I had just graduated (she honorably, me miraculously). I walked up to Sue, kissed her, wished her a nice summer and said I’d see her in the fall at Saint Michael’s College in Vermont, where we both were going.

“Who the heck is that?!” her parents wanted to know.

“Oh, that’s Jerry Zezima,” Sue said casually. “He’s going up to St. Mike’s, too.”

They must not have been too comfortable with that. Their trust was sorely tested shortly after we graduated from college. Sue and I, with our good friend Hank Richert, another Catholic High grad who also went to St. Mike’s, met at the now-defunct Sittin’ Room in Stamford for a Saturday night of conversation and conviviality. We all drove separate cars (I wasn’t formally dating Sue at that point) and didn’t overindulge, but we did stay until the place closed.

“I got in my car and started to drive home,” Sue recalled when I spoke with her on the phone the next day. “As I was going up Long Ridge Road, I saw the headlights of this car behind me. I drove some more, but the car was still following me. I was getting scared. I turned onto Cedar Heights Road. So did the car. Then I turned onto Clay Hill and the car was still behind me. It followed me all the way home and up the driveway.”

“Who was it?” I asked anxiously.

“My father,” Sue said. “He was livid. He was out looking for me. He wanted to know who I had been with. I told him I was out with you and Hank.”

All was (eventually) forgiven and I started dating Sue. When we were married, her parents warmly welcomed me into their family, just as my parents warmly welcomed Sue.

These memories came flooding back over the holidays, the first without my father-in-law, who died in July at the age of 89.

Dad loved the holidays, especially Christmas Eve, when he got to help my mother-in-law make the Feast of the Seven Fishes, the traditional Italian dinner. He wasn’t a cook (boiling water was his limit), but he did help clean the shrimp and soak the baccala.

He especially liked angel-hair pasta with anchovies.

“The pasta is great,” I used to say, “but I draw the line at fish with hair.”

Dad, who I think would have eaten it for breakfast, would invariably reply, “You don’t know what you’re missing.”

After all these years, I have finally relented. And now I think it’s pretty good.

Dad also was handy. He had to be because he had approximately 17,000 tools in the basement. He must have had triplicates of every kind imaginable, including hammers, saws and screwdrivers, which he liked to drink in the summer, though his cocktail of choice was a vodka and tonic.

Once, when my daughters, Katie and Lauren, were small, I “helped” Dad put up a swing set for them in the backyard of his house in Stamford. My main job was handing him tools. Afterward, I got each of us a beer.

“Thanks for your help,” Dad said.

I smiled and replied, “It was nothing.”

Another thing about my father-in-law was that he was a handsome dude. And a cool guy. He loved to dance and travel the world with my mother-in-law. In fact, they took the family on a cruise to Bermuda for their 50th wedding anniversary in 2000. I got to drive the ship. My father-in-law, calm and collected as ever, ordered a drink at the bar. I didn’t blame him.

But mostly, he was a terrific husband, father, grandfather, great-grandfather and, of course, father-in-law who set a good example for me. Now I am the father-in-law of Dave and Guillaume. I don’t know if they think I’m cool, but they’re great guys who have patiently and cheerfully put up with my stupid jokes.

So did my father-in-law, a good man who was much loved and has been much missed, especially during the holidays.

A toast, with a vodka and tonic: Cheers, Dad.

Copyright 2015 by Jerry Zezima

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