Beanie Babies, Coins and Memories – Part 2

Young Don’s dreamed of building his father’s local grocery store into a business empire. But in his first semester of college, his father sold the store.  Unknown-5

 

Unknown    Don moved to his next best dream: “Every little boy wants to be a fire or policeman,” Don said, as we lunched on baked mostaccioli from Anna Maria’s.

“My dad spent three hours trying to talk me out of it, but i wasn’t finding a job, so he told me they were hiring down at the police department.

I was the only guy out of 800 to pass the test the first time, and the first to go into the Rockford Police Department at 21.”

Don was quickly promoted from patrol to traffic, then to detective in that division.  images

“Anybody died, suicide, medical, we handled that in the white car,” he said.

“High stress? Police have a high divorce rate,” I commented.

“There’s a problem with some officers. These gals wait on you in the store–flirt like crazy. No thanks!” he emphatically stated about his own response to these flirtations.  Unknown-1

“It’s about who you are,” I said.

“That’s right.”

“How tall are you?” I asked.

“I’m 5-foot-9,” he said.

“The minimum to be a policeman.”

“Are you telling your age?” I teased.

“No.”

Unknown-2   “You didn’t have your goatee in the force,” I said.

“They don’t allow that.” Don said.

“I couldn’t wait…it (the goatee) just had to be there. Couldn’t have it for 30 years…now…nobody can tell me I can’t have it.”

Before the police force, Don spent a short time in the Air Force, but couldn’t go back after a surgery. He didn’t want to.   Unknown-3

“They were sending me…to become a paymaster,” he said.

“I’d have gone into banking, paying other airmen.”

“You were meant for business,” I said.

“Since I was 11 years old,” He affirmed.

Even as a policeman, Don was moonlighting: head of security at a local grocery store, and also traffic instructor for three counties of police departments.

“I loved to get in there and get things done,” he told me.

“Was your family supportive?” I asked.

“All the way through,” he affirmed. “Married 33 years. Not a problem.”

“They say happily married men remarry quickly,” I said.   Unknown-5

“Well, Regina died, and one year later, I was dating the girl I’m going to be marrying now,” he said.

“What’s the worst thing you saw in your 30 years of police work?” He described a murder scene so gruesome, I can’t write the details.

“Down on Harlem Boulevard,” he said.

“My partner and I were the first there…found a window open and crawled inside. He said, ‘You do upstairs, and I’ll check down here.’ Went upstairs and…looked in the door…a little girl…if I close my eyes, I can still see it. And a little dog…a hunting knife…killed it.”

“How do you live with those images?” I asked.

“You put it off and try not to think about it,” he replied.

Unknown-4    “The most rewarding experience?” I asked, eager to move on.

“Something simple,” he said.

“A football player broke his neck playing practice football; I managed to doggone stabilize the neck and everything, and get him to the hospital, and he’s up and around, walking today.”

“You saved him from being a paraplegic,” I gasped.

“Yes. There were a number of those,” Don said.

“Or, a car caught on fire, and you had to get the dang door open.”

“Do we educate people to see police as friends?” I asked.

“If they’ve got their minds made up, I don’t think you can change their minds,” he answered.

“Some people just plain hate police officers.”

“Are you a religious man?” I asked.

“No,” he said.

“Not brought up with it?” I pressed.  Unknown-6

“That’s the reason…Sunday. Not positive. You were sick and still had to get up, get dressed and go to church.”

“Strict parents?”

Unknown-7   “Yes. Trouble is, it wasn’t my parents taking me (to church). It was the neighbor. I don’t think it has anything to do with how I feel about God. I just don’t like church, period. There’s a bunch of hypocrites in that doggone church. And, I don’t believe in volunteering. I am not a person who volunteers their time. When I had a day off, I wanted to be working in my garden–that’s where I can talk to Him.”

Don moved to 6 acres out of the city as soon as the department allowed it.

“I was running fast a I could to get out of Rockford,” he said. “I just don’t like the city of Rockford.”

A modern man in an ancient city – Part 2

As we talked more about modern and ancient Rome, the birds in the hotel courtyard were chirping so loudly that conversation was a bit difficult.

“I don’t sense a lot of crime in Rome,” I said, even though I had noticed that the hotel neighborhood had a lot of graffiti on the buildings.  th

“No, thank God,” Carlo said. “The crime we have is only the pickpockets, the Gypsies.”

“We had a man aggressively trying to put flowers in our hands at the Trevi Fountain,” I told him. “He wanted to sell you flowers.”

“Do you have some thoughts on Pope John Paul II,” I asked, switching to a more serious subject.    th-1

“This pope was very loved. He was very long in power, and also he was a pope that historically lived in a very important period of time.”

“What about the new pope?” I asked, referring to Pope Benedict, the one we had seen early in his papacy at the Vatican on this 2005 trip.

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“It’s too early to tell. Really we had hoped that after a Polish pope, they were going to elect an Italian one.”

“I was surprised to see they elected a German pope,” I agreed.

“Being in Rome, living in Rome, we have a lot of advantage, because the church is bringing a lot of people to the city. But the Catholic Church is influencing the Italian politics. the previous pope was a person. adorable, but he wasn’t open to the changes in the life in the world. One of the reasons why they elected this German, is because he was a person who was (continuing) the policy of the previous pope. It’s a regressive situation in my opinion. We are going back to the medieval.”

“Is that oppressive?”

“Oppressive, correct. When the church is interfering with Italian politicians, it is…”

“Medieval,” I understand.  Pope Benedict XVI Names Six New Saints In Canonisation Ceremony At St. Peter's Square

“OK you understand,” he said. “The last thing I want to tell you: Do you know how powerful the Catholic Church is? Do you think they have a lot of money? Do you think they are rich? Do you know that money is power? It happens everywhere. Money can make a war to start or finish the same year. The Catholic Church is powerful because they have money, and so they guide the choice of the governor. I have opinions about politicians in Italy that I don’t like to repeat. I feel that we do not live in a democracy in this country. How can it be a democracy with 27 parties? It cannot be a democracy with 1200 delegates. It cannot be a democracy,” he said. “I want to say, our country could be more progressive. Because progress is life, is freedom.”    th-4

“What would that mean for you?” I asked.

“That I consider myself to be a free person. As i am now, I’m not, because there are a lot of rules and regulations that keep the Italian industry and people like me down.”

“So the decisions you have to make are controlled?”

“Yes, too much control, too much control. When they have 27 parties, each one has a little bit of power. Before you get the final decision, you’ve got to have him, him, and him and that. Before they give the permit, you can die.”

“That is frustrating,” I said.

“Oh, yes, I am sure that if I were in America, I could have done a lot more.” “Did you ever consider that?”

“I’m Italian, you see. My heart is here. When I was abroad, I was dying to come back to my city.”

“You have been to America?”   Unknown

“I’ve been to New York and to Orlando.”

“What were your impressions?”

“New York is like Rome 2000 years ago. Because of the technology and art that is there.”

“Ancient Rome was very sophisticated,” I affirmed.

“If you compare the time when old Rome was in power, you can see that the majority of the people lived in houses made with wood, but in Rome (itself) people lived in houses made of marble.”

“Is Rome still very cultural?”

“Not like it was before. It is a place where people should come, because everybody should see how clever and how important the Romans were. If you want to see tracks of history, you must come here. If you want to look at the inventive architecture, you should go see the Pantheon with the round ceiling built 2000 years ago, without technology that you have today. That is why it is important for everyone to come to see our country. We have a little bit remaining (but) not too much from the Roman Empire…the ruins…the Coliseum, the Forum and other things. To me now, America is like the Roman Empire 2000 years ago. All roads should lead you there.”  th-5

“Do you like Americans to come here?”

“Oh yes, I like American people.”

 

(Published first in The Rock River Times column, Lunch with Marjorie, in August, 2005). Since then, after Pope Benedict resigned in 2013, Pope Francis, an Argentinian, was elected to the Roman office.   th-3