I don’t know a whole lot. That’s not really breaking news. But what I do know or what I have learned in my 48 years is this little earth shattering nugget: we are all different. Breathtaking I know. Because we are all different, we experience the same situation in different ways. My mom and seven brothers and sisters and I are experiencing and dealing with the death of my father in different ways. No way is more right and no way is any better than the next.
That was a long way to say this is my way. I bang on the key board, at times through tears and most times through grins. I pounded the keys when we buried our little Linda Claire. I pounded them when Anne Marie scratched and clawed her way through her first 6 months of life in the NICU. I’m pretty sure I’ll be pounding them again at some point in the future. But for now I pound the keys to humbly offer the story of my dad.
Francis John Linardo: An extraordinary, unknown, life.
A man is born, lives, marries, raises a family, works, retires, and passes on. Lots of people do that, right? What’s so remarkable about that? What’s so extraordinary about any of that?
Well, a lot really.
When my friend Kevin lost his dad this time 2 years ago I made these comments in reference to his father Ed:
This is what greatness should look like. This is how we should define it. These are the people who should be celebrated. This is what we should strive for I think.
Look through that lens and I bet you know a lot more great Americans than you thought. When you think of someone fitting that definition you should tell people, people should know it and we should celebrate them.
I didn’t know when I wrote that I’d be using it to describe my father so soon, to be celebrating him so soon. Well I am. Time to celebrate another extraordinary life, another great American. Time to celebrate my father, or Pop as I called him.
The first of his family to be born in the United States, Francis John Linardo or Frank, spoke a lot of Italian and not so much English as a kid. He would later learn to speak Latin, Spanish, and passable French & German. By passable, he could ask for the toilet, order food, find the exit and his way around town, and sing some songs, which he did often on Saturday mornings while making us breakfast.
He learned to play piano and the accordion, a highly underrated instrument. He played that big accordion so well as a kid he was able to walk in the Mummers Parade on New Year’s Day with a local band. For you non Jersey -Pennsylvania- Delaware tri-state folks I’ve provided a link to the Mummers at the bottom of the page. But trust me it was a big deal. His dad had to walk along side the band as they marched the streets of Philadelphia to give him a rest from carrying that thing.
The pic at left is him with his grandfather sitting on the stoop in South Phila. As I said, my father was the first in his family born in the U.S.A. There’s some real old world Italian blood on that porch.
As kids I remember he would play the accordion and the organ at the same time for us. My sister Carol would always request When the Saints Go Marchin In. That song, if I remember right, required the most dexterity between the organ and accordion. I loved it too. Again, he played them at the same time and both are two handed instruments.
My old man was an old school baller too. Check the unis the City League Champs of 47 were sportin. Current NBA players are wearing overcoats compared to those things.
The Army came calling in 1950/51. Pop returned from a trip to Florida celebrating his graduation from LaSalle University only to find his draft notice waiting for him. I’ll never forget the way he told the story. He always started with the opening line of the telegram: “Congratulations! Your friends and neighbors have selected you to represent them in this current conflict.”
He would always laugh so hard after reading that and remark how appreciative he was of his neighbors for selecting him for this great honor. Still it was no laughing matter. The Korean War was ramping up and the War may have been over in Germany but the occupation was not. It was a dangerous proposition no matter how he laughed it off.
Of the two though, Germany was the safest bet. Lucky for all 8 of us, he was shipped out to a boat yard in New York. That meant Europe and a two year hitch in the Army of Occupation. Because of that, he never referred to himself or considered himself a Korean War veteran. He felt he was still part of the WWII era.
Plus he said to me once it would be wrong to, “Lump myself in with the guys who actually did the fighting.” I wish I had the space and time to relay some of his stories from his time in Germany and Western Europe. Maybe one day I’ll get them on virtual paper.
Ok just a taste. My old man was a great story teller who often found himself in incredibly strange situations. One of my favorites was his marching to the front of St Peter’s Basilica in Rome (the Pope’s home church) for Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. Plunking himself and his buddies, in full US Army Uniform, in the pew reserved for King Gustav VI of Sweden(?). The ? is for my recollection of the monarch involved. One of my sisters may know this info better. Anyway, that story is the tip of the iceberg of great stories from his two plus years in uniform.
After his draft hitch was up he felt God calling him to service. Turns out God was calling him to His service but the message lost a little in translation. Pop joined the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement, a Catholic Monastery. God had other ideas. Ideas that revolved around a certain old testament command. Be fruitful and multiply I believe was the verse God was searching for when commissioning my father to godly service.
So as only the mystery of the faith can work, my dad left the seminary and met my mom, a young woman who felt the call too and joined the convent for a few years. Now let me be clear, they had both moved on from solitary service to God before they met. Let me say that again, BEFORE THEY MET. My mom would be none too happy if I left the impression there were some sort of shenanigans going on.
To the contrary, two devout people, feeling the call to serve God with their lives, experienced first hand what happens when God is planning your route for you. Look man, I’m not going to preach to y’all or even claim to know anything about anything when it comes to theology. All I know and all I believe is God wanted these two to meet and to multiply.
Well, mission accomplished!
In that picture are the eight of us, my mom and dad, and their mothers. Other than my mom’s mom, the rest of us lived in the house in the background. And I also know we are all better for it. Well we’re better for it, the rest of the world has yet to cast their ballot.
In a house with four bedrooms, small rooms by today’s standard, and one bathroom, my parents raised eight kids, five of them girls. Yeah, one bathroom. To call the room down stairs a half bath is over selling it by half. Yeah it’s a toilet and a sink so technically it’s a half bath but it would fit inside most bedroom closets today.
Talk about godly service and sacrifice. What better example could there be than raising up a family. Eight kids and not a bum in the lot. I did 22 years in the Air Force and I’m the least successful of any of us. That should give you an indication of the caliber of upbringing we had. Hey we can all get lucky with a kid or two, but when all eight kids have life time careers, raising families of their own, and aren’t putting severed heads in the garage freezer, that’s not luck that’s parental service and sacrifice.
My mom still lives in the house. It was the house I was born into in August of 1967. As small as it seems now, back then it was normal. It was great actually. I can’t think of a moment of my childhood I would trade in or do over when it comes to growing up there. A lot of what I do with respect to Frank and Anne Marie is driven by the childhood I was privileged to have.
Some sad day they’ll be remembering their father as the eight of us have remembered Pop this past week.
If I’m half of what my dad was, Frank and Anne Marie will remember their childhood the way I do mine.
And I’ll die a success.
A soldier is free to be a hero. It is courage which gives them honor, and their sacrifice which gives us freedom.
The Final Call of the Bugle:
Here is the link to the greatest New Year’s Day parade on earth. The Mummers