By Charlie Sacchetti
Uncle Joe Sacchetti and Aunt Pauline struggled like most families back in the 1950s in an effort to raise their two sons, Chris and Joe Jr. Uncle Joe was a hardworking man who held many jobs and always found a way to make a dollar to support his family. He was the third eldest of his siblings, born in 1919. He lived to age 80. To mention a few of his jobs, he worked for the railroad, delivered milk, butter and eggs to homes in the wee hours of the morning, drove various trucks, worked as a longshoreman and even drove the South Philly streets selling fruits and vegetables as a proverbial “huckster.” So suffice it say, Uncle Joe knew how to make a buck. During their 50-plus years of marriage, my aunt and uncle tried to stretch every dollar as they lived their lives in a tiny row home on the 700 block of Watkins St.
Like all good Italian-American “housewives” in those days, Aunt Pauline ran the house, and as a devout Catholic, would dutifully make sure the “no meat on Friday” rule was strictly enforced. What that usually meant was that whatever fi sh was on sale that week ended up as Friday dinner. This was no problem with three of the four family members. Uncle Joe liked fi sh, Aunt Pauline liked it too. Cousin Chris, a big strong kid and the oldest boy by 18 months, would eat just about anything — but Joey was a different story. He hated fi sh and usually lobbied his mom to make pasta Faggioli, or anything else that didn’t live in the ocean.
There was this one particular Friday, when Joey was 13 when dinnertime rolled around. As Uncle Joe gave his distinctive whistle, which served as a Neapolitan “dinner bell” Joey sprinted home from down the street to sit down to a flounder and string bean meal. As Chris was busy enjoying the meal, Joey said, “I don’t want this, Mom. Can you make me some potatoes and eggs? Now, my aunt had a soft heart for her youngest and started to make the special dish. Uncle said, “What is this kid, a professor? I’m outside driving a milk truck all day and he’s gets treated like he’s in a restaurant.”
Aunt Pauline gave her husband a motherly smile and proceeded to make the potato and egg, “special order” for her baby. Uncle Joe calmed down, ate and put Joey’s untouched plate of fi sh and beans in the refrigerator. He wasn’t going away without retribution, however. After dinner he announced that Joey was not permitted to go out with his buddies that night because of his skillful manipulating of his loving Mom. He was also forbidden to have any additional snacks that evening. This threw a monkey wrench into Joey’s plan because the small portion of potatoes and eggs he ate was not nearly enough to satisfy his growing boy appetite. Joey was still hungry and to make matters worse, he and his buddies had planned to get a pizza at their favorite spot that night. That idea was now a mere fantasy. He was grounded.
When the Saturday morning sun peaked out after a hungry night’s sleep, Joey awoke and headed straight for the kitchen. He figured he was the first one downstairs and had the whole place to himself. In actuality, Mom was outside talking to a neighbor and Dad’s bedroom door was closed. Chris was in the shower. All that stood in front of him and his coveted bowl of Cheerios was the short walk through the tiny hallway. As he grabbed a large bowl and the box of cereal, he heard footsteps. Turning around he saw his father, my Uncle Joe, standing there all dressed and ready to have breakfast before going out to do some huckstering this Saturday morning.
“Hi kid, you hungry?”
“Sure am, those potatoes and eggs didn’t fill me up”
“Oh good, I’ve got the perfect thing for that”
With that, Uncle Joe went to the refrigerator, removed the plate of fi sh and string beans and said: “Mangiare, pass me the bowl and the Cheerios.”
It may have seemed that young Joey had succeeded in the great “potatoes and eggs” caper the night before, but he was outflanked, by the General, in that little Watkins Street kitchen the next morning. And for some reason, the second-in-command, Aunt Pauline, was not around to add assistance. Her “deployment” at her neighbor’s house was a brilliant tactic.
Charlie Sacchetti is the author of the book “It’s All Good … Times and Events I’d Never Want to Change.” Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org