By Charles Sacchetti
In life, if you are fortunate enough, you may come upon a person with whom things just seem to click. For me, one such person was Alphonse Nocito. Al was my wife’s uncle, the husband of Aunt Jeannie, who was the sister of my mother-in-law. I must admit that when I first heard of Uncle Al, I was a bit intrigued. While dating my wife, I would hear stories about how intimidating he was —a stout, tough-looking guy that no one dares mess with. Indeed, years later he would share a story with me about an overzealous local politician, who had the bad judgment to try to impose his will on Uncle Al. After this man knocked on the door, Al answered. The intruder was aggressively trying to stick some fliers in Al’s face through the half opened door.
When Al said he wasn’t interested, the guy ignored Al, kept talking and decided to put his foot in the doorway. Protecting his home from this “breaking and entering” threat, Al popped him in the jaw with a short right. After a brief nap on the lawn, the man decided to move on to the next house. Although he was a highly intelligent man who graduated from LaSalle College and had a successful career in the Finance Department of the state of New Jersey, stories like this always overshadowed those of his softer side.
So with great interest and anticipation I looked forward to my first encounter with Uncle Al. It would be at his house during the Christmas holidays in the year 1973. I had been dating Luann for about seven months and would accompany her family for the visit. Luann took great pains to warn me about what I could expect when I met Uncle Al. She lovingly explained that a lot of the family was intimidated by him because he was the epitome of the tough, old-fashioned Italian patriarch. She wanted to be sure I wasn’t going to be too nervous when we would finally meet. Her introduction didn’t go exactly as planned and the look on her face clearly showed it.
With only Al and her present, with a smile on my face, I looked him in the eye, shook his hand and said, “You don’t look that tough to me, I could probably kick your butt right now!” This was admittedly a calculated risk. Totally surprised, Uncle Al looked at me, furrowed his brow and bellowed a loud laugh as he gave me a bear hug of affection.
That was it. We were buddies for life.
As I got to know him, I would learn of his love of sports, U.S. history and, of course, his family. And what a family it was! Uncle Al and Aunt Jeannie increased the population of Delran, N.J., by 11. They brought six girls and five boys into the world and all of the kids have grown to be outstanding citizens, which speaks volumes of Jeannie’s nurturing and Al’s strong, disciplined leadership. A Korean War vet, Al was also a top-flight woodworker. He had a fully equipped basement that allowed him to fabricate many different pieces that would be used in the home. The one I remember the most was the 10-foot-long oak dinner table and the benches that accommodated a typical dinner crowd of 15-20 people.
Some of my best times with Uncle Al were when I would make a “bread run.” I had a wonderful Italian bread bakery as a customer for many years. Whitey, the owner, would not let me leave the bakery unless I took a gift of two or three bags of rolls with me. Later that evening, I would always bring most of them to Al and Jeannie’s. Al was usually napping in his recliner. I would wake him up and then we would go off to the kitchen to enjoy fresh bread and butter along with Aunt Jeannie’s freshly brewed coffee. The laughs and love would fill the room.
Simple pleasures can be ones most treasured.
Al retired in 1993. To supplement his pension, he started his own woodworking business. For years he had dealt with heart problems. Unfortunately, on Sept. 1, 1994, after 39 years of marriage and one year after his retirement, Al passed away. The day after he died, a letter arrived at his home informing him that he had received permission to sell some of his pieces at a prestigious marketplace in New England. One year later, Aunt Jeannie joined her beloved as she also went home to the lord.
We all hope to leave a legacy. Uncle Al sure did. Aside from his wonderful children and grandchildren he left a life story that allows his family to sit together and lovingly reminisce.
As for me, he provided some great “guy” time. I think it’s called “male bonding” now. Let’s just say that sitting at the table with Uncle Al, enjoying a roll with butter and a cup of coffee while talking baseball was a great way to spend an evening.