A last Christmas gift

My brother, sister and I recently sold the property back East where we grew up. My family had lived there since 1947.

We’d grown up in one neighborhood, all gone to St. Michael’s grade school, remembered the same nuns and priests and knew all the neighbors.  It wasn’t until I grew up and met people who didn’t come from Ducktown in Atlantic City that I realized how lucky I was that I lived in one place my whole childhood.

So on the one hand, selling the property had very emotional overtones. 6 North meant home and family and childhood and every memory from birth until I left for college. On the other hand, selling 6 North also meant a little infusion of cash at a time when that cash would be very useful to me. Thanks to the sale, I’m getting my house painted and new blinds. I view this as my parents’ last Christmas present to me. I’m over 60 years old and they have both been dead a long time and yet they are still giving me presents.

As I was enjoying this Christmas gift, my sister sent me an e-mail with a story in it that she’d heard at a Ducktown reunion party. The neighborhood may have scattered when gambling arrived in Atlantic City, but being Italian means that Ducktown people still know how to find each other and get together whenever there is a chance for good food, good wine and good conversation.

Here is the story my sister was told.

Our father was a very quiet man. He variously owned a grocery story, got his GED when he was in his 40s and eventually became a government meat inspector. When he retired, he went around the corner to another small Italian grocery store to sit at their register and check people out. It kept him out of the house, out of my mother’s hair and, quite frankly, kept him sane since he’d starting working when he was 14 and really didn’t know what to do with his day if he wasn’t.

One day a young man, about 15, came into the grocery store. He was a neighborhood kid. Dad knew him as he knew everyone in the neighborhood. The kid had a gun. He held it on my dad and demanded money. My dad took the gun from him, sent the kid out of the store, put the gun in a paper bag and, after work was over, walked to the home of the young man’s father and returned the gun. He told the father what had happened with the assumption that the father would want to know if the young man was walking down the wrong path and needed to be set straight.

As I read what my sister wrote, my eyes widened with amazement. My father, my quiet, unassuming, “start every day at the 7 AM mass and never raise his voice” father, had confronted a gun wielding teenager and taken the gun from him. And then quietly walked to the boy’s home to give his father a chance to make a difference rather than call the police. And he did all this without, apparently, mentioning it to anyone.

As I read that story, I realized that while getting money from the sale of the property was a nice gift, the real Christmas present I was receiving from my parents these many, many years after their passing, was this story.

I had grown up with this man. I thought I knew him. I knew of his kindness to so many young people he helped with no fuss or bother or need for acknowledgement. I knew of his gentleness having watched him handle my mother who was, some might say, high maintenance on many levels. I watched him work 6 ½ days a week in our store to put food on our table and still find time to do the books for the Knights of Columbus.

Yet knowing all that, what I didn’t realize was what a quiet hero he was and what inner strength he possessed. My dad took a gun away from a young man and gave that young man a chance to try again to make a life without crime.  My dad did that.

What an amazing Christmas gift.