Sunday, August 28, 2011

Dad's Cucuzza's

When my father died on Monday, May 16, his younger brother, Charlie and wife Mary Ann left Buffalo immediately to be present for the visitation on that Thursday night and memorial service Friday morning.

My father's death left only two siblings of twelve- Charlie and Steve. Steve just passed 90 years old and not well enough physically to travel.

It was a very difficult trip for my uncle to make, saying goodbye to his older brother. When my father was laid off by Conrail (railroad) in the early 1980's, Uncle Charlie used his position at the Courier Express (one of the two Buffalo area newspapers at the time) to get my Dad a job. My father was always grateful for his kid brother getting him that job. It's the job he kept until moving to Kansas City five years ago. Despite the distance after my parents moved to Kansas City, it seemed Dad and Charlie were as close as ever by phone and occasional visits my Dad would make to Buffalo. To make matters more challenging, Uncle Charlie and Aunt Mary Ann were planning to come to Kansas City in June to take a Branson trip with my parents. Unfortunately, instead, they were coming a month earlier for a funeral. It was a very tough time for all of us, especially Uncle Charlie.

There's a neat story- another tale of God's providential kindness- I want to relay regarding my Uncle Charlie's visit in May and the pictures you see above.

When Uncle Charlie got to Olathe on May 18, I took him to see my Dad's house. Charlie was most interested in seeing Dad's garden. Gardening is in the blood of any self-respecting Sicilian, and there's great pride and joy connected to crazy vegetables that are passed between each other. My father didn't buy too many tomato plants, for instance. Instead, he had a particular group of tomato breeds he really liked. He would keep seeds and grow them year after year. My father finished planting about half his garden just a couple days before he went in to the hospital. I showed Uncle Charlie the various hanging tomato plants, the elaborate tomato cages to keep out squirrels, and several elevated wooden box structures used for eggplants and radishes. Viewing these things was a sort of link with my Dad, something Charlie needed to do as part of his mourning.

During my Dad's last couple years in Buffalo he started growing a long squash-like vegetable called a "cucuzza". He remembered eating them in soup as a child, so he grew them and gave them away to friends and relatives. When he came to Kansas he couldn't find any cucuzza seeds, but he kept looking. In late April he went to a market that had all sorts of odd vegetables so he asked the Mexican lady who was running the seed section if they had any cucuzza's. He was pretty sure she would have no idea what he was asking for, but instead, to his surprise, she knew the vegetable exactly. She got a packet and put about 20 seeds in for my Dad. He took them home and put them on his work bench in the garage. He never got to plant them.

So there I was with Uncle Charlie looking around the garage after viewing the garden. It was a somber, strange time for us both-seeing Dad's stuff just laying there as he last left it. It was weird as a son and surreal for a brother. Out of the blue Charlie talked about Dad telling him of finding and buying some cucuzza seeds. I was pretty sure Dad hadn't planted them before going in to the hospital. I glanced over Dad's cluttered work bench and saw the packet. On the front, in Dad's handwriting, underlined, and in all caps, it said "CUCUZZA". I grabbed the packet and told Uncle Charlie he needed to take them back to Buffalo and grow them. In a time of deep grief, this little action seemed to give some peace. In a way it was symbolic of how my Dad's life bore fruit in the people he knew and effected. Planting those seeds was sort of like a way of carrying on my Dad's memory . It was therapeutic for Charlie, I am sure. It was for me too.

Well, my Aunt Mary Ann just sent the above pictures of my dear Uncle Charlie, my Dad's baby brother, with the cucuzza's that came from my father's seeds. We all miss Dad, but these cucuzza's are a reminder of how a person's life bears fruit long after they are gone.


Lorie Burton said...


Donna Fletch said...

Tony, your words are beautiful. My daddy looks so proud. What a story!

Michael Lockridge said...

What a fine way to honor someone. I am uplifted. Thank you.

Zach said...

Very cool.

Woody Woodward said...

Tony, don’t know if you knew this or not. But it was our dear Brother Larry Phipps who called Tony one day in early spring and took him to breakfast at Cascone’s down in the River Market area. Larry and Pepa spent the morning just looking around at all the stuff that could be planted. It was Larry that actually ask the proprietor if he had ever heard of any “Cucuzza seeds!” To their surprise the owner of the seed store walked right over and found them! Larry shared this is at the last HFG where Tony and Ginger were present. What a great story of two brothers in Christ, growing together in the Lord, sharing a very special morning …. A precious moment of remembrance that I will never forget.