My father was from Galicia, located between Austria, Poland and Ukraine and made it to the land of liberty after escaping from an Italian prisoner of war camp many decades ago. English was his third language, and his sister Blanche asked Uncle Benny to get dad a job as a waiter in a catering hall where Benny worked in the Bronx.
He was introduced to mom, 17 years his junior and a New York native, and they found they were sympatico and comfortably happy with each other.
Dad also found a job at a dairy restaurant in the garment district and had to learn to deal with brusque, self-aggrandized garmentos whose blintzes weren’t hot enough.
He worked seven days a week, and after putting on about 40 pounds, gave up his early dreams of becoming a jockey, needed a chiropodist to deal with his bunions and corns and never complained or grumbled about anything. His hands balanced trays and worked the diners’ tables, and they developed callouses for protection.
Experiencing the loss of almost all of his family members and managing to survive a war and make it to New York helped him put rude garmentos and aching feet into their proper perspective.
He always gifted me with little tschochkes from street vendors like tiny black and white Scottie dogs with magnets embedded in their noses. When they got close, their opposite poles would bring them lovingly together.
The folks brought home a little Admiral with a 10-inch screen one day, and when they broadcast Yankee ball games, I went nuts with excitement. What an enormous treat.
I took my cousin for his birthday to opening day at Yankee Stadium each year. Dad came along with Bruce and his dad, Sam. Dad didn’t understand a thing but asked questions and quietly took it all in — not just the playing of baseball but the huge swath of manicured lawn, the uniforms, the cheering raucous and joyful crowds. The orderliness and so many people having a bang-up time.
He began to watch televised ballgames with me and gradually became a fan. He began to make connections and understand the “whys” and “what did he dos?”
He learned the names of the players, and their personas came to life. His little sonny-boy loved the game and partly because of that, now he did, too.
We would go to occasional games together — the ballpark was across Jerome Avenue from Park Terrace Caterers — and the neighborhood was familiar to him.
One day we were sitting on the second deck behind home plate, and a foul ball came streaking in our direction at a dangerous rate of speed.
Dad stuck his rough, calloused hand up and the ball smacked against his palm with enough force to blow it up like a balloon. It swelled and turned several unnatural colors, taking a week to return to normal.
It was next to impossible for him to carry trays of food, and all his colleagues wanted to know if calm, sweet Harry had been in a fight. He told them what happened, but no one believed him except Uncle Benny, his headwaiter, who thought it hilariously funny.
For Dad it was a badge of honor — and something for his sonny boy (me!) to brag about.