Sign in | Log in

Traces

Passing on Italian Family Values

Jerry Krase (July 25, 2008)
Jerry Krase
Nicky in Uniform

How a granddaughter's oration on the passing of her grandfather shows how Italian family values are passed on.

Tools

My father-in-law, Anthony Charles Nicoletti, was born in Brooklyn, New York on March 9, 1912. His father Sabato Nicoletti was born in 1871 and his mother Anna Gregorio was born in 1872, both in Laurino, Italy.

Shortly after the turn of the 20th Century they emigrated with their first son, Andrew, to the USA.  They settled in what was then known as "Pig Town" in Brooklyn where they had three more sons; Anthony, Frank, and Michael. Sabato had an excavating business and died as the result of a cave-in in 1936, two weeks before Anthony wed Rose Jordan. Anna lived with one or another of her sons until she died in 1965 in the Bronx.

People bemoan the "loss" of traditional Italian values. But, values are preserved by living them. To my father-in-law, his family was "the best." If there was a problem "Nicky would fix it." When I fixed something at my house, he would inspect it to ensure it was good enough for his daughter. He loved all his 10 grandchildren and 17 great-grandchildren but had an extra-special bond with my own, or rather "his daughter's", progeny. My wife Suzanne, insisted on never being far from her parents, and for the past 20 years they lived in our two-family house. In late June, Nicky was hospitalized. He survived an operation and was recovering when we left for a conference overseas, but rushed home on July 12 when he unexpectedly died in the hospital. Below is the eulogy read by my youngest daughter, Kathryn Suzanne, at Nicky's wake. Her honest eloquence marks the living values Nicky gave her. I am sure that she, and my other daughters, Kristin Martha, and Karen Rose, will pass them in turn to my grandchildren.

 
"Nicky," by Kathryn Suzanne Krase
 
At 5:30 in the morning our time on Saturday I emailed my mother on a boat (docked in Latvia) to tell her that “We received the call that we were hoping never would come.”
 
My sister Karen called to tell me that my grandfather, Anthony Charles Nicoletti, Sr., Nicky or Nick was what he was called most often, had passed away in his sleep at the hospital. We had 15 minutes to go and see him in his room before they moved him. She was at my door in less than 5 minutes talking on her cell phone to our sister Kristin (using her hands free device, don’t worry). I came to the car in my pajamas, with a pile of tissues.
 
I’ll never forget the feeling of holding onto Karen as we entered his room to see it for real. He was gone. We knew the day would come. It was a matter of where and when. But you are never prepared. Even if you are a Nicoletti-Krase Woman 
 
It shouldn’t be shocking to hear that I’ve thought many times about what I was going to say in this moment. My mother was surprised I didn’t already have it typed up somewhere. Nicky was 96 years old this past March, and as far as we were concerned, he was living on borrowed time, at least for the past 2 ½ years as his health rapidly deteriorated.
 
I had lived my life with Nicky. I can’t remember a major life event that didn’t involve him, or even small life events for that matter.  
 
My sisters and I were his “princesses”. Princess number one, Princess number two, and Princess number three, to be exact. Although I was technically Princess number three, he never made me feel like I was in last place.
 
He used to chase us around his dining room table, threatening to throw us in the gutter because we’d called him grandpa or said “yeah” instead of yes. After all, he wasn’t a grandpa, he was more. He was Nicky, or Big Daddy, or Daddy Nick.
 
He was a stickler for language. He loved his word-a-day calendars back in the days.   He studied words. He thought carefully about the words he would use. In fact, looking for phone numbers in Nana’s phone book on Saturday I found some of Nicky’s writings. Handwritten notes, some scribbled, that seem to express his thoughts, or sometimes drafts of Grace to be said at the next family holiday.
 
“Intellectuals want to be heard, but they do not hear. Should hear, but they do not.” What was he writing about? Who was he writing about? My father, perhaps? “Out shine, but do not outsmart” “Of course I’m flawed, but aren’t all human beings?”
 
I think I found his notes for the speech he gave for his 90th birthday party. “Known by names, mo, Nicky, grand pa, Big Daddy, Daddy Nick and also horses-neck” He had a sense of humor, for sure, though sometimes you couldn’t be sure he was joking.
 
The most touching of the notes found by far were ones he wrote when his handwriting was starting to fail him: “forgot coffee on stove” “Taking showers has become a task” Although those writings were of the Nicky of the past few years, the Nicky I choose to remember is from a lifetime before then.
 
Nicky loved his cars. We princesses spent a lot of time with Nicky in his car. He was always driving us somewhere and when we were little he let us help. We would straddle the “bump” in the middle of the front seat and shift the gears on his command, “first”, “second”, “third” I learned how to drive a standard transmission before I could reach the pedals thanks to Nicky!
 
He told us when it was time to blow traffic lights from red to green. He also had creative signaling patterns, especially around traffic circles. For some reason he also didn’t like to put his headlights on. So in light rain he would only turn his headlights on when the windshield wiper was moving to obey the law to the letter.
 
He shuttled us back and forth from Nana’s house for lunch on Saturdays and breakfast on Sundays. He picked Kristin and Karen up from school at 2:00 on Wednesday afternoons to bring them to religious instruction. If you were sick and had to leave school early Nicky was your man. He drove you to birthday parties and appointments, to work and to classes, to tennis matches and basketball games. You would get into the car and close the door and he would ask, “Do you want a fast ride or a safe ride?” 
 
It was in the car with Nicky that we became best buddies. He would talk about baseball and ask about school. I would learn about sports just to impress him. For years he would drive me every week to get allergy shots on Avenue Z. He would wait in the car for me while reading the paper. He never complained even if it took forever. 
 
When it was time for him not to drive long distances, I was a driver, and took over that role for him and Nana. “Not bad for a woman driver” he would say.
 
For my whole life he was retired, and our lives were seamlessly intertwined. He was always there; A part of every experience. I didn’t even realize that having a grandfather alive was a big deal, let alone a grandfather that I saw all the time.
 
Nicky wasn’t just my grandfather, he was my friend’s grandfather. He came to practically every volleyball and tennis match of mine in High School. I’ll never forget him standing under a tree at the USTA tennis center at Flushing Meadows holding his finger on his nose. He had just had a cancerous skin patch removed from his nose and he refused to put on sunblock. My mother was insisting he protect himself, so he was.
 
Nicky's Midwood HS Tennis Team Mascot Trophy at US Tennis Center
 
He taught me the importance of being able to wink each eye independently. Although I still can’t think of a particular use for the skill, it was important to Nicky that I could do it. It showed that I was smart, he would say. In these past few years as his memory and language faded, we still had our trademark wink, as if to say “I remember, and yep, I’m still smart”
 
Nicky graduated from Erasmus Hall. In its hey day, Erasmus was the best HS in the country. Nicky was proud of his accomplishments there. Did you ever get a 104 on an exam? he would ask. Well, I did, he’d say.
 
Nicky was a retired NYPD officer. The 68th Precinct. I don’t know much about his career on the force, but I do know that there was a stringent height requirement, and Nicky proudly met it.
 
Nicky’s vocation in my lifetime was as a fixer. Radios, TVs, cars. He had every tool imaginable, but unlike my husband, Nicky kept his tools organized, and even labeled.
 
He loved pistachios and poppycock, but not cucumbers. He loved to dance, and even took lessons. He would brag about being able to Cha-Cha. He was a pool shark, and most recently strutted his stuff in 2003 at the last family reunion he attended. He played handball with my father on Sundays and horseshoes with the family on vacation. He read the Daily News every day, and especially liked the “funnies”. 
 
He was married to Nana for 72 years this past June. He heard her laughing outside his father’s candy store, and the rest is history (for the complete version, and more, ask Nana)
 
 
His favorite time of the year was baseball season. An original Brooklyn Dodger’s fan, he made the switch to the Yankees, which many die hard Brooklyn fans never could do. After an important game I would call him, even if it was after midnight and I was in another state. He would pick up the phone and without me saying a word he’d know it was me. “What a game, Kathryn” he would say. He always answered the phone. 
 
In the recent years when his hearing was bad and his memory failing, how he answered the phone gave me a clear sign as to how he was doing. On his good days he would answer “I’m listening” and I would respond “I’m talking” to which he’d reply “Kathryn, my Kathryn.” On not so good days I would have to announce myself, in which case he would still reply, “my Kathryn”. On the worst days he couldn’t hear me say my name, or confuse me with my sister or my mother, a reminder that he wasn’t immortal.
 
He smelled good, and had to look good. Heaven forbid his hair was out of place. It was disturbing to him that he could no longer lift his arm over his head to do it himself. He trusted only a select few of us to fix it for him.
 
Life with Nicky wasn’t all peaches and cream, but I almost never got the other Nicky. Nicky supported me in all that I did, except for one particular instance that I will never forget, and he never did either. He drove me and my tennis doubles partner, Olana Hirsch, to the finals of the Public School Athletic Association tennis tournament and watched us lose. We shouldn’t have lost, he was right about that. He didn’t yell at us, or tell us what we did wrong. He didn’t say anything. In fact, he just walked to the car and we followed. He drove us home in silence and didn’t talk to me for days. He came to the next tournament the week after and we won, beating the team we lost to the week before. It was easier to win then have to sit through silence with Nicky again.
 
Nicky loved his family and loved spending time with us. He enjoyed holiday dinners and the opportunity to say grace. He liked helping my mother decorate the house for Christmas and was responsible for singing the part of “Five Golden Rings” around the piano after Christmas dinner. At the last few family reunions he attended he would look at his three children, ten grandchildren, and his great grandchildren that now number seventeen and remark to Nana, “All of this came from us.”
 
 
Nicky's 95th
 
 
Krase-Nicoletti Christmas 2007
 
 
Nicky's 96th "Cent' Anni" 2008
 
I am so glad that he got to meet Jack and that he met 16 other great-grandchildren. I am jealous of Spencer and Leander, because they knew Nicky in a way similar to how we girls knew Nicky that Jack will never have. He was a part of their life. He always let them change the television channel to cartoons when they visited and he made it to a few of their own baseball games, too. For a long time he was the only Yankee fan they ever knew. Leander didn’t like it when John made fun of the Yankees, they were Nicky’s team. But it wasn’t unusual for Nick to call John after the Mets had a particularly bad run and ask, “So how’s your team doing?”
 
And though there were certainly times over the years that Nicky said things that did not make us smile, what we will remember is the winks and kisses he gave these last couple of years. How he was always glad you came and happy for your company. When he first made it to hospital, days before surgery, he was sending kisses to the nurses who didn’t know quite what to make of him. I laughed and told them, “he’s a lover, not a fighter” to which he replied… “all of my life” and chuckled.
 
I got to see Nicky the night that he died. He was coughing more than usual, and didn’t see me when I came into the room. I was talking with Jackie and Madge for a while before he turned to me and finally saw me. His face turned a big smile as he said “Where did you come from?” I laughed and gave him a kiss. We winked at each other. I stayed a little while longer to watch the Yankee game with him.
 
When I left him the night before his surgery I told him I would see him on the “other side of this” wherever that may be. He nodded in agreement. I never thought he would make it through the surgery. I never thought this day would come, but I always knew it had to.
 
His Italian was returning to him in the past few years. Buon Giorno, Buona Sera. He even reportedly had a conversation with Nana in Italian while in the hospital on the phone.
 
Cent’anni was his trade mark of late. To a hundred years, he was saying. In the hospital he expressed his happiness to know that he was almost there. He told someone he was 99. They corrected him. Maybe over the past week he realized that living to 100 would be too much work. After all he had lived a long life and never complained. Nana says he always told her to “grin and bear it”. I’m trying, but it’s just not that easy.
 
He lived a long life. He lived a good life. I miss him.

 

Condolences

Jerry, Suzanne & family Terribly sorry to hear the news about Mr. Nicoletti. He was such a nice man. I always enjoyed seeing him at the Rocky Point family reunions. He always had a great time with the paddle tennis tournament. Miss you guys and hope to see you all soon. Regards from Texas. Stephen

grandparents

Jerry and Suzanne, along with condolences I send thanks for sharing details of an emotionally and geographically close relationship. Your daughters were ever so lucky to share a two-family house with grandparents: maximal intimacy with maximal privacy, in a relationship in which there is no substitute for propinquity. I live in Rhode Island; my born grandchildren are in New Jersey; I see them rarely. My brother, who lives in Massachusetts, has his grandchildren in Maryland and Oregon. We are lucky to be all on the same continent. I talk with friends who may relocate to other lands because they do not want to miss the growing-up of more distant grandchildren.

By chance I have just been dipping into a copy of "Grandparenting in a Changing World." As Eda LeShan says, "some sons and daughters don't trust their parents alone with the grandchildren." They don't have the sense of security that comes from day-to-day family life; and "almost nobody writes letters anymore." Instead, everyone is scheduled and busy--caring, of course, but not on-the-spot present for all the spontaneous triumphs, hurts, calls for help, and delightful surprises. Geographically remote, we do have, instead, our "attached" local children to take to concerts and puppet shows; we attend their recitals and celebrate when the local newspaper lists their names on the Honor Roll. LeShan is helpful with regard to negotiating the new family structures. I feel valuable and valued in my community. Yet your shared tribute to someone I'm sure I'd have liked puts me into deep nostalgia for the kind of stable marriages and extended family I grew up in that I am not able to perpetuate.

Thank you, and my thanks also to your daughter who wrote. Blossom

Nicky

Blossom: knowing what family feels like makes it possible to re-create it in many different ways. While my wife grew up in a world in which almost all social life involved only relatives... for my daughters it is family, friends, and unrelated neighbors... but they have made them into part of their, and our, family. For example, at my home (for more than 30 years) we have had a Christmas party to which no relatives are invited, just friends and neighbors of ours and our children (all of whom live within walking distance). We have an extended local family of hundreds of people and about 60 show up for the party: all races, religions, ethnicities, sexual orientations, whatever they are is beautiful to us. After dinner we gather around the piano and sing Christmas Carrols (and a couple of Channuka tunes). Christmas Eve with the fish dinner and Christmas Day are blood relative days and we still have enough nearby to fill up the house. Our Italian family traditions today are lived in the sense that they are shared with many different people.

I am so sorry for the

I am so sorry for the families loss! Nicky sounded like a wonderful great grandfather, grandfather, father, husband, and friend. I am sure he will be missed by all that knew him. God Bless

Nicky

Thank you for your kind words, and another blessing is always good.