Tired, very tired, feeling the many months of struggle, last night I went up to the den to make some notes. I was looking for a pencil, rummaging through some papers in the back of my desk drawer, where things accumulate for years, when I turned up one of Poppa's old business cards. The ones we made up for him that he was so proud of: "Andrea Cuomo, Italian American Groceries, Fine Imported Products." That was the card. Poppa, frankly, never had any occasion to give anyone a calling card, but he loved having them around. He put one in a little gold frame on a red velvet background on the nightstand near his bed. Momma has one of them now, framed like Poppa's, on display in a prominent place in her old china closet.
I couldn't help wondering what Poppa would have said if I had told him I was tired or--God forbid--that I was discouraged. But, I thought for a few minutes how he dealt with hard circumstances. A thousand different pictures flashed through my mind--he was so used to dealing with hard circumstances. Almost everything he had to do was hard.
But one scene in particular came sharply into view.
We had just moved from South Jamaica into Holliswood. We had left the place behind the store and for the first time had our own house. It even had some land around it, even some trees--one in particular, was a great blue spruce that must have been forty feet high. It was beautiful.
Holliswood was hilly, our house sat ten or fifteen feet above the road itself, and the blue spruce stood majestically like a sentinel at the corner of our property, where the street made a turn, bending around our property line.
Less than a week after we moved in there was a terrible storm. We came home from the store that night to find the great blue spruce pulled almost totally out of the ground and flung forward, its mighty nose bent in the asphalt of the street.
My brother, Frankie, and I knew nothing about trees. We could climb poles all day; we were great at fire escapes, we could scale fences with barbed wire at the top--but we knew nothing about trees. When we saw our spruce, defeated, its cheek on the canvas, our hearts sank. But not Poppa's.
We stood in the street looking down at the tree. The rain was falling. We waited a couple of minutes figuring things out and then Poppa announced, "Okay, we're gonna push 'im up!" "What are you talking about Poppa? The roots are out of the ground!" " Shut up, we gonna push 'im up, he's gonna grow again."
We didn't know what to say to him, you couldn't say no, and not just because you were his son, but because he was so sure.
So we followed him into the house and we got what rope there was and we tied the rope around the tip of the tree that lay in the asphalt, and he stood up by the house, with me pulling on the rope and Frankie in the street in the rain, helping to push up the great blue spruce. In no time at all we had it standing up straight again.
With the rain now falling even harder, Poppa dug away at the place where the roots were, making a muddy hole wider and wider as the tree sank lower and lower towards security. Then we shoveled mud over the roots and moved boulders to the base of the tree to keep it in place. Poppa drove stakes into the ground, tied rope from the trunk to the stakes, and maybe two hours later, soaked, we looked at the spruce, the crippled spruce, made straight by ropes, and said, did Poppa, "Don't worry he's a gonna grow again."
I looked at the card and I wanted to cry. If you were to drive by the house today in Holliswood you would see that great, straight, blue spruce maybe now sixty feet tall, pointing straight up to the heavens, pretending that it never had its nose in the asphalt.
I put Poppa's card back in the drawer, closed it with a vengeance. I couldn't wait to get back into the campaign.