Gifts from my Childhood

The last thing that I wanted to do when writing this blog was to become philosophical. Unfortunately, some events just bring out an innate need to overanalyze some of my behaviors, thoughts and points-of-view. Let me give you an example:

……………. I love music. I usually need to have music playing in order to work or think efficiently and effectively. In spite of my age (ugh), I am very open to most music genres. I certainly have my favorites, however as my daughters were growing-up, I became more tolerant and even appreciative of musical artists of their era as well as most of today’s artists.

I thought a lot about this today. I was talking with a co-worker and discussing how much my mom, dad, aunts and uncles influenced my musical tastes. I was provided with so many opportunities to experience all types of music.

My parents and most of my adult relatives were Big Band Era fans. During family events such as weddings or holiday gatherings, they would often pop on some Billy Vaughn or Mantovani and take to “cutting the rug” as they did when they were younger.

Through their musical preferences, I was able to develop a real appreciation for music. My Aunt Mary had a HUGE impact on my musical tastes. She loved hearing a good voice. Eddie Fisher, Connie Francis, Nat King Cole, Patsy Cline, and Kay Starr were just a few of her favorites. We would turn into WTAE Channel 4 every Saturday night and watch The Lawrence Welk Show. Aunt Mary, along with my cousins Paula and Karla would provide cynical commentary throughout the show, laughing at the bubbles and the overall corniness of the program, but enjoyed it nonetheless. Aunt Mary’s favorite point to make was the fact that Lawrence Welk, in spite of being born in North Dakota, would always speak with a German accent.

I checked Wikipedia and found the following information about Mr. Welk:

“A common misconception is that Welk did not learn English until he was 21. In fact, he began learning English as soon as he started school. The part of North Dakota where he lived had been settled largely by Germans from Russia; even his teachers spoke English as a second language. Welk thus acquired his trademark accent, a combination of the Russian and German accents. He took elocution lessons in the 1950s and could speak almost accent-free, but he realized his public expected to hear him say: “A-one, an-a-two” and “Wunnerful, Wunnerful!” When he was asked about his ancestry, he would always reply “Alsace-Lorraine, Germany,” from where his forebears had emigrated to Russia (and which, at the time of Welk’s birth in 1903, had become part of the German Empire).” 

…………….Living in Duquesne gave me an opportunity to be exposed to the wonderful ethnic music of my hunky heritage. In those days, a wedding reception was never complete until dozens of polkas had been played. Inevitably, all of the ladies and even some gentlemen would take to the dance floor to dance the Hungarian Chardash ( Csárdás.) I was pulled out of my chair several times by my relatives to join in the Chardash. Of course I had NO idea what I was doing, however I  realized after just a few minutes that no one else did either!

On a few occasions, living so close to Pittsburgh afforded us the opportunity to see the Duquesne University Tamburitzans perform. Those performances exposed us to even more of our culture, and a deepening appreciation for its music.  International Village in McKeesport provided another opportunity to  connect to our ethnic musical roots as well. Every Sunday when we would visit my grandparents on Duquesne Ave., my grandpa or my Uncle Henry (a.k.a. uncle Chin) would have the radio tuned into a special program of Slovakian music and polkas. It was always part of my life.


I can’t thank my parents, relatives, Holy Name School and Church, the City of Duquesne and all of my ancestors enough for the wonderful gift of music appreciation that they gave to me.

…………………….. Music is but one of the many lifelong gifts that I received duirng my childhood in Duquesne. I have written before about so many aspects of life in Duquesne that made me the person I am today and that molded my character. I consider each character building event to be a gift. I often think about a quote from H. Jackson Brown’s book “Life’s Little Instruction Book” when I try to describe the type of person each of our parents raised us to be – “Live so that when your children think of fairness and integrity, they think of you.”

 In 1996, author William J Bennet published The Moral Compass, an inspiring and instructive work that offers many more examples of good and bad, right and wrong, in great works from literature and in exemplary stories from history. The piece is organized by the stages along life’s journey, with stories and poems that serve as reference points on a moral compass, guiding the reader through the ethical and spiritual challenges along the pathway of life: leaving home, entering into marriage, easing the burdens of others, nurturing one’s children, and fulfilling the obligations of citizenship and leadership.

 Drawn from familiar Western history and mythology as well as a wide selection of tales and folklore from Asia, Africa, and Latin America, the stories in The Moral Compass are literary and evocative, designed to inspire as well as instruct.

 A useful way to think about your “moral compass” is to think of it like an ordinary compass with true North representing Integrity, South – Forgiveness, East -Compassion, and West – Responsibility. These four universal principles are honored in some form by people of all races and religions, regardless of gender.

 There is no question in my mind that my parents, relatives and virtually every person I came into contact with while growing-up in Duquesne lived their lives according to this compass.  These four principles were an innate part of every person’s being. Occasionally, everyone would falter to some degree, but the principles served as the backbone of the community.

I have to admit,  I can’t help but laugh when I think about the “Southern Point” of the moral compass when it came to my father. Forgiveness came very easily to him. Nothing was a big deal. He was thick skinned, unlike me, and intended insults just bounced right off of him. He’d just laugh and crack a joke and defuse a situation without a problem. However, being a “bull-headed hunky,” he would occcasionally hold a grudge. For example, he and my Uncle Lou Goldman were always great friends. They drank together, they played cards together, and at one time they and their families even lived together. They were both staunch members of the GBU in Duquesne, located at the corner of Grant Avenue and Norman St. They could normally be found sitting side-by-side at the club’s bar similar to Norm and Cliff from the TV program “Cheers” that was until they had a “falling out” one day. Their grudge, which manifested itself by their refusal to talk to one another, was a result of my dad opting out of a planned golf date. I have no idea what the circumstances were, but I can’t help but believe that Dad just decided he didn’t want to golf that particular day. Apparently this wasn’t the first time my dad suddenly decided not to keep a golf date with Uncle Lou, again, not hard to believe. I guess Uncle Lou had had enough and said something to my father, who said something back, which caused Uncle Lou to ‘vent” even more, and so on and so on. Anyway, these two bull heads ended up not speaking to each other for the remainder of my dad’s life! As strange as it seems, this “feud” ended up teaching me a lesson about the need for forgiveness and realizing how relationships are far more important than “being right.” It still makes me sad to know that my father and my Uncle Lou never reconciled before my dad passed away in 1999. I know Uncle Lou tried made peace with my dad when he came to pay his respects to my dad when he was laid out at Gregris Funeral Home on Kennedy Ave. While he said his final goodbyes to Dad, he slipped a golf ball into the casket as if to say “Goodbye old friend.”

…………………………….. Perhaps the most cherished gift that my parents, family and neighbors gave to me was their love of life and their savoir faire. Very little would upset my them. It seems that there was a “kinder and gentler” existence in Duquesne. The hostility that seems to permeate our world today was virtually non-existent as I was growing up. People were patient, people were far less judgmental, and road rage was unheard of. People laughed and smiled a lot more. Neighbors talked with one another and even visited each other! Every opportunity to celebrate a holiday was cherished and would usually result in either a family or neighborhood gathering. Family reunions were held every few years, not every few decades as they are now. Bigger wasn’t always better. Homes were modest and families were large. My parents didn’t complain about what they didn’t have, but rather embraced and improved and enriched the blessings they were given. Life was taken seriously, but never overwhelmed Mom or Dad. Somehow, with God’s blessings, challenges were overcome and life was lived to its fullest.

 Thank you Mom and Dad, and thank you Duquesne for all of the gifts you gave to us. It’s just too bad that it takes so long to realize how wonderful those gifts were!








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3 Responses to Gifts from my Childhood

  1. Bob Chermonitz says:

    Jim, when I think back to my college days I can see where my Moral Compass went spinning out of control from time to time! But I have to believe that the upbringing we had in Duquesne always brought me back to true North. What bothers me is that kids today can’t read a compass. And what kind of morals can you get from GPS? 🙂

  2. Cathy Cardilla-Gallucci says:

    Barbara Borland was class of 1960. Did you know that?


  3. John (Jack) Berta says:


    Another great post. I think the next to the last paragraph sums it all up. About the happenings in peoples lives and how they are perceived, kind of like the “Chance” and “Community Chest” cards from the game of “Monopoly”. Your parents and family made the best of a situation and were able to see it as a blessing. Others would only see the worst if they faced that same event. A gift or blessing is a good thing but what’s more important is what you do with it. When shared they are multiplied and sorrows when shared are divided. Thank you for sharing you gift with us.

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