BY: Charles Sacchetti
I suppose, as you get older, you tend to look back on your life and appreciate all of the blessings that God has provided. At least that is the case with me. And, as I do so, it becomes very clear to me how much my immediate and extended family has impacted me and given me moments to cherish. Regarding my extended family, I’d have to say that my father’s brother, my Uncle Mario Sacchetti, has provided the most of these memorable moments.
Mario was the youngest of the four Sacchetti brothers and was born in 1925 to Grand Pop Crescenzo and Grand Mom Maria Sacchetti. He preceded one girl, Pia, who was born two years later. Mario was five inches taller than any of his siblings, standing almost 6’ 2” when fully grown. As a kid, he was very thin, and his buddies said he resembled the hands of a clock, so they called him “six o’clock.” He was a good athlete, playing baseball for BOK Technical High School in south Philadelphia, and was the only one of the siblings to graduate.
All of this being said, it is the man Uncle Mario became after this time who had the biggest effect on me.
He was drafted into the Army during WWII, at the age of 18. As a 19-year-old tail gunner on the B-17 Flying Fortress, he participated in the invasion of Normandy on D-Day, June 6th, 1944. On April 29th, 1945, he assisted in the liberation of the dreaded Dachau concentration camp. Uncle Mario rarely, if ever, spoke of his military service. As we grew closer, during my teenage years, I came to realize how those memories had affected him. He came away from those experiences a more introspective, sensitive person. Once, when I asked him what he remembered most about the war, he described how wonderful it was one night, in an English meadow, when he was able to read the newspaper by only the light of the full moon. This was not the answer I expected, but I understood his need to find something good in what was surely a living hell for a nice, friendly teenager from 9th and Moore Streets. He never missed church on Sunday, ever thankful for having come home safely.
To say Uncle Mario had his quirks would be an understatement. A bachelor until the age of 42, he was a frequent, welcome dinner guest at all of his married siblings’ homes. One of his trademark moves was to sit next to one of us kids and hijack a meatball off of our plates if we had the bad judgment to turn our heads and join in a conversation. An admission of guilt was never forthcoming. Uncle Mario used to enjoy riding with me on my Vespa. It was quite a sight, that big guy on the rear seat as we typically drove to shop for bargains at the nearest E. J. Korvette or Klein’s department store. We would frequently go out for breakfast on Saturday mornings. That was an experience in itself. He had his favorite spots, and the waitresses all wanted to take care of him because he was a very generous tipper. We would walk in, and the waitress would have his large, take-out-size cup of coffee on the table before we even sat down. The regular cups were too small, hence the larger take-out cup. He NEVER let me pay the tab, even when I was a college graduate and working. I was still his nephew, and that’s the way it was. On the occasions when we would try a new restaurant, I’d ask him where he would prefer to sit, and he would say, “Anywhere is ok.” I’d pick a spot, and he’d always tell me it was no good!
Uncle Mario was an avid card player, coin collector, and opera lover. No one else in the family liked opera, even a little, and we all told him how strange he was for enjoying it. That didn’t faze him one bit, and every Sunday afternoon, he’d listen to Puccini, Verdi, or one of his other favorites. He generously tipped the bank tellers he knew, so he had no trouble getting bags of pennies, quarters, or half dollars to sift through in search of rare coins. He would play poker a few nights a week, with his buddies, until the wee hours of the morning. He usually won a few bucks, but he greatly enjoyed playing with his brothers and father for only bragging rights. His beloved wife, Rita, passed away in March of 1982, and he remained widowed for 29 years. To combat the loneliness, Mario would take daily bus rides to Atlantic City, where he held his own at the poker tables.
As one of the few people on earth who actually liked my joke-telling, it was not unusual for me to call him during the evening, while away on business, to share a good joke I had heard. He had a unique delayed reaction after I delivered the punchline. One or two seconds would elapse, and then he would break out into a hearty laugh that might last for a whole minute. Admittedly, I had a reputation to live up to, so I wouldn’t tell him a joke unless I thought it met my “high standards” (groan). On more than one occasion, while riding in the car, he would abruptly start laughing after recalling a joke I had told him weeks earlier. Now, that’s an audience!
As Mario and I grew older, I came to appreciate and love him as more of a second father than an uncle. He passed away at 86, and I had the privilege of being his advocate and the overseer of his medical care in his later years. I considered this role both an honor and a blessing. He provided a lot of great times for all of us, and I just loved spending time with him.
I have even learned to appreciate opera … now and then.
Charles Sacchetti is the author of two books, It’s All Good: Times and Events I’d Never Want to Change and his new book, Knowing He’s There: True Stories of God’s Subtle Yet Unmistakable Touch. Both are available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and other online outlets. Contact him at Worthwhilewords21@gmail.com