Chapter 32: La politica da noi II

Sandi just called asking me if I had voted yet. After responding affirmatively, she warned me not to vote twice, knowing that I was born in Chicago. She reminded me of the 56-year-old Arizona woman recently arrested by the FBI for trying to vote twice. Intrigued, I wondered if she were from Chicago. No was the result of my research, but I did discover that she is a Republican.

Back to my original reason for composing this blog. My dad was truly a man of influence—le bras long or the “long arm” as they say in French. Not only did he know “Irish” Filippini, Fire Commissioner Quinn attended my dad’s funeral. They were old handball buddies from Navy Pier where my dad trained boxers.

Fire Commissioner Robert J. Quinn (1905-1979) commanded the Chicago Fire Department from 1957 to 1978. His claim to fame came in 1959, the year the Chicago White Sox won the American League pennant. The Fire Commissioner was so excited for the Sox that he unleashed, at the height of the Cold War, the city’s entire civil defense siren system throughout the city to celebrate this rare and spectacular event. Unfortunately, many Chicagoans, ignorant of the Fire Commissioner’s vibe, panicked, believing that Chicago was under nuclear attack. Suffice it to say, the Fire Commissioner got a major spanking from Mayor Dailey. But, being a political creature, he survived the spanking and the temporary wrath of Chicagoans.

Before meeting the Fire Commissioner, my dad pulled off another “coup” of influence during our Christmas vacation in December 1961. I was 9 years old at the time. My dad and I were on our way to Florida when we stopped in Nashville, TN. We happened to pass by the state capitol. Like many capitol buildings, it was a magnificent Roman-style structure adorned with Corinthian columns, massive and symmetrical like the muscles of a weightlifter. Out of nowhere, my dad asked me if I wanted to meet the governor of Tennessee. “Sure,” I blurted out.

We parked the rusted 1961 Chevy Impala station wagon and entered the capitol building. Carara marble decorated the floors and the walls of the ground floor. We climbed the stairs, two at a time, my dad holding my hand. We entered the governor’s suite and approached the secretary. “We’re here to meet with the governor,” my dad said, bold as brass. Despite not having an appointment, she went back to get the governor.

Suddenly, the governor came out and approached us. He was tall with ruddy red skin and thinning red hair. His suit was majestic, just like Irish Filippini’s. “Governor, I’m Carmen Sacco and this is my son Stevie. We’re passing though from Chicago on our way to Florida and I wanted my son to meet a man of your stature.” “Great to meet you Mr. Sacco, and you too Stevie,” replied the governor. I shook his hand, but my mouth was frozen open, preventing me from responding to him. He was majestic, like the Wizard of Oz, the most majestic man I had ever seen on TV. His voice was less intimidating than the Wizard’s; he actually sounded like Sheriff Andy Taylor from the Andy Griffith Show. The conversation was short but my dad displayed his schmoozing skills, skills I inherited and use to this day.

Years later, I found Buford Ellington’s autographed picture, the only vestige of our meeting. Since then, I have met numerous politicians, each one of them bringing me back to the memory of meeting Governor Buford Ellington of the great state of Tennessee.


About growingupcalabrese

Professor of French and Italian at San Diego State University
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