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A child of the Great Depression whose fireman father died in the line of duty, she left home at fourteen when her mother’s new husband grew too “interested” in her and her younger sister. Armed with only a grade school education she talked her way into a waitress gig at New York’s then-swanky Hotel Pennsylvania. She used her meager wages to support them both, making “poor man’s eggs” (an egg stretched with corn starch and flavored with bacon grease, served with stale bread) for breakfast, lunch and dinner. When she married my father, a handsome, hotheaded restaurateur, she thought she’d found her fairy tale ending. For a short time they were deliriously happy. Then came four kids, and his passion shifted to gambling, and girlfriends. We lived with the “enemy”, my immigrant grandparents who blamed her for my father's failings. Since her siblings were either struggling or dead, leaving was out of the question. Pinned down in domestic trench warfare, she still found time to teach me baseball and to instill in me her love books. No Winnie the Pooh in our house; I cut my teeth on Kidnapped and Perry Mason, which explains my fondness for Michael Connelly novels, and gritty crime dramas like Oz, The Shield, and Justified.
|Florence 'Buzzy' Spirito|
When our grandparents banished us from the yard during sweltering NJ summers, she borrowed from strangers to rent a cottage on Barnegat Bay where we could swim and fish in safety. When I started playing basketball she never missed a game, even when if meant a 2-hour bus ride with a team of sweaty boys. We scuffled plenty - mostly over girls and her fear that I might 'get them into trouble' - but I loved her to bits and considered her a mentor and friend. By example she taught me to love and respect all women, especially my wife of 25 years, Eugenie, who she adored. After a stroke forced Buzzy (I called her an Old Buzzard and the shortened version stuck) into riding a wheelchair, we'd make a weekly pilgrimage from our Greenwich Village studio to to give her a shower, a beauty treatment and game of gin rummy, or just to sit on her bed holding hands while she watched her favorite cop show.
|with Buzzy and 'Victory' circa 1952|