Tag Archives: discrimination and prejudice

Tony Mazza – Part II

Tony Mazza –  Part Two

My dad was Tony’s favorite kid and it was no secret.  So it was not too much of a surprise when he knocked on our door up in South Dakota one summer day.  He came to stay a couple of months with us.  He bought me my very first billfold.  That was a big thing for me; it was a birthday gift.

So why did I bring up discrimination and prejudice in part one?  Well, Tony, you see, had only a numbered amount of strands of hair on top of his head, though plenty in the back and above his ears.  But since he never wore a hat, (he’d wear a fedora at funerals), he had a very dark complexion that seemed to go well with his no teeth, big cigar and dusty brown suit.

Tony had no car, either, and walked everywhere he went….he didn’t even know how to drive.  Everyday, he would walk to town or around the area.  This one particular day, he decided to walk to Ft.Pierre, a smaller community on the other side of the Missouri River, about three miles away.  Now Tony’s in his 50s by then and not probably the best of health.  But he treks across the trestle bridge that spans the Missouri River, that happens to have a pedestrian walk path, and gets over to Ft. Pierre.

When he gets there, he, of course, is exhausted and, above all, very, very thirsty.  His primary stop becomes a bar, where he can quench his thirst with….yes, you guessed it….a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer.  Enter….the problem.

Tony is promptly refused service because he is believed to be an Indian.  It didn’t help that he carried no identification.  He became unruly in his attempts to convince the proprietors that he was Italian, not Indian. But his ‘convincing’ was to no avail.  He was ejected from the premises and walked to a gas station and called my dad, who had to drive over and pick him up.

In summation, Tony’s stay in Dakota, after that, was predictable.  He left in a few days on a bus back home to Iowa where he, once again, assumed the role of an old Italian.

Not a true uncle, but my favorite one.

copyright © 2012 T.J. Gargano

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Tony Mazza – Part I

Mr. Tony Mazza

Although my father’s huge family lived in an Iowa town, my father was transferred with his company to Pierre, South Dakota in the early ‘50s, where I spent ten years of my life, growing up.

In the 50s, discrimination and prejudice had not yet been held accountable and the local Indians were not allowed to drink or buy alcohol in Pierre.  This fact will become more relevant, later.

My grandfather, for reasons I won’t discuss now, settled in Iowa, changed his name, and he and grandmother had a large truck-farm, a bakery and a grocery store.  With all the kids they had, they had plenty of help to run their businesses.  They had come from Pennsylvania, where they had settled after coming over from Italy.

Due to a situation that developed in Pennsylvania, it was necessary for my grandfather to relocate faraway and Iowa was chosen to become his new home.  From that time forward, my grandfather had three bodyguards who protected him and his family.  And of course, they became “family” also, present in all the pictures, etc.  One of the bodyguards was Tony Mazza.

Now as bodyguards go, Tony didn’t fit the description; at least not as we think of bodyguards today – burly, tall, robust, serious, tough and tough-looking.  I’ll give you burly and serious and probably, tough, but he certainly wasn’t tall and robust.  But, in all fairness, that was through my eyes as a kid.

He was not much taller than me, sporting no…absolutely no teeth, always chomping down on a huge cigar, while holding a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer that he always got from the grocery store my dad and two of my uncles co-owned there in town.  He always wore a brown suit, white shirt and black tie and he wore it in the dead of winter and in the heat of the summer…..I never saw him dressed any other way and was always told that he owned no other accessories.  I had to believe that.  He never was unclean however, if you know what I mean.  He was a dapper zapper.

The grocery store was down from where my Uncle Bill lived on 3rd Avenue in an Italian neighborhood and quite often our family would be at Uncle Bill’s house where we had four cousins to play with.  I, however, liked being down at the grocery store, in the backroom where the meat was cut and the guys would sit on wooden stools and chairs, sloshing their shiny black shoes in the sawdust, that heavily covered the cement floor, telling countless stories of who knows what, always cussing, laughing, joking and sometimes, crying.  It was a good life.  It’s all gone now………it’s all gone now.

The thing about it was that no one cared that I was around;  I was sort of respected and ‘part of’ the group….well, that’s the feeling I had, anyway.  Please understand, I didn’t talk….I just sat on a little stool and listened and played in the sawdust, that did draw some reprimanding remarks from ‘all my fathers,’ at times.

copyright © 2012 T.J. Gargano

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