Friday Photo Flashback

This is a “feature” I started a couple weeks ago with a Daily Writing Prompt. It’s been fun to find a photo to write about each week. This week’s gem comes from way back!

Yes, that is me! I’m going to guess I am about a year old in the picture. I don’t have a date on it, but judging by the grass and the fact that I am wearing a coat, I’d guess this picture was taken in the spring of 71 (although it could be Fall of 70).

Look at that fire truck! It was all metal! I can’t recall, but I think it had pedals (sort of like a tricycle) and you could “drive” it around. There are not many pictures of me with it, but I wish there were more. Somewhere my dad has old 8mm home movies and one of them has my mom pushing me down the hallway of our house in this fire truck.

I chuckle as I look at the bike horn attached to the hood of it. If you started honking it, no one would think “There’s a fire!” They’d think, “Hey! Here comes Harpo Marx!”

I remember the string that attached to the bell. You pulled it and the bell clanged, much like what you’d see in a Little Rascals short. Of course, my truck was a lot more sturdy than the truck Spanky and the gang were riding on!

I look really interested in that steering wheel, which isn’t even a wheel at all. It’s a combination oval/rectangle. It looks like the string for the bell is actually tied onto it, which makes no sense to me.

I think I am wearing a pea coat here. At least that is what it looks like. I remember those brass buttons were kind of loose and hung from the string that held them to the coat itself. They had to be loose because the coat was thick and the buttons needed to fit into the button holes.

I love to see how much hair I had as a baby. If they trimmed my bangs the right way, I could look like one of the Beatles in ’64 here.

I also love to see those chubby cheeks. Over the years, the chubbiness moved from my cheeks to other parts of my body!

I love the look of that ridiculous grill on the fire truck! The fact that there are fake headlights cracks me up. Those wheels, too! I bet they each weighed about three pounds! They were that hard rubber with thick metal – built to last!

I know this was taken at my grandparents house. I recognize the lamp post to my left in the picture. While we didn’t play often in their front yard, I remember that the pole has this crossbar that went through it.

I think it was meant to hang the numbers or a name plate. My brother and I used to reach up and try to hang from it. It was only aluminum, so I’m sure my grandpa knew that eventually the weight of one or both of us would eventually snap it, so he’d yell at us to leave it alone when we played around it.

I should have reached out to my dad before I posted this picture. I do not know whose car is in the background. It may be ours, or it may be my grandfather’s. I know that they both owned their share of black cars in the past. I am not one of those guys who can look at the style of hubcaps and tell the make and model of the vehicle either. If dad sees this, maybe he can fill in the blanks on it.

What immediately stands out about the car, beside the color, is the HUGE bumper! Those old cars had these bumpers that were like 6 inches wide and solid. One time, my dad, my brother and I were at K-mart. He was backing out of a parking spot in a ’73 Impala. He hit some woman who drove behind us. Her car crumpled like a piece of tin foil while ours didn’t even have a scratch. At that low speed, the bumper destroyed her car!

As I look at the shiny reflection off the hood of this amazing fire truck, I can only imagine the thrill that I must have been experiencing as a child. I don’t know how long I had this, but I wish I still did so that I could pass this very cool toy down to my kids. I know today they have these battery operated 4 wheelers and such that all kids seem to want. But I can tell you one thing, put one of those up against this fire truck and those plastic things would crumble, just like that woman’s car in the K-mart parking lot!

Friday Photo Flashback

This is a “feature” I started a couple weeks ago with a Daily Writing Prompt. It’s been fun to find a photo to write about each week. This week, I went looking through the “photo files” and found this gem:

Pictured in the photo from left to right: me, my brother, and my dad.

I am sure that this photo was taken in our old house in Sterling Heights. My brother looks to be about 6-9 months old here. My mom is obviously taking the picture. I have many wonderful memories of crawling into my parents bed on Saturday or Sunday mornings and reading books, or wrestling with dad.

The first thing that jumps out at me in the picture is the gold satin bed spread. I remember it so well. I remember sliding off the bed numerous times because of it. I don’t recall how long my folks used that bed spread, but I recall it being a staple in that old house.

I love the look on my dad’s face here. I almost feel like my mom interrupted some sort of silly game he was playing with us to take this picture. In one game, my dad would pretend to be a bear as we hid under the bed spread in our “tent.” He would roar and grab at the bed spread and we would scream “It’s a bear!!”

Today, if you put a picture of me and my dad next to each other – there is no doubt that I’m his son and he is my dad. As I look at him in the photo, I don’t really see “me” in his face. Ok, the eyebrows – we both have huge eyebrows.

My brother is so little in this picture. I can see a little of each of my boys as babies in this photo. Just like with my dad, the older we have gotten, the more we look alike. You just don’t see that in this photo. We look very different.

I chuckle out loud when I look at myself. I really have no idea what I am doing in the picture. The whole angelic “eyes closed and hand on my cheeks” thing … I wonder what I am thinking in this picture. I look back at all that hair I had and I miss it. I remember my mom giving us a bath and then blow drying my hair while running a brush through it to give me a poofy “Elvis” hair style. There’s the old joke that says, “I used to have very wavy hair … now all that is left is the beach!”

In the same folder as the “featured” photo is one taken the same day. Whether minutes before of after, I do not know. It is a picture that I had forgot about until recently. As much as my brother and I fought with each other growing up, I just love this picture of me laying on my back cracking up, while my dad hold him on top of me. It seems that the brotherly love began right from the get go.

Cast the Movie of Your Life

The Word Press App on my phone will offer a daily writing prompt to bloggers. I subscribe to a few “prompt” emails and such, and they can certainly be thought starters. Today’s prompt was one I had considered before and I may have even been asked a similar question by a Facebook friend. The prompt:

They are making a movie about your life. Cast it. (Keith adds – with any actors living or dead)

My thoughts on this are to jot down what comes to mind immediately for some (not all) of my family, and a few friends (other friends may request I suggest an actor/actress for them if they really want me to). I will then continue to ponder the question and see if, after thinking it over, I would change any of my choices.

Me

Dom Deluise – No Brainer. This has always been my answer to this question!

My wife, Sam

This was tough. I tried to think of who might look like her and carry herself like Sam. Toss up between Charlize Theron and Olivia Wilde.

My Dad

I’m not sure there would be any better than Jackie Gleason to play my dad

My Mom

Who in the world could play my mom? Tough question and still not really sure, but I forced myself to pick someone. At times, Cathy Bates’ facial expressions remind me of her, so for now – that’ my pick.

My Brother – Chris

Really difficult pick. So just because it will either make him laugh (and he needs that, because he is recovering from Covid) or it will make him mad… William Shatner (Because I wanted to post this stupid picture!)

My Grandma and Grandpa P

Estelle Getty on Golden Girls WAS my grandma! I always felt Abe Vigoda looked like my grandpa, so there ya go.

My Grandma and Grandpa D.

I have always felt like at times, Betty White reminded me of my grandma. My grandpa was tall, a bit heavy, and always smiling. John Goodman reminds me of him.

My best friend, Jeff

Another no brainer. I’ve said for years that he reminds me of Robin Williams.

My friend Steve K.

Steve always has some sort of crazy fact that seems unbelievable to tell. So, he would be John Ratzenberger – but John Ratzenberger AS Cliff Claven from Cheers.

My friend Joe K.

Joe is probably one of the smartest guys I know. At first, I couldn’t get Jeff Goldblum out of my head, and then I though Rainn Wilson is a bit more “Joe” to me.

My friend Steve M.

Steve and I wear our hair the same. My first choice was Vin Diesel, but then I though Michael Chiklis looked more like him (and he played Curly in a Three Stooges movie, so he wins).

My friend Margaret M.

She’s Italian. She’s fiesty. She is strong. She is an expert at inserting profanity into conversation. Without a doubt – Marisa Tomei.

My friend, Chris B,

Tall and funny = Conan O’Brien

Uh …… I’m Stumped

Now, as far as my kids …. I’m just not sure. My older boys (Dante’ and Dimitri) have personalities that are very established. Ella does in a sense as well. Andrew is just a smiling happy baby. How do I begin to pick who will play them? I just don’t know….

It’s my blog and my rules. Let me think a bit on this ….

If I left you out …. and you want me to think about who will play you – let me know. In the meantime ….

Go ahead and cast YOUR life. Who would play YOU?

Flashback Friday

Every few months I have to take the pictures I take on my phone and transfer them to an external hard drive. I do this so that I always have room on my phone to take pictures. As I was scrolling through the photos on my phone, I saw some of the ones I took on Easter, which reminded me of a blog idea I had hoped to blog, but forgot.

Back in the day, whenever we went somewhere for a holiday, we always dressed up. In all honesty, I still feel “out of place” when I don’t dress up for holidays. It just seems like people don’t do that anymore. Holidays are more “casual” today.

I will never forget one Easter, someone bought my brother and I matching outfits. When we see the pictures we call them the “Leisure Suits.” They are cheesy. You can tell it is the late 70’s or early 80’s because the collars are so big they’d poke your eye out if you got close to us.

Taken at our house. Look at that couch!!

We’d go to both sets of grandparents houses on Easter. Naturally, we had to pose for pictures. You can tell we are at my Italian grandparent’s house in the next picture, because for some reason we had to go outside and take a picture next to her statue of Mary.

My brother is sporting a Beatles haircut in this picture.

We’d then go over to my mom’s parent’s house. There would be more family photos taken – usually in front of the fireplace.

I love this family picture. I remember that eagle on the wall so well.

For some reason, my folks didn’t take too many pictures on Easter morning, but there is one that I treasure.

I’m not sure when this was taken. It could be the same year as the suits, or maybe a year after. I can’t tell. Here, again, my family loved getting us matching clothes – I can’t make out what is on these pajamas, but they are obviously the same.

I wish I some of these pictures were more clear. I’d love to compare them with my kids at that age.

Thoughts on The Godfather (1972)

It has been some time since I have been able to participate in a Blogathon, but when I saw that The Ultimate Decades Blogathon was being hosted by my friends over at Tranquil Dreams and Drew’s Movie Reviews, I had to take part in it. The basic theme is to blog about a movie that was released in a year ending in “2.” While scanning the releases from 1972 – it became very obvious which movie I would be writing about – The Godfather. (This blog may contain spoilers.)

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the film. This puts me at a disadvantage. Why? Because, let’s face it, there will be plenty of articles, books, internet articles, magazine special editions and more about this movie. You will not have to go far to find material on this masterpiece. As a matter of fact, I am currently reading one of the books that was released just a few months ago about the film.

I had actually hoped to finish the book prior to having to write this blog. I am just over halfway finished and it is fantastic!

This week, I watched the film in its entirety in preparation for this blogathon. With every viewing, I come to appreciate it more and more. It remains a film that I never tire of watching. It never gets old. It still holds up 50 years later. The Mark Seal book I am reading has certainly made me more aware of the difficulties that surrounded the making of The Godfather. At times, you wonder how it ever was finished!

At any rate, what could a lowly blogger like me possibly present to you about the Best Picture Winner of 1972? My thoughts, my observations, and my reasons for loving it. Now that I think about it, I guess I chose this film for selfish reasons. I have quoted it and referred to it in passing in past blogs, but I have never actually devoted an entire blog to it.

Unlike some blogs, mine is a personal blog that features stories from my past, posts about my family, posts about my struggles, posts about my passions, likes, and dislikes. It is a picture of “me.” No picture of me would be complete without The Godfather. So, here goes….

The First Viewing

I was two years old when The Godfather came out. I don’t recall exactly how old I was when I first saw it. What I do remember is that it was not a complete viewing.

As a teen, I remember my dad would always be laying on the floor watching TV. I had come into the room and dad was watching the movie which was playing on one of the local networks. I remember being instantly being caught up in it. As my memory serves me, the scene I was watching was where Michael goes to the hospital and no one is watching his father. I remember him begging the nurse to help move him because people were coming “to kill him.”

Once the Don (Marlon Brando) is moved to another room, Enzo the baker is shown walking up the stairs and down the hall. The entire scene where Michael and Enzo are out in front of the hospital as the car carrying the murderers pulls up (and drives away) had me at the edge of my seat! I watched the rest of the movie with my dad and remember asking him a gazillion questions.

Eventually, my dad purchased the movies (Part 1 & 2) on VHS. I remember watching part one from beginning to end and being blown away. I was never really aware of the film’s length because it held my attention all the way through. Admittedly, it took more than a couple viewings to finally get all the names of the various characters right.

For the next couple years, it seemed like HBO or The Movie Channel played the Godfather films in a hot rotation right around Christmastime. I remember going over to my girlfriend’s house and her dad was watching it. I sat down on the couch and we bonded immediately over the film. I’m not sure she was too happy that our time together was sitting on the couch watching a “mob movie.”

The movie is one of the few films that I have to sit down and watch if it is on TV. If I am scanning channels and it is on, I stop and watch. I can’t help it. I get caught up into it immediately.

The Big Screen

In 2002, select theaters were showing the film for its 30th anniversary. This was an opportunity that I had to take advantage of. My wife at the time had never seen the movie and I asked if she would like to see it. She said yes and we bought tickets.

I wish I could convey to you the amount of excitement that I felt as I sat in the seats of the Royal Oak Main theater (in Michigan) as the lights dimmed and the movie started. This was my first time watching this masterpiece on the big screen. The camera fired up and there was the solo trumpet playing the opening 7 notes of The Godfather Theme. I had chills!

“I believe in America….” The words of Amerigo Bonasera came through the sound system. The camera fades in on his face as he tells the story of his daughter and the boys who beat her. The camera pulls further and further away from him and eventually we see the back of Don Corleone. We hear the dialogue between them and it isn’t until we see Bonasera whispering in the Don’s ear that we finally see the man – Don Corleone.

The opening scene of the film remains one of my favorites of all time. It is just brilliant. It is perfect. Watching it on the big screen for the first time remains one of the coolest moments!

Mario Puzo’s novel does not open with this scene. Director Francis Ford Coppola stated that he knew this was the scene that should open the film. I can’t imagine it opening any other way. So much is conveyed it this scene – respect, disrespect, power, and family. It is the perfect springboard for the remainder of the film.

Mario Puzo, author of the Godfather

Casting

It is probably easy for me to say that the cast of the Godfather is perfect, especially since it is 50 years old. Believe it or not, Paramount was against Marlon Brando as Vito Corleone. They also were not keen on Al Pacino as Michael. Can you imagine James Caan as Michael (and NOT Sonny)? How about Martin Sheen instead of Robert Duvall as Tom Hagen? There was quite a lot of fighting over who should play who in the movie. In the end, Coppola wound up with the cast that he wanted, and when you see the finished product, you see that he had it right all along.

The Corleone Boys – Michael, Vito, Sonny and Fredo

Fun Fact: Mario Puzo actually wrote a letter to Marlon Brando telling him that he thought Brando would be perfect for the role of Don Vito Corleone in the film. He stated in his letter that Brando was the “only actor who can play the Godfather.”

Fun Fact: Throughout the entire film, the word “mafia” is never uttered.

Not Just Another “Mobster Flick”

People who have never seen the Godfather assume that it is just another mobster film. I would tend to disagree. To me, it is more about family, greed, power, and loyalty. Coppola stated somewhere that he wanted to show that the Corleone family were real people, with jobs (illegal or not), children, a home life, etc…

One of the first things we see in the film is a huge family wedding. There is laughter, dancing, music, food, and plenty of friends and family. We also see the mixture of business and family, as the Don is “working” in his den as the wedding is going on. We see him as a husband and father, dancing with his wife and his daughter at the wedding festivities. The importance of family is present as the family poses for a photo, but the Don states that it cannot be taken until Michael arrives.

The “Family” Business

The phrase “family business” is used a few times in the film. To me, the term illustrates that the two are separate, yet connected. It becomes very clear that when it comes to business, the Don, his consigliere (Tom Hagen) and his two older sons (Sonny and Fredo) are involved. The youngest son, Michael, is not a part of the family business. Sonny says that he didn’t want to “get mixed up in” it. Michael is also referred to as a “civilian” by family members. Yet his entering the business is one of the most intriguing things to me about the movie.

When Michael makes his entrance into the film he is walking hand in hand with his girlfriend Kay (Diane Keaton) in his military uniform. We see him walking from behind almost swaying, without seeing his face, we know that he is happy and in love. He is a far cry from the man he will transform into. He is soft spoken, even when he explains to Kay some of the terrible things his family is responsible for. He also makes it a point to explain, “That’s my family, Kay. NOT ME.”

In an interesting turn of events, not very far into the movie the “star” is shot and absent for much of the middle of the film. I am talking about The Godfather himself, Vito Corleone (Brando). This event leads to the beginning of the transformation of Michael. The soft spoken son, who had had his jaw broken by a corrupt cop, is now telling his brothers that he will step in and knock off the man responsible for shooting his father (which brings about a lot of laughter at first, but ultimately is what the family decides to do).

It’s not personal, Sonny. It’s just business.

In this scene, Coppola again works magic with the camera. As Michael describes what he wants to do, the camera slowly moves closer and closer to him. As the camera stops he states firmly, “I’ll kill them both.” The transformation has begun.

It continues quickly. During the scene where Michael does it, you can see him lost in thought as Virgil Solozzo (who sets up the hit on the Don) and the police captain are sitting next to him at the table. I love that as the camera sits on his face, the sounds of the trains get louder and louder until he finally stands and shoots his victims.

By the end of the film, Michael has become Don. His dark eyes tell a story of tragedy and anger. He is cold and heartless. He has “settled” all family business.

To me, this is one of the most amazing character transformations in all of film. He has gone from likeable to someone you cringe at when you look at him. He makes your stomach turn.

Final Thoughts

I feel as though I have not even begun to scratch the surface of just what a powerful movie this is. When someone thinks about the Godfather, they think of:

  • The horse’s head
  • Leave the gun. Take the cannoli
  • Sonny getting shot at the toll booth
  • Luca Brasi
  • The meeting of the Five Families
  • The interplay between the “settling of family business” and the baptism

There are so many wonderful scenes throughout this picture. I could write a blog about each of those scenes just as easily as I could write a blog about each character. The things presented here, are the things that stood out for me right from the get go when I wondered what to present.

For anyone who has never seen the movie, it is a must watch. You also need to watch it more than once. As I stated, it gets better every time. I also recommend reading the book, whether you do it before or after watching the movie, it really doesn’t matter. In some cases, reading it before will give you a better chance at remembering who is who. For me, it gave me a lot more insight as to what characters were thinking during key scenes.

(Note: Pick up Francis Ford Coppola’s Godfather Notebook. It has pages from the novel and his notes. It is fun to see how he thinks about what to keep and what to leave out. It is also cool to see what he thought was important and just how to convey things on film.)

There is plenty of imagery throughout the film. One of my favorite examples of this involves the scenes where someone kisses the Godfather’s ring. Like a pair of book ends – we see two Dons (Vito from the beginning of the film and Michael from the end of the film) in an almost identical scene. The family’s power has been transferred from one to another.

Coppola is a master at tying things together and the pictures above illustrate that.

I, on the other hand, tend to ramble (hence the title of my Blog Page). I hope that you have found my thoughts on the film enjoyable. I hope that they move you to watch the film again or for the first time.

In closing, I want to thank my friends at Tranquil Dreams and Drew’s Movie Reviews for allowing me to take part in this blogathon. I highly recommend that you follow them for some pretty amazing content. Check them out here:

https://klling.wordpress.com/

https://drewreviewmovies.wordpress.com/

Cue the Godfather theme …..

I’ve Been Yelling At Her For Days

Amazon Alexa Echo

For Christmas, my dad gave us an Amazon Alexa. I know many people have these and use them for a variety of things. On Christmas Day, I set it up and started to mess around with it.

The first issue I had was not being able to remember my Amazon password! I have the app and the password is saved, because I never end us remembering it. After trying about 35 different passwords, I finally just reset it and continued with the set up.

When you first start the thing, she starts telling you what to do. “Ask me to tell you a joke.” “I can help you get to work on time. Ask me about traffic.” “Ask me how long to cook a turkey.” “Ask me what the weather is like.” She just kept cranking out the commands!

Eventually, after messing with it a while, I got to where I kind of knew how to use it. I started asking Alexa questions about everything. Then, I started to ask her to play songs for Ella.

“Alexa. Play Baby Shark.” Boom! There it is. “Alexa. Play Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.” Ta Da! It’s there. “Alexa. Play the theme song for Paw Patrol.” Instantly it is there. I think to myself, how nice this is. Now, almost two weeks later….. I am OVER asking Alexa for songs!

Ella loves it. If Alexa were to make a playlist based off what we’ve asked her to play, I could take it to a preschool class and PARTY!! Here requests include:

  • Baby Shark
  • Row, Row, Row Your Boat
  • The Alphabet Song
  • Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star
  • Johnny, Johnny No Papa
  • Three Little Kittens
  • Five Little Speckled Frogs
  • There Were 10 in the Bed
  • Happy Birthday to You

I am sure there are more, but those are the ones that stick in my head. We can be sitting on the floor or on the couch reading books or watching TV and she’ll just look at me and say, “Row Row Row Your Boat?!” (or any of the other above songs).

“Alexa. Play Baby Shark …..again!” “Alexa! Play Twinkle Twinkle!” “ALEXA! Play the Itsy Bitsy Spider!!!!!”

When the song is over, Ella always looks at me and says, “Again? Again?! Please, Daddy, Again!”

I have a feeling, I will be hearing those songs in my sleep for a very long time!

Please help me when Alexa finally is able to understand her, because she will be playing toddler songs non-stop!!

2021 – What a Year!

At midnight tonight, we’ll start a brand new year – 2022. Some have compared a new year to a book. The book with 365 blank pages – one for each day – and said that the book is ours to write. There is truth to that.

As I looked back over my “book” entitled “2021,” I see that (despite the pandemic and all the crap that came with it) I really did have a good year. Bear with me, he’s the recap:

January

January started with some snow. It actually looks like we should be getting snow again this week. Ella absolutely loved being outside in the snow. It was fun to watch her try to figure out just what all the white stuff was. Today, when she sees it, she get’s excited and yells, “Snow! Snow!”

In mid-January, we scratched our heads and wondered just how Ella was 11 months old! I mean, it seemed like she was just born!

The pressure was on as we closed in on her first birthday. With Covid, we weren’t quite sure if we’d even be able to have a party for her.

February

As we got closer to Ella’s birthday, Sam was just not feeling right. 3 days before Ella’s birthday, we found out that baby #2 was on the way!

This took us both completely by surprise! There was great excitement all over again. The hardest part was keeping it a secret…

Ella’s first birthday was a fun and busy day. We ditched the pink blocks and marked the birthday with a HUGE number “1” balloon. This was followed by a trip to the Sea Life Aquarium, the Build a Bear place, and cake at Nana’s house.

We were glad to be able to get some professional “1st Birthday” pictures, too!

March

In March we got our first look at the baby we now know as Andrew/AJ and announced Ella’s promotion to big sister.

Ella also got her first haircut

March also consisted of many walks around the neighborhood and stops at the park.

April

Big brother, Dante’ turned 19 this month! Before that, Easter fell on my mom’s birthday. We got Ella all dressed up in her Easter dress, stopped at the cemetery to visit grandma on her birthday and then went to Nana’s for an Easter Egg hunt!

Ella is so very blessed to have wonderful people in her life. Aunt Margaret is one of them! (She will kill me for posting this picture, but I just love this!!) She and cousin Marissa came to visit and the highlight was watching them read books together.

We also found out the baby’s gender, but that wouldn’t be revealed until May.

May

Birthday’s have never really bothered me, mostly because I opt for the Jack Benny attitude and say that I am stuck at 39. However, in reality I turned 51. 30 was big. 40 was tough. 50 a bit hard to swallow. Over 50? Well…..I examine my own mortality every day.

The month started warm enough that Ella got to spend lots of time in her sandbox and pool.

We revealed that Ella was having a baby brother and got another look at him on an ultrasound.

Ella and I worked on a special project for Sam for Mother’s Day and we got to visit the Detroit Zoo.

May also brought Ella her first taste of corn on the cob!

June

My second oldest boy celebrated his 14th birthday in June. We got to spend Father’s Day together by visiting Crossroads Village. They had a Classic Car Show there and we walked the village and rode the train. It was such a great day with my kids!

It was SO hot that day!!! By the end of it all, Ella was physically exhausted. June was a hot month and we did get to get out and enjoy walks in the park and a day at the splash pad.

July

By July, Sam was 5 months pregnant and was so sick. The pregnancy was a rough one on her. The heat didn’t help things. Despite that, the middle of summer was packed full of amazing things and our family had loads of fun.

We celebrated America’s Birthday, Ella had her first visit to the public library and bowled for the first time, and we all visited the Saginaw Children’s Zoo.

August

As Summer drew to a close, we continued to squeeze as much into it as we could. I got to spend a perfect day doing a daddy daughter picnic, my name was finally on the board at the Corner Cone for a free ice cream, Ella spent lots of time drawing with crayons, and our stress levels were through the roof as we took Ella in for her ear tube surgery. We also got another peak at AJ and had a visit from my brother.

September

Fall! My favorite season of all. I was glad to be able to get together with Margaret, Walt and my buddy Chris at Margaret’s house. Since she’s already mad at the one picture I posted, I’ll just share the one she told me I could share. Hopefully, that makes things a little better….

We always love going to get pumpkins and decorating the front of the house for fall. Ella seemed to like it, too.

Ella and I also got to take one last trip to the Saginaw Zoo before it closed for the season. It was a great day for us, and Sam actually got to relax a bit.

October

We had been told more than once that there was a possibility that the baby would come before his due date. He held out almost until the date! Just two days before he was born, Ella and I got to go outside and enjoy the fall colors.

On October 11th, AJ entered the world. I watched in awe as my son was born and all the pride of being a daddy again filled my soul. We weren’t sure how Ella would handle it, but she welcomed him with open arms.

They still did not have a photographer at the hospital, so we went to JC Penney to have some newborn pictures taken. AJ looks spiffy in his outfit!

While this wasn’t Ella’s first Halloween, it was the first real Trick or Treating adventure for her. She was happy that big brother was there to walk with her. AJ was obviously way too young to attempt to go out this year.

November

Fall walks are among my favorites. I love looking at the colors. Ella and I took many fall walks and there were many instances where she’d just play in a pile of leaves! AJ kept us all busy and so it was just Ella and I making the trip to Bronner’s to get his ornament for the Christmas tree. We enjoyed a wonderful Thanksgiving at home and got the house ready for Christmas.

December

The final month of the year brought many happy memories. Professional Christmas pictures, my annual reading of Dickens, AJ turned 2 months old, a visit from Papa and Grandma, Christmas Eve with my boys, Holiday lights at Crossroads, our first Christmas as a family of four, and the anticipation of a brand new year.

Blog highlights included my entries to the 2021 Song Draft, salutes to Soupy Sales, my grandpa, and Ernie Harwell, a guest blog from my pal Max, silly blogs about hats and Bernie Sanders’ mittens, fishing memories, my favorite Twilight Zone episodes, and a blog about an amazing cartoon Dog Dad.

There were many sad moments in 2021. I lost classmates and friends to cancer, heart disease, and of course, Covid. If the past two years have taught me anything, it is that life is precious and another day is not promised. You never know when it will be the “last picture,” the “last phone call,” or the “last visit.” It takes me make to that quote that my band director wrote on the grease board my senior year. I have quoted it many times. “Live every day as if it were your last. Someday, you’ll be right.”

Life is too short. Live. Laugh. Love.

As we welcome 2022, I pray that it is a good year for all of us. May we find it full of happiness and good health. May God bless you and yours in the upcoming year.

Get ready. The Book of 2022 awaits. Grab your pen and turn to page (January) 1.

Christmas 2021 Recap

Another Christmas has come and gone. I hope that you had a Christmas full of wonderful memories! This Christmas was full of a lot of joy for us, but there were some things that left me sad. I will attempt to recap and keep it as happy as possible. Many of my Facebook friends have already seen these pictures, but that’s ok.

Thursday, December 23

After working the night before, I slept for a couple hours and went and picked up my son. His brother was working that night and was coming up after work so we could celebrate Christmas Eve Morning together.

My dad and Rose came over that afternoon. Neither had met AJ yet, so it was extra special to have them here. When then walked in, Ella ran to them SO excited. She was so happy to see them. She loves them both so much!!

There is something that is so amazing to me to see my dad hold his grandchildren. There is a special light in his eyes. There are almost tears. It is so special. He always kisses them gently on the head and talks to them.

Dad and AJ

Ella was all about Grandma Rose that night! Grandma made her a Mickey and Minnie blanket, which she just loves. One of my favorite pictures from that day is the two of them snuggled up on the chair with her blanket.

Ella and Grandma Rose

My Dad, being the silly guy that he is, heard Ella saying some of the alphabet. He immediately thought of “Violent is the Word for Curly,” the Three Stooges short which features the “Swingin’ the Alphabet” song.

B A Bay, B E Bee, B I Bicky By …

So Dad had to sing it to her …

Dad’s chart was a bit off….

I was glad to get the chance to visit with them, and I am glad that three of his four grandchildren were there for him to see. Papa and Rose were very good to all my kids!

Dad and me – wish the lighting had been a bit better

Dad and Rose left around 7, and Dante’ called about 8 to say he’d gotten off work and was on his way. I was exhausted and was actually on my way to bed when he called. He asked me to stay awake, so I did. He came in and gave he the biggest hug. We had some leftover pizza, so I told him to dig in and not stay up too late!

As I crawled in bed, my heart was full.

Christmas Eve

I’m sure the day is coming when the kids will be up at like 4am to open presents! We were blessed that they didn’t wake up until after 8am! I had to laugh, though, because ever since we put the tree up, there has been a gate around it. It served two purposes. First, it kept that cat out of the tree and second, it kept Ella from pulling on the ornaments and the lights.

When she woke up and came out the the living room, she walked over the the tree and saw all the presents under the tree – and no gate. She literally just stood there – not really sure what to make of things.

Ella – perplexed

After a few minutes, Sam said it was time to go in and wake up the boys. They were already going to be leaving earlier than I thought (so Dante’ didn’t have to drive in the dark), so we wanted to get things going. We told Ella to go in and wake them up.

She ran into their room yelling, “Wake up, Bruh! Wake up, Bruh!” It was quite funny to watch my older boys stir in bed … all they wanted to do was stay asleep. Dante’ asked to sleep for another 30 minutes. I told him, “You’re sister isn’t going to wait 30 minutes and wants to open presents!” Against their wishes, they crawled out of bed and joined us in the living room.

Last year, we had to help Ella open her gifts. She wasn’t quite where she understood how to do it yet. This year, however, she was able to jump right in and rip open her gifts!

Ella – wearing the very cute PJ’s that Sam’s dad got for her

It’s neat to see how the various kids react to Christmas now. Dante is 19, so he’s very laid back. Dimitri is 14 and it depends on what he’s opening as to how excited or how much emotion he shows. Ella, she’s excited for everything. Andrew has no clue as to what is happening.

The boys

The boys are SO hard to buy for. They never seem to have any real ideas for me. Dante’ is kind of at the “gift card/money” stage. He’s happy with those. Dimitri really liked this golf game I had for the Xbox, so I made sure to get it for him to play at home.

Par for the course …

Ella, being the helpful big sister, helped open up AJ’s presents.

AJ watching sissy open gifts for him

Of course, I had to put together Ella’s basketball hoop, so she could slam dunk a few before dinner.

Two points!

After a hearty breakfast, the boys went into their room and played games for a while. Knowing that they were going to be leaving early, I made sure that dinner was done early. Keeping with my family tradition, I made ravioli with my homemade sauce. I made sure to send a jar home with the boys, as Dante’ loves it.

Personal note: I used a bit too much wine this time. I felt that it was sweeter than normal.

About 3, the boys had to leave to go home to their mom. Ella was napping when they left. When she woke up, I picked her up out of her crib and as we passed the boy’s room, she said “Bruh”? “Bruh”? It ripped my heart out. All she wanted to do was see her brothers! Sadly, I don’t think they really know how much she loves them and how important they are to her. This was the saddest moment of the entire weekend for me.

A Christmas Eve tradition for Sam and I has always been to do the Drive Through Holiday Lights display at Crossroads Village. For $10 a car, you get to drive through and see the many Christmas lights that they have on display. When the kids are older, we plan on going and doing the Christmas train ride, which is truly amazing, but for now, we just drove through.

When we arrived, we got Ella out of her car seat and let her sit on Sam’s lap as we drove through. She was so excited. As we got close to the lights, she’s yell, “Here we go, Mommy! Here we go, Daddy!” It was so cute. Sam made the comment that she loves seeing things through Ella’s eyes. This is so true! We’ve been through there every year, but this year was so much more exciting because of Ella!

Sleigh ride!

We thought about driving downtown Flint, which has some great lights, too. We decided against it, as it was getting late and the kids were tired. We went through out bedtime routine and got the kids to bed just in time for me to play Santa. I had a few things to put together so that they were ready for they kids when they woke up Christmas morning.

Christmas Day 2021

Sam wanted to be in the living room so she could record Ella seeing her presents, so I got her out of bed and asked Sam if she was ready. She said she was, so I sent Ella running into the living room. The video is priceless. The smile on her face is something I will never forget. We got her one of those Little People Jungle Rainforest things. It came with animals and makes noises and everything. It is HUGE and takes up a good part of the living room.

Here’s the monkey!

AJ’s Santa gift was a very cool floor chair. It allows him to sit up while on the floor and it’s a lot better than those Bumpo seats.

Sitting pretty

I love that both kids had “Santa” jammies for Christmas morning. Sam and I actually got matching PJ bottoms to wear that morning, too. AJ was wide awake and just taking in all the sights. I love this picture of him and Sam. What I love about it is that just above Sam’s right shoulder is a picture of Ella on her lap and in this picture AJ is on her lap.

One of Ella’s favorite gifts was a Leap Frog Tea Party set. The pot talks and it came with cups and cake.

Must be good tea!

I joked many times about having tea parties with my daughter. I am excited to say that we’ve had our first already and I am looking forward to the next one!

Yummy!!

It was daddy’s turn to help AJ open gifts. So I grabbed his stuff and we opened them up. I was as surprised as he was! LOL. Sam got him a very cool “Floor time” pillow with lights, sounds, and more.

Wow!! What’s this, daddy?

It made him like floor time a lot more….

Mesmerized

Before we all showered and got dressed to visit Sam’s folks, we attempted to take a family selfie. We have a camera that I could have set up with a timer and all, but with my cell phone, I could snap 5-6 pictures in the time it would take to get one on the camera. Good thing we went with the cell phone – because it only took us about 57 tries before we finally got this one.

Merry Christmas!

Since it was AJ’s first Christmas, we had to be sure to get a picture with him in his “First Christmas” outfit. Sam came up with the silly saying on the board and it made me chuckle!

Got him smiling and everything!

After the kids napped, we went to Sam’s folks for Christmas dinner. Sam’s mom put out an amazing spread with turkey, mac and cheese, mashed potatoes, and so much more. I’m not sure why we didn’t get any pictures while we were there, and I am sad that we didn’t. We are so grateful for them and enjoyed family time together.

After we got home and got the kids in bed, Sam and I crawled into bed. Before I drifted off to sleep, I thought back over the many memories that were made and thanked God for the many blessings that He has given me. I am truly a lucky man.

December 26

Having the Christmas tree up was driving Sam crazy. Not because it was up, but because we literally had to move Ella’s toys out of that corner of the room. All of her toys were moved in front of the fireplace and it just seemed like we were always tripping over them. Long before Christmas, it was clear that on the 26th, the tree was coming down!

I spent the morning taking down ornaments, unstringing Christmas lights, folding up stockings, and putting them all downstairs until next year. Before I finished, there was one picture we had meant to get of Ella that we hadn’t gotten. So I hurried out to the garage and got the props ready before Ella and I walked the neighborhood. Here is the picture we had hoped to get earlier in the season ….

Hauling her Christmas tree

It’s back to work tonight for me, at least for a couple days. Looking back over this holiday weekend makes me smile. There are so many wonderful memories forever saved in snapshots that I will look back on often. Life is good. I am blessed.

Song Draft – Pick #1 – Mind Over Matter – Nolan Strong and the Diablos

This blog is part of the 2021 Song Draft hosted by Hanspostcard…. I have followed his blog, for some time and he always posts some great musical and movie stuff! His blog can be found here:

https://slicethelife.com/author/hanspostcard/

I’d like to thank Hans for allowing me to participate in the song draft (and Max for asking if I’d be interested).

In preparation for the draft, I went through years worth of Billboard charts, scanned my entire DJ library, and listened to all of the songs on my iPod (more than once). After going through a list of songs, I came up with my list. I have a few extras picked, just in case one of the other drafters pick one of mine.

My first draft choice is probably a song that many have never heard. I was born and raised in the Detroit area, and worked on the radio in Detroit for 10 years. Because of this, I decided to find a song that is not only a favorite, but showcases my hometown. The song is not a Motown song, but there certainly is a Motown connection to it that I hope you will find interesting.

When I first started at the radio station in 1988, my dad gave me a list of songs to put on cassette for him. They were almost all songs from his childhood that he couldn’t find in stores. While at the station, I searched for many of the songs on the list and heard them for the first time as I recorded them for my dad. The first song on the list was “Mind Over Matter” by Nolan Strong.

The Diablos with lead singer Nolan Strong was one of Detroit’s most successful early vocal groups. The group’s classic 1954 recording of “The Wind” would have probably been a national R&B hit were it not for spotty distribution by the tiny Fortune record label.

According to author David A. Carson, “In 1962 Fortune owner Devora Brown wrote a song expressly for Nolan Strong. Although only his name appeared on the label, the Diablos backed him up. ‘Mind Over Matter’ was an irresistible midtempo dance record full of sudden stops, starts, and vocal acrobatics, as Nolan sang about putting a hex on his girl to win her love.”

“Mind Over Matter” quickly shot to # 1 on the Detroit charts. Sheldon Brown, Devora’s son, remembered that Motown’s Berry Gordy was not pleased with Fortune suddenly having a # 1 record in his backyard. The story goes like this:

It’s early in the evening one day towards the end of September, 1962. The Temptations fourth single, “Paradise,” is being pressed up (along with a bunch of other new Motown records), ready for signing over to the distributors. The Motown rep who periodically comes to the pressing plant to check the print run notices stacks and stacks of boxes piled up in the corner, all full of seven inch singles.

The rep casually enquiring as to what’s going on, he’s informed that those boxes contain the complete inventory of the latest Fortune Records single, “Mind Over Matter” by Nolan Strong and the Diablos. The record was officially meant to have been released by now. It’s been getting some radio play, and indications across Detroit are that it’s going to be big. (For sure, the rep notes to himself, Berry Gordy Jr has remarked loudly and often how much he liked the record, and how he’d previously tried to sign Nolan Strong to Motown, with no success.) But some sort of organizational screw-up has meant that the distributors haven’t been able to get them out yet, so there they all are, still sitting in their boxes, still waiting to be taken away.

The Motown rep nods, makes his excuses, hurries out to a payphone and gets Berry Gordy on the line. Urgent, he says. Fortune Records has dropped the ball, he explains. The Nolan Strong record’s on the radio, but it’s not in the shops. Nobody can actually buy a copy. The rep doesn’t need to explain any further. Berry gets the point. Berry hangs up without a word. He’s got some calls of his own to make.

Gordy calls A&R. He calls the studio. He calls producer Clarence Paul. Got a top priority mission for you. Drop everything else you’re doing right now. Don’t care what group you cut it on. Just get me the damn record as soon as possible.

Within five days, Motown has its own cover version of Mind Over Matter recorded, pressed and in stores. That, in itself, it pretty amazing! What a turn around!!

A clip from the local paper shows how Motown tried to really capitalize on the fact that Nolan Strongs version was unavailable:

The story wouldn’t have a happy ending for Motown, as someone at Fortune got wind of the ploy and made sure the Nolan Strong record found its way into local stores, where – backed with Fortune’s undivided attention – it promptly flew off the shelves and became a regional chart-topper, squashing Motown’s competing version before it had had a chance to get started. But it’s illustrative of just how much could be achieved if Berry Gordy wanted it to happen badly enough.

The group Clarence Paul wound up recording Mind Over Matter were the Temptations, who (as noted above) already had a new single lined up; their record was due out on October 1st, and there was no point having two Temptations records out at once battling each other’s sales and damaging the group’s image. The quickly-recorded cover thus went out under an adopted name; enter “the Pirates”.

(The Gracenote CD database, and thus much of the Internet, insists that this group is actually white British novelty rockers Johnny Kidd and the Pirates, but that’s a bad mistake; these are the Temptations, under a stupid name, with Eddie Kendricks on lead).

Some people like the Temptations version better, however, there is something magical to the Nolan Strong version for me. Maybe it is the simplicity of it. I feel like his vocal is more solid than the Temps. Of course, maybe it is just because I never even knew that another version existed until a few years ago.

I’m not saying that the Temps version was bad, because it isn’t. Berry Gordy was an astute judge alright – and it came out as a decent single with a strong, driving groove, only to be denied a chart hit by the circumstances in which it came to be made. One cannot dent that the song is an important early record by one of Motown’s most important groups nonetheless.

As mentioned above, “Mind Over Matter” by Nolan Strong reached #1 locally around Detroit, but only made it to #112 nationally on Billboard. One of my favorite songs of all time!

According to author David A. Carson, “In 1962 Fortune owner Devora Brown wrote a song expressly for Nolan Strong. Although only his name appeared on the label, the Diablos backed him up. ‘Mind Over Matter’ was an irresistible midtempo dance record full of sudden stops, starts, and vocal acrobatics, as Nolan sang about putting a hex on his girl to win her love.”

“Mind Over Matter” quickly shot to # 1 on the Detroit charts. Sheldon Brown, Devora’s son, remembered that Berry Gordy was not pleased with Fortune suddenly having a # 1 record in his backyard. “Berry Gordy thought it was such a great record that he took the guys in the Temptations and they recorded a version of ‘Mind Over Matter’ as the Pirates for Motown, but Nolan Strong had the bigger hit.”

Mind Over Matter – Nolan Strong and the Diablos

My mind is made up ’cause you’re so cold
I want your love to have and to hold
I’ll have your love cause you are so fine
Mind over matter, gonna make you mine


And I believe that someone wants someone bad enough
The way I want you for you’re the one that I love
I’ll command all my powers to make you fall in line
Mind over matter, gonna make you mine

[Chorus]
I’ll put a spell on you, put a hex on you
I’ll make you love me too and I’ll be so nice to you
You have to fall ’cause I’ll be so dog gone kind
Mind over matter, gonna make you mine

(Instrumental Break)

I’ll put a spell on you, I’ll put a hex on you
I’ll make you love me too and I’ll be so nice to you
You have to fall ’cause I’ll be so dog gone kind
Mind over matter, gonna make you mine

Oh baby, so nice, ohh, you gotta be mine
Oh baby (fade out)

___

Here is the Temptations version, since it played so prominently in the story:

Thanks for reading – and listening!

What’s In A Name (Part 2)

When Sam told me we were expecting again, I was pretty sure the baby was a girl. As a matter of fact, I even had a dream about about it. I blogged about that here: https://nostalgicitalian.com/2021/04/23/and-the-baby-is-a/

This pregnancy has been difficult for Sam. She has been in a lot of pain. We found out that the reason for this is that the placenta is positioned anterior. Because of this, she has had a few extra ultrasounds to make sure everything is ok. While at her OB a couple weeks ago, he stated that while doing the ultrasound, he should be able to see the gender and asked if Sam wanted to know. Sam told him that we had already gone to the 3D place and found out the gender.

The doc told her that those places are right “about 50% of the time.” While he checked her, he really couldn’t tell for sure what the baby’s gender was. He even stated that there was certainly “a possibility” that it could be a girl. The reasoning was that the position of the placenta could have made it look like something it wasn’t.

This threw a big curve ball at us. What if the baby was a girl? We had already made the announcement that we were having a boy. We would have to wait and see. If it WAS a girl, we had a solid name picked out. Just like with Ella, it was a name we both agreed on almost immediately. The only thing that we hadn’t nailed down was a middle name, but we had our top choices all picked.

So we kept things quiet until this week. Sam went in for the 20 week ultrasound and we can confirm that the baby is indeed a boy. He is a very active boy (as Sam has been able to see in all the ultrasounds). Due to the placement of the placenta, however, it really limits how much Sam gets to feel him move. So with the confirmation of gender, we moved back to our list of Boy Names and had to nail one down!

We had a few names that really stood out. We went back and forth on a couple of them. We had one name that we really liked, but it was ruined by a story from a family member. There was another we liked and just really kept going back and forth with it. Finally, we came to a decision.

The baby’s name is …

Andrew Joseph to be exact.

Sam’s grandfather was Joseph, which is where the middle name comes from. Andrew was just a first name that we both liked. It works out great in the “nickname” department, too. We can call him Drew or “AJ”. I like AJ a lot!

There is lots of excitement and anticipation for his arrival. October seems a long way away, but at the same time, it will be here faster than we know it!

Funniest Observation of the Week.

Leave it to my dad! I called him to let him know the baby’s name before Sam posted it on Facebook. I loved to see his reaction. It was a few hours later that my dad commented on the post on Sam’s Facebook page. He observed that now I will have three sons and a daughter – just like Don Corleone in the Godfather!

David O’Keefe’s fantastic Godfather artwork!

Only my dad would have observed that!! That’s just one of the reasons I love him! Thanks Dad!