In my last post I talked about my grandfather refusing assistance, as I prepare for his youngest daughter’s funeral mass tomorrow I’ll tell you the story she told me.
Antonio or “Tony the Barber” had a shop at the edge of the “Patch” the Italian section of the city. During the depression times were very hard, it was hard for the fathers to come up with the money for a cut or a shave let alone a cut for their sons. Antonio would often call a boy passing by who hadn’t had a haircut in a while into the shop for a free cut when he knew his parents couldn’t afford it and would be too proud to ask.
One day in the 1930’s a person from the state came by, he was talking about some of the relief efforts being offered. He said “Tony” could get free shoes for his five children. Antonio declined. He didn’t’ explain the garden he kept, the grapes he grew, the chicken and goats or the dandelions he had for greens, he didn’t talk about the hard work his children did after school, or his wife did during the day to keep the house. Instead he simply said he would feed and clothe his own kids.
The man was astonished, saying Tony was robbing his children, Antonio raised his head holding the razor he was using to shave a customer saying they were HIS children and suggested his visitor should leave.
Antonio found himself in court, having been raised in Sicily and not being familiar with American law he suspected he would have to pay the judge for justice so he had two ten-dollar bills in his pocket that he had put aside for a rainy day and went to court.
In the court they stood before the judge and the man-made a complaint saying he had threatened him with his razor. The judge being a sensible man listened to the story and asked Tony if he threatened him. Antonio answered he the man had no business coming into his show and telling him how to support his children. As for the razor, he was shaving a customer at the time and had his razor in his hands. If he had not been in the middle of a shave he would have would have punched him and thrown him out.
The judge replied that if he had struck him there would have been a $10 fine.
My grandfather reached into his pocket, took one of those $10 bills that he worked so hard to earn, put in on the bench before the judge, turned to the man standing next to him and decked him.
Antonio turned to the judge and said: “I have another $10”. Times being different and men being men in those days the judge accepted the fine and closed the case, Antonio went back to his barber shop and supported his wife and children for the rest of his life without help or inquiries from the state.
That’s the story my mother told me when I was very young. Maybe it’s true maybe it isn’t but I submit and suggest that if there were more Antonio’s in the country or more people who thought like him the nation would be a better place.