This yellow bloom inspired a story that has been waiting nearly twenty years for me to write.
Hello and thank you for visiting!
In addition to the privilege of serving as a Councilwoman for the Town of Huntington, I am a writer.
Part II of Joan Cergol/Greg Cergol blog duet: "We look out the same window, why don't we see the same thing"
Psychoanalysts like to sometimes speculate that certain men marry women like their mothers.
In my case, I married my father.
Joan prefers to wear the tool belt in the family. She loves to fix things, tinker with gadgets and work outdoors.
As she does, you will often find me in the kitchen, answering the call of a good pasta recipe or a complex dessert.
Sound unusual? Topsy turvy?
Visitors do an occasional double take when they see my wife toiling in the dirt and me behind the stove; but for us, it works.
Most of the time.
Joan has been known to take her “Mrs. Fix-it” role a tad too far.
Like the time she nearly electrocuted herself trying to install a new stove. Or fell into the fishpond while trying to clean it. (She survived both mishaps.)
I can just hear some of you asking with disdain: “How can a good husband leave these chores to his wife?”
I say, why not?
Joan has a passion for household projects while I have always been indifferent to them.
And “a man has got to know his limitations.” My dad’s pedigree as a prodigious home contractor never transferred to me.
And I get edgy when I am attempting things out of my comfort zone.
In fact, my wife loves to warn others to steer clear when I have a hammer in hand. So, I let her take the lead.
But that doesn’t mean I escape the work.
Often, I am pulled into projects to serve as the “grunt.”
Moving ladders here.
Cleaning up debris there.
Doing the bulk of the painting after Joan chooses a color for the walls.
Laborer to my wife’s role as supervisor. (Remember when I explained her ancestors were Italian royalty?)
And in the end, despite my efforts, credit for a job well done goes to the supervisor.
“Joan, the kitchen looks “beauteeful.”
“Joan, the bedroom color is stunning.” (Was I away on vacation when these jobs were done?)
Fortunately, payback comes at family gatherings and holidays.
My work in the kitchen has made me the de facto family chef. (My grandfather actually was one when he first came to the U.S.)
And no matter who cooks, I get the credit for a meal well done. (This can make my wife, a wonderful cook in her own right, a bit testy around clean-up time.)
Most amazing of all, I think, is the fact that our extended family has actually come to recognize and accept this reversal of roles.
That’s saying a lot in a clan of Italian immigrants.
Joan and I didn’t plan to be different. We didn’t make a conscious decision to shake things up.
We just followed our hearts and left the gender rule book to others.
So I prefer to tool around fixing things to perfecting a soufflé!
And I make the grandest of messes with all of my projects.
And despite what the man tells you, I never leave a worksite without cleaning up, leaving Greg the “grunt” to attend to those lesser chores.
Well, maybe now and again I will ask him to help lift something I cannot. But my various physical injuries are testament to my not asking enough.
Here’s a newsflash about Greg Cergol, the chef: when the newsman announces he is on to his next culinary creation I am both excited and mortified, continually reassuring myself it will all be good in the end.
The man has a knack for using every bowl, pot, pan, utensil and gadget in the kitchen.
Oh yes indeed, Greg is a cooking virtuoso! As for the kitchen clean-up, not so much.
The scene goes something like this:
Just after I have tackled, completed and cleaned up from some very involved home project I am called into the kitchen by Greg to inspect or taste his latest cooking or baking achievement.
As I scan the kitchen I have to wonder how much of the ingredients actually made it into the dish itself because by all accounts they are smeared to the refrigerator, sink faucet and oven door handles, splashed across countertops and caked into bowls and utensils piled sky high in the sink.
Sweet Jesus! Does the man ever wash his hands before moving from one step to the next?
Greg is oblivious to the kitchen catastrophe. His is in some Lidia Bastianich-induced nirvana.
Maybe it’s genetic. Greg’s already told you his grandfather was a fine chef. And that is really good for him, and, of course for me and our family, once we sit down to dinner.
But getting there can be a rough road because those same great chefs do not clean as they cook. In fact, they don’t clean at all.
Have you ever seen Wolfgang Puck or Emeril Lagasse wash a dish or a pot while the garlic is peacefully sautéing? Do you think they ever would?
I didn’t think so. No, the master chef soaks up his praise and then struts from the kitchen, dramatically releasing the ties from his apron, signaling his work is done. He leaves the clean up to the lesser-evolved cooking species.
So here comes the kitchen grunt.
Rushing to the sink like a firefighter to a blaze.
Yes, people, this time that grunt is me.
But I hardly mind it.
Those of you who have experienced Greg’s remarkable homemade pasta dishes, cakes or pies know it’s true.
He’s the master of the kitchen.
And I, his clever clean-up assistant/home-repair maven.
Welcome to the Cergols.
Part I of Joan Cergol/Greg Cergol blog duet: "We look out the same window, why don't we see the same thing?"
After talking about it for years, my husband Greg and I have launched the inaugural installment of a blog series that will be dedicated to showcasing the ongoing debates in relationships.
During our thirty four years as a married couple, we’ve enjoyed many important collaborations.
Parenting two remarkable young ladies is at the top of our list.
After that, well, I actually can’t think of a whole lot of other fruitful collaborations.
That’s because, to tell you the truth, there aren’t many worthy of mention.
It’s not that we haven’t tried. There are a number of things we do as a team simply because we manage a household together.
We cook together. We paint rooms together. We close and open the pool together. Put up, and take down, the Christmas tree. Together.
There is a single occurrence that inevitably obliterates the blissful togetherness of our collaborative efforts.
Someone loses patience and snaps.
And I’ll give you one hint: it usually isn’t me.
Now let me state right here, as to avoid any possible misunderstanding: I adore Greg Cergol. And I’m pretty sure he likes me.
Greg is the smartest, kindest and most interesting man I know. He’s also an amazing husband and father.
There’s just one problem.
We can’t work together.
Greg has his ways, and I have mine.
And whenever he tries to coax me into his way of thinking and doing things, I resist.
That’s because my dear and thoughtful husband seems unable to take on a task without plotting everything out to the smallest detail as to avoid the possibility of any mistakes.
There’s something to be said for that noble approach if you happen to be a surgeon.
Luckily, so far none of our co-pursuits have involved an appendectomy.
I am frustrated by unnecessary delay in over-planning and prepping when there is a job to be done.
It’s not that I’m any less conscientious than The Man. We are both clear perfectionists. Here’s the difference: I like to dive right in with my all, and he likes to slowly ease into things, with a little of himself at a time.
Admittedly, there are times when my ways can run afoul, for example, when I’m attempting to assemble furniture following only a cursory scan of the instructions.
Meanwhile, Greg could be busy earning a Ph.D. on that instruction manual as the pieces remain scattered on the floor for days.
In the end, in my way of thinking, if the table stands solidly even though I’ve got a few inexplicable pieces of hardware in my hand at completion, that’s success.
How about this?
On the last project we tackled together, the repainting of a bedroom, with a steady hand I eked out a flawless job of paint edging between the wall and the baseboard without the aid of masking tape. Greg was unable to process that I managed to skip this step and still complete the task. So what did he do? He taped anyway.
Are you getting the picture?
So here is my theory that I believe applies to the majority of life situations: the end result of a given project will be virtually the same with, or without, the fuss.
Provided you could make a decision about the project in the first place.
Therein lies another obstacle to getting any project off the ground.
Someone has to make a decision.
And unless I’m willing to wait until hell freezes over, that person has to be me.
But that’s a discussion for another installment.
For now, we have cause to celebrate that we are, at long last, on to what we hope can be the next successful Joan and Greg Cergol collaboration since launching Emily and Kristina into the real world.
Greg? Are you still with me?
The realization came to me shortly after our lives intersected- Joan is the greatest person I have ever met.
Giving. Kind. Compassionate. My love and my life.
Yet, the thought of co-authoring a blog with her leaves me uneasy.
Like the feeling that always washed over Ricky when Lucy would smile and say, “Honey I’ve been thinking….”
My anxiety seems illogical. We’ve been married for 30 years.
Joan is an excellent writer. Creative. Thoughtful. An independent woman with distinctive views.
But my gut won’t stop churning.
Being a husband teaches you that logical thinking can sometimes result in mayhem.
Okay, maybe “mayhem” is too strong a characterization….but Joan can surprise you.
When it comes to work, she is an absolute lone wolf.
She lapses into what she calls “the zone,” and no one can penetrate it…not a co-worker, friend or husband.
When I check in during the day by phone, I know instantly if she’s there.
Her voice is distant; her attention light years away.
“Honey, I’ve decided we should dispose of all our worldly possessions and move to a mountain hut in the Italian Alps.”
“Sounds great, Greg.”
At first, I thought something was wrong; but after a few years, I realized “the zone” was nothing personal. (Maybe we husbands AREN’T always the most perceptive.)
That silence has now become my cue to bid Joan adieu until later.
Even her staff has come to understand.
When “the zone” is entered, they post a sign on her door, warning outsiders to stand clear.
“The zone” doesn’t allow for creative give and take, for collaboration.
Thus, collaborating has never been Joan’s strong suit.
In part, it’s genetic.
She is, after all, descended from a royal bloodline. Her father, a prominent surgeon and proud U.S. Army veteran, was also an Italian count.
Royals decree; they don’t collaborate.
When we bought our first car, she chose it.
It was only AFTER I toured our first home that Joan revealed she had already agreed to buy it.
Parenthood? I was alerted when it was time.
When I vacuum the house, she always goes over what I have done. When I clean the kitchen- ditto.
Parsing words with her in a blog, I fear, could leave me a mere footnote.
After all, in this small piece of the vast internet world, I will be speaking for husbandkind.
I must be able to get a word in edgewise.
(And if you know Joan’s gift of gab, which comes from her delightful mother, you understand how difficult that can be.)
So, why proceed, you ask?
First, I have never run from a spirited debate. My siblings will attest to that.
Secondly, I am able to rise above, to live by the words of Arthur in Camelot.
“How to handle a woman? Simply love her.”
If you’re not buying any of that, realize this.
The bottom line is that Joan’s decisions have always proven to be the correct ones- whether I liked ’em at the time or not.
So if she tells me to write a blog….I’m there.
Sometime around 1953 a young German-born Pan American Stewardess was assigned to ensure the airline’s hospitality for a high profile passenger.
For much of that long flight from Berlin to New York City, the charming Gisela Wolff entertained the passenger with interesting and lively conversation, a skill at which she was particularly adept.
Ultimately the conversation touched on Gisela’s need to secure a sponsor for her planned visit to New York, where she was to meet her U.S Army Officer gentleman-friend’s parents for the first time. She had explained that U.S military rules prohibited officers from serving as sponsors for single women.
After the long flight, whose time was passed with delightful conversation and laughter, the weary but grateful passenger handed Gisela his business card and offered to act as her sponsor for that important trip to America. Gisela thanked the passenger and happily took him up on the offer.
Months later as Gisela was being processed for what would become her first momentous visit to New York, she dutifully presented her sponsorship credentials to a New York City airport official. The bewildered official stared at the young woman’s passport and sponsorship papers for few minutes before speaking. “Uh, Miss Wolff, am I correct in reading your U.S. sponsor’s name as James R. Hoffa- as in Jimmy Hoffa?”
“Why yes,” replied the polite stewardess, as if it were nothing at all. The official raised his eyebrows as he promptly stamped Gisela Wolff’s entrance papers, all at once making possible her debut in America.
And that is the story of how mom managed to land a sponsor to visit New York, during which time my lovestruck father proposed marriage to her, after she, of course, won over my grandparents, just as she apparently did, Jimmy Hoffa.
Mom never saw Hoffa again. And needless to say, after 1975, neither did anyone else.
In the early 1950s a young surgeon was called to a cruise ship’s infirmary to tend to an ill passenger.
When the doctor stepped into the examining room there waiting sat an illustrious businessman complaining of indigestion. Recognizing the world-famous patient the doctor asked, “What on earth put a man like you into such a state?”
Answered the patient, “Doc, that’s easy to answer. Every day I run into one headache after another on my construction project, and to top it off, I’m running up massive debt on it and worry if this venture is ever going to pay off.”
The patient was Walt Disney. He was referring to the construction of Disneyland in Anaheim, California.
The young doctor was Dr. Nicholas DeVito, my dad, substituting as the cruise ship physician for a friend on that voyage.
Dad told us this story only a handful of times during his life.
My takeaways: 1) even Mickey Mouse suffered bad days, and 2) big dreams take big money.
But thanks for dreaming big, Mr. Disney. Needless to say, your legendary brand of magic paid off.
What was also magic on that day is that you had dad there to tend to you with a little antacid and a large dose of encouragement and faith that dreamers with good plans and intentions ultimately succeed.
Dad dispensed that kind of wisdom to me too on a few occasions when I questioned the probability of attaining certain dreams.
Mr. Disney may not have realized how fortunate he was to cross paths with dad that day to get a little of his legendary good medicine.
But I do.
This week our family lost its patriarch, Bruno Nicholas Cergol.
Bruno was my father in law who, over the last ten months, fought a brave battle against leukemia. We all called him “Poppi.”
The best way for me to honor Poppi is to share the heartfelt words of his oldest son, and my husband, Greg.
On a very difficult day, Greg soothed many hurting hearts with the following tribute:
One of my earliest memories of Poppi came when I was about four or five years old.
He arrived home on a Friday night after picking up some pizza for the family.
And he proceeded to tell us how….after leaving the pizzeria….he stumbled on three men…trying to steal his car.
Those guys chose poorly.
Needless to say….by the end of Poppi’s story….the three battered and bruised thieves were in police custody.
And Poppi was on his way home.
Poppi was always bigger than life.
An imposing physical presence….with massive hands that would swallow yours when he greeted you.
He was a man of few words…because he didn’t need them.
You always knew he was there.
In our Queens neighborhood, my teenaged friends were tough, brash and fearless.
But around Poppi…they turned into choirboys—soft spoken and humble.
They always called him “the Big B”….a nickname of endearment and respect….they use to this day.
Poppi…of course… had a heart to match that big body.
There were few days when he didn’t put others ahead of himself.
One story Poppi told me only recently captures that spirit.
Poppi and his teenaged friends were driving to a neighborhood party when they crossed paths with a group of girls.
These girls were not part of the “in” group and they definitely weren’t invited to the party.
Poppi altered that guest list on the spot.
Within minutes…the girls were piling into the car with Poppi’s buddies and off they all went to the party.
We all know Poppi as a builder.
But he had a great many jobs in his life.
He sorted piano parts for Steinway.
Helped crochet floor rugs.
Served as a clerk in a lumber yard.
Managed a popular Nassau county motel.
There were two constants in everything he did—
A passion to do the job right…and a desire to be creative.
Poppi often told Joan and I he would have liked to work as an architect.
Even as a teen, he dreamed of doing more….so much so…that when his father initially tried to push him toward a career as a mason….
Poppi told the man he loved deeply…it wasn’t for him.
For years, Poppi recalled that conversation with regret.
It’s not easy to tell your dad…..his life is not your dream.
But as we know….fate directed Poppi down a similar path.
His father’s death forced him to grow up fast.
He left high school, and went to work helping to support his family.
Even when a scout for the Brooklyn Dodgers came calling, Poppi had to forego a career as a pro baseball player to help keep food on the table.
Poppi’s life often reminded me of the character George Bailey’s in “It’s A Wonderful Life.”
He always had to set aside personal dreams to meet his responsibilities to others.
At times, I know Poppi was tormented by the inability to chase those dreams.
I don’t think he ever got over losing his father so young.
But he rarely complained about it.
His answer….was to help US chase OUR dreams.
He never stopped talking about the importance of a higher education.
College wasn’t an option for us.
He and mom made it a requirement…like going to church on Sunday.
So it filled him with pride that he not only got to see all four of his sons graduate from college-
But also his two oldest granddaughters.
On the way to those college degrees, we all served summer internships with the firm—BPF Construction.
And not just my brothers—cousins Jeff and David and others toiled at the feet of CEOs, Bruno, Gino and Frank Cergol.
They worked us hard…probably to send the message school was the better option.
In the days before BPF, my cousin Dennis decided to abandon college for the working world…
Poppi provided his first job.
And after just one day with shovel in hand…Dennis is said to have run back to class.
He completed his undergraduate studies and still enjoys a career as a prominent environmental lawyer.
Poppi relished that tale whenever it was told.
While we worked hard, the BPF crew also laughed loudly and often.
And we always enjoyed a nice lunch.
Along the way, Poppi and his brothers created works of art with stone…brick…cement and wood.
If you could dream it, they could build it—fountains and patios…kitchens and bathrooms….spas and steam rooms.
“No problem,” was Poppi’s typical response, no matter what the project.
He was unflappable, always able to figure out a solution for a problem that didn’t seem to have one.
And he did every job as if he was working on his own home.
In many ways, using that toolbox was Poppi’s way of showing how much he loved us.
And he dispensed a lot of love.
He renovated my homes…and all my brothers.
And as Gary has noted often….it was about much more than the work.
That time we had with him…in my case…often doing more harm than good as his “assistant.”
Now, every time we look around….we will be blessed to see a piece of him.
One of the few times he ever HAD a problem was at a birthday party for my girls.
Poppi dressed as a clown and was given the task of handing out balloon designs to the kids.
No matter what they asked for—a dog or a hat or a heart…the balloons all looked the same.
Eventually one of the irate seven year olds pointed at him and shouted…
“Clown! You’re a fraud.”
Pops loved that kid’s spunk.
He also loved his friends. Many of you have known him since childhood.
Some like Uncle Richie helped save his life after a horrific car accident as a teen.
Others laughed with and comforted him over this last difficult year.
He cherished you all…and would tell you…not to be sad today…
But to celebrate the good times you all shared.
Good times…like the trip we took with Grandi and Poppi to Italy.
It was reality TV at its best—
Six of us, with 20 pieces of luggage…
And despite all that luggage, Poppi seemed to wear the same light blue sweater every day.
Joan was able to trace all the restaurants we visited by pointing to the collection of food stains on that sweater.
We toured Italy in a mini bus that was often the biggest vehicle on the road….
…barely able to squeeze through the narrow streets.
At one point, Joan hid on the floor as Poppi propelled us along a tight road dangling above a cliff overlooking Lake Como.
With Poppi, of course, family always came first.
And through these last weeks….we saw what that meant to his family.
My mom…my wife and daughters…
My brothers and sisters-in-law….Gary and Gina, Chris and Mara, Mark and Bonnie….and all their kids….
They came to make Poppi laugh…to hold his hand…to cook him a meal.
And then as word spread about how sick he was….a flood of people arrived at the hospital, and then to his home last week.
His brothers, his sister, his nieces and nephews. His lifelong friends.
It was amazing to see.
Your love crushed his illness that day.
Poppi, we all know, had many physical challenges in his life.
And Grandi was always at his side to get him through.
Their bond was unique.
He hated phones ringing….she could never let one go unanswered.
She hoarded too much….He wanted to throw everything away.
But their bond was unbreakable.
They made each other better…
…especially as my mom helped him find his faith.
Much of the man Poppi was…..came from the woman with whom he spent 58 years.
On one of his last nights…Poppi asked that we turn up the lights in the family room….
He wanted….he said…to see his wealth.
No one understood until we realized he was looking at a photograph of his 10 grandchildren.
Emily, Kristina, Grace, Mia, Brooke, Nicholas, Alexa, Bruno, Francesca and Matteo.
Losing Poppi isn’t easy….It’s hard for all of us…
But I find comfort in something my brother Gary told Poppi at the hospital.
Dad….Gary reassured him…..You will always be in my head…and you will always be in my heart.
Later, I realized….It has always been like that.
Even when Dad wasn’t physically with us, his voice in our ears reminded us to work hard…to give your best no matter the task.
And to put the needs of others first.
The best way for all you grandkids…and really all of us… to remember Poppi….
…To honor Poppi….
…is to live like Poppi.
His life wasn’t perfect….but it made a difference.
The words of the poet Ralph Waldo Emerson summed up Poppi’s time with us perfectly.
To laugh often and much;
To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children;
To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends;
To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others;
To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition;
To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived.
This is to have succeeded.