I want to talk today about Joe (Guiseppe) Piro. He was my uncle. MY uncle Pep. He was born in 1910, married my Dad’s older sister Ida. Pep’s sister Mary was married to my Dad’s older brother Phil. That’s how it was done in those large Italian-American neighborhoods.
My Dad was the youngest of eight, and before he was a teenager, he lost both of his parents. Ida raised my dad and the other young Franzosa sibs, so she and Pep waited to get married. They had one child, Theresa, when Pep was in his forties.
Let me tell you a little bit about Pep & Ida. Neither of them ever learned to drive a car. Living in Somerville, Massachusetts, there was no need. You could take a bus, train or trolley anywhere you needed to go. If the weather was good, Pepe would walk the 6 miles to John Hancock in Boston, where he worked as a printer.
Pep was a mercurial Red Sox fan. Long suffering, like the rest of us. Attending a Red Sox game with Pep, that was a treat! He would fill shopping bags with homemade popcorn. We also used to bring our own drinks, until Fenway no longer allowed it.
Pep’s LARGEST role in our lives was a family ritual. He and Ida and ‘Tree’ (as he called Theresa) would take the bus down to Manchester, Connecticut to visit us every 4th of July weekend. Whichever one of us was the ‘appropriate’ age would be taught how to ride a 2-wheel bike by Pep. No one else would do. His endless patience and good humor did the trick. Every one of us learned at his hand. It was his ‘thing’. He would also take the bunch of us for a walk to Friendly’s for ice cream (my parents thought 35 cents for an ice cream cone was outrageous).
Ida passed away in 2000, but somehow, Pep never aged, I went to see him a few years after Ida was gone. He was probably about 93. He had a new girlfriend. I asked him if he was still walking everywhere. He said “30 minutes a day”. He had me drop him at his girlfriend’s house, I asked how he was going to get home, he winked and said, “It’s just a 15 minute walk”.
The last time I saw Pep was at his 100th birthday party. He was as bright, cheerful and strong as ever. He shouted out, “Ricky” and gave me a bone crushing handshake. He had outlived his girlfriend, but told me he was still lookin’. I asked him if he was still walking everywhere. He said he had slowed down, but he still walked to the Arlington Public Library every day to read the Boston Globe, “because it ain’t worth payin’ for”. When he was asked how one lives to be 100, he said, “Eat healthy, get plenty of exercise and go to bed happy.” I thought about that. I may have seen him annoyed at the Sox once in a while, but never angry. As my cousin Bill said, Pep didn’t have a mean bone in his body.
Two summers ago, I saw an article about a 101 year old man throwing out the first pitch at a minor league ball game. Yup, MY Uncle Pep.
On December 24, 2012. ”Tree” succumbed to cancer after battling the disease for many years. Like her Dad, she never complained.
Last Friday, at 102 years of age, Joe ‘Pepe’ Piro joined Ida and Theresa. I suppose that the loss of his only child was the one thing that finally slowed him down. I hope he didn’t think that Theresa’s passing was the end of the line, because it certainly was not. Here’s why:
When I was working at Computervision in the 1980′s, I met a woman named Susan Piro. I didn’t make the connection, but eventually found out that her husband Jim was Pep’s nephew. I said, “So you’re relate to MY Uncle Pep?”, she said, “No, you’re related to MY Uncle Pep!”
So you see, Pep. When you look down from heaven, there are dozens and dozens of us that will always remember you as ‘MY Uncle Pep’…
and we all miss you.