Getting to Light Grandpa’s Pipe
My Grandpa was named Liberatore. His nickname was Jake. He worked for almost 40 years on the railroad as a laborer. In those days a small group of men would be given about fifty miles of track and were responsible for the complete maintenance of the track. Transportation was not provided. The crew walked to the work site every day. He did not have a car and had to walk about ten miles just to get to the start of his track area. He could walk faster than most people could jog. He was a tall man and his strides were long and sure. He loved outside work, which was fortunate, and there were no rain or snow days off. His appetite was legendary. He could eat a whole pound of spaghetti in one sitting. He could eat spaghetti when it was cold. The routine as dinner was that everyone first took the amount of spaghetti that they wanted out of the bowl. The entire remainder then went to Grandpa. His breakfast consisted of Italian bread with an oil dressing and salt on top of it with a strong cup of coffee. He was an early riser and never used an alarm clock. He would meticulously pack six or seven sandwiches for his lunch. Each would have one slice of baloney and he would trim the baloney that over hanged the bead and use it for the also sandwich. He was never late for anything. Often, he worked his garden in the very early morning before walking to work. He hand dug his garden every year.
He had a railroad pass and he and his family could travel the railroads on the pass. He took them to Canada and to other states. He worked in Washington D.C. for a while when the railroad transferred him there and returned home on weekends. He was proud to be an American and took a family picture at the Capitol. He often went to South Philadelphia to purchase salami and meats for the family. He would trace an outline of his children’s feet and purchase shoes there. My uncles testified that he had the strongest grip of any man that they ever knew. He was always the one called upon to turn a pipe wrench or to loosen up some rusted bolt on equipment. His disposition was great and he often told jokes to people at which he laughed the loudest at himself.
One tale, that was hard for me to verify, from my uncle relates about an incident at a local bar where a man just sucker punched him while he was at the bar. My uncle says that he didn’t even flinch or move when the man delivered the punch. Grandpa just took both his hands and grabbed the man’s upper arms, squeezed or gripped his upper arms and lifted him straight up above his head, so the man was kicking in pain as he was lifted. All he said to the man was “Don’t do that again.” He placed the man square back down on his feet and the man rolled around the floor trying to relieve the pain in both his arms. The entire bar had witnessed the incident and my uncle said dead silence and awe prevailed. A number of men tried to attend to the man who had punched my Grandpa. Luckily the man had no broken bones but my uncle said he had broken blood vessels in his upper arms from the grip that Grandpa had put on him. Grandpa never had any trouble again at the bar. My uncle also mentioned that he never had any trouble with his sons, who understood not to cross him, but he had a sense of being very mischievous also which his sons just loved. In many ways he was a big kid having fun in life. He was pretty good with math. He could add, subtract, multiply and divide numbers faster than most calculators. I heard a story that when he went to the local grocery store and went to the checkout counter, he would tell the clerk exactly to the penny what he owed. At first the clerks checked the totals on the old-fashioned check out machines or by hand. Soon they realized that he was always right and his reputation for honesty in town was well known. The routine soon became, “Liberatore or Jake what do you owe us today? $1.19 and here it is.” Many times, they helped him pack the groceries immediately as he approached the counter before he paid.
I actually think he had a lot of passages of the bible nearly memorized. He once worked in a store that sold religious articles. He could quote from scripture and could tell bible stores with more color and vigor than they were written in the bible. He also had a great deal of faith in his Catholic Church. He knew the particular saint for almost every day of the year and he could tell you what they were the patron of. I never heard him swear or curse at anyone. He had a great sense of faith. He loved America and was very grateful for this country and freedom. All of his sons served in the armed forces. He always wanted to be first in many things. When a new technology or invention came out, he had to be the first to have it or try it. He had the first telephone in his block and the first TV. One of the best stories of all is about my Aunt Lucy or Lucia as she called her. Grandpa wanted her to be musical and enjoy music. The day after she was born Grandpa just went out and bought a new piano for her. The time-frame was at the height of the depression and money was extremely tight. My Grandma was very worried but they struggled and made the monthly payments for the piano. Eventually my Aunt Lucy went on to play the organ in our Church for over forty years and so did her daughters.
Grandpa had a big old-fashioned pipe. He would stuff tobacco in it and light it with a big match that had a self-igniting tip on it. Once lit the smell of tobacco permeated the entire house. But he did not smoke it very often so the smell of smoke did not linger in the house. If he had heard that you had been an especially good boy or girl, he would give you the match, let you strike it, and have you give the lit match back so that he could light the tobacco in the pipe. Everyone whoever did this was thrilled to light the match, especially enjoyed the smell of the tobacco, and very proud that Grandpa had trusted you to help him. Of course, after he took a few puffs from the pipe he would make you listen to his jokes which I think he often tried out on us as an experimental audience. Most of them were very funny.
He was just a good strong kind man that we all loved.