The date of August 24th 1992 was a very life changing date for me, and millions of others. I don't just mean that in a materialistic way of billions of dollars in destruction from 150 mile an hour winds. It does not mean that this hurricane changed the way the US reacted to future tropical storms and the way FEMA budgeted their system in helping others in a life crisis like this. No....this has more of a personal story to this. A personal story between me and a man from a different generation. A true witness to how some people respond to certain situations compared to others reacting to the same one.
A few days before Hurricane Andrew hit Homestead Florida I was thinking of what I should do to escape these colossal winds. Do I go back to Orlando and get away even though I just moved from there a week before? Maybe the weather man was wrong and it won't be as bad as everyone said it will be. I have heard this many times...just did not know what to do. I never went through a Hurricane before. The worst thing that had ever happened to me was having hail fall on my car and sometimes on my head, and that hurt.
So I decided to stay and wait it out. Then something happened that put all this and other things in my life in perspective. Something that stayed with me 21 years later.
I decided to stay and see what the world had in store for me. I was living at my parent's condo in North Miami Beach Florida right on the ocean. They had bought it back in the 1970's and I went there every year for vacation and family time. Their condo was on the 9th floor and of course you took a nice elevator to get there. I waited for that elevator to arrive thinking it would be empty because maybe the whole building would be almost empty. A hurricane was coming! Well I was wrong...and I'm glad I was.
There was a man who must have been in his 80's going to his floor also. Being the friendly neighbor I am, I was just wondering what this man thought of this huge hurricane coming to pummel us with 150 mile an hour winds. He asked me in his very heavy accented Polish voice what floor I was going to. I said ninth floor please. We were on our way until I just had to ask him what he thought about the hurricane coming. Yes,,,I can be persistent at times,,especially under stress. He just looked at me and smiled...said nothing. Then I asked again if he was scared that something might happen to his family or condo. Maybe the furniture on the balcony would fall in the water. The windows would break...so many things went through my mind. Then this man said something funny,,well...so I thought. I asked him again what he was going to do. He said "Well...hurricane shmuricane". I said to myself,,,what?. Did he just say that? Obviously this did not make him worry or get upset. I asked him why? After a small pause of him staring at me and thinking why I was asking such personal questions to a man I never met before he said "Do you know what I went though many years ago"? I was thinking he went through another major storm like this one. So I asked him...what? With a gleam in his eye and an assertiveness I don't ever see in too many older men his age I impatiently waited for the answer. He finally said..........Auschwitz!
Obviously knowing the tragic history about one of the worst events of mankind...it made me stunned and wondered about what he just said. I looked at him intently and just said...Oh. Then my mind was thinking what are the chances of all the people I would talk to on this particular day, time and place to hear this. As he looked at me knowing what I was thinking he rolled up his sleeve and showed me his numbers tattooed on his lower right arm above the wrist. While I looked at this in shock he said something to me that stayed in my mind for the past 21 years referring the hurricane.. "WHATS A LITTLE WIND"?
I thought about what he just said and it all made sense in a matter of seconds. He is right, he was a survivor of some event that most people did not survive. Depending on your past life experiences, that is how we should all look at life. "WHATS A LITTLE WIND"?
The older and very wise man then went out the elevator to his floor, winked and said...have great life son.
So now I am thinking...how wise he was for saying that?. When we all have bad days we must stay happy. Things in life can always be worse....always!
The moral of this chapter and the book is life's main vision.
Whenever anything bothers you, and it's just one of those days, just think about those four little words that will change your outlook on that day and hopefully...the rest of your life.
"What's a Little future with no worries? That means that we all should live everyday with gratitude and not worry about the future.
"I do not want to foresee the future. I am concerned with taking care f the present. God has given me no control over the moment following". - Mahatma Gandhi
"The main goal of the future is to stop violence. The world is addicted to it." - Bill Cosby
"You cant connect the dots looking forward;,you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something-your gut,destiny,life,karma,whatever. This approach has never let me down,and it ha made all the difference in my life." - Steve Jobs
"Stop acting as if life is a rehearsal. Live this day as if it were your last. The past is over and gone. The future is not guaranteed." - Dr Wayne Dyer
"Be careful what you water your dreams with. Water them with worry and fear you will produce weeds that choke the life from your dream. Water them with optimism and solutions and you will cultivate success" - Lao Tzu
Uncle Sam means so much to so many people in different ways. To some its an uncle in your family. To others it is a metaphor for our great country, the good ole USA.
You know some of the quotes you have heard the past many years. "Sorry about the sales tax Mr. Jones, we all got to pay Uncle Sam". Or.."Those boys going to war for Uncle Sam, God Bless them"!
Well to me, it meant that and more. There was a living breathing symbol of what America was and some parts, still is. His name was Sam Manuse.
When I was ten years old living in Rochester NY back in the 1970s, Sam was my neighbor across the street. A man with a dynamic personality, humor and genuine concern for people. The kind of neighbor everyone wants and actually needs these days. You see, Sam was a war hero, from the Big One ,WWII as he said in his loud rotund voice that you can hear from across a block way.
He was a true Italian, his parents were from Sicily. He had a nice family, a wife and two lovely daughters. He had no boys, and knowing that I felt like I was his surrogate son. You know, the son he never had but always wanted. That's how I got to know him so well.
You see Sam and his family would invite me, my parents, and two older brothers the first Sunday of the month, every month for an old fashioned home cooked Italian lunch. This went on for years. We would have the best lasagna and meatballs dinner I have ever had, even to this day. This traditional old school Italian would scream at the top of his lungs, "Eat Jonny Eat! It will put hair on your chest!" as he cackled out loud with a laugh. Now that statement he made really scared me, remember I was just 10 years old. I didn't want hair on my chest as a preteen ten year old, that was weird! I could see if I was maybe fifteen or sixteen and started dating, but not at ten. Everyone also had two to three helpings and had that stuffed feeling where you could barely walk.
Then after we had the traditional pasta, we were just about to have our favorite desert from Mrs. Manuse. Sam would start telling us about his combat days in WWII. The one that I remembered the best was when he spent time in Italy. He and his "Boys" as he affectionately called them, were surrounded by Germans. They did not have anywhere to go until he looked down the mountain and noticed a small abandoned farm house. They ran and hid there not moving an inch because the enemy Germans were just a few feet away. They were also hungry and hadn't eaten for days until Sam noticed something in another house 20 yards away. It was a few cans of beans. As I ate my desert of chocolate cake and apple pie, I listened intently to every single word. Uncle Sam would explain to his small Sunday audience and then he would scream to me "Jonny",not Jon,and after a few glasses of beer "Giovanni". Before he began I knew I was in for a colorful treatment of sound effects and emotion. With my Uncle Sam, you did not listen to a story, you lived it!.
"You see Jonny, here I was on top of this mountain hiding behind this little old house. The war was in full force and me and the boys haven't eaten in a few days, we were tired and weak and starvin. "Bombs and missiles flying over our heads boom, Ba Boom, missing us by inches". I was thinking It seemed like the 4th of July at a table.
Then once in a while not to scare this ten year old boy, he would cackle that infectious laugh while still explaining how the war sounded. "The machine guns were going Rat at at at...and bombs BOOM!!.
"I did not care and ran to get those beans. It was either die of hunger, get shot, or try to eat". So I said, then what happened Uncle Sam, then what? In my little voice you have before you hit puberty.
"I made it to the cans after the shooting went silent and we got lucky to have one of the best meals in our lives. I shared it with the boys and they never forgot it. Not only that,,,by the grace from the man upstairs we got taken in by an Italian woman that saw us and even gave us more food".
Is that how it really happened Sam? Really? "That's the way it was in the big one...WW II!" as I saw the expression in his eyes like he was reliving those awful painful days.
After our lunch he went upstairs to show us his medal of honor he got from the general. He was not showing off, but more of a sense of pride. Sam even showed the bullet scars he had from the mountain story. It was in his back left leg. Years later I understood why he could not walk well when it was cold or rainy. In Rochester, it's like that very often.
As I remembered those times at my home across the street from Sam, I realized just how important and significant to have a real Uncle Sam. Especially these days.
As the years went by I would help Sam. Like the time I was cutting his yard with my parents riding mower. He would slip me a five dollar bill in my little hand..almost like he was embarrassed to show his kindness. I tried to refuse but he just crunched it in my hand and walked away with a smile.
Sam always returned the favor though. It would snow many feet every winter and my whole family would be snowed in. Sometimes it would take days for the local driveway service to come and clear us out so my dad could go to work. Dad was a cardiologist and was very well respected in the community. The Uncle would be there at eight am on a Sunday to make sure we could get out. Sunday at eight am! Other times he would take us to the airport when we went on vacation. I mean, who does that anymore?
One of my best memories growing up is when I asked my parents if they could let me see Santa Claus. It was Christmas and I wanted my new Rockem Sockem Robots, remember them? So one night a few days before Christmas I actually did see Santa. He came over to my house and put me on his knee yelling HO HO HO. I looked up at Santa and told him all the things I wanted but noticed one thing. Santa's glasses and voice sounded just like....Sam. Mom and Dad never told me it was, so I just kept believing like all children do. At ten years old, who does not want to believe in Santa?
Well Uncle Sam is gone now...more than thirty years. At his funeral he had his many friends from the Veteran of Foreign Wars there to pay their respects. I was there too with my mom, dad and two brothers. I was older then, about 23 when he passed away from health issues.
I remember that I could not help asking one of his good Veteran Friends if he served with Sam. With tears in his eyes, raising his head and looking up."Yes...he was one of the good ones". I also got teary eyed.
Now as I go and visit my childhood home every Thanksgiving I cannot forget the great memories as I glaze across the street. It was about a man called Sam. My Uncle Sam.
In all fairness, he was not my real uncle. Not in a way that reflects family heritage and relatives. He was just synonymous with Courage, Friendship, Decency, Old Fashioned Values and above all ..respect. The things that make living in America Great.
The Uncle I never really had,,,but the one we all want and need...an Uncle Sam.
So...What's a little Patriotism? It's everything we live for. God Bless America.
"These fallen heroes represent the character of a nation who has a long history of patriotism and honor-and a nation who has fought many battles to keep our country free from threats ot terror" - Michael N Castle
"Patriotism is easy to understand in America.It means looking out for yourself by looking out for your country"-Calvin Coolidge
"We the people recognize that we have responsibilities as well as rights,that our destinies are bound together,that a freedom which only asks whats in it for me,a freedom with out a commitment to others,a freedom without love or charity or duty or patriotism,is unworthy of our founding ideals and those who died in their defense." - Barack Obama
"137 years later,Memorial Day remains one of Americas most cherished patriotic observances. The spirit of this day has not changed-it remains a day to honor those who died defending our freedom and democracy." - Doc Hastings