A Dog Named Snoopy, Peeing on Trees, Eating Meatballs

On September 27, 1966, I arrived, a blank slate, ready to be filled with knowledge and take on the world. Most of us start that way.  I knew how to eat, sleep, cry, and poop. That was it! My father was American and my mom was from Naples, Italy.

I have some great memories of my early life…

  • playing with my dog Snoopy – a beagle like the one in the Peanuts cartoon.
  • hanging out with my friend Manny EVERY DAY.
  • eating delicious Hispanic food that Manny’s mom made
  • eating the BEST meatballs on Long Island made by my mom
  • peeing on the trees in my backyard (it was good enough for Snoopy, so Manny and I did that too; no little boy in his right mind would take a break from playing to go inside to pee)
  • getting my first bike

There was a neighborhood convenience store next door. The proprietor was a very friendly man. If we sang a song for him, he would give us each a piece of small, football-shaped chocolate. He is one of the many people in life who were a positive influence just by his kindness and character.

I didn’t like my father. He beat and abused my mom. I was witness to that and felt helpless as a little boy. It made me sad. It made me confused. 

Mom tells the story of my father sitting me on his lap one winter and asking me if I loved him. 

I answered “No.” 

When he asked why, my answer was “because you hurt Mommy.” 

He told me Santa Claus wouldn’t bring me anything. I was fine with that. 

Then he sat my sister on his lap and asked her the same thing. 

She also answered “no” until he told her Santa wouldn’t bring her anything, and then sis said, “I love you, Daddy.” I always thought she should have been an actress.

I was scared to death of my father! 

Many nights, I laid in bed wide-awake listening to her screams and his verbal and physical abuse. 

I was scared to death of my father!

It was terrible how society dealt with spousal abuse in the 1960s and 1970s. The police were frequently called and showed up at our house. However, they informed my mom there was nothing they could do since he was her husband. 

My mom once trudged through the snow to her priest after receiving a beating. She was bloodied, bruised, and in her nightclothes. The priest slammed the door in her face. 

These individuals lacked bravery. It doesn’t mean all police and priests are bad. We must – all of us – be willing to be brave when we see injustice.

Mom would take my sister and me to escape the abuse and stay with friends for a short time, but we always ended up back with my father. He would show up at the home of the family we were staying with, sometimes threaten them and my mom, and beg her to come back. The families lacked bravery and asked us to leave.

Even as a small child, I learned to choke down my feelings, anger and hurt and store them inside my heart. All those feelings and hurts will come back up if not dealt with.

***James is a retired teacher turned performer and motivational speaker. Using music, humor, personal stories, and his 105 year old sax, James shares how although we may be dented, scratched, and abused – like his sax – a beautiful symphony can still come pouring out of our lives. Find out more about him at www.jamesdivine.net. This is an excerpt from his book (available on amazon), Sad Boy Joyful Man: Your NOW Doesn’t Determine Your FUTURE.