Johnny Sardella is my dentist and I just got out of his chair. Most people might find it hard to hold a conversation while having their teeth cleaned. Those, like me, of Italian ancestry know it is far from impossible to communicate with grunts and hand gestures, but while I am in John Sardella’s chair it is mostly a one-sided conversation. I asked John about his kids and he took it from there.
He told me his daughter was starting work tomorrow. Both his kids got jobs to match their college education. Many have not, so he should be proud, but both of us couldn’t help commenting on how different it is for this generation … Although our kids worked to help pay for school, it was easier for them than it was for us.
John Sardella and his identical twin, Albert Sardella, both worked to pay for their own educations and became professionals. After graduating they worked to pay for their younger fraternal twin brothers’ way through medical school.
I reminded John how he used to trudge up and down the frozen steps of the 700 level of Veteran’s Stadium selling beer on commission to rowdy Eagles fans.
He said, “I had lots of jobs. Working at the Vet was nothing compared to working for Uncle Dom. Uncle Dom was a freak of nature, even for his generation.” Dom Guerrera was a mason and an entrepreneur in Chester County, PA for over half a century.
“We built the strip mall on the highway one summer. He started us at six, worked us hard till five. I was 19 or 20 and by 5 O’clock I was ready for bed. Nobody worked harder than Uncle Dom Guerrera, but after we got done he would walk 18 holes of golf or go bowling! He took up golf at 50 and had a scratch handicap in three years.”
John told me more about his uncle Dom, “Nobody at the club could read a green like him. He had hands of stone—shot six holes in one. He was 82 when he threw his last perfect game. Of course he owned Ingleside Lanes for 25 years by then,” John Sardella continued talking while he picked at my teeth.”
“And you know what? We worked hard. But we had fun. I never was in better shape,” said a guy who runs a three-mile hill before breakfast, still looks like he could beat up a teenager and has no trouble yanking the deep roots of a tooth out of a jaw bone.
“But, they all had it tough. They all fought in the war before they got started. You know, Dom Guerrera was trained by the US Military to shoot ski missions in Europe during the war. When he was done there, he was a sharpshooter in Okinawa until the thing ended. He had one hell of an eye. He was the best putter at the club. When he ran a string the stone wall stayed with it. He could see something in a stone we couldn’t. Of course, this was before there was any safety stuff and he walked scaffold like a trapeze artist… nothing but a few two by fours in the air. Remember that guy who walked across the Niagara Falls on a rope? Dom could’ve done that, but he would’ve run.”
He reminded me of my roots, “Look at your family. What did your Dad’s grandmother have, 13 kids? She came over on a boat with a bag of hard cheese, dried figs and the clothes on her back. All her boys died before they were 21. Your dad was like Dom. They both started with a used pick-up and a lot of brass.”
Looking to the future he said, “That’s how it’s supposed to be. It’s supposed to get easier for the next generation. Until it doesn’t.”
Until it doesn’t. The next generation may not have it as easy as us.
This is a tough time. We, ourselves, may not be willing or able to face the challenges of this generation.
Too many complain. “I wear too many hats. There aren’t enough hours in the day.”
Others see potential, but cannot overcome obstacles, “That’s a great idea, but who is going to do it?”
Times may not be as tough as they appear from our vantage. Times have been worse and others not only survived, but succeeded in those times. John Sardella the dentist and his Uncle Dom Guerrera give us good examples of how it is done.
Work hard, but have fun.
When you do, you may find more hours in the day and more victories where you only saw obstacles before.
This blog post originally appeared in DWM Magazine.