Inspired by Thelma's remembrance of her mother the week of Mother's Day, today I am sharing my eulogy for my father. Though he was born Salvatore Francesco Puglisi in a coal town in Western Pennsylvania, a typo changed the family name to Puglise and his teachers renamed him the more "American" name, Samuel Frank. He served his country under that name and his descendants carry along the typo. Everyone, including my three brothers and I, called him Sam. He lived to be 94. I miss him every day.
He was an eyewitness to many of the historic events of his century. And he had the wisdom and sensitivity to see them for what they were.
|CCC Sam in Idaho 1933|
His earliest memory was of the influenza epidemic of 1917 and 18: of standing in the doorway watching his mother who lay on the bedstead with her own infant cradled between her knees while she nursed two other babies who had lost their mothers in that plague. When Sam—who must have been only three or four years old at the time—described the tears running down his beloved mother’s cheeks, you felt you could see them, too.
He became intrigued when early flying machines appeared in the sky and tried to make an airplane of his own. That flight began at the edge of a cliff and landed in a hawthorn tree, and his first adventure in flying ended with a spanking. He also saw planes overhead in the Pacific battles of World War II. And he even had a connection with space flight: he was so proud to have worked on the components of the Apollo Spacecraft.
The Great Depression and the early death of his coal miner father robbed Sam of any chance at education. But it also sent him as a CCC youth to the Idaho wilderness, and at the end of that grievous decade, he fell in love with and married Anna Maria, the love of his life and our beloved mother.
The War was a central experience of Sam’s life. He was a
Marine. After fighting in many major
battles in the Pacific, his part of the war ended in China . He was at the Japanese surrender in China Tsingtao. He
vividly described that ceremony: the troop formations, flags flying, the
pagentry of that moment. He remained on
duty there for six more months after V-Jay Day and finally returned home, with
and memories. Many funny, many
fascinating, but also dreadful images that he told us he had spent his life
trying to erase, but that haunted him until the end. He had volunteered to fight to defend his
country, and though he was proud to have served, after experiencing battle, he
hated war. “It’s the stupidest way man
ever invented to solve a problem,” he said.
“No one should ever have to endure that.” Endure he did and returned from all the
violence the gentle man he had always been. China
He taught us so many things, too many to enumerate. To love and desire education. Though his father’s untimely death put an end to his normal schooling when he was only nine years old, Sam read and studied all his life—got his GED and took some courses at
Rutgers on the GI bill, even while
he worked two jobs to keep his family.
He read Freud because he wanted to understand people and Plato and
Aristotle and Schopenhauer because he wanted to understand life.
He taught us to be a family—not to judge one another’s faults, but the importance of accepting each other. Once when I was angry at my brother, he said, “No, Sweetie. Don’t think that way. You can look at a man and say ‘He used to be my friend or even he used to be my husband, but you can’t look at person and say he used to be my brother.’”
He was the least judgmental person I ever met—finding the good in everyone, even people who harshly misjudged him and mistook his charity and gentleness for weakness.
He was beautiful, movie star handsome, yet never vain. What was important to him was who and what he loved.
He loved his father and described himself dogging his footsteps and trying to emulate his father’s industriousness, sense of adventure, and loyalty. All virtues he himself achieved, but never bragged about.
He loved music and dancing. He loved to play cards and golf.
He loved the out of doors, especially fishing and left me with vivid memories of following him on sunny spring days, wading in sparkling trout streams and one particularly delicious dinner of fresh-caught trout and sautéed early dandelions gathered on the banks of pristine water.
Mostly he loved his family and took a Sicilian man’s joy in the fact that his family was united. He always asked, “Have you talked to your brothers? How are Kerry Ann and Ted and the children? Give everyone my love.” He always in every way gave us all his love.
Sam’s life was long, but more important his love was deep and true.
|Sam and me in China in 1986|