A Memory of Frank Ricci

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You probably never heard of Frank Ricci.

You probably never met Frank Ricci.

But I have and I did. He is among the thousand points of light that have illuminated my life. This is my salute to him. As you read this, I’m confident you may find some familiar tidbits that you didn’t expect to be there. I promise you, before you come to the end of this column, you’ll discover why.

Francesco “Frank” Ricci was born in the mountains south of Rome, Italy on February 10, 1935. He immigrated to America in 1959 after marrying his wife Teresa. Teresa DeAngelis grew up on Abbott Parkway in Blasdell, New York. I grew up on Abbott Parkway, only many years later.

I remember much about growing up on Abbott Parkway. On the other hand, I don’t remember much of my first day of Kindergarten. I’ve seen the family movies of the event. But I don’t remember much.

Here’s what I do remember:

We lived on a lengthy street. Abbott Parkway is a half mile long.

We didn’t wander too far from our small yard at the end of the street. On one side was the long chain-link fence that separated our slice of civilization from the New York State Thruway. It was an impenetrable barrier (although in later years we did learn to scale the fence and walk in that forbidden zone.)

On the other side were our neighbors. They had kids our age. My brother Kenny and I often played with the youngest two. But that was the extent to which we were permitted to travel. To us, that represented the entire world as we knew it.

Unless, of course, we hopped in the car. Motorized vehicles greatly expanded our physical world, but not the universe of potential friends.

That all changed when Kindergarten came. I walked up the street that appeared to stretch forever. My mother noticed this, too. So, she walked up the street with me.

At the top of the street – the school bus stop – I was in awe. After so many years of knowing only my brother and my neighbors Jeanmarie and Robert, suddenly there was this explosion of kids. Big kids. Little kids. Tough kids. Sissy kids. So… many… kids…

While I may have been overwhelmed, my mother saw opportunity. She spotted Teresa next to her son. The two mothers introduced their two sons to each other.

That’s how I met Angelo. He was my age. We were to be in the same Kindergarten class. He quickly became my best friend. Not that there was a lot of competition. He was the only boy my age on Abbott Parkway.

As our friendship grew, so did the friendship between our families. Angelo had a younger brother Markie. I had a younger brother Kenny. Kenny and Markie, though different ages, developed a bond comparable to mine and Angelo’s.

Our parents, too, enjoyed each other’s company. To this day, my mother remembers the first time Teresa invited our family to her family’s home. Teresa’s creative combination of sausage and orange slices yielded an inventive hors d’oeuvre my mother still recalls. It was, as they say, the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Not to be outdone, our fathers also struck up a strong rapport. It was clear even to their very young sons that they shared similar backgrounds, similar values, similar hopes and dreams.

Frank worked at the Ford Stamping Plant. It was a good job. Like the jobs at the steel plant, it helped to have a side gig to help you get by during extended strikes. My father and his father had a masonry business. Frank had a barber chair.

It was in the basement of his house. Very early in our families’ friendship, Frank would begin cutting my hair and Kenny’s hair. For us, it was a relief. The alternative was to have our grandfather cut our hair. And by “hair” I mean “ear.” Every time. Like clockwork.

So Frank become our barber from nearly the moment when we were in elementary school. At regular intervals the Ricci’s would have the family over for dinner. Before dinner, me and Angelo and Kenny and Markie would play. Sometimes together. Sometimes in pairs. Sometimes in threes.

We’d play in threes because either Kenny or I would be in the barber chair. We’d sit patiently as Frank cut our hair. Our father was there, too. He took the pressure off of us. It was awkward for us to talk to Frank, so Frank talked to our father. Sometimes it seemed Frank would take longer to cut our hair just so he could spend more time talking with our father.

Then, one day, Angelo told me his family was moving. His father had found some property on Southwestern Boulevard. He planned to make a small plaza, a single building that would house the family on the second floor and several shops on the ground floor. One of those shops would be Frank’s barber shop.

I was sad. Who would I play with on Abbott Parkway? I would be left alone. At least Kenny had someone else his age on the street. I had no one. At least we had twelve more months before Angelo moved away the next summer.

But then, just as suddenly, my father got a new job. By Christmas we were gone from Abbott Parkway. It was Angelo and Markie who were left by themselves. Well, at least they had their many cousins.

Kenny and I, though now living in Rochester, refused to have anyone else cut our hair. It was Frank or no one. For long periods of time, it was no one. Our hair would grow very long. We looked like British rock and roll singers.

Until we went to Buffalo to visit Angelo and Markie – and get a haircut. Just as before, we’d sit silently while Frank and our father went over the latest goings on. On one of those visits, my mother who was expecting was surprised to find Teresa dressed in maternity clothes. And like the friendship pairs of their sons, their new daughters, Maryanne and my sister Andrea, developed a close and continuing friendship.

College finally broke our habit. We had to find local barbers. Sure, we’d go back to Frank when we were home. We even kept up the tradition a few years after we started working. By then, it was no problem for us to talk to Frank. And the conversations we had.

Those conversations continued, sans the barber chair, because we’d park in Frank’s parking lot to tailgate before every Bills game. Kenny and I had season tickets since 1998. I would hop into the barber shop as soon as we got parked to talk to Frank. We’d talk about lots of things. About family. About the Bills. About stocks.

A lot about stocks. Frank, like many of his generation, not only exercised entrepreneurial energies, he also managed his own investment portfolio. He understood the power of long-term planning and long-term thinking. He refused to rely on the kindness of others. He believed in making himself and his family secure. And he encouraged those who would listen to do the same.

And he succeeded.

Frank Ricci passed away on October 27, 2019. Before him went Angelo and Teresa. Even Kenny is gone. More than two years now. Well, at least his wait is over. He can finally get that next haircut from Frank.

Frank Ricci might have been an Italian immigrant, but like so many others like him, he was an All-American.

Yes, you probably never heard of Frank Ricci.

But I’m sure you know someone like Frank Ricci.

 

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