Caspian’s cast of characters

Guest column

It is the intent of this article to spur thoughts, reflections, and conversations with your friends, and at family gatherings, class reunions, et cetera, which may occur this summer.

Many of us were raised in little hamlets, villages, towns, and small localities. Growing up in those areas, we encountered a number of individuals. Some of those people have come into our lives and have left an indelible mark on our memory, which at times may lie dormant for years only to be rekindled by our own reflections of the past. These reflections are often followed by analysis on how they have impacted our lives.

The high and low notes of empty and full bottles striking each other added to the chorus and combined together to create their own symphony of sounds. Thus was the start of many a day’s activities and adventures in my father’s and mother’s soda shop called “Paul’s Pop” in Caspian, Michigan. Throughout the course of the day, we would meet various customers, both at the shop or delivering soda to the surrounding communities. During that time, our paths crossed many interesting local people.

One such person drove a small jeep past our Pop Shop. Everyone called him “Ernie.” He spoke fast, and drove his Jeep fast on his way to work at the Standard Oil gas station in Iron River. (I wonder if he ever got a speeding ticket?) He always had one speed, whether he drove or spoke, and that was fast. Wherever Ernie Remondini went, he always had a welcoming smile, a warm greeting with something nice to say, and such an infectious, positive attitude.

Marsilio Basanese is another one of Caspian’s cast of characters. He immigrated to the United States from Italy, and owned a grocery store, “Basanese’s Grocery Store,” in Caspian. I remember seeing him dressed in a suit with a hat and always smoking an Italian Toscani cigar. Another fond memory of him was when he was dressed as Santa Claus at Christmas, riding and waving to the children up and down Main Street. Then all the children would gather at the City Hall to receive their paper bag of treats.

This would always be preceded by Joe DeAmicis as master of ceremonies. Joe would conduct the Caspian Band–and sing along as well. To complement that, children would sing various Christmas songs as well. Then, out on the stage marched Mr. Basanese with his gangly arms and legs. (He was quite tall.) He looked like Richard Simmons in a Santa suit (but much taller), and everyone loved him.

Ernie Stefani, or Porky, as everyone called him, worked in the mines and woods, as an auto mechanic, and on the County Road Commission. In my younger years, I always remembered Porky’s letting the neighborhood children play baseball in the empty lot across from his home. As an adult, I always appreciated his take on life. The neighborhood men would gather in his garage in the evening throughout the year. Some would have their vehicle worked on, or lawnmower, or snowblower. Others would just come for the fellowship of solving world problems or just for laughs and to tell a joke. I could always tell when he had that twinkle in his eyes and slight smile and hear him say, “You know, Paul,” that something prophetic was about to be said.

Then, there was Mr. and Mrs. Selmo (Pete and Maggie), who lived in Old Caspian. Pete was visually impaired, but sold cheese out of his basement. Oh, the cheese was so delicious! I remember when I was young, my father and I would bring a case of “Paul’s Pop” to Pete’s home, and then my father would purchase a few pounds of Asiago cheese, et cetera. Pete was always there to greet us with a big smile and was always positive. Even with his impairment, he never let it bother him. His actions spoke volumes about his character. He adapted and made accommodations. So much was learned by just being around him. On the other hand, Maggie, who still lives in the same house, would emulate Pete welcoming us with her graciousness and kindness. This is but a small reflection of the wonderful person that she is.

Mr. Cattani, who lived just a few houses away from our house, would make various sausages and sell them in our town. I still remember seeing him come into our home with his cardigan sweater, Italian cap, and a small notepad, where he would write down the orders for the sausage. He was a quiet yet proud man of the product he would sell. The sausages were fantastic.

Many of these people are no longer with us, but they have left a profound impression on me and probably many others as well. I thank God that He has put them in my life’s path. So, take the time to reminisce about the people that you have encountered while growing up. You will be amazed at how much you can recall and share about them.

Daniel J. Paul is a retired school administrator. His articles focus on education, old-fashioned family values, relationships, and other topics. His website is at meaningfuldifferences.net.

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