|Well, Hello There Lenny Serafino!
Author: Dill Wilson PM
The life and times of Lenny Serafino and his family's pizza business.Rated: Fiction T - English - Family/Romance - Words: 15,307 - Published: 05-21-12 - Status: Complete - id: 3024423
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Well, Hello There Lenny Serafino!(PG-13)
The Greenville Pizza House was celebrating its 60th anniversary. Co-Owner Lenny Serafinio put an Ad in the paper announcing this fact but didn't offer any discounts or sales. It was only when people walked into the business on that day did they realize that everything on the menu for the day was priced at six dollars (unless it originally sold for less than six dollars of course). Once word of mouth got out the business was slammed.
"You think your family will stop by?" Lenny's wife Daisy asked as she worked the counter.
"I doubt it," Lenny sighed.
"Geez, it's been four years since your mom died, don't you think they'd get over it?" Daisy asked.
"They think I stole the business from them," Lenny reminded her. "They aren't a forgiving bunch."
The Greenville News and Dispatch sent a photographer and reporter by to get a photo of the mobbed pizza shop and the reporter cornered Lenny to ask a few questions.
"Sixty years is a long time," the young beat reporter remarked. "How did it all come about?"
"Well, I grew up in a close knit family that both lived together and worked together thanks to my grandfather who owned and operated The Greenville Pizza House," Lenny replied.
He went on to explain how "Papa" Depalo bought a large old Victorian house on Greenville's main street in the early 1960s and moved the family pizza business there.
"It doesn't take a lot of money to open a pizza shop," Papa was fond of saying. "Buy an oven, build a proof box and get flour, tomatoes and cheese and you're ready to open."
The 'pizza house' maintained a home motif to the business. Patrons entered the original front door of the house with a wallpapered hallway that led to the bathrooms and a stairway to the right that led up to the private residence upstairs. To the left, where the original sitting room once was, was the dining area with three large windows overlooking the town's Main Street. In the next room (originally the home's living room) was the counter area for the ordering with the soda coolers and behind that, where the home's original dining room and kitchen once was, was the businesses' expanded kitchen, preparation, and storage areas.
Paintings and drawings graced the wallpapered walls, curtains were on the many windows, and some of the floors were carpeted to maintain the 'house' look of the business and for this reason 'The Greenville Pizza House' really was a house!
"Papa Sal" operated the business with his brother Angelo along with Sal's wife Marie. Eventually, the family opened a second pizza establishment in South County which Angelo managed with his wife and children.
Sal and Marie had two children of their own – Annie and Rosita – and the family lived in the private residence upstairs. Both children grew up working at the Pizza House although Annie, the oldest, eventually married and moved away but Rosita, the youngest, stayed in Greenville and ran the business with her parents.
Rosita eventually married her high school sweetheart Stan who had worked at the pizza house with Rosita through High School but he had no interest in continuing in the family business as an adult and found full time work in the local paper mill, although the couple bought a house less than a block behind the Greenville Pizza House and Stan occasionally filled in on the weekends in a pinch.
Rosita and Stan had three children – Marina, Teddy, and Lenny, and all three grew up in the pizza business.
"I remember doing my homework in the parlor's dining area in elementary school, putting together pizza boxes when I was ten, taking out the garbage and sweeping the floors before "Papa Sal" and my mother decided that I was old enough to become a real employee," Lenny told the reporter on the 60th Anniversary.
Lenny's brother Teddy knew early on working there as he grew up that he needed an education so he wouldn't have to work eighteen hour days like his grandparents and mother often did but Lenny knew from an early age that pizza sauce was in his blood and that he was destined to continue the family pizza tradition. He would be the next generation standing in front of the pizza ovens living the American Dream.
"Work hard and you will succeed," Papa Sal told his grandson nearly every day.
"I can eat pizza every day and never tire of it which was why I knew this was my destiny from an early age," Lenny the reporter.
"And he even managed to maintain his suave figure!" His wife Daisy laughed from the counter.
"Walking behind that counter always seemed a bit dangerous to me when I was a teen," Lenny admitted to the reporter. "That was where the action happened and I was always nervous about being responsible for a well made pizza."
He explained how the first time Sal handed him an apron and granted him access to the inner sanctum of the busy family pizza shop, Lenny knew he had finally made the grade and he was happy to experience the realities of working the make line without giving anybody food poisoning.
Here's how the reporter's lead read when the Greenville News and Dispatch ran the story: "More than sixty years after Sal and Angelo DePalo first opened the place, The Greenville Pizza House is still consistently given top honors in the local press as having the best pizza in Blue County."
"I felt a lot of pressure when I was first given responsibility at the pizza house," Lenny confessed to the reporter, "But I knew it was the perfect place to start my journey in the pizza industry."
Lenny's first official day began with a test from his grandfather. He was given a piece of dough and asked to open it into a skin. Much to his relief, Lenny delicately coaxed the dough into a usable shape like he had seen done hundreds of times but unfortunately it wasn't enough. The result was too small and uneven to be sold to a customer and Lenny was shown the house method for stretching dough personally by his grandfather.
Lenny learned to begin by forming a ring of indentation about one centimeter from the dough's outer edge, followed by gentle pressing from the center toward the newly formed barrier. Next came a few back-and-forths between the hands to warm and extend the diameter followed by a slight stretch over the back of the hands to finish the job. The result was an even thickness and an untouched border.
Of course there's always more than one way to open dough but Lenny always did it the way his grandfather taught him. Oddly enough, this wasn't always the case with other employees as everyone had their own twist on the method but Lenny noticed that the Depalos only did it one way and he was certain to always do it that way.
Lenny's Grandpa Sal was his personal pizza guide and mentor as the teen learned the ropes of the business. He honestly had no desire to be anywhere else. The orders came in like crazy and it seemed like they were constantly pushing out dough skins for the entire rush. Lenny's biggest challenge learning was handling different size doughs but he got the hang of it after a while, but it was pretty intense to see order tickets piling up knowing the dough needed to be stretched quickly and correctly. Although he could feel himself improving, he wasn't exactly consistent and it made him respect his grandparents and mother even more for being able to execute over and over every single night.
The motions of repetition were a physical challenge. The tiny joints in Lenny's fingers ached after about an hour of making dough and he kept feeling inadvertent twitches which don't exactly help the process. But his grandparents were in their sixties when Lenny first started in earnest and he wasn't about to complain in front of them especially when he couldn't even keep up with them! His mother just laughed at him when he struggled to keep up.
Soon Lenny was stretching 200 dough skins a night and not a single pie was sent back, much to his relief. In addition to the dough work, there was also the scaling/rounding bench, a completely new dimension for Lenny but he was taught the craft by the best – Papa Sal, who showed him "the right way" to do it in a time-saving routine. What struck Lenny most about this task was its soothing repetitive nature.
The job Lenny looked forward to the most was topping the pizza pies. Before Papa Sal thought him, Lenny thought the topping application was the least critical step of all, just adding decorations and not even close to the high skill required to handle dough but he was completely wrong. If stretching and rounding were relaxing repetitive motions, topping was the opposite because there was no time to be precious with mushroom and pepperoni placement when the orders were piling up. It was really hard to remember what toppings go on each signature pizza and Lenny sadly crashed and burned a few times by putting pepperoni on the whole pizza when the customer only wanted it on half. Tears fell and pizzas were remade but hungry customers were completely oblivious to the drama behind the counter.
Papa Sal told Lenny of his secret pizza sauce ingredients which were to never be shared with anybody outside the family and once Lenny learned of this trade secret he knew he was one of the inner sanctum and it was the proudest day of his life.
After topping a pie the next step in the process was to get it into the oven and once again it was Papa Sal who taught his grandson the trick of the trades to ensure the pies were baked evenly requiring only a turn or two to achieve an even color. Lenny managed to get a tiny burn on his hand on of his first experiences and he wore it like a badge of honor.
As he learned the tricks of the trade and became an expert at making pizza, Lenny gained a much deeper appreciation for the seemingly smaller tasks of the pizza business beyond adding toppings or balling dough. Papa Sal taught him the importance of quality customer of service, of taking pride in the business, in getting to know the people who come through the door, of loving what they did, and in carrying on the family tradition of making quality pizzas that people would come back for time and time again.
And it just wasn't making pizza either. Papa Sal taught Lenny how to make spaghetti sauce and sandwiches and grinders and lasagna and whatever else was on the menu and by the time he was seventeen years old Lenny was a pretty good cook.
Lenny had a full time job at the Greenville Pizza House from the time he was fourteen so he and his siblings didn't have to worry about employment unlike some of his friends, peers and classmates who were always on the look out for a good and steady part time job. Naturally, Lenny was the gatekeeper for openings at the Greenville Pizza House and although he wasn't responsible for hiring, he could certainly direct kids he liked in Papa Sal's and his mother's direction.
That's how Lenny's best pal Roger got his gig at the Greenville Pizza House and while Roger was hardly a model employee he was a likeable and humorous guy who Lenny's mom liked enough to keep around in spite of his goofing off, tomfoolery, missed shifts and other faults. Of course, if Papa Sal had the final say, Roger would have been out on his ass after his first few months.
"What, you think this is the only job in town?" Roger asked Lenny after his friend warned him about his work ethic. "I'm in high school. This isn't what I'm going to be doing the rest of my life."
Lenny frowned, wondering if Roger was insulting him. Unlike Roger, Lenny took his responsibilities seriously. There was a lot of pressure, stress, and commitment on his part to please his family and do the best job he could in the name of the business, but Roger was hardly that noble or dedicated and he certainly pushed the limit on more than one occasion. There were times when Lenny wanted to fire the guy but his mother intervened and gave the goof one more chance. Roger was fun and funny but immature and undependable and that made for a difficult employee.
The good news for Lenny was that Roger brought was his kid sister Danielle into the business who everybody called Daisy. Lenny adored the girl and getting to work beside her was an added bonus as far as he was concerned. Daisy was the exact opposite of her extroverted, loud mouthed, outspoken, goof off brother. She was shy, introverted, quiet, serious, dependable and a sweetheart, a beautiful girl whose appearance brightened the pizza house whenever she was on shift.
Everybody knew that Lenny had a huge crush on the girl but nobody said anything. It wasn't that the blond, blue eyed smart beauty queen wasn't aware of Lenny. How could she not be? He was her brother's best friend and a member of the family that ran the business. She just wasn't in a position or a place to be dating guys or showing interest in them given that she was afraid of her own shadow and Lenny rarely flirted with Daisy but he certainly paid attention to her as a friend and a co-worker.
Lenny was encouraged that Daisy had a pet greeting for him whenever their paths crossed: "Well, hello there, Lenny Serafino!" She would always say whenever she greeted him.
There was a core group of younger employees at the pizza house and Daisy fell into that crowd which was led by Lenny's older sister Marina and his brother Teddy along with a few of their friends who also worked at the place and of course Roger and Lenny. There were times when Lenny thought about asking Daisy out but he never quite worked up the guts. Every day, he would greet her on shift with a smile and a friendly hello but every day he wouldn't say a thing about going out with her although they often hung out in a larger group. He always looked forward to hearing her say: "Well, hello there, Lenny Serafino!"
Roger laughed at Lenny whenever the subject of his sister came up, telling him that he would forever "fold up like a pizza box" regarding Daisy and this went on day after day, week after week, and even year after year.
Puberty pumped enough chemicals into Lenny's body so that his blood could pass for Spanish Fly. He noticed other girls in high school and he even went out with a few of them (especially those who visited the pizza house on a regular basis) but that didn't mean that his love for Daisy was any less intense or less painful, especially when she went out with a guy or two.
Lenny's crush on Daisy wouldn't go away no matter how many girls he dated. He thought about her all the time and sometimes it drove him crazy because he just couldn't believe that he was so taken by the girl. He finally got up enough nerve to ask Daisy out but she turned him down.
"We're just friends, aren't we, Lenny?" She asked innocently.
"Yeah, we're just friends," Lenny replied as he rolled out the next pizza dough.
He was crushed, of course, and while he got over her rejection he never really got over her. Actually, he dreamed about Daisy all the time, often a reoccurring dream. Usually, they were in the pizza house, alone. The place was deserted and lonely, black and white with the lights above shining down like streetlights in the fog. Lenny would be taking a pizza out of the oven when a tall silhouette appeared behind him.
"I really liked your pizza," Dream Daisy would tell him.
Lenny was always surprised but he played it cool. "Thanks."
Daisy would step closer to the oven. "I just have one question," she'd say, biting her lip nervously.
"What's that?" Lenny would ask in reply.
"Did you make it for me?"
"That's right, sweetheart," Lenny always replied with a wide smile on his face as he turned dramatically to bare his soul (and body) to her. "You see, I cooked this pizza for you and it won a prize. That shows that my feelings for you are real."
They usually ended up making love in the pizza dough. And she would say: "Well, hello there, Lenny Serafino!"
Lenny often woke up feeling sad after one of those dreams and sometimes he wished he was dead because he couldn't have Daisy in real life.
The group started to break apart as time passed. Some stayed around working shifts if they remained in the area attending Green College or Blue County Community College but eventually everybody except Lenny moved on.
Marina got married and moved away. Teddy joined the military a few years later and then returned with his Army bride and became a local cop. Roger quit and came back four or five times until he finally landed a "regular" job out of state and Lenny was beginning to feel abandoned and left behind although there was always the next hire, the next waitress, the next assistant pizza maker.
Daisy stayed the longest of his era. She waitressed and cooked at the pizza house while a student at Blue County Community College and she stayed on when she transferred to Green College for her final two years of school. She even worked some shifts following college graduation on weekends to augment her salary until she finally started making enough as a bank teller (and then a supervisor) to give up the pizza gig for good which left Lenny traumatized so much so that he threw her a farewell party which she really appreciated.
"You didn't throw anybody else a party," she told Lenny.
"I didn't want to throw anybody else a party but you," he replied.
Eventually, it was just Lenny and his mom left from the old days and he missed Daisy's "Well, hello there, Lenny Serafino!" Rosita pretty much ran that place as her parents had "aged out" of the daily operations. Papa Sal still worked a few hours here and there mostly for something to do but he was slowing down while his wife Marie had been experiencing health problems and she rarely left the upstairs apartment. Lenny's father all but boycotted the pizza house and he gave his wife a hard time when she worked more than a forty hour week.
"That's what we have Lenny for," Sal would complain when Rosita picked up a weekend shift but Lenny and Rosita usually split the weekend (taking one day off between them) although Lenny would occasionally fill in for Rosita to placate his father.
Stan had become increasingly resentful of the pizza business and he wanted Rosita to sell the business so they could have a more relaxed and enjoyable middle age routine but Rosita refused to even entertain the thought while her parents were still alive and that became a problem in the marriage. Lenny, still living at home, felt his father was being unfair and selfish in his demands and he sided with his mother.
"Don't worry, Dad, I'll take over the business when Sal and Marie are gone," Lenny would say whenever his parents got into a confrontation about the business.
Ironically, Rosita was making more money than Stan although she put a lot of the money back into the business. Lenny was also able to work for less since he was living at home and that allowed the business to thrive with expanded hours (they could afford to hire new staff) and the home delivery service that Rosita instituted when Lenny was in high school. Roger loved making deliveries because "that's how you can meet babes" and he became the best driver on the staff.
Rosita often second-guessed her decision to have home delivery service after a few horror stories floated back her way including rude customers, weather-related incidents, attacking dogs, and drunks. There were always the possibility of a robbery, assault or an accident involving a driver and for a while Rosita refused to let her drivers deliver to Green College frat houses and dorms following a few questionable incidents when the driver made a large delivery and was stiffed or accosted but she rescinded that policy when the college administration promised to work with the business to assure safety.
Rosita and Lenny developed a driver's policy and code that was to be followed by all deliverers to assure safety. Every driver had to have a cell phone and street map of Blue County in their possession and they were expected to be polite and courteous no matter how rude the customer might be but they were expected not to put themselves in harm way or doing anything that would reflect negatively on the business.
Lenny heard countless delivery stories over the years (Roger had a new one nearly every night) and while Len was sure many were embellished if not fabricated Lenny knew it was a strange world out there with weird people and that anything could happen.
Roger's favorite story was one of his last ones. He delivered a pizza to a house he was familiar with having grown up with the family. He rang the bell and the door opened and a supposedly attractive blonde answered dressed in a spaghetti strap black dress, make up and nice smelling perfume.
Roger handed her the pizza and got the payment and a tip in return but he kept looking at her trying to figure out where he knew her from. Finally it dawned on him that he knew the voice of the customer and it was not a female's.
"Steve?" Roger asked.
"Hi Roger. What do you think?"
"I have to admit I thought you were a real woman until I heard your voice," Roger admitted. "What in the hell are you doing?"
"I'm a closet transvestite," Steve revealed. "I like to dress up as a woman and explore my feminine side but I'm not gay."
Lenny didn't quite believe Roger's story when he first claimed it.
"Finding out a guy I know is a transvestite was a strange delivery for me," Roger replied. "Trust me, I wouldn't make that up."
One of the Green College stories that got Rosita all fired up was when Angela brought twenty pizzas to a party that turned out to be a group of drunk under aged teenagers who refused to pay the bill (or tip, of course) forcing Angela to call the cops on them which resulted in a big front page story in the newspaper and some unwanted bad publicity for the Greenville Pizza House.
Rosita tried not to use female drivers after Tina came back with a horrible story. She was delivering to an apartment in a nice complex and she was met at the door by a guy wearing only a long white shirt and when Tina handed the man his food he reached out to hand her the money the shirt lifted enough to expose his family jewels!
Roger loved those kinds of stories. He told of the time when he was making a delivery to a guy when his girlfriend (or maybe wife) walked out of the bathroom with nothing on but a surprised look when she saw Roger at the door. She quickly went back into the bathroom and closed the door while her boyfriend (or husband) completed the transaction as if nothing unusual had happened although Roger could hear her laughing through the door.
Another time, claims Roger, he brought the pizza to the door and a girl who looked to be twenty answered the door wearing a black see-through lace top and no bottoms. A grinning Roger handed her the pizza and through the door her could see a man butt naked on the floor of the living room. The girl paid him without patting an eye and as the door swung closed, Roger claimed the girl grabbed a slice of pizza and smeared it all over the guy's face and then licked it off.
Roger was the best pizza driver because he was willing to drive anywhere anytime in any sorts of weather. He'd even deliver to customers on the banded list, people who had been rude, threatening, or otherwise inappropriate in previous deliveries.
There was a blizzard one night but the Pizza House stayed open. Rosita said it was totally up to the drivers if they wanted to deliver or not that night and Roger said he'd do it. Most all of the callers were shocked when the pizza house agreed to deliver an order and Roger was the only one on the road that night. He was returning to his car after one particular delivery when a woman ran out of her house shouting "Wait, wait!"
Roger thought there was some sort of trouble going on.
"I can't believe people are calling for delivery on a night like this," she said. "I can't believe you're doing it!" She handed him a $20 bill and returned to her house even though she hadn't even ordered anything!
Joe Nelson got a huge tip one night for rescuing a little terrier pup that had bolted from the house when the woman opened the door to get the pizza.
Roger was extremely jealous of Danny Bordeaux who allegedly delivered pizza to four seventeen-year-old girls having a sleepover who, on a dare, opened the door wearing absolutely nothing. What really upset Roger was that he gave Danny the delivery so he could try to hit on Anita Morrison who was eating at the pizza house!
Daisy made a few deliveries in the pinch even though Lenny didn't like sending her out. Her favorite story was showing up at this big fancy house a few days before Christmas and a teenage boy answered the door wearing nothing but boxer shorts and a pair of reindeer antlers. Daisy could see a couple other kids in the background giggling and the poor kid looked super embarrassed seeing a female driver at the door.
"Lost a bet?" Daisy guessed.
"Yeah," he mumbled as he handed her a can full of change and apologized for having to pay in change, promising that there was a good tip in there for her.
It took Daisy, Roger and Lenny about ten minutes to count all the change when she got back to the pizza house but as promised, there was a five dollar tip for her.
If Roger told this story Lenny never would have believed him but since the story came from straight shooter and honest Howie Hurbert, Lenny was more inclined to believe it was true. Howie said that Margaret Young, the well known wife of the Pastor who ran the Lutheran Church, opened the door in her bathrobe and then her dog ran out. She tried to catch him but as she did the door shut behind her, catching the robe tie and pulling the robe off leaving nothing to the imagination for Howie to see. He opened the door and handed the robe back to her without either one of them saying a word.
Roger didn't tell this story until long after he quit for the final time. Nobody could figure out why Rogers insisted on making the delivery to Judge Reynolds house whenever he called on a Friday night. Everybody knew the Judge was a tight assed jerk.
"Tell me about the Judge," Lenny requested long after Roger had stopped making deliveries.
Roger grinned. "The first time I made a delivery the man called out that the door was open and that I should just come on in so I did and when I entered I saw him on the couch with some broad making love. I was instructed to leave the delivery on the table and my tip was there also."
"Wow," Lenny replied.
The next delivery I made there both of them met me at the door and both were nude. They took the pizzas and gave me twice my usual tip," Roger laughed. "The next time when I rang the doorbell, same as before - both nude, but this time the woman reached out and grabbed my crouch. They wanted me to watch them have sex. So, going against my better judgment, I stayed and watched."
"You did not!" Lenny said with disbelief.
"Why do you think I kept making that delivery?" Roger grinned. "I delivered pizza to them for almost three years and got a good tip and a good show every time. I kind of wish I was still delivering pizza when I think about it – she was really good looking."
None of the drivers wanted to make the delivery to the corporate office every fourth Wednesday of the month. Some organization had a monthly board meeting and ordered a hundred and fifty dollars worth of food but almost never tipped. Lenny ended up making that delivery himself most times just to avoid listening to the regular drivers bitch.
Jimmy Rodgers came back from making a delivery in tears after a neighbor across the street from a delivery pulled out of her driveway and hit Jimmy's father's car that Jimmy was driving that night.
"He's going to kill me," Jimmy sobbed.
Clyde Sherman said one guy pulled a wad of cash out of his pocket to pay for a delivery and a blue dime bag of cocaine fell out of his pocket. "I got a decent tip that night," Clyde laughed. "You know, to keep my mouth shut!"
Marv Grogan thought he was going to get killed in a road rage incident one night. He left some housing project after making a delivery and some guy in a pick up truck started chasing him.
"I looked in my rear view and this guy was up my ass," Marv reported. "So I sped up and he continued following me, even when I took a few turns and then cranked it up to about 70 to try to lose this guy but he was still up my ass. We got to a stop light and he pulled up next to me and slammed on his brakes and said, 'You need to slow the hell down. I have kids in that apartment complex.' The guy chases me for five miles at 70 miles per hour to tell me to slow down!"
Bruce Ballentine was making a delivery and witnessed a pick up truck strike two brothers in one of the most gruesome tragedies in Greenville history. One was a third grader and the other a fourth grader. The driver was speeding to beat a red light and flew past Bruce, mowing down the children who were in the crosswalk.
Bruce called 911 and had to stay at the scene as a witness and he was understandably upset by what he had witnessed. The kids were dead at the scene and Bruce was never the same again, so traumatized that he quit that night without ever making his delivery.
Lenny got the chills just thinking about that story and he never gave his drivers a hard time about making deliveries because he knew it wasn't the greatest job in the world and he appreciated their efforts in making the business better.
Papa Sal's health took a turn for the worst out of the blue and three days after being stricken with pneumonia he was dead at age 79. Rosita had stood vigil at his hospital beside and his unexpected death rocked the family.
Condolences piled in and the Greenville News and Dispatch ran a front page side story next to Papa Sal's obituary. The pizza house was jammed with visitors and mourners for the next several days and Lenny tried to carry on the tradition even while he grieved his grandfather.
The longtime owner of Greenville Pizza House, known for his charitable giving to sports teams and schools and his community support and involvement, has died at the age of 79.
Salvatore "Sal" Depalo died June 2nd from complications of pneumonia, his daughter Rosita Serafino said Wednesday.
His death was "very unexpected," Rosita Serafino said.
Alongside his wife Marie, Sal Depalo skippered operations of the well-known local restaurant since the early 1960's, located in an old Victorian house on Greenville's Main Street
Rosita Serafino, who presently operates the business with her son Lenny, said her father had a passion for the customer side of the restaurant and loved interacting with customers.
"He said, 'I always wanted to do this,'" Rosita Serafino said. "He loved being behind the counter. He loved talking to people."
In addition to operating the Greenville Pizza House, "Papa Sal" sponsored local sports teams and donated to area schools. He was a board member of the Serguci Amateur Baseball League and a long time sponsor of the Greenville Giants which played in that league. He was a co-chair of the Beano Field Restoration Project in the early 1990s.
About her parents' giving, Rosita Serafino said: "We always felt that as a member of this community it was part of our responsibility to give back."
The pizza house also provided meeting space for sports teams. Teams were known to celebrate after games at the pizza house and Papa Sal was a well-known fixture there, said Jerry Swanson, coach of Greenville Pizza House's little league team. The Deplaos sponsored Swanson's team for 20 years. Swanson said Papa Sal would often stop at the team's table to chat about their game.
"He's a genuine, good-hearted, fun-loving guy," Swanson said. "He always looked out for the other guy. He was a guy who liked to help."
Many remembered Papa Sal on The Greenville Pizza House's Facebook page, including former employees, patrons and Blue County Sheriff Luke Gerry.
"So sorry for the loss, and our thoughts and prayers are with the family," Gerry wrote.
Lenny Serafino said he learned everything about the pizza business from his Grandfather. "He was my mentor, my teacher, my conscious, and my hero," the younger Serafino said.
A memorial service will take place Saturday at The Donnelly-Nolan Funeral Home. Calling hours are Friday evening from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Mr. Depalo is survived by his wife Marie at home and his two daughters, Annie of Gary Indiana and Rosita and her husband Sal of Greenville, four grandchildren – Lew of Albany, Ohio, Marina Serafino-Russell and her husband Greg of Manchester NH, Teddy Serafino and his wife Erin of Greenville, and Lenny Serafino of Greenville, and two great grandchildren, Sally and Mark Russell.
Rosita was unable to work in the aftermath of her father's death but Lenny was determine to soldier on and make sure the restaurant didn't close because of Papa Sal's loss. Lenny was behind the counter until a half hour before the wake began and the pizza house was open as usual on Saturday with Lenny returning to man the afternoon shift following the post-funeral reception.
The wake was standing room only and Lenny was touched by how many former employees returned to pay their respects, some guys now in their fifties and sixties who once worked as teenagers for Papa Sal. Roger returned from Virginia and Daisy came too which meant a lot to Lenny, especially when she greeted him with a hug and "Well, hello there, Lenny Serafino!"
Daisy still lived in the area but Lenny didn't see her that much anymore and he was disappointed when Roger informed him that she was living with some guy in Hillsboro.
The funeral was moving and meaningful and Father Fitzgerald, who often came into the pizza house for a slice, nailed the essence of Papa Sal perfectly. The reception followed at the Greenville Grille and it turned into a roast of sorts as many stories, recollections, reminiscing and antidotes were told about Papa Sal. Lenny laughed through his tears and it felt good to hear so many wonderful stories about the man.
Roger was the life of the party with plenty of Papa Sal stories to tell and Lenny was glad his friend came home to be with him during such a dark time. Lenny met Daisy's boyfriend and his presence didn't give Lenny a lot of time to interact with Daisy on a personally intimate level unless he cornered her at the bar or coming out of the bathroom.
Lenny sighed when Daisy came up to him to give him a hug and say goodbye. He wanted her to stay but he knew she had a life to live and he was glad she had made the effort to attend the services and reception.
"I really loved Papa Sal," Daisy told him as they hugged goodbye.
"Everybody did," Lenny replied, holding her tight. "Thanks for coming," he whispered in her ear.
She gave him a squeeze before she broke the embrace, took her boyfriend's hand and left the reception.
It took a few days for Rosita to come back to work and she tried to carry on as best she could following the loss of her father but her husband Stan wasted little time in starting the conversation about the future of the Greenville Pizza House. He wanted Lenny to buy his mother out of the business but Rosita refused to listen to such talk saying the business was Lenny's to have once she retired.
"Twenty years from now?" the annoyed Stan asked. "You really want to be tossing pizza dough sixty hours a week for the next two decades?"
"For Christ sakes, my father isn't even cold in the ground yet and you're already riding my ass about this?" Rosita complained.
Lenny thought his father was being a jerk about the whole thing and Lenny wasn't shy about telling him so which didn't exactly help their relationship but Lenny owed it to both his grandfather and his mother to stand up for the pizza house.
Lenny and his mom tried to keep the routine the same in Sal's honor and memory but it just wasn't the same not having Sal come down from upstairs to say hello or hang out for a few hours, offering a hand here and some free advise there, or just sitting around chatting with customers.
Grandma Marie's health continued to wane and that created extra stress and concern for Rosita who in addition to running the business, working her shifts, and trying to keep Stan placated, had to devote more time to her widowed mother who was missing her husband terribly.
Lenny tried to pick up as much slack as he could even though he was working long hours to make sure his mom was taking care of herself, her marriage, and her mother but that just gave Stan more ammunition as to why they should just sell the business.
"It's time to get out," he insisted. "Sal's dream died with him."
"Damn you," Rosita protested. "You just care about yourself. You don't care about what I want and what's important to me."
"So, go ahead and kill yourself trying to run this place," Stan barked.
Sometimes Lenny thought that maybe his father was right when he had a bad day at the pizza house. Maybe it was time to sell and get out of the daily grind but then he would look at the portrait of Papa Sal hanging over the wall and think of the years of service the family had given the community and he realized that he really had no choice but to continue on with his mother.
Lenny was certain that his father was instigating his siblings to support his campaign to get their mother to sell their business as both Marina and Teddy began dropping subtle hints Lenny's way arguing that their mother was working to hard and the demands were too great for her to continue on with the business.
Lenny was surprised when Rosita dragged him to the lawyers and made sure he was the sole heir of the business and executor of the will should anything happen to her.
"I don't want your father having any say in the pizza house," she told her son.
"Ma, Marina and Teddy have a stake in the business too," Lenny pointed out.
"I don't see either of them here helping us in our time of need," Rosita replied. "They made their choices, son. No, this is yours to do with what you want should something happen to me."
"Nothing's going to happen to you, Ma," Lenny replied but he couldn't blame his mother for trying to protect her father's legacy even if it put even more pressure on him.
Grandma Marie's dementia was getting progressively worse as well as her physical deterioration following Sal's loss. Whereas previously she was simply forgetful and absent minded, now she was getting clearly confused and she was becoming a safety risk for herself.
Rosita was spending more time checking up on her mother and spending time sitting with her which only made Stan all the more resentful and displeased. Finally, with the help of her mother's doctor and other health care professionals Rosita decided that Marie would be best served in the locked unit of the Greenville Nursing Home where she could be around other people and safely watched after 24/7.
With Marie out of the upstairs apartment, Rosita thought maybe she and Stan could sell their house and move in to be closer to the business but Stan went ballistic at the very suggestion.
"This is our house!" He screamed, motioning around the living room of the home they had lived in for thirty years. "This is where we live!"
Lenny decided that it was time for him to finally bail out of his parents' house even though he felt like he was abandoning his mother. The stress level was just too high, his father was drinking too much, and his parents were always arguing, mostly over the pizza house.
It took Lenny a while to clean out his grandparents' place but he finally moved in and now he was the one who was just upstairs from the pizza place and always on call but he figured now he was really committed to the future of the business since he lived in the same building.
Lenny really didn't have much of a social life outside of work where he was socializing with everybody - his mother, his co-workers, his employees, and especially the customers. Daisy started coming in semi-regularly after Papa Sal's death which thrilled Lenny even though she was usually with her boyfriend or sometimes with girl friends but there were a few times when Daisy showed up on her own and Len always made it a point to talk with her when she came in, more generically when she was with others but more personally when she was alone and he always looked forward to her "Well, hello there, Lenny Serafino!" whenever she came in. Lenny would sit with her if she ate at the restaurant alone.
"So, you live here now?" Daisy asked one afternoon when he sat at her table watching her eat her slice.
"Upstairs in Sal's old place," Lenny confirmed. "Would you like to see it?" He asked, lifting his eyebrows.
She smiled. "Okay."
He brought her upstairs and proudly showed her his new digs which she liked a lot.
"I kept a lot of my grandparents' things," he told her. "Just to keep the history and the past alive."
"It's very nice," Daisy said. "Very friendly. Very personable. Very homely."
"It feels kind of lonely though," Lenny sighed.
Daisy assumed he met without his grandparents there but he was really referring to life without Daisy.
They developed a ritual of Daisy coming in every Tuesday for lunch on her own and Lenny always set aside time for her and he enjoyed their weekly visits. She usually talked about her life which included her boyfriend and although sometimes that was hard to listen to Lenny was glad about her willingness to talk to him about most anything. He valued their friendship, remembering how she once innocently asked him "We're just friends, aren't we, Lenny?" and although he still fantasized about having something more (with her) he was grateful for what he did have.
Rosita kept warning Lenny to be careful, reminding him that Daisy was living with another guy and he didn't need to be wasting his time on a "spoken" woman.
"There are plenty of eligible girls out there, Len," Rosita said. "You need to be concentrating on them."
But Daisy had always been the one for him and Lenny would rather chat with her than sleep with someone else although he did have a series of one night stands, especially after he moved into the upstairs apartment. He tried to avoid affairs with employees but once some college co-ed gave her notice, he'd usually seduce her and have sex with her upstairs after closing. He also brought a few flirtatious customers up there on occasion when he was especially vulnerable or horny.
The one year anniversary of Papa Sal's death arrived and the pizza house had a special promotion in his memory. It hardly seemed possible that a year had passed already and Lenny couldn't help but sigh at how much things had changed in that time. Grandma was in the nursing home. His parents were at odds with one another. His siblings had turned against him. His father was mad at him and drinking too much. He was working 60 hour weeks if not more. He lived above the pizza house in his dead grandfather's apartment. Was this going to be his life for the next forty years?
### ### ###
It was two o'clock on a Wednesday afternoon in the second week of July. It was one of the down times - after the lunch rush and before the afternoon snack and early dinner crowd and Lenny was holding down the fort with Chris, one of their more dependable co-workers. Rosita had left to make a bank deposit and run a few errands and Lenny was cleaning up.
Officer Steve Ford and Jay Klein entered the store looking grim faced. They were pals and fellow cops with Lenny's cop brother Teddy and they frequented the pizza house all the time, usually getting cut rate deals or free bees.
"You guys are kind of late for lunch," Lenny said, barely looking at them. "You want a slice or something?"
"Lenny," Ford said in a seriously professional tone. "There's been an accident."
Lenny looked up and studied the two cops. "Who?"
"Your mother," Klein informed him. "You'd better get to the hospital."
"How bad?" Lenny asked.
"Pretty bad," Ford replied with urgency.
Lenny took off his apron and looked at Chris. "Call Fred and maybe Milo - any of the dependable guys and see if they can come in. Call some of the next shift and see if they can come in early."
"Sure, Lenny, don't worry about it, I'll take care of it," Chris replied. "Just go."
"If you have to, close the place," Lenny said, heading for the front door.
"We never close," Chris said, repeating a mantra that started with Papa Sal and was passed on down through the generations.
"What happened?" Lenny asked the cops as he left the pizza house with them.
"Some kid ran a red light over by the nursing home," Klein said. "Broadsided her right in the driver's door."
"She was in the ER but I think she's probably in surgery by now," Ford reported.
"My father?" Lenny asked as he Ford let him into the back of the cruiser.
"He's there and your sister has been notified," Klein said as he got behind the wheel.
They rushed Lenny to the Blue County Medical Center with their blue lights flashing and the occasional burst of the siren to make room. His mother was indeed in surgery when Lenny arrived at the hospital. Teddy was pacing back and forth in the hallway and their Dad looked like somebody had hit him in the head with a baseball bat as he sat slumped in a chair.
"I need a cigarette," he said as soon as Lenny walked in.
"I'll go with you," Ford offered, leading Stan down the hall.
"How is she?" Lenny asked his brother.
"Critical," Teddy replied, his face white and drawn. "Doesn't look good."
"What about Marina?"
"She's on her way but I don't know if she's going to make it in time," Teddy sighed.
"In time for what?" Lenny asked with disbelief.
"I called Father Fitzgerald," Teddy answered. "He's in there now."
"Mom's not Catholic, Ted," Lenny observed.
"She was raised that way," Teddy replied. "Before everybody left the church. Doesn't hurt to be covered just in case."
"Just in case she dies?" Lenny swallowed.
"Just in case what Jesus said is true," Teddy commented.
Rosita made it through surgery but the Doctors weren't very optimistic about her chances for survival. She had several broken ribs, a broken pelvis, a fractured sternum, massive internal bleeding and organ damage, a serious head and neck injury, and a broken leg.
"She's probably sticking around until Marina gets here," Teddy remarked as they sat by her bed in ICU.
Rosita was unconscious and had bleeding on the brain and the Doctors were worried about potential brain damage. Stan was a mess, standing in the corner of the room as if there was a barrier between him and his wife while Lenny and Teddy stood watch, sitting in chairs on either side of the bed. Marina arrived from New Hampshire and burst into tears as soon as she saw her mother.
"Oh my God, Mom!" Marina wailed as Lenny gave her a hug.
Rosita opened her eyes for a brief moment.
"Look!" Teddy exclaimed with excitement when he saw her looking at them.
"Mom?" Marina asked hopefully.
"Rosita?" Stan said, stepping toward the bed.
Her mouth quivered and then her eyes closed and suddenly the beeping of the heart monitor stopped and the alarm went off. Doctors and nurses ran into the room in a fury and "Code Blue! Code Blue! ICU! Stat!" was called over the intercom. Several more medical personal entered and the family fell back as the professionals worked on their mother and wife but after ten minutes of attempts, the lead doctor finally called the time of death. Rosita DePalo Serafino was dead at 53.
The next few days were a blur. Not only did Lenny have to deal with the unexpected and unimagined loss of his mother, but he had to keep the pizza house up and running while helping the family make funeral arrangements. Rosita had done most of the scheduling and bookkeeping so Lenny had to learn on the run to make sure those responsibilities were taken care of and cover Rosita's shifts.
The family drama was already on overload. Stan was a mess and he could barely function. Marina and Teddy wanted Lenny to close the pizza house for mourning but Len subscribed to Sal's promise that The Greenville Pizza House never closes. There were fights regarding Rosita's services – funeral home or church service, cremation or burial, length of calling hours, what she should be wearing in the coffin, open or closed casket, should Grandma Marie be told or brought to the funeral, and a whole host of other issues to deal with.
There was also the matter of the teenager who had blown through the red light while texting and killed Rosita. Teddy had to be restrained and placed on Administrative Duty due to his anger and threatening behavior toward the kid while Stan was equally as angry. The family was well known in the community (ironically, frequent patrons of the Greenville Pizza House) which added an interesting twist to the mix. The kid was charged with vehicular manslaughter, texting while driving, failure to stop at a red light, and driving to endanger which created added tension in the community. Some feared because Teddy Serafino was a cop that the kid and his family would face extra scrutiny and Rosita would be given special treatment in death.
The pizza house received a steady stream of customers expressing their condolences and sadness, many of the same people who had been in there a little more than a year earlier to express the same sympathies for Papa Sal. Lenny kept working despite all the distractions and a variety of emotions that were overwhelming him. Daisy came into the pizza house and gave him a long hug without saying a word to him before disappearing as quickly as she arrived.
Roger came home to be with Lenny and the family and while he tried to put on a humorous face to help everybody get through the tragedy even he was grieving the loss as Rosita had been one of his most favorite people, "a second mother to me" as Roger put it.
The calling hours had people out the door and down the sidewalk of The Donnelly-Nolan Funeral Home as former classmates, friends, co-workers, employees, neighbors, friends of the family, community leaders, and others paid their respects. Lenny kept the pizza house open that night as the dedicated staff rotated shifts so they could attend the wake as well. The consensus of the workers was that they wanted to keep the place open for Rosita and Lenny agreed although most of his family disagreed.
Rosita had been pretty banged up in the accident so Stan insisted on a closed casket although the coffin was opened privately for the family before the services began. Lenny noticed that his father, brother and sister were giving him the cold shoulder through most of the receiving line activities, although his sister in law Erin, brother in law Greg and Aunt Annie were much more supportive and understanding, showing no animosity toward him regarding the pizza house dispute.
Grandma Marie was informed of the tragedy by her daughter Annie but she did not attend the wake.
A bunch of current and former employees and other friends showed up at the pizza house after the wake and hung around visiting and chatting long after closing, violating town liquor laws by drinking beer in the establishment but who was going to complain or argue or shut them down?
Daisy was among those gathered around the several tables, making it a point to sit next to Lenny even though her boyfriend was with her.
"Well, hello there, Lenny Serafino!" She said with a smile.
Daisy's brother Roger kept everybody laughing despite their sadness but there was an undercurrent of tension when Teddy got bombed and said some unkind things to his kid brother about the pizza house and how Lenny had "made" their mother work to keep it open. His wife Erin finally dragged Teddy home before it got really ugly.
"We all know the truth, Len," Chris said after Teddy stumbled out of the place. "We all know that your Mom wanted to work just as much as you did."
"If not more," Lenny replied.
The family decided to have a service at the funeral home only and Rosita was buried next to her father in the Greenville cemetery. Father Fitzgerald said prayers in both places and several people spoke at the funeral home in a very emotional and touching service. Rosita was buried with her favorite pizza house apron around her waist.
The reception was held at the Greenville Grille. Lenny's father wanted it held at the Pizza House but because Rosita said that was inappropriate when it was suggested they do it for Papa Sal, Lenny declined to let it happen for Rosita which further alienated him from his father and siblings. They were also upset that Lenny hadn't closed the pizza house for the day out of respect for Rosita.
"It's out of respect for her that I keep the place open," Lenny rebutted.
Lenny had to walk a tightrope of emotions, etiquette, and temperament to get through the reception. His father and brother both got fairly lit. His sister was all worked up about what to do about Grandma now that their mother was gone. He was overwhelmed by all the good wishes and expressions of support he received from friends and others and he was left numb by all that had happened in the last few days.
Roger did his best to run interference for Lenny and protect him from any situations that might get out of hand and Daisy showed up without the boyfriend which was the best news Lenny had all day.
"Well, hello there, Lenny Serafino!" She said as she came and stood next to him.
Daisy spent her time at the reception with Lenny, being supportive even without saying anything and Lenny wanted to take her by the hand and run away with her from all of this.
Daisy was shy even as a thirty year old woman but Lenny appreciated her presence and it helped to be able to talk to someone neutral who wasn't going to be judgmental about the family politics or dynamics even if it was clear that Lenny was being shunned.
Papa Sal's brother Angelo was still alive and his family was still running the South County Pizza House (and two other shops). Stan brought Angelo's son Tony to Lenny to let Lenny know that Tony Depalo would be more than happy to take over the Greenville Pizza House on behalf of the entire family.
Lenny couldn't believe his father was bringing up this subject at his mother's funeral reception but he bit his tongue and avoided a scene.
"I'll give you a call, Tony," Lenny said diplomatically even though he had no intention of unloading the pizza house.
Rosita made it very clear in the lawyer's office that day that she wanted Lenny to carry on the tradition of the pizza house if something should happen to her and the last thing she would have wanted was for Cousin Tony to get involved.
"They have no feel for their customers," Rosita had complained. "They're running three shops like it's a chain or something. You get too big and you lose touch with your customers. Promise me you'll burn our place to the ground before you let that side of the family take over."
Lenny did the right and honorable thing by staying until the end of the reception, although he might have bailed earlier if Roger and Daisy not been there to keep him company and protect him.
"We'll talk soon about what to do with the pizza house," his father drunkenly told Lenny before he left at the end of the reception.
Lenny had to laugh at his father, a guy who could have cared less about the place now giving his son orders as to what the future was going to hold. Teddy barely said a word to his brother when he stumbled off with his wife and Lenny looked at his sister blankly when she asked what they should do about all of their mother's belongings.
"You should ask Dad," Lenny replied.
"He doesn't respond when I ask him questions like that," Marina complained.
"There's no hurry with Mom's stuff," Lenny advised. "If Dad lets you, I'd say you, Erin, and Annie can take what you want as far as the jewelry and stuff goes. Otherwise, just let the stuff sit there until Dad says something."
"I guess," Marina sighed. "I'm worried about Dad. He's a mess."
"We're not responsible for our father," Lenny replied coolly and that brought a look of surprise from his sister.
Lenny left the Greenville Grille with Roger and Daisy and they returned to the pizza house. The Staff and the customers were surprised to see Lenny there after having just buried his mother but where else was he going to go? The trio took a table had had a beer in tribute to Rosita (and Papa Sal).
Daisy said she had to go and Lenny wanted to beg her to stay and be with him but he knew he couldn't so he gave her a hug and a kiss on the cheek and thanked her for everything.
"It really made a difference having you here the last few days," he said.
"I wish I could do more for you," Daisy sighed and Lenny couldn't help but agree to himself with that thought.
"Your mother was always so nice to me," Daisy said, wiping away a tear.
"She really liked you," Lenny replied warmly.
Daisy smiled sadly and left the pizza house.
Roger was hanging around for a few days and for a joke (and old time's sake) he made a couple of delivery runs and rode shotgun with a few of the drivers to see how things were going for them.
Lenny hadn't scheduled himself so out of respect for those on shift he left the restaurant when Roger returned from his goofing off and they went to one of Roger's favorite places – some dive out on Route 36 where they drank and Lenny discussed his problems.
"Hey, your mom trusted you to do the right thing," Roger reminded him.
"Yeah, but what in the hell is the right thing?" Lenny wondered.
"Whatever you decide," Roger advised. "Based on everything you know about your mom and what she would have done, that's what you should do."
"They're going to hate me," Lenny sighed.
"That's their problem," Roger replied.
It had been a tumultuous few days and even now Lenny couldn't comprehend any of it. His mother was dead and the weight of the world was now on his shoulders, or so it felt.
Roger was never one to let anything stand in the way of a good time and he was hitting on chicks all through the evening. He was a middle manager making sixty grand a year in some high end business company but he was still the same guy from high school and the pizza house all these years later. Lenny came back from the rest room and found Roger sitting at their table with two young women.
"Lenny!" Roger grinned. "I've been telling these lovely ladies about your poor dead mother!"
"And they believed you?" Lenny deadpanned as he took a seat.
"I'm so sorry to hear about your loss,' the redhead with wide eyes said, taking a hold of Lenny's hand. "Is there anything I can do for you?"
Lenny looked at Roger who winked in return.
They brought the two women back to the apartment, Roger taking the giggling blonde into the guest room while Terri the red head followed Lenny into his room. He would have given anything to have Daisy be the one to be comforting him but he wasn't about to complain and he let the redhead take advantage of him just as he took advantage of her although it was really just empty and meaningless sex.
### ### ###
The next few months were the worst of Lenny's life having to deal with grieving his dead mother who was also his co-worker, boss, and partner. Lenny promoted Chris to Assistant Manger and hired a new staff member. He learned the scheduling and paperwork aspects of the job as best he could and the business continued as smoothly as could be expected even with Rosita's unbearable absence.
Unfortunately, the family was in turmoil. Lenny's father and siblings were irate when they learned about the will and that Lenny had total control and say regarding the business. They became incensed when Lenny announced that he had no plans to sell the business and he was considered a backstabbing traitorous turncoat who had swindled the business out of the family's hands.
Teddy refused to step foot in the pizza house and most of his cop buddies stopped showing up too. It was kind of embarrassing for Lenny when he heard that his brother and his cop friends were hanging out at Sylvia's Pizza on the other side of town.
Marina called from New Hampshire practically every day and was home most weekends to check on their dad and harass Lenny about what to do about him and their grandmother who continued to fade away in the nursing home.
"What do you want me to do, Marina?" Lenny would sigh with frustration.
Their father was a mess who was unable to function without his wife in his life. He was undoubtedly filled with remorse, regret, and guilt for the way he treated her the past few years and now he was alone. Rosita had always been the one who made the decisions, set the tone, and kept Stan functioning and without her he was a basket case who was quickly turning into a drunk.
He continuously missed work, showed up late, left early, and either Lenny or Teddy had to call every morning to make sure he got out of bed. He isolated himself, refused invitations by friends and other offers of help, and bitched, moaned, complained, and sobbed about his miserable life and how much he missed his wife.
"What are we going to do about Dad?" Marina would ask Lenny every time she called.
"What are we supposed to do about him?" Lenny asked with a frown. "He's the parent."
"He just lost his wife, Lenny."
"Yeah, and we lost our grandfather and our mother and our grandmother doesn't know who we are!" Lenny would rebut. "What about us? You don't see us folding up like a pizza box. I have no sympathy for Dad. He's weak."
"You're not very sympathetic," Marina would say.
"Hey, he's supposed to be comforting us, not the other way around," Lenny snapped. "Do you think Mom would be moping around like this feeling sorry for herself if it had been Dad who died? No! She'd be back at work making the pizza."
"Mom was always stronger," Marina sighed.
"Yeah, well, Dad needs to pull himself together. I don't have the time or interest to hold his hand and walk him through this. I told Mom I'd take care of the business and that's what I'm doing."
"Well, goody for you!" Marina said angrily before hanging up.
Stan ignored several warnings, reprimands, and meetings with his bosses and he continued to miss work, show up late, and leave early and he was finally fired in late November.
"Happy Thanksgiving!" He muttered when Teddy was called to escort his drunken father from the premises.
"What are we going to do about Dad?" Marina demanded when she came home for the holiday.
"What are we supposed to do?" Lenny asked in reply.
"He's crashing and burning," Marina cried.
"Well, when he hits bottom we'll pick up the pieces," Lenny replied.
"When did you become so heartless, Lenny?" Marina wanted to know.
"Hey, there's only so much we can do when Dad just doesn't give a shit," Lenny argued.
It was a miserable Thanksgiving. Marina celebrated with her in-laws in Hillsboro. Teddy had his own dinner and didn't invite Lenny. Stan refused to go anywhere so Lenny ended up sitting with his father in his living room watching football while Stan got drunk and passed out in front of the television.
Christmas wasn't any better as Stan continued to drink his way into self-pitying oblivion and by now Teddy had washed his hands of it, embarrassed as a cop to have to respond to several calls from neighbors reporting loud noises and disruptive behavior from the Serafino residence. Teddy even had the old man sectioned to the mental health inpatient ward for three days when Stan got so despondent that he was making threatening statements against himself.
Stan felt that Teddy had betrayed him by having him committed and he refused to talk to his older son. With Marina harassing Lenny nearly every day, Lenny finally asked Stan if he'd be interested in working at the pizza house "just until you get back on your feet."
Stan was indignant and insulted by his youngest son's offer. "What, you think I'm a charity case?"
"You think I want to work along side high school jerks doing a job I did in high school?"
"You think you're frigin' Papa Sal or something?"
With that offer clearly declined, Lenny decided there wasn't much he could do for the old man. He needed to dry himself out, go to therapy, and move on from his grief and depression so he could be a father to his children and a grandfather to his grandkids. Erin was pregnant with Teddy's first child and Marina was constantly complaining that Stan had nothing to do with her two kids since Rosita died.
"Dad will probably be next to go," Lenny told his sister.
"You mean even before Grandma?" Marina asked in a panic.
Lenny's worst fear was that his father would lose the house and have to move in with him above the pizza house which would be an ironically cruel fate for the both of them. Stan was collecting unemployment and Lenny assumed the mortgage was paid off but he wasn't sure about the state of his father's finances, unless there had been money from Papa Sal's estate or even life insurance in his mother's name.
Lenny survived in the post-Rosita era and The Greenville Pizza House continued to thrive under his tutelage and leadership and while that gave Lenny immense professional satisfaction he was still lonely and alone in his personal life with a father spiraling, a brother who had shunned him, and a sister who expected him to have all the answers.
Worse of all, Daisy had stopped coming into the pizza house after Rosita's funeral and Lenny was certain she had picked up on his latent vibes or maybe Roger had said something stupid to her like "Lenny really likes you, you know" and he lamented her absence more than most of the others in his lonely life.
Rosita was still all around him – it was hard to escape her in the pizza house – but Daisy was a different story because Lenny continued to long for her, think about her, and miss her. After all this time, he was probably as crazy as his father!
Lenny made a few changes at the pizza house, mostly systematic with a few updates and improvements here and there but it was still basically the same place it had always been and he knew better than to try to fix something that wasn't broken. He saw the ghosts of Papa Sal and Rosita almost every day around the shop and he found it comforting but every time the front door opened he hoped it was Daisy entering – but it never was.
Grandma Marie had been in the slow fade for well over a year with her Alzheimer's Disease so far progressed now that she didn't recognize anybody, rarely talked and, in recent weeks, had stopped functioning on any real level. When her breathing became labored in early May, Aunt Annie was called home and the death watch began. Lenny took a few shifts at the nursing home but his father seemed disinterested in participating.
"What's the point if she doesn't know who I am?" he rationalized as he once again disappointed his kids.
Teddy didn't have much to say when he and Lenny's paths crossed at the nursing home and Lenny was pretty sure that once Grandma checked out that was pretty much it for the family. There would be nothing left.
Grandma lingered for four days before finally expiring, the third family death in three years although this one was the most expected and almost a blessing in a way as the poor woman had been suffering for years. Grandma Marie's death was also the most anti-climatic as the family and friends were almost funeral'ed out by this time.
Marie DePalo was remembered as a loyal, devoted and loving wife and mother, a familiar face at the Greenville Pizza House serving generations of customers where she was fondly known as "Mama Marie".
"If Papa Sal was the spirit of the place, Grandma Marie was the soul," Lenny was quoted as saying in his grandmother's obituary.
Aunt Ann and her immediate family took care of most of the arrangements and other details so all the rest of the family really had to do was show up for the wake and funeral even though it was Déjà Vu all over again and the family just wanted to get through the formalities and be done with it.
Lenny didn't close the pizza house, of course, but he put a large framed photo of Marie on the counter to honor his grandmother. When Lenny walked into the Donnelly-Nolan Funeral Home for a family funeral for the third time in three years, he was struck by how different things were just since Papa Sal's funeral. Both his grandparents and mother were gone. His father was unemployed and drinking heavily and even now as the service got underway he was drawing unnecessary and embarrassing attention to himself with his catty and snippy remarks and endless complaining, playing the victim card about how tough it had been him this past year while Marina, Teddy and Lenny (all of whom really weren't talking to each other) held their collective breaths waiting for some drama to unfold or scene to explode.
The wake wasn't as crowded as it had been for Sal and Rosita, partly because people were grieved out with three funerals in three years for the same family but most of the same people came by to pay their respects with many of the same pizza house stories they had remembered when discussing Sal and Rosita.
Lenny was mostly going through the motions. He was fatigued and numbed by the varied emotions of death further weighted down by the family drama taking place around him as he stood in the waiting line greeting people. Did the mourners notice the tension between the family members? Did anybody else smell the booze on Stan's breath? Were people aware that Teddy and Lenny weren't speaking to each other?
Lenny did a double take when he saw Roger and Daisy walk into the parlor and he watched from across the room as Daisy checked out the family photos on the display boards, read the cards on the flowers, and said a prayer in front of the casket while Roger waited patiently behind her. Then they made her way down the line (Lenny was last as the youngest) and when Daisy reached him, she gave him a hug.
"Well, hello there, Lenny Serafino!" She said.
"Haven't seen you around for a while," Lenny replied while shaking Roger's hand "And what the hell are you doing here?" He asked her brother.
"Hey, might as well go for the trifecta," Roger said once again coming home to be supportive of his friend Lenny. "I had to pay my respects to Grandma Marie. I always got her to laugh," Roger bragged.
"How you doing?" Daisy asked with concern. "You look...tired."
"It's been a weird three years," Lenny deadpanned.
Roger and Daisy hung around the parlor until the service ended and they went back to the pizza house with Lenny where they took the same table as last time and drank some beers together. Roger had just gotten to town an hour before the service and picked up his sister who was living with her parents again having broken up with her long term boyfriend a few months earlier.
"What happened?" Lenny asked with surprise.
"The guy was a dick," Roger answered for her.
"We just grew apart," Daisy said more reasonably. "I'm thirty-one years old and it occurred to me that I wasn't happy with my life."
"You're kind of young to be having a mid-life crisis, Sis," Roger pointed out.
Lenny was trying to process the reality that Daisy was single (and available). After all this time, was there any point in trying to pursue her? They drank until the pizza house closed with Lenny updating his friends on the horror that was his family situation.
"But how's the business going?" Daisy asked.
"All things considered, pretty good," Lenny answered with gratitude. "I just try to do it the way Sal and my mother did. You can't go wrong that way."
"It's all up to you now," Roger replied. "You're the only one left who gives a shit."
When it was time to close, Roger, who was staying with his parents too, drove Daisy home. Lenny gave her a hug before they left and thanked both of them for being there for him.
"We're friends, right?" Daisy said with a smile and Lenny tried not to sigh at that statement.
"Yeah, we're friends, Daisy," Lenny replied as Roger rolled his eyes behind her.
Lenny just wanted to get the funeral over with. He loved his grandmother but he knew that the family as he had known it had died with her and he had enough of his groveling, weak, bitter, drunken father, his resentful and bitter estranged brother, and his defeated sister.
Ironically, Father Fitzgerald gave an upbeat and positive homily about the importance of family and community during the funeral home service but most of the Serafino clan sat grim faced and unmoved listening to the priest. They couldn't get the casket to the cemetery fast enough and they nearly sped to the Greenville Grille so they could get the damn reception over with and get on with their lives, as far apart from each other as they could.
Lenny met up with Roger and Daisy at the reception.
"Well, hello there, Lenny Serafino!" Daisy said when they reached his table.
"You guys going to sit with me?" Lenny asked. "Nobody else will."
Lenny avoided his father at all costs who spent most of his time at the bar anyway. Teddy sat on the opposite side of the room pretending Lenny wasn't there and Marina already had the car packed for New Hampshire.
"Man, this is brutal," Roger admitted as he watched the dynamics play out. "Who would have thought this could happen to Papa Sal's family?"
"I'm the last man standing," Lenny sighed.
Roger was soon off to hit on the good looking lady bartender and make his rounds of the room, laughing and joking with everybody.
"That guy never changes," Lenny remarked to Daisy.
"He's thirty-two going on fourteen," Daisy smiled. "I had to iron his shirt for him this morning. He's still just a kid."
Lenny threw her a long look. "So, what's wrong with your life?" He wanted to know.
She blushed and shrugged. "I just want something different," she sighed after a long pause. "I've been offered a promotion to Assistant Manager of the Hillsboro Branch."
"Hey, congratulations!" Lenny beamed. "That's great."
"If I take it, this will be my career," she said.
"What's wrong with that?" Lenny asked.
"I hate banking," she groaned.
"What?" Lenny asked with surprise.
"It's just so impersonal and greedy and all about money and making more money and getting people to spend their money and how to get people's money," she lamented. "I absolutely hate it."
"Wow!" Lenny replied with surprise.
"You want to know the one job I really loved?" She asked.
"Working at the pizza house," she confessed.
"Really?" Lenny asked.
She nodded her head affirmatively. "I loved the feeling of the place. The wonderful people there. The happy customers. The satisfaction of pleasing them with good food and good service. The sincerity of a thank you. The smell of the pizza sauce. The joking around in the kitchen. The banter in the dining room. The feel of team."
"Yeah, it was pretty special," Lenny admitted.
"Was?" Daisy frowned.
"Well, yeah, I mean is too," Lenny stumbled. "I mean, I miss Sal and Marie and my mom but I try to keep the feeling the same even without them. I never knew how lucky I was as a kid walking into that place and seeing Sal and Marie in the kitchen making pizza and my mother manning the front counter taking orders and chatting with customers. I just took it for granted that it would always be like that."
"I'm sure it still is," Daisy replied.
"I'm the only one left," Lenny sighed. "I don't know if I can do it all on my own."
"You have good workers."
"None of them are going to stay forever."
"Maybe I would," she said shyly.
Lenny wasn't sure if he heard her right. "What?"
"Would you hire me back, Lenny?"
He stared at her with disbelief. "You'd turn down a promotion to come work at the Greenville Pizza House?"
"I'd like to help you out," she said earnestly. "I'd like to be Marie and Rosita."
"And I'm supposed to be Sal?"
"No, you can be Lenny," she smiled.
"The friend," he sighed.
"Maybe more than a friend," Daisy replied, smiling at him."
He looked into her eyes. "I always hoped you'd come back."
"I know," she whispered.
"Roger told me," she admitted. "After your mom died."
"And that's why you stopped coming by?"
She nodded. "I was afraid," she said. "I had to think about stuff. Reevaluate my life."
"That's why you broke up with him?"
She nodded again. "He's a banker, Lenny. Money is in his blood. Pizza is in mine."
"People will think you're nuts," Lenny warned.
The reception was winding down and Lenny said his farewells to those who were still talking with him. Roger was leaving with some girl he picked up and he asked Lenny if he could give his sister a lift.
"Sure," Lenny agreed.
Daisy put her arm around Lenny's and walked out of the Grille with him.
"My family is crazy, you know," he told her.
"I know," she replied.
"Where would you like to go?" Lenny asked.
"The pizza house," she smiled.
But they only spent a few minutes downstairs.
"Can I see the apartment again?" Daisy asked after they shot the shit with the staff for a while.
"Sure," Lenny replied.
She went up the stairs first and Lenny followed, unable not to look at her backside beneath the tight black dress she was wearing.
"I used to come up here sometimes," Daisy revealed as they took a seat in the living room.
"Your mom would send me up here to check on Marie or to ask Sal a question or something," Daisy replied. "I felt special."
"You are special," he grinned.
She leaned over and spontaneously kissed him and he gladly kissed her back, relishing the taste of her lips at long last.
"I bet you were frustrated waiting for me all this time," Daisy sighed as she sucked on his lip.
"God gave me the patience to wait," he whispered in reply.
She curled up in his arms. "I bet things have been too emotional for you to deal with anything these past few years."
"My sex drive had taken a dip," he admitted. "But I hadn't expected to have you here with me like this."
"I haven't been sleeping well lately," she confessed.
"Me either," Lenny revealed.
"Want to take a nap?" She asked.
They left the couch and went into his bedroom. She shyly kicked off her shoes, unfastened her dress and let it slip from her shoulders. Lenny's heart skipped when she stood before him in her bra and panties. He didn't say anything as he kicked off his shoes, took off his shirt and tie, and dropped his pants, standing before her in his tee shirt and boxers.
Daisy blushed as she knelt on the bed and then lay down and he joined her on the bed. They both slept peacefully with her in his arms through the afternoon. At one point, Daisy awoke and seeing Len sleeping with his soft lips relaxed in slumber made her feel good. She got up and took a very cold shower. When she was done, she returned to the bedroom and lay down next to him again, only this time she was naked. He was still asleep as she wrapped herself around him and she was surprised when his lips descended on her flesh, his warm lips kissing and licking her warm flesh. Somewhere in back of her mind, Daisy realized that he was highly emotionally aroused and was trying to deal with his grief of three funerals in three years. But that thought was buried in the sensations of his lips upon her skin as he managed to undo her hair, letting it cascade down her shoulders.
"Well, hello there, Lenny Serafino!" she said.
Lenny's lips wandered to Daisy's dark rosy aching nipples and she couldn't do anything but moan. His lips finally descended further down and she could feel her opening and getting wetter as his fingers parted her down there and he proceeded to suck her to an incredible orgasm. When he was finished, her hands slid down to push his plain flannel boxers down his legs.
"Well, hello there!" She smiled.
Taking the lead now, she pushed him back and took in the sight of him fully hard. She knelt over his hips locking his eyes to hers as she slowly descended upon him. The expression on his face was priceless and she rode him, feeling him thrust inside her while cupping her breasts as her hands gripped his chest and they orgasmed together.
They stayed in bed all night, making love, watching a movie naked in bed, eating cheese and crackers and drinking wine, and making love again. They both slept like a baby that night curled up warm fulfilled and naked next to one another as it was always meant to be.
They had slept for a good twelve hours when they awoke in the morning.
"Well, hello there, Lenny Serafino!" Daisy said warmly
They shared a warm shower together, delighted in touching each other's bare skin and making love again. When they were done in the shower and toweled each other off, Lenny placed Daisy up on the bathroom counter and he devoured her again.
"I've waited so long for this," he told her. "I can't stop."
"I don't want you too," she giggled.
### ### ###
Daisy worked her first unofficial shift that afternoon along side Lenny. She gave her notice at work and moved into Sal and Marie's apartment with Lenny, her boss, co-worker and lover. He was Sal and she was Marie and together they would continue the legacy of the Greenville Pizza House in Rosita's memory.
The pizza house was still crowded the evening of the 60th anniversary when everything on the menu was six dollars. A group of cops entered and Daisy called Lenny's attention who looked up from the oven out back. Among the cops was his brother Teddy, who hadn't been in the place since their mother died four years earlier.
The family had attended Lenny and Daisy's wedding two years earlier but the strain and tension was still high and no resolutions had been found. Teddy was still bitter and resentful and not talking to Lenny, declining his invitation to be in the wedding party. Roger was best man and Marina's husband Greg was a usher but Teddy stood stoned face in the back of the chapel. Stan was still drinking and showed up for the ceremony half lit which created more tension.
Lenny walked to the counter and nodded at his brother.
"So we can get an extra large with everything on it for six bucks?" Teddy asked.
"Sure can," Daisy said proudly.
"We'll take two," Teddy replied.
A few minutes later, Stan came in, looking surprisingly good.
"Can I join you, son?" He asked Teddy.
Teddy seemed apprehensive at first. "Sure, Dad," he finally said.
"Want a beer, Dad?" Lenny asked. "On the house."
"No, a coke will do, thanks," Stan replied.
Teddy, Lenny and Daisy exchanged surprised glances.
"Really?" Lenny asked.
"Yeah, haven't had a drink in six weeks," Stan bragged. "And I'm working for Frank Sanderson over at the recycling center."
"That's great, Dad," Lenny said.
"I'm so proud of you, Stan," Daisy beamed.
"Finally, huh?" Stan sighed with embarrassment.
"Come have some pizza with us, Dad," Teddy said. "The guys are over there."
Stan gave Lenny a long look. "Your mother would be proud of you, Len."
Lenny nodded. "Thanks, Dad. I appreciate that."
Stan chewed on his lip. "I'm proud of you."
Lenny nodded again. "Thanks, Dad. That means a lot."
Stan followed Teddy to the table with the other cops while Daisy gave her husband a hug.
"Well, looks like everything finally came full circle," she said with a smile.
"Have I told you I love you today?" He smiled.
"Go get those pizzas ready for your brother and your father," she said, giving him a kiss.
"Well, we did it, Mom," Lenny said, looking up at the ceiling as he walked toward the oven.