“Who Do You Think You Are?” – Knowing Where You Came From to Get to Where You’re Going – Part 2

“If you know whence you came, there are absolutely no limitations to where you can go.” – James Baldwin

Every time we enter a new year, it causes me to reflect on the highs and lows of the previous year. The purpose is to see what lessons can be learned and applied in the coming year, but also to look for any markers or patterns that could possibly give me insight into the trajectory of my life. For me, a time of introspection and reflection is always a good thing. 

I also find it interesting to not only look back on our own life experiences (like I did in the last post), but to research our family history to see what life was like for those that have gone before us. This is something that I was inspired to do over Christmas break. And what I have learned so far has given greater meaning to my life, the choices I make, and the legacy that I want to leave to my children and grand-children. 

 

So what did I learn over Christmas break? I learned that I don’t really know much about my family heritage. You see, both my paternal and maternal grandfathers died before I got to know them, and sadly, aside from a few funny anecdotes every now and then, I don’t really know that much about them. My father’s father, Dr. Nicola Desiato, passed away when I was only 3 years old, and my mother’s father, Joseph Beaucheane, 7 years before I was even born. Since the clock struck midnight on January 1st, I have thought a lot about these two men. These two strangers. I wonder what personality traits and genes that I have inherited from them. 

I also discovered that my life and business, Desiato Homes, in a lot of ways, are carrying on not just my family name, but my family’s legacy. These men, and the way they lived their lives, had a profound effect on their children, my parents, and no doubt I have been raised in such a way that my life and personality have spun off from the tapestry of their life experiences. Here’s what happened…

After enjoying the Feast of the Seven Fishes with the Desiato clan on Christmas Eve (a family tradition), my Uncle brought out a box of old memories that belonged to my grandmother who passed away in 2013. Among the assortment of items, we uncovered an envelope. Inside this envelope was something that struck me and was the catalyst for my introspection and reflection. 

What we found was the original Agreement of Sale for the house that my great-grandfather purchased in Philadelphia in 1954, which would ultimately become the house in which my grandfather, Dr. Nicola Desiato, would establish his medical practice once he immigrated from Italy to America in 1959 with his wife and their first child. My father was the first of his family to be born in America (at least that I know of). I don’t know much about my grandfather, although at one point I had a bottle of cologne that belonged to him and the scent brought back memories of a man I hardly knew before he passed. They say that your sense of smell is one of the strongest triggers of memories, even ones you didn’t know you had. He passed away in 1987, when I was only 3 yrs. old. 

A quick Google search allowed me to uncover my grandfather’s obituary, which revealed to me several things I didn’t know about him. It reads:

DR. NICOLA DESIATO

Services were held yesterday for Dr. Nicola Desiato, a Philadelphia police surgeon, who died Friday. He was 60 and lived in Feasterville, Bucks County.

A general practitioner, Desiato was chief of family practice, head of the Outpatient Clinic, vice president of the staff and a member of the executive committee of the James C. Giuffre Medical Center.

He also served as chief of family practice and was a member of the board of governors and the executive committee at Oxford Hospital. He was on the staffs of John F. Kennedy Memorial Hospital, the Parkview Division of Metropolitan Hospital, Rolling Hill Hospital and Lawndale Community Hospital.

Desiato maintained a private practice in Feasterville. Originally from Italy, he was a graduate of the University of Bologna and its medical school. He came to the United States in 1959.

WOW! He was the exact same age, when he started this new life in America, that I am now. 32.

He was a member of the Philadelphia County and Pennsylvania Medical societies and the American Medical Association. Desiato had been honored by the Chapel of the Four Chaplains for his years of community service.

Survivors include his wife, Wilma DelCiotto Desiato; three sons, Luigi, Luca and Cesare; and three grandchildren.

Burial was in Forest Hills Cemetery, Philmont and Byberry roads.

I am one of the three grandchildren mentioned above. I was the youngest at the time. While the above lists a number of impressive items for a resume, it doesn’t quite give me an accurate picture of who he was as man, and if there are any traits in me that have been passed down (aside from maybe a passing resemblance). I have seen pictures of him playing the guitar (consequently, all of his sons became musicians) and have heard audio tapes of him singing with us when we were very little. Hopefully in the coming year I will be able to uncover more about his personality and private life, not just his professional life.

 

As for JOSEPH BEAUCHEANE (my mother’s father), he passed away in 1976. 7 years before I born, and sadly I know even less about him. I have heard some classic stories from my grandmother about how they met, etc. But not nearly enough for me to get a clear picture of WHO HE WAS. HOW HE TICKED. And how, if in any way, I take after him. Unfortunately, I have not been able to locate his obituary online, but I will keep searching. I know one of my uncles on the Beaucheane side is currently tracing our lineage and I am excited to see what he finds out. I asked my mom to give me some bullet points so that I could understand where he came from and what life experiences changed the trajectory of his life. Here’s what I found out:

He was born on April 23, 1918 to Margorie Dougherty & Joseph Beaucheane.

His father (my great grand-father) died in the 1918 flu epidemic when my grandfather was only 6 mos. old.

So he was raised by a single mom? Just like me.

He left high school 3 weeks before graduation to take a job to help support his mother.

Entered US Army in 1943 – served in South Pacific – was in the battle of Okinawa.

Married Sweetheart Ruth Flynn 3 weeks after returning from service in Jan. 1946, after a 5 year engagement.

He worked for Gulf but when he was offered a station of his own, he did not have the funds to purchase it. He also worked for Wilke Buick, and until his death in 1976, he worked for a Ford dealership in the Flourtown area. He was in charge of the Leasing Department.

Took other work to help support his wife and 6 children including managing the Merben & Mayfair movie theaters in the 60’s and 70’s.

By the way, he raised 6 kids in a 3 bedroom, 1 bathroom row-home in Northeast Philadelphia. Boy, I wish people these days understood the difference between wants and needs. Working in Real Estate, I hear from my clients that they “need 4 bedrooms” or that they “need 2 full bathrooms.” Different times, I guess.

He only had one week of vacation per year and usually spent it camping with family and friends in various states along the East Coast.

He was also a fourth degree member of the Knights of Columbus.

He loved to sing – performed in local minstrel shows in the 50’s as “Mr. Interlocutor” belting the ballad “My Prayer”.

A-ha! Now there is something interesting. I knew my grandmother was not a performer but every one of her kids had the “performance gene.” Of my brothers, you could say that I received the heaviest dose of said gene. 

Served in his church as an usher, Boy Scout Troop leader, and ran the poker table for at least 20 years of church carnivals.

I know that both he and my grandmother were, and still are, very active and committed to their church. Having also served in my church for many years, I can definitely say that I take after them in that way as well. Though I’m not too good at poker. 

I still have a lot to learn about my family history and how it has led to me being where I am today, but the journey of discovery excites me. I also am reminded that God placed me in this family for a reason. The interesting thing is that when I decided to start in Real Estate, I came up with the name Desiato Homes for my website, etc. At the time, I didn’t really think of it as anything other than my last name. But now, in light of all of these things I have been thinking about, I realize that my business, heck-my ENTIRE LIFE, are about carrying on and building on my family’s legacy. In a strange way, I feel their support, because my success means the success of every one in my family. It means that the Desiato (and Beaucheane) name will forever stand for something good. They are cheering for me because our legacies will be forever linked. 

I am forever connected to these two men, of whom I know only a little. But one thing I see, among all of the bullet points listed above, is that they were real people with real families. But more importantly, they worked very hard to provide a better life for their family. They worked hard to meet the needs of those close to them, and those of total strangers. Whether it was through delaying the start of their own family to fight in a war and save the lives of many Americans with families of their own, or by helping people in a blue-collar neighborhood secure a vehicle so that they could get to work and provide for their families. Or by dedicating their life to medicine so that they could save lives and provide for people’s medical needs.  

Their legacy is a part of who I am, just as my legacy will be left for my children and grand-children. That is one of the reasons I write. That is why I document my life through podcasts and videos. So that my children can look back and say that their father worked hard and had integrity. That he cared more about being authentic and genuine with those around him than getting ahead. That he was committed to helping people by giving back and paying forward.

However different these two men, Nicola and Joseph, were from each other, and however different their backgrounds, I see one common thread throughout their stories. And this thread is what connects me to them forever.

They were just real people.

And they were committed to meeting real needs.

“If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” – Isaac Newton

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