A few weeks ago, while enjoying a spectacular display of Fourth of July fireworks, a topic for this column was revealed. I had earlier written about perseverance, specific to the victorious U.S. Women’s World Cup soccer team, and its conquest of a myriad of personal challenges to achieve glory.
And then, life became a tsunami. The news was a barrage of problematic events. Since the U.S. women’s victory, the summer seems to have nosedived with two additional random shootings, the sweltering summer heat and California wildfires, while other areas suffer with unrelenting rain and transportation nightmares from road damage — and finally the circus that has become the Republican glut of candidates. Is there any surprise about American apathy toward our political system and how a U.S. president is elected?
Long overdue is the necessity to return to some positive news and continue the subject of perseverance.
Fireworks have always been a favorite American spectacle for me. Surprisingly, Ohio has a long legacy for the manufacturing of this colorful Fourth of July tradition.
The Rozzi Fireworks Co. was located in Loveland, Ohio. At the age of 16, one of my favorite people, Rudy Siciliano, arrived in America from his tiny Italian hometown of Pignataro Maggiore near Naples. The year was 1956.
Rudy’s father, as was his grandfather, were both grand Italian masters of “pyro techniques.” Before the Chinese entered the world of fireworks manufacturing, the Italians were known as the experts in designing this essential component of all Fourth of July celebrations. After Rudy’s grandfather had come to America in 1913 to design fireworks for Rozzi, it was his father’s turn. But instead of coming alone, as had his grandfather, Rudy’s father uprooted his wife and two sons from their picturesque Italian hometown and brought them to Loveland.
Back then, bullying already existed. An Italian teenager with no English skills, Rudy landed in Loveland with his parents and brother. Homesickness prevailed, but the family persevered. Rudy embraced his new life in America.
Four years later, in 1960, the family uprooted again, as his father was lured for a job with a competitor, the De Rightis Fireworks Co. in Rochester, New York. It was here Rudy’s inherited artistic talents blossomed at the Rochester Art Institute, from which he graduated. He became an acclaimed painter and sculptor.
Along with his artistic skills, during his youth, Rudy became an accomplished ballroom dancer. As his life transitioned to Nashville, his favorite non-artist activities included cooking wonderful Italian meals for his neighbors, growing a garden to supply his culinary skills with fresh ingredients, mowing his lawn, and ballroom dancing.
I did not cross paths with this Italian-Ohio immigrant until several years ago, at a ballroom dance studio in Atlanta. The unlikeliness of this occurrence is even more surprising, considering that Rudy uses a walker for mobility. Rudy is an amputee.
His idyllic life abruptly changed in 2010, when Rudy suffered a serious stroke, which caused a blood clot in his left leg. After incessant efforts by Skyland Medical Center staff to save his limb, Rudy became an amputee. All of his beloved hobbies ended, except cooking.
Rudy can no longer ballroom dance. Yet every Friday night, when this studio hosts a weekly party, there is Rudy. Considering he is now an observer instead of a participant, he still enters the ballroom studio door, pushing his walker, with a tremendous smile and a winning attitude. He has no self-pity — sitting on the sidelines — while others enjoy dancing. At age 75, his enthusiasm for life is unrelenting, despite his recent physical limitations
Rudy is my inspiration for growing older and conquering maladies that come with age. He has persevered and succeeded in many aspects of life — as an Italian immigrant after landing on Buckeye soil, almost six decades ago, to become an artist, father, and friend to many.
“I love America!” is one of Rudy’s favorite statements, still said with a discernible Italian accent, and a glorious smile.
Mariann Main is a Delaware native, is licensed as a counselor in Ohio and Georgia, and is an avid ballroom dancer from her first lessons at Sallie Humphries Dance Studio, at the corner of Winter and Elizabeth streets, now known as the Winter Street Inn. She is an undergraduate journalism major of The Ohio State University and has a master’s degree in community counseling. She can be reached at MariannMain@gmail.com.