Dennis A. Ferraro General Counsel
My Memories of Kippy Addotta
Lesson # 1. There is an aromatic green leafed herb used by Italians, and others, to flavor food; and you can say its name the way Grandma Addotta taught Kippy to do, with the accent on the last syllable, which is an “a” and which is said as “bahs zee lee caw”—basilica.
Lesson # 2. If you are doing something that you value, some activity that makes you feel good, whole, etc., then do not let what you perceive as someone else’s (or some group’s or clique’s) perception of that activity make you feel less good about what you are doing.
So how was I so lucky to meet Kippy and be taught these two valuable lessons?
The first necessary circumstance was that I was fortunately born to Mary and Sereno Ferraro, who at some time after my arrival in October of 1946 lived on the Ten Hundred block of West Jefferson in Rockford, Illinois.
I don’t know when Kippy, his father Frank and Grandma Addotta first moved to the house just across the street; but my first memory of him was at about 7 or 8 years when Kippy who was about 2 years older would come over to my house to play on the few occasions that he was allowed out of his yard. It was natural for him to gravitate in that direction. My house was a short cut to State Street and the Piggly Wiggly where Grandma would send him for groceries, Cacciatore’s meat market and the soda fountain drug store in between. The Italian connection was also on my side: Ferraro’s, Giambrone’s, Chiodini’s; and my side of the street had more available kids.
Of course he and I would also play in his backyard which was nearly adjacent to the abandoned Rockford Furniture factory and just a jaunt from the Hobo jungle, an acre or so of woods along side the rail line which bordered Kent Creek. Many times Kippy and I would climb up steel ladders onto the roof of the factory or stand on the side of the railroad trestle over the creek while trains sped along a foot from our precarious perch. Some time’s we would also cross the creek to look for scraps of leather tossed out by the workers at Hess & Hopkins tannery. And Kent Creek itself was a marvelous adventure for us, as we dug out crawfish from its under- banks, or tried to dam it up with tree limbs.
The second component to my “schooling” in minor herbal matters, and those more important to development of genuine “character”, was Kippy’ s personality. He was older and bigger than me; but I could out- “Wrassle” him. Even though he was a tough competitor, many times either in a headlock or full nelson, I made him say “I give”. However, he never stayed mad at me for beating him at this child’s play; and he always was patient and kind to me. Of course, because of his longer legs he would do better than me at “Stretcho”, a game that involved standing facing each other, with outstretched legs, throwing a sharp knife just beyond where our feet were planted to see who could stretch the farthest.
Before relating how his friendship and kindness led to lesson number two, let me color my recall a basil shade of green, remembering a day Kippy and I were walking south on the west side of N. Avon street, about 1/3 of block from the intersection with W. State street, on a summer day when I was about 10 years old. If we turned our heads to the left, we would have seen the neighborhood barber shop, owned and operated by two brothers, who quite appropriately were named, Frank and John Barber.
We weren’t interested in haircuts that day; and instead were on our way to the West End Library which was about six blocks west on State. We probably were going to supplement our journey with a stop at Thompkin’s ice cream shop across from the Library. However, before we even got to the corner of State and Avon, Kippy called my attention to some abundant green plants someone had planted along the sidewalk. Picking a leaf or two for us to smell, he informed me that this was “bahs zee lee caw”, and that Grandma Addotta used this in her cooking.
This fresh and wonderful smell was new to me. My father and my mother’s parents emigrated from northern Italy and, although I am sure they must have used basil in our home cooking, I think that in Grandma Addotta’s native regional cucina (either Siciliano or Napolitano), this fragrant herb was more prominent. And as you can see, the scene of my first discovery lingers even now.
After Kippy graduated 8th grade from our St. Mary’s Catholic school, I, still in 5th or 6th grade, followed in his footsteps, and those of many of our schoolmates, in learning the ritual practice of serving as an “Altar Boy”. This entailed learning all of the altar boy responses in Latin to the priest’s prayers, learning how to set out the priest’s ceremonial vestments, learning all of the rites of Benediction, Stations of the Cross, blessing of the throats on St. Blaise Day, weddings, funerals, baptism, etc.
Kippy had gone on to Roosevelt Junior High and our lives diverged. He was teenager, older and taller. Somehow, he had managed to get himself a brand new Moped, purple and quite impressive to a kid like me. By this time, he was no longer the playmate that I could wrestle to the ground. He was large and in charge; but still kind to his junior buddy, me. Of course, I looked up to him.
One summer morning after returning from serving Mass as a new altar boy, I came upon Kippy standing on his sidewalk next to his new motor-bike. He asked what I was up to. For some reason, maybe because of the general emphasis placed in my circles on being a tough guy, or maybe simply because of my own insecurity of wanting to fit in and be accepted, especially by an older cool guy with a motorbike, I responded to his question by trying to make it seem like I thought being an altar boy was lame, not cool.
Kippy saw right through this mask. He kindly chided me by telling me that he knew that I liked my new job; and told me, in so many words, that I did not have to pretend otherwise just because I thought others might think it was “square”, not cool.
That’s the last childhood memory I have of Kippy. My family moved out of the neighborhood a month or two later. It was not until re-uniting with him as a member of his audience at a comedy club years later that I saw him again.
Perhaps there are other traces that I might retrieve, but these are two that I offer now to my old chum, Kippy Addotta.