My father, Mack A. Tosi, was born in 1895 in Portage, near the Pennsylvania Railroad's famous Horseshoe Curve. Two sisters, Margaret (who is still living in 2000, aged 102, in a nursing home in Washington, PA,) and Frances; three brothers, Andrew, Albert (also still living in 2000, aged 92), and Alfred.
His father had a small grocery store and Dad talked about delivering groceries with a horse and small wagon as a teen-ager. Like most people in those days, when they completed 8th grade, he dropped out of school. The family moved to Monongahela about 1912.
I'm not sure where Dad worked before going into the army in WW I on October 5, 1917. His discharge records that his occupation was listed as a Molder. He was in a machine gun section of an infantry division (Company A, 336th Machine Gun Battalion), and was first sent to England, then crossed the English Channel to France where he served in the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) from August 23, 1918 to March 7, 1919, when he was discharged with the rank of Corporal. He took great pride in his ability to take a machine gun apart blindfolded, and put it back together again faster than anyone else in his infantry company.
When the war ended on November 11, 1918, his division returned to the U.S. He was then discharged from the army and returned home to Monongahela in 1919 when he was 24 years old. He soon married Jane Vogini, who had just turned 16, on November 1, 1919, in Monongahela by Alderman Dewitt G. Parkinson. They had three sons, 2 years apart; Anthony (1920), Louis (1922) and Maurice (1924).
He worked for Beck's farm near Monongahela for a while at low wages before getting a job as a laborer for a roofing contractor in Donora. Later he worked as a guard at a coal tipple at the Catsburg Mine. In 1927, somehow my folks managed to save up enough money to buy a parcel of land along Route 88 in Monongahela, overlooking the Monongahela River, obtain a mortgage from the local bank, and build a two-story bungalow with a full basement at a cost of $2,700
When the Great Depression came along in the 1930's, Dad was out of work. He did find some employment by working for the WPA, the Works Progress Administration, one of the President Roosevelt inspired initiatives to create work for the many unemployed in the U.S. at the time. The unemployment rate skyrocketed to between 35 – 40 per cent of American workers in the middle 1930's. This was an unprecedented level of people out of work in America's history; a peak never reached before or since.
In 1936, Dad was able to get a job at the Coshocton plant in East Monongahela where gear boxes and accessories for industrial heaters were manufactured. He started working as an apprentice machinist and over the years worked his way up to foreman of the gear box department. He had a very good mind and friends have told me that he had an almost total recall of hundreds of blueprints despite his lack of formal training.
Over the years, they would occasionally send him out as a trouble-shooter when customers had problems with their units. He often talked of the time they sent him by train all the way to Chicago on an emergency job for a major customer. Later the Coshocton plant was taken over by Combustion Engineering Corporation and Dad worked there through World War II, which was a busy time for all companies, and he retired from there in the late 1950's.
He was a proud charter member of the American Legion post in Monongahela and was honored with a certificate from theWhite House during the Reagan years celebrating his 65 years as a member. I know he was very concerned, but also very proud, when all three of his sons volunteered and served in the Armed Forces in WW II.
I inherited a large, oval picture of him in his army uniform, which I have hanging in my computer room. It's in the old style back when folks weren't so reluctant to show their patriotism. He is posed sitting, with a background of crossed American flags, battleships firing their guns and airplanes on the sides, and a Revolutionary-type marching band at the bottom. To this day, sometimes when I look at it, I snap off a salute to him.
My Dad never owned a car or learned to drive. He always lived close enough to walk from his hilltop home to downtown for any needs. Practically every weekday evening after coming home from work, cleaning up and eating, he would take a stroll down the hill to town. From May 1st until September 1st, he would wear one of his fashionable straw hats, never sooner and never later. He liked to socialize with friends at either the American Legion or the Eagles Club, have a beer or two, and walk back up the hill home.
All of my Dad's brothers were noted for "lifting the cup" at the drop of a hat. I can remember when wakes moved out of houses into funeral homes. After sitting around there for a while, and especially when the deceased was an older man , they would find a time to go the a local bar around the corner on Second Street to raise a toast or two in his name.
I remember being at the wake for my Aunt Nora, my mother's sister-in-law, when I was talking to old "Uncle" Burt. He became teary-eyed and said, "Why are the young ones always taken first?" At that time he was 92 and Aunt Nora was 89!
Despite the many tough times he and Mom went through, Dad was always an optimist believing that things would get better, and they did in their later years. When I would visit my folks in their retirement years, I would usually greet him with, "How are you doing?" Invariable, he would answer, "Sixty fifty." The first time I was alarmed that perhaps something wasn't right with him, and pursued it with, "Aren't you doing OK?" He smiled and answered," 60-50 - add them up, and you get 110. I'm doing 110 per cent! Afterwards it became the little word game we played at each visit.
Dad loved to sing in his alto-tenor voice, especially harmony, and would continue that trait all his life. Over the years he had memorized many long poems/ballads like "Casey at the Bat," "The Face on the Barroom Floor," and The Cremation of Sam McGee." He had a sharp mind, and even in his late 80's could still recite them faultlessly. He also loved to play cards, especially fast-moving games like "Canasta." He and I used to play often on our front porch during the summer.
Dad was a sandlot baseball player in his youth and maintained his love of the game throughout his life. He was a diehard Pittsburgh Pirate fan through thick and thin, and loved to sit on our front porch in the summer evenings and follow the broadcasts on his portable radio. This was in the time of Pirate announcers Rosey Rosewell and then Bob Prince.
He was an avid newspaper reader and kept abreast of the world news all of his life. He especially enjoyed the Readers Digest and the American Legion magazines. He would start at the beginning of the Readers Digest and read every article in order, putting a little pencil checkmark on the first page of the ones he had finished.
When he was in his middle 80s, a new bridge was constructed across the Monongahela River to replace the old one built in the early 1900s. During the construction period, he followed the work closely every day. During warm weather, he sat on his porch which had a birds-eye view of the work, and in cooler weather, he watched it daily from his living room window. During the preliminary opening day, Margeet and I walked with BJ and Chris out to the middle of bridge. BJ later took this picture.
Because of his machinist background where he worked with tolerences within several thousandths of an inch, Dad believed that every job should be done to the best of one's ability. I can still remember as a young teenager when my brother Lou and I were doing some roof-tar patching around the chimney flashing. We were anxious to finish so we could go play baseball. I called down to my Dad, "Does that look good enough?" Dad took time to give us a little lecture about workmanship. "There is no such thing as good enough. It's either right or wrong!" It's advice we both long remembered.
He grew older graciously, always had a cheerful nature, and was blessed with mostly good health throughout his years, and the Lord called him home at 92, well beyond his Biblical allotment of three score and ten.