Happy 99th, Pop!

My father, Lawrence J. Sconzo, M.D., died in 1996 after having lead a full and remarkable life. Today he would be 99 years old! He played a major role in shaping the best parts of who I am. I love and miss him dearly.

He was born in Brooklyn, N.Y. the third of fourteen children of Italian-American immigrant parents and was the first of his family to go to college. He chose the University of Alabama because they won the Rose Bowl the year before. He had a great experience there in the 1930’s despite having been an Italian Catholic from New York. A fellow student at the University while he attended was Paul “Bear” Bryant, who went on to become arguably the greatest college football coach ever. Several brothers followed him to Alabama and also into the professional health care arena.

After graduating from Alabama, he returned to NYC to attend Medical school at Flower Fifth Avenue Hospital, which later became New York Medical College. He met my mother, graduated from Medical school, started practice  and then the War came. He had done ROTC in college and enlisted as an officer in the Medical Corps not long after Pearl Harbor and the birth of my eldest brother, Frank (named after our grandfather, of course). He spent a considerable time training in the States before heading over to England with the 3rd Armored Division of the United States First Army. Assigned to the 23rd Armored Engineers Battalion as their Medical Officer,  he took part in the Normandy Invasion about two weeks after D-Day and continued to serve in Europe through such horrific times as The Battle of the Bulge, the Spearhead into Germany and the liberation of concentration camps including Nordhausen.

He returned home after the war to continue raising his burgeoning family. My second eldest brother, Lawrence Jr. was born in 1943 before my father went overseas. The other siblings started arriving upon his return after he and my mother bought the house we all grew up in in Park Slope. He established a practice as a General Practitioner with a special interest in Obstetrics, which continued until I, the youngest in the family, graduated college.

Both he and my mother enjoyed good food and instilled that in all of their children. While my mother did the bulk of the cooking in our home, my father did all of the grocery shopping. His office was in our home and by the time I came along (if I was born on my due date, I was conceived on his 46th birthday!), his practice was well established enough to take me with him sometimes when he did house-calls and when he went food shopping. I always particularly enjoyed going to the fish mongers to buy fresh, live blue crabs. Many of his patients worked in the food business and many would bring their products when they came to visit the office. My favorite times were when the owners of Lenny’s Pizza on Fifth Avenue in Brooklyn would come and bring wonderful piping hot pizzas and calzones. They remain for me the benchmark of New York pizza.

My father was a great baseball fan, having grown up idolizing the Brooklyn Dodgers. Like most Brooklynites, he was devastated when they left for Los Angeles. A life-long National League fan, he couldn’t turn to the Yankees, so he became a fan of the fledgling NY Mets, an interest that all too soon consumed me as well.

My parents also liked to travel and visited such places as Italy, Japan, Hong Kong, Russia (in the late ’60’s), Mexico, Spain, Morocco and Australia. Occasionally, though not on these trips, they even brought me with them to places like Hawaii, the Caribbean and across the United States, stoking that interest in me too.

In their later years, they moved to Florida, ultimately selling their Brooklyn home in the early 1990’s after my mother passed away on Thanksgiving Day, 1992. My father held out for a few more years in Florida. In 1995, he and I finally did a father-son trip together, taking part in a Caribbean Cruise. The cruise itself was fine, but the destination ultimately didn’t matter. It would have been a wonderful experience wherever we were, just being together. The following spring he had a major health setback and we ultimately had an air ambulance bring him up to the hospital where I work. Despite a rocky course, he managed to improve and was released to our care. My wife was a saint taking care of him as she had done with my mother for a time before she passed away. Unfortunately, though, his condition deteriorated and he passed away at the age of 84 on November 19th, 1996.

Life continues to go on without one’s parents, though it is never quite the same. How many times would I have loved to share my experiences with them either directly or verbally and to have received their input, counsel and love? Nevertheless, both are always in my heart and are part of me, something I will always be appreciative of.

Happy 99th, Pop! We will always celebrate you!

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