They’re Closer Than We Think

Life is strange with so many things seeming backwards. When we are young we have the energy to really enjoy life but instead have to spend most of our time working; when we get old enough to retire we now have money and time but the energy disappeared somewhere along the line. Raising kids also seems backwards. In the case of Diamond Dot and myself we were barely more than kids ourselves by the time we had three of our own. With no experience, very little wisdom, and certainly no expendable income we set about raising those three kids. We did our best and they all turned out fine, for which we feel very blessed, however there are many things that just didn’t get accomplished.

Thankfully, most of us get a second chance. We practice on our own kids, and then by the time the grandkids arrive we may actually know something. I have certainly worked harder with my eight grandkids than I ever did with my own kids probably because I had not only experience but also more time available. It seemed like the early years were mostly taken up with going to school and working, usually more than one job. By the time the grandkids arrived I was smarter, or at least wiser, and my life was certainly less hectic. I could concentrate on things like teaching all the grandkids to shoot and more importantly to think. I was able to do this with my own kids but on a much smaller scale. With three kids it was tough to find time; with eight grandkids time was not at such a premium.


Teaching them to shoot, and especially safe handling of firearms, was extremely important. However, thinking was even more important. So how do you teach someone to think? I’m certainly no expert, however I reasoned with myself that although I could not teach them to think I could place them in a position where they had to think.
I especially worked hard with the three grandsons on this. It’s a simple process. I would tell them to do something but not tell them how to do it. Almost immediately they would say but how, and then they would catch themselves and try to figure it out. At least nine times out of 10 they were successful.

One of our early sessions saw us using the grocery store as a teaching tool. I did the same thing with my own kids long before they could even read. Whether kids or grandkids we would go to a large grocery store and I would tell them what they needed to find without telling them where it was. Even though they could not read they learned pretty quickly where different things were in the store and to recognize them by their labels. It was not unusual for us to be in a quiet grocery store and from several aisles over I would hear a grandson yell out: “Hey Papa! I found the peanut butter.” Success had been achieved.

So where is all this leading? My two youngest grandkids are entering college this year. The granddaughter lives in Washington State, however the grandson lives here locally and he is the one I was concerned about. I really didn’t have anything specific to be concerned about; it was just the thought of him going off to school on his own. When my daughter and her husband and the three grandkids moved from New York in 1995, they spent the first year living with us.

Brian was 2 years old at the time so I had plenty of work to do. We still talk about the frog in his bed. One night he would not go to bed because he said a frog was in the bed. I had two choices, force him to go to bed or do something so he would not be afraid. I grabbed a shoebox, the flashlight, and the two of us snuck into the bedroom. I shined a flashlight under the covers, hollered I’ve got it, put a stone in the box, shook the box like something was jumping inside, and the two of us took that “frog” outside and dumped it in the dumpster. Everything was now OK and Brian was asleep in a few minutes. He was in junior high before I ever told him the true story of the frog and we still laugh about it. Perhaps someday he will use something like this with his own son.

I spent many years, time very well spent, going to his T-ball, basketball, football, baseball and rugby games. The latter has to be one of the toughest games played. I’ve never understood the rules, but I was amazed at the boys’ determination and toughness playing the game. Brian graduated from high school this past spring. My plan was for him to go to school locally at Boise State, which as schools go is an excellent school, or at least for the first year while doing a little more growing up. He could live on campus and yet still be close to home. That first year away can be extremely hard on a kid. He had other plans. He had picked a school in New York and now I was really concerned.

The Struggle

My son-in-law is originally from there and Brian went back for the summer to work with the son and nephew of one of my son-in-law’s friends. All of them are 18 and going to college this fall. Brian, Tom and Nick rented a house at Martha’s Vineyard, spent just under two months working at landscaping, and Brian was able to bank $3,500 for school. One particularly hot day, found them deciding to go down to the beach and relax after work. They had just about decided to leave and then one of them said let’s toss the Frisbee a little more. As they were doing this they looked out in the water and thought they saw something way out. What they saw was two young men struggling for their lives.

Now here is where the ability it to think really enters. They did not get all excited and jump in the water. Instead, they ran 100 yards back and grabbed a rescue surfboard. With two of them, Brian and Tom, paddling on the front and Nick kicking on the back they headed out to the two men who were treading water. When they reached them the one fellow said, “Thank you for coming to get us.” One of the boys said, “Don’t thank us yet—look how far out here we are.” They were 500 yards from shore. However, they got the two men on the board and headed back. Simply put those three young men saved two fellows from drowning.


The two fellows had been walking on a sand bar. Suddenly the sandbar disappeared and they literally dropped off the face of the earth. Martha’s Vineyard is known for riptides and when the two lost the security of their sandbar the riptide caught them and they could not get back. Fortunately for both of them, Tom had spent many summers at Martha’s Vineyard and knew what the conditions were like. “I have been swimming at this beach for my whole life. We’ve been caught in these currents before and gotten out because we knew what we were doing.”

When the five men arrived back on shore one of the witnesses said, “They were just totally exhausted—all five of them. The three teens didn’t have much to say. They didn’t look for glory or anything. I just thought that was remarkable. I think it’s great to know there are young people out there who have these qualities. It’s refreshing.”

My son-in-law, who is Italian, is always kidded by me simply because everybody in his family and all his friends have last names ending in vowels. These three boys, my grandson Brian Panzella, Tom Angelilli and Nick Gallo represent the best qualities in teenage young men. They are true heroes and will remember this the rest of their lives. Can there be any better feeling than saving the life of someone else? And now, sadly, for the rest of the story. One week later another man drowned under the same conditions. They now have a sign up on the beach warning people and the rescue boards are much closer to shore.

My grandson is still going to school in New York this fall and is home for a couple weeks. He seems a lot more grown up, he dropped about 10 pounds while working, his body is tough as nails, and I’m not so much concerned about him anymore. He’ll be OK.

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