No 566



Ain't it funny É how time slips away? Back in 1962, I was down in Fort Polk, La., having been called up as "filler" personnel from my National Guard Unit during the Berlin Wall crisis. One day when I was out on the artillery firing range, I received an emergency telephone call from my mother to let me know that my Aunt Melba Paladino, her husband Andy and their eight children had all perished in a fire. This tragedy made the national news and I learned later that the funeral service was covered live by statewide television. By the time word came and the distance involved, I was not able to make it back to attend the service.
My Aunt Melba, my mother's sister, was a beautiful young lady and, shortly after graduating from North Little Rock High School, she married Andy Paladino, a member of a large, prominent Catholic family who lived near Center Ridge, Ark. When I was just a young lad, I used to go up to their farm in the summers and help (I use the word lightly) haul hay and do other chores around the farm. My Uncle Andy was a tremendous young man, hard worker, a model husband and father and one year they were named the "Conway County Farm Family of the Year." Needless to say, this tragedy was a great loss to the whole community.
Well, as I said, time has a way of slipping away and I had never been back to this community in all these years, not even to visit the gravesite. This all changed a few months ago because of a chance meeting with a lady here in Conway by the name of Lori Paladino Ross. Lori is in top management with the Conway Regional Medical Center and she is also the daughter of Joe Paladino, brother of my late uncle Andy. When Lori spoke to our Lions Club recently she told me in a few weeks they would be having the annual spaghetti dinner at Catholic Point, where the church and the former school are located
At this point, Viola and I decided to go and we invited Bill and Elizabeth Humphrey to go with us. Bill is Melba's brother and knew the location of the cemetery, where Melba and Andy lived before moving to the old home place, and where the fire happened. When we pulled up to the old school cafeteria across the street from the church, we could not believe the large number of cars. We learned later that this annual spaghetti supper takes place the third Saturday in June, starting at 2 p.m., and they feed more than 2,500 people.
You talk about a meal! It was "family" style, large bowls of spaghetti, sauerkraut, corn, Italian sausage (the real thing), homemade bread and desserts. As they say, if you didn't get enough to eat, it was your own fault. I did. What Lori told me in a later e-mail was very touching. She said, "I'm very proud of that heritage. Now that I'm older and live in another community, I can truly appreciate the effort it takes to put on that event. That parish has only about 50 families and look at what they can do."
I've been in groups before where people grumbled about bringing one cake to a fund-raiser. If they only knew how this little community pulls together to create such a wonderful, incredible meal and make money to keep that church going. They have been doing it long before our uncle and aunt were a part of that tradition. It's pretty amazing. While it's still pretty emotional for me, I want you to know that I came away that day with much more than a full stomach.
I saw a small community where people have real values, like hard work, cooperation and a genuine concern and love for each other. These are the kinds of values that have built and sustained America over the years. While the odds are good that you don't know any of these people, regardless of where you may be across this great country of ours, I hope you will think about the value of your family and what they mean to you.
(EDITOR'S NOTE: Jim Davidson is a motivational speaker and syndicated columnist. You may contact him at 2 Bentley Drive, Conway, Ark. 72034. To support literacy, buy his book, "Learning, Earning & Giving Back.")