Pete Chiola died on November 9th. If you were lucky, you knew him. If you weren’t lucky, let me make you a little more lucky.
Depending on the nature of a divorce and the circumstances afterwards, and the age of any children and a whole bunch of factors, the addition of new strangers into your family can be taken any number of ways. In my case, I took the policy that if a guy put up with some woman’s kids, spent a lot of time with her, and did so for years on end, then stepfather he was. And in that realm, Pete was a stepfather to me.
For over a decade he was a part of my life, from my barely-double-digit years through to when I went off to college. This was post the shock of divorce and in that wasteland that filled my days with discomfit and awkwardness. Years before I’d found solace and joy in computers and still do. With a father in the technical field and a mother in the artistic one, I was a strange blend of poetry and programming. Running around and sports was not my preference, and I was more likely to shut myself up in a self-constructed kingdom of recovered TVs and Atari hardware in the rooms I shared with my brother.
While I don’t recall being particularly awful to Pete when he started showing up, I’m probably just kidding myself. I’m a bristly person, and I am sure that lacking any real say or choice in 1981, I was just as strange and withdrawn as anything else.
Date the mom, know the kids. Anything else leads to a lot of big trouble and a lot of unpleasantness. Pete did his best with the three rambunctious children that were part of the package, and which were an additional three on top of the kids he’d had with his own failed marriage.
What I remember most about Pete was his voice and his swagger. He was older than my dad, and his skills were in building and working with his hands. I’d been told by my mom that he’d lost some of his hearing over the years, and that explained his volume. His volume was loud. “Jeezus Christ, kid!” was the prefix to a whole host of inquisitive questions, like why I was inside all the time or what I was up to or even passing the time. Imagine puckering your lips a little and raising your head up and to the right, and then snapping it back – this was Pete’s reaction when I dropped some sort of silly whopper of a tale or made some crazy statement.
I remember a couple points in there where there was some attempt to integrate the shuffling little Jason into the rhythms of life as Pete knew them. They were all failures, but I have not forgotten them.
I recall an attempt to bring me on a worksite, to help with some basic aspects of lifting things and holding stuff up. I was not built that way, didn’t have the upper body strength and definitely didn’t have the stamina. All I had was my ability to talk constantly, and contrive more and more exquisite excuses as to why I couldn’t be doing actual physical work. Pete was not impressed. I was, however, wowed by his stamina, our getting up early in the morning, grabbing coffee, and heading down to the site in Pete’s pickup truck. That truck was a part of my life for a good long time.
Pete was country. Loved country music, and passed that to me – it might seem strange, for those who know of me and the stuff I do, but I love country as much as I do a lot of other music. Pete had favorite songs, songs by George Strait and Willie Nelson and I got to hear all of them, joyfully sung to himself or out loud while working on various stuff. At one point, my Mom and Pete made money on the side as country line dancing teachers. I remember a couple lessons teaching me the basic steps. I never got into it, but I did buy some boots for myself, and I had a pretty swell cowboy hat for a time. Yes, I am not making any of this up.
I didn’t know him as “Pistol Pete” – he was just “Pete” to me, but a hell of a lot of people knew him, hung with him, spent time out on his boat or working with him, and they were better for it.
We butted heads, sure. He’d already raised kids, and wasn’t into raising a whole other set again. I was a bizarre enigma of a kid, and my love of microcomputers was weird and strange. Again, I don’t recall any all-out fights, but I do recall raised voices. Still, I got some really sweet computer gifts from my mom under his watch, so there was some approval there, or at least a tacit sign-off to what the eldest was into.
After a while, he and my mom split up, and I didn’t see Pete much at all again. I was in college, like I said, and so I had my own trails to ride on.
I’d thought about Pete every once in a while, occasionally blasted “Okie from Muskogee” by Merle Haggard, and lived my life. His print was indelible and a part of what I am. I’m sorry we didn’t spend more time together. I’m glad for what we got.
Here’s the obituary:
Peter L. Chiola lifetime resident of Bedford Hills, NY died on November 9, 2009 He was 79 years old. Mr. Chiola worked as a machinist for Kensico Tube in Mt. Kisco. Mr. Chiola was born June 29, 1930 in Mt. Kisco, to Peter and Carmella Placona Chiola. He was educated in Bedford Hills, NY where he graduated from high school. He earned an associates degree from Westchester Community College in Valhalla, NY. Mr. Chiola served in the Air National Guard stationed in Newfoundland. Mr. Chiola will be remembered for his devotion to his family and friends, his love of country music and dancing. He was one of the first dance instructors in the tri-state area and was known to his dancing friends as “Pistol Pete”. He also had a love for boating, fishing and blackjack. He is survived by his beloved daughter Laurie of Bedford Hills. Devoted son Peter J. (Barbara) of Bedford Hills, Cherished grandchildren Taylor and Justin. Caring former wife Terry Chiola of Bedford Hills, and loving long-time companion Cathy Mastracchio of Peekskill, NY caring sister Grace Teixeira of Mt. Kisco, and many loving nieces and nephews.
Categorised as: jason his own self
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