On The Silly Side by Jimmy Del Ponte
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My mother, Gerry, rest her soul, (rest most of the souls in this story) was always afraid that the three of us kids would show a lack of perseverance and drive and settle for less in life. Although she was born and raised here in Somerville, she didn’t want her kids to end up spending their whole lives here as she did. She wanted us to spread our wings and explore what the world had to offer. She had dreams of being a successful poet or singer when she was young. She wanted her kids to strive for the fulfilled dreams she never had. My mother was a great mom who loved her kids more than anything else and she wanted us to shoot for the stars.
My dad was born in the house that is across from the plaque at Del Ponte Square near the former Western Junior High School. He was an outspoken character who was well loved in the city he loved. He just wanted us to “keep our mouths shut, and mind your own business!” He would have done anything for his kids, his brothers and sisters and his friends, and often he did. He was the unofficial mayor of Davis Square. He bought the family home in 1961, worked his whole life at three jobs, and retired after 38 years at W. R. Grace.
Mom has to be proud that we all had the pioneer instinct that she so wanted for us. I believe that growing up in a special and unique city like Somerville gave us the confidence we needed to pursue our dreams in earnest. It wasn’t easy being a teenager back in the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s. A lot of us didn’t survive, and those of us that did are stronger for it. Our parents passed on the Somerville spirit which is a special blend of cockiness and perseverance.
My brother Joe graduated from Harvard at the top of his class, and even when he knew was he terminally ill, received his master’s degree from Columbia. He was born in 1956, and was three years younger than me. He lived in New York and France and was an intern on national news broadcasts before he fell ill. He was on his way to becoming what I believe would have been a very successful broadcast journalist. You can Google my brother, and see some of the spectacular things he accomplished in his all too short life.
My sister Christine, who was one year older than me, could have been the mayor of Somerville. She was friends with everyone and traveled with a colorful group of Somerville friends. Many of them were friends since the early grades of St. Clement School. She had a smile that could light up a room and a personality that anyone who ever knew her still misses. She had a little girl (see an earlier article called Nikki’s story) who she gave nine very difficult years to before leaving this world. But she instilled the Somerville spirit into this girl who is now an extremely strong and happy young woman. Christine was a true Somerville kid.
And then there’s me. I was very lucky to have been on Boston radio for 23 years. I met and worked with hundreds of stars and had many exciting experiences. I got to travel a lot for my job, which was also fun. Another Somerville kid, Rich (Rocky) Buono, was very helpful in getting me on the radio. My Somerville spirit kept me going through a lot of very tough times. I feel very lucky to still be here considering some of the pitfalls and roadblocks I faced. I attribute my survival to that Somerville spirit that my folks passed on. It’s the never say die attitude that us true ‘Villens possess. It was drilled into us by our parents who grew up in Somerville before those little “Villen” stickers appeared everyplace.
This Christmas I finally did something I had planned on doing for the past five years. I put together scrapbooks for my three kids. I had been saving all the special school papers, photos, talent show programs, newspaper articles in large envelopes with each kid’s name on it. Man, was that a trip down memory lane, glue-sticking those tidbits of life onto those pages. There were photos of my parents, my brother and sister and, of course, the three kids, and granddaughter. There are a lot of photos on those pages of people no longer with us but their memories are still extremely strong. I got to really experience the Somerville spirit as I assembled those scrapbooks. I basically relived my loved one’s lives though small pieces of paper. It was pretty emotional.
The family was started by two Somerville kids back in 1951 when they were married at St. Anthony’s Church on Somerville Ave. Even though some of the lives were way too short, my mother has to be proud that we all did our best, and that there is still a lot of happiness to be had by the family she and dad started so long ago. It’s been a bittersweet ride at times but I’m glad to report that things have never been better for the Del Ponte family! Long live the Somerville spirit!
I put those scrapbooks together for the kids for Christmas, but I was the one who got the best gift of all.