Vito Lucchesi was engaging, hot tempered, generous, gregarious and very very Italian. I first met Vito around four years ago. He had called me after receiving one of my marketing pieces.
"Come in, come in" he said as I knocked on the door. "You can sell my house!"
He told me how his wife had passed away and he wanted to return to Italy "to die." This sort of frankness I wasn't ready for... and I countered, "No Vito I won't sell your house if you are going somewhere to die, I would only sell it if you are going somewhere to live."
His home was sparsely decorated, save for a few pictures of his old town of Tassignano in Lucca, his parents, some soccer photos from his days as a goalie, and one of his wife along with her obituary. The smell of cigarette smoke clung to everything like molasses. His housekeeping left something to be desired. The television was almost always on, blaring a soccer game in Italian. Occasionally he would have on Jerry Springer and he would comment about the quality of the people who were guests. I found out that he used to own a North Beach restaurant called the Montclair. He was also a bartender at the North Beach Restaurant and still maintained his friendship with several restaurant owners, both in Marin and SF.
He loved to garden and grew vegetables and fruit on his property on Northern in Mill Valley. There was an abandoned aviary in the rear of the property where he kept birds in the old days, back when he and his dog would go hunting. Every time I would come to visit him he would give me some chard, or lemons or pears, or panetonne (Christmas Bread - sometimes as late as July). I would bring him muffins. One time I thought I would bring him paneforte, he smiled at me and looked rather pleased with himself. The next day I came and saw it in the trash. I asked him why "I don't like it, it's too tough." But he would not find a burger at Marin Joes too tough, and would regularly join his friend and attorney Tom Uniack and Osvaldo for a "boys lunch out".
As time when on I discovered I was not the only Realtor who he invited to sell his house. When I saw the marketing plan of one of them on his coffee table I asked him if he wanted to work with them and told him that would be fine with me. "No you are my Realtor" he would say. I don't know why they gave me this. " So around then is when Vito introduced me to his attorney Tom Uniack. Tom suggested it would be good for everyone to sign a listing agreement. I told Tom, until Vito had a place to go I had no intention of selling or marketing his house. I knew he wanted to go to Italy and I envisioned him retiring in an adult living situation near Lucca. Every time I would see him he would say " I want to go to Lucca to die." We kept on with this relationship for around a year, as Vito slowly began his decline.
Vito would forget things, like the pot on the stove, or how to make coffee (no grounds do not go into the water reservoir). He fell one day and called me from the floor. He didn't say he had fallen just that he wanted to see me. I got a call later in the day saying he was in the hospital. But Vito, Vito was as stubborn as they come. I had bought him an Italian magazine about Soccer and an Italian newspaper to bring with me for my visit to the hospital. When I came in the room he had the most guilty look I have ever seen in an adult. His cousin was standing there, who looked a little awkward. I said "is this a bad time?" to which Vito quickly said, "come back later tonight." Later in the day his attorney called to say he had checked himself out of the hospital.
The next day I received another call from Vito. He sounded hurt and I ran over to the house. He kept saying "just a minute, just a minute" behind the door. When the door finally opened, he was lying on the floor in obvious pain. His friend Osvaldo and Tom came shortly after. I told them we needed to get 24 hour care if he was to stay home. Vito said "Oh I don't want that!" I swayed him by telling him it would be a nice young lady who would take care of him. "Ok ," he agreed.
Later that day the caregiver came in. She was a black woman about 6 ft tall. I don't think this is who Vito thought would be coming. For the next several weeks they kept up a challenging relationship until finally, she was let go. I tried to keep up my regular visits, bringing his Milano cookies and even attempted to make him his 13 tortellini one night, which he felt I hadn't cooked nearly enough.
One day, there was a fire at Vito's house. He ran outside after opening all the doors and windows in a panic. The house was so burned it was uninhabitable. Osvaldo and Tom set in motion a plan to find somewhere for Vito to stay. All along, Vito wanted to go to Italy.
Vito bounced between care facilities as his decline quicken. His house was sold. He was not going to go to Lucca. I stopped my visits after one in which he couldn't really speak to me, and didn't know who I was. But I have thought about Vito often, as I have been this week. I was saying to Glenn just a couple of days ago, "I need to call Tom to see how Vito is doing, but I am afraid to ask."
This morning I read Vito's obituary in the paper.
Vito Lucchesi April 7, 1924 - July 17, 2009 Vito was born in Tassignano (Lucca) Italy. He was a resident of Mill Valley, CA for the last 50 years. Vito was the owner of the Montclair Restaurant in North Beach, San Francisco for many years and a bartender at the North Beach Restaurant in S.F. and La Toscana in San Rafael. Vito enjoyed hunting, gardening and soccer, especially cheering for his favorite team "Juve." Vito was on the 1950-1952 soccer team of the S.F. Italian American Club, winner of the State Cup (1950-51) and the California State Cup (1951-1952). Vito was predeceased in death by his wife, Sigrun; parents, brother and sister. Vito is survived by his two stepdaughters, cousins, nephew and niece and many good friends who will miss him dearly. Special thanks to Osvaldo Dell-Angelica, his long-time friend and caregiver. In lieu of flowers, please donate to a charity of your choice, spiritual bouquets or Masses...Private inurnment will be held in Italy.
In my mind I will picture him as he was seen in the photo he had from his soccer days - flying horizontally over the ground 6 feet up blocking a goal. I will see him as a little kid in the house next to the church in Tassignano causing some sort of mischief. I will see the joy in his face when he opened the door. I will continue to miss Vito and wish I could have taken him to Lucca one more time. But really, his heart and soul never really left in the first place.