I’ll talk today a bit about his biography, but not too much—he had a difficult childhood to say the least. The son of Sicilian immigrants, living in a small town in Connecticut in the 1920’s. His mother died of tuberculosis when he was seven, during the Great Depression, and he then spent many months separated from his family in a sanatorium for having tested positive for TB himself.
As if that weren’t enough of a challenge, as he comes of age in his late teen years, World War II breaks out. When I was a kid, dad’s war experience became a mythology that surrounded him. But when I grew older, and learned through his writings and recollections what he actually experienced, the mythology was replaced by sheer respect and admiration. He witnessed some horrifying things in the fog of war. As a boy of twenty years old, Staff Sargent Frederick Siino would win the Bronze Star for meritorious service—at that time he was the youngest squad leader in the 23rd Armored Infantry Battalion of the 7th Armored Division—leading his squad, risking his life and by the accounts of the day saving the lives of the entire force. Dad, ever the man of modesty, would never brag about this, in fact much later in life he wrote a piece for a local collection of WWII stories, calling into question the claim that his actions were heroic or meritorious. Whatever the case, fact is Dad’s actions made a difference for many—and for that, we all are proud.
After the war, onto his career in the health field: we all knew him and his accomplishments, the details of which can be found in his 5-page CV, spanning an impressive career. About that, I can only say I’m thankful for having the opportunity to be reminded of all he did while raising his family. Many of us are defined by our careers, but for Dad, despite the years of good service, it was all about family. Of all the things I’ll remember and take from his good example, it’s that family comes first. So the career accomplishments, though impressive and greatly satisfying, never outweighed the importance of family.
Speaking of which, none of us could ever doubt our father’s love for us, which is quite a triumph given he had six kids under the age of 10 by the time he was 40. I’m forever in awe of that fact. How he was able to spread the love around as he did is truly amazing. Sure, as kids we objected to certain decisions or disciplinary actions, but it’s easy to see now—especially since I became a father myself, he had our best interests at heart, making decisions that sometimes didn’t make sense until years later. He showed us this love in small ways our whole lives: by setting an example, being a provider, mentor and coach, comforting us while we were sick, actively helping us with our school work, and even sitting on the sidelines as a cheerleader while we played sports. And, all of this mind you, while setting the greatest example of all: which is the way he loved our mother—completely, unconditionally, without reservation. How do I know this? Easy, I just watched them. And, speaking for myself, as a boy nothing was more comforting or reassuring than to see my parents happy together—which seemed to be always. For that, I thank you both, mom and dad.
My dad was very smart. I mention this because he was our go-to person for pretty much everything. I’m reminded of that old TV commercial where kids are asking their dad “why is grass green?” That’s how it was with us—ask dad, he knows everything. Want to know about the weather? Call dad. And we did—not just as kids—well into our adulthood. Truth is, even if we didn’t ask him, he’d offer up his opinions. I find myself to this day hearing the inner voice of Fred when I load a dishwasher. I mutter to myself—just like he did—why can’t people put this plate like this and that glass like that? Where did the art of dishwasher loading get lost? I drive myself crazy—and my wife too, by the way—with the notion of order and discipline. And I have no one to thank more than my dad. There’s something very comforting in that.
He passed down much to his kids, not just the “know-it-all” traits many of you who are here today are accustomed to when dealing with Fred’s children. Admit it, many of you have seen it. We know everything. Just remember, we can’t help it—we had a good teacher.
But seriously, speaking for all of Fred’s children, there are things he loved that some or all of us are drawn to: his love of gardening, birds, baseball, history, baking (which includes his famous anise cookies—most of the kids make a version of them now), painting, wood-carving, writing and music. Back to gardening: it seemed to serve as a special place for dad after his retirement. He’d spend hours and days in the garden at 9 Hilltop, growing vegetables and flowers, proudly and fastidiously tending to every plant getting everything just right.
Dad lived his life with deep convictions; he was a God fearing man, a devout Catholic, as evidenced by his many years in support of his parishes first as an altar boy, then later in life as a Eucharistic minister and a commentator. Speaking of which, my dad never knew this, but when I was a kid sitting at mass and observing him reading the scriptures in front of the congregation, I’d always evaluate his performance compared with the other men and women who read. And, not surprisingly, in my mind, the others paled in comparison.
So, here we are, having to let go of someone who we’ve known for so long. Who we’ve counted on to be the true Patriarch of this huge family, providing the de facto glue that has kept us all together. But his passing doesn’t mean we flounder at sea without a rudder. His strength remains in all of us—we just have to figure out how to carry forward with the lessons he provided.
And I’ll leave you now with this final thought.
When my wife Jessica and I thought about how to explain to our two-year old twins about Grandpa dying, we figured we’d just hit it head on and see what happens. So, we said to Bennett and Maya that Grandpa died. Maya immediately said, “Does that mean we’ll bury him in the garden with the fishes?” (As an aside, our goldfish died a while back, and we buried it in the garden.) Anyway, this question brought to mind a couple of very unrelated things: first, for movie buffs like me, the inevitable reference to Luca Brazzi from the movie The Godfather, a film that dad didn’t love quite as much as I do because of the stereotyping of the Sicilians. You know, he was never ever about that.
But, and here’s the real point, the second thing it brought to mind is the idea of dad spending eternity in a garden, which I think he would have liked very much. So, dad, here’s my wish for you—in your soul’s journey to what’s next, I hope you find the garden you so rightly deserve. And thank you, from all of us here who miss you now, and forever.
~ Written and Delivered by Rod Siino
FREDERICK A. SIINO, 88, of Bristol passed away January 13, 2013 at Rhode Island Hospital in Providence. He was the retired Associate Director of the Rhode Island Health Department and proudly served in the US Army during World War II. There, as a twenty year old Staff Sargent, he fought bravely for his country in the Battle of the Bulge, where he was honored with the Bronze Star for meritorious service. He also received the Purple Heart for being wounded in action. He attained a Bachelor of Arts degree at the University of Connecticut, and a Masters in Public Health from the University of Massachusetts program in Food Technology. During his distinguished career, he was the recipient of numerous awards, including the Harvey W. Wiley Award, for which he was nationally recognized by the Association of Food and Drug Officials. He was an acknowledged expert in his field, serving as a consultant and on many occasions the public voice for the Rhode Island Health Department. He also served on the Board of Directors for both the Association of Food and Drug Officials (National) and the New England Food and Drug Officials Association. His work appeared in many professional publications and journals. He was the devoted husband of Maureen C. (Egan) Siino. Born in Meriden, CT, he was the son of the late Francesco Siino and Giuseppa (Zanghi) Siino, and the brother of Connie (Siino) Bianconi , Marie (Siino) Cessario, and the late Anna (Siino) Przywara. Besides his wife, he is survived by his six caring children: Katherine M. Siino of Wethersfield, CT, Michael F. Siino and his wife Carole J. (Doyle) Siino of Bristol, Frederick J. Siino of Providence, Gerard A. Siino and his wife Jessica E. Roseman of Dover, MA, Maria T. (Siino) Wadlinger and her husband Joseph J. Wadlinger of Medway, MA, and Anne E. (Siino) Carvalho and her husband Antonio Carvalho of Venice, FL. He is also survived by his seventeen loving grandchildren and one great grand child. Calling hours WEDNESDAY January 15, 2013 4:00 to 8:00 PM at the Wilbur-Romano Funeral Home at 615 Main Street
http://www.dignitymemorial.com/wilbur-romano-funeral-home/en-us/index.page). Funeral Service on THURSDAY January 16, 2013 at 10:00 AM at Our Lady of Mount Carmel, 141 State Street in Bristol. Burial will follow at Gate of Heaven Cemetery, 550 Wampanoag Trail in East Providence. In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made to Bristol Rescue Squad, PO Box 775, Bristol, RI 02809 or Visiting Nurses Services of Newport & Bristol Counties, 1184 E. Main Road, Portsmouth, RI 02871 .