Frankie V. was a bad dude. He was a caporegime, a captain in the most powerful crime family of the North Bronx. As a “made man,” an honor bestowed upon a mafioso of full Sicilian descent, he had a promising career in la famiglia. Frankie could snap his fingers and 10 gangsters would jump!
I’ve known a lot of tough guys in my life but nobody was meaner than Frankie V. Regardless, everyone has a weakness, the one thing that will bring you down to your knees. For some people it’s love, others money. For Frankie it was empathy. He had a soft spot in his heart. During Christmas, Frankie would distribute liquor to the men in the neighborhood, radios and toys to the kids and frozen turkeys to the mothers. Frankie hijacked trucks loaded with food and household goods en route to the city from La Guardia Airport. He was a modern-day Robin Hood.
Christmas is about gifts; it always has been. It’s difficult to embrace the deeper meaning of the season and the association of gifts with that meaning. Meaning is found in the story of the first Christmas and the first gifts that abound from that occurrence. The Christmas story itself is a gift. Look what it gave us!
A Jewish teenager, Mary gave the first Christmas gift. Her Christmas present was the willingness to bring heaven down to Earth. She gave the world unconditional love.
Mary’s fiancé, Joseph, gave faith. He believed there was a divine plan to their predicament. It was faith that gave us this story.
The child brought forgiveness and salvation. The angels gave reassurance. “Fear not for behold we bring you tidings of great joy,” they proclaimed.
The shepherd boy gave his favorite lamb to the baby. The innkeeper’s wife gave a place for the homeless family to stay and a blanket to wrap the new mother and her baby. The drummer boy gave a melody that would dwell in our hearts.
The kings gave wonder, acceptance and courage. They offered wonder by surrendering logic, and common sense. Accepting the impossible, they suspended skepticism long enough to double-cross the insane King Herod, who frantically searched for the child who would change the world. With courage, the Wise Men helped the young family escape to a haven in Egypt.
Let me get back to my story about Frankie V. I left for college in ’65 and the Corps in ’69. During those years, Frankie would send envelopes with a 100 bucks and a paper signed “Frankie.” He became consigliore, the adviser to the Mob. Years later, while visiting my parents at Christmas, I was hanging out with the Bronx Boys in front of Puglia’s Deli. I saw a Cadillac cruising the streets, making periodic stops along the avenue. A man would exit the car and place packages on the doorsteps. I was curious, so I walked over. It was Frankie V.
Yeah! Christmas is about gifts; gifts that transform the mundane into the miraculous, gifts that nurture the souls of both the giver and receiver. They are gifts of spirit, and are part of the drama of the first Christmas story. A story about a frightened teenage girl, her bewildered sweetheart, the child, the angels, the shepherd boy, the inn-keeper’s wife, the drummer boy, the Magi, and the screaming King Herod all pitted together on that one magical night.
On Dec. 19, 1977, Frankie V was spreading the magic of Christmas in the Bronx the only way he knew how. I peeked into the car.
“Hey Frankie, Merry Christmas,” I said.
“Joey Boy, whereya been?”
He took out a wad of bills, ripped off some hundreds and placed them in my hand. “Merry Christmas, Joey!”