Thanksgiving With Ike: A Jersey Tale

Norman Rockwell
"Freedom From Want"

About the author

Don Barone

Don Barone

db has been in the reporting biz for over 30 years, won some Emmys and other awards, but is proudest of his four-decade marriage, his two kids and the fact he founded Tackle The Storm Foundation to help children.

Dateline: A Norman Rockwell Holiday

First, before any story involving Thanks, I need to say something here, and I need to say it right upfront and not hold it for some sort of PS: thing. 

I need to say this to all the victims of Hurricane Sandy…on this Thanksgiving please know that at millions of tables around this country heads will be bowed, and prayers will be said for you.  You, are in our minds, our hearts, our souls.

Our prayers.

And for the First Responders, the cops, the firemen/women, the neighbors who helped in the rescues, the Red Cross workers and for every one of you who has volunteered your time, loaded up your car/boxes/trucks and drove stuff to the victims…for you, you have shown the world just what Thanksgiving is all about.

And we salute you for it.

Now comes,

a Jersey tale…

“Little darling, come with me…”

Way past,

the Meadowlands.

Way past,

the Vince Lombardi Rest Stop.

Way past Newark, the oil refineries, the Garden State Parkway, and quite possibly, even way past Jimmy Hoffa…there lies rolling hills, farm stands, country two lane roads, ponds of fresh water with swans floating around, corn fields, woodpeckers, foxes, turtles.

Turkeys that chase joggers.

Leaves of orange, red, yellow.

Two hundred year old homes…two month old homes.

Thoroughbred horses…and Mustang muscle cars.

Way past I-95, north or south there is,

New Jersey.

Between Penn Station in NYC and the State of Pennsylvania, in between the Hudson and Delaware River…way out there past the smog, the traffic nightmares and endless toll booths, way past all that you think you know of “New” Jersey…is the Jersey of Old.

The Jersey, that looks like Kansas.

The Jersey, that looks like North Carolina.

The Jersey, that looks like where you live.

The Jersey, The Boss doesn’t sing about.

The Jersey, where the Iaconellis live.

Ike’s, New Jersey.

“…and into this life we're born…”

He lives in the middle of a 10 acre cornfield, the house is sort of new, designed for a large family of infants, teenage girls, grandfather and grandmothers.

Swans swim in the lake behind the place, every door inside the house that leads to potential trouble has been childproofed, but everywhere else leads to discovery for a child.

There are toys scattered about.

Child books to be looked at, child books to be read from, crayons and big red and yellow trucks.

And photographs.

Family photos on the wall.

On shelves.

On the kitchen island.

It is a house framed, for love.

Child proofed.

Child filled.

And yet, calm.

If in fact a large bass on the end of his line gets Mike, how you say, a little bit excited, a baby in his arms on the other hand, brings this man peace.

Michael, as I call him, Iaconelli is a very good friend of mine, both on and off the Elite tour, and I understand, and Michael and I have talked about the fact he can be a polarizing figure, he gets that, I get that, but I’m asking that you don’t solely judge Michael by what you see on the boat.

Please also allow for your judgment to be based on how I know him as well, both sides of the coin that is “Ike.”

If not, and you say something negative about him to me, I’ll get pretty polarizing in your face as well.

Trust me on that one.

Just sayin’.

“…baby sometimes…” baby sometimes we don't know why, don't know…”

In the kitchen cooking the Thanksgiving turkey we have Michael’s wife, Becky along with her mother, Sandy and her father, Roy, Michaels mother, Roberta, and my wife, Barb (aka: bb).

I’m standing at the end of the kitchen island, sitting next to me is Michael’s Mother’s older brother, Uncle Don, down a couple of island stools is Michael’s 12 year old daughter, Rylie who is listening to her iPod and singing along with the song, behind us in the family room Michael’s oldest daughter, 14 year old Drew, is rocking his youngest daughter 8 week old Estella.

Michael is holding his only son, 21 month old Vegas, upside down from the youngster’s ankles.

Both father and son are giggling.

Norman Rockwell meet Freedom From Want…2012 style.

The entire house smells of turkey, family, and the foreign, to me, aroma of…vegetables.  There are lots of green things being cooked.  I watch while sneaking bites of Honey Baked Ham.

I’m also eyeing a jar of Maraschino Cherries siting on the kitchen island, unwatched, but bb is also watching me suspecting that I can only, “Be good will you…” for so long when Maraschino Cherries are left unguarded.

The dog has somehow read my mind and is sitting at my feet.  Even be they just drips, they are still drips of Maraschino treasure.

Vegas, somehow lands right-side-up and beats me to an open bag of Marshmallows.  The closer you are to an open bag of Marshmallows on the floor the better it is to have short toddler legs.

Michael circles the kitchen island, stops at Uncle Don and they start talking…I pick up a camera, aim it at them, both look at me and smile…bam…almost instant family portrait of Michael and his Uncle…except for one thing, one huge thing…that man sitting there to the right of Michael…that man, for all intent and purposes…that man has been like a father to Michael…

…since Michael’s father died when Michael was just two.

“Do you remember you father…”

“db…unfortunately not…you know I do through photographs I see of him…him and me together…but I really don’t remember him, I was so young.”

“Sorry man…what was his name.”

“It was…Michael.”

“…baby sometimes we don't know why, don't know…”

I didn’t ask much past that about his father…respectful of black/white photographs of a dad long gone…and a Thanksgiving in motion. 

His mom, behind me, never married after her husband died 38 years ago, and to her space, her holiday, I would leave her, her peace.

R.I.P Michael Iaconelli Sr., hope you are watching and feeling proud.

But it is the man in the photograph today, the man Michael has his arm around, it is to that man that I raise a glass to toast.  And here be the toast:

“To Uncle Don, on this day of thanks, thank you for stepping up for your sister, thank you for stepping up for a two year old who lost his daddy, thank you for stepping up…and stepping in, standing in for fatherhood.  You sir, have earned the right to be called…dad.  Peace man.”

It was Uncle Don who did the things of Dad with Michael, and who has been there for him, with him, all his life.  And now is there with him cradling Michael’s children, helping Michael’s wife, Becky, and above all, it is Uncle Don who turned Michael into a…

…geek.

A big time, proud to be called…geek…actually make that, GEEK, with capital letters.

GEEK.

Yep…

…just sayin’.

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