The summer before I began kindergarten, I spent many mornings on my front porch in Astoria, Queens, writing letters to Elvis.
My mom would help me spell the words, and our mailman, Mr. Casamento, would pick up the letter and tell me that he would personally give the letter to Elvis. I truly believed that they were friends.
I couldn't wait for the mail to arrive each day, as I was waiting eagerly for Elvis to reply. One afternoon, Mr. Casamento showed up with a large envelope addressed to me. It contained a tour book filled with pictures of Elvis and an 8x10 black-and-white glossy of the King! It wasn't until many years later that I found out Mr. Casamento had brought it back to me from a trip to Vegas.
A while back, I joined a Facebook group called "Growing Up Astoria." While reading posts by other members, I came across someone with the same last name as the mailman who delivered my Elvis treasures, so I decided to send him a private message. It turns out, it was his son, Tony Casamento.
It was so nice to be able to share my story with a member of the family, and Tony was amazed that I still had both the tour book and the 8x10 glossy.
The following is an email I received from Tony:
"Joanne, I want you to know that not a day goes by that I don't reread your story. It always brings a smile to my face when I picture my father interacting with you. I don't know if you know this, but my parents had five sons and no daughters. I am confident in saying that my parents were happy with their family, but it is no secret that my father always wanted a daughter. I am sure that the relationship you had with my Dad brought him much pleasure. BTW, the first four grandchildren and the only grandchildren my father knew were girls."
When I think about the extraordinary kindness of this special man, Mr. Casamento, it warms my heart. He was truly one of a kind, and I was blessed to have known him. I will never forget his kindness. He made a little girl extremely happy!
--Joanne Petchonka-Foley, Bethpage
A repo man reminisces
The first job I got after graduating from college in the early '50s was working for a national credit firm that specialized in auto loans.
Another aspect of the business was making loans to automobile dealers so they could finance the cars on their showroom floors. Most people do not realize that auto dealers do not own the cars you see on their premises. They are financed through banks and credit firms such as the one I worked for, and the cars are owned by the banks and credit firms until they are paid for by the dealer. When you buy a car, you pay the dealer or take a loan from a bank that then pays off the original bank or credit firm. Enough of how the business works, but it was necessary to understand my job in the company.
I was assigned to drive around and collect on overdue car loans or repossess a car if payments were too far behind. I also checked dealers' inventory each month to make sure they did not sell a car without paying the credit company in a timely manner -- otherwise, they could use the funds for something else until someone caught up to them.
Several things I remember from more than 50 years ago:
--Having to look in about 40 garages behind apartment houses where a dealer stored new cars just to make sure he had not sold one and not paid the credit company. What a messy job, finding the right garage key, opening the garage doors, opening up car doors and hoods to check on VIN numbers, etc. After the first check, you learn not to wear good clothes.
--Riding up and down streets, looking for cars that people had skipped out on payments from around the country. These were called "skip lists," and it seemed that people evading their creditors congregated in certain towns in Nassau County during the winter because of the cheap rents.
--Having to repossess the car of a construction worker who was on strike and could not keep up the payments. His small child went into another room and brought out his piggy bank, handed it to his father and said, "Here, pay the bad man." Needless to say, I turned around and walked out without the car. However, I had to come back the following month and take the car. Not a happy occasion.
--Having to get the police to protect me when repossessing a car from a potentially violent person. A little scary.
--When repossessing a car that the customer would not give me voluntarily, I would use a jumper cable from the coil to the battery to start the car. In front of a debtor's house one day, I put the cable on, and when I started the car, the battery blew up and smoke started to billow out. When I heard the fire engines coming, I quickly got out of there. My heart was racing that time.
--And if all of the above were not enough, my boss used to take me out on a night run to try to repossess a car from a person's garage. This could be very interesting because even though we owned the car, it was still trespassing on an individual's property, and I guess the homeowner could shoot us if he were so inclined. Not my cup of tea.
--I remember thinking that I really earned my paycheck. I lasted about nine months in that job, and I have never looked back until now. At least I am alive and can look back.
--James Tomlin, Baldwin