Somewhere, at some time in your life, someone gave you a break. Your first break; Maybe it was a paper route, or a baby sitting job, or maybe you caddied at a golf course. But someone gave you that first opportunity to prove yourself, gave you some responsibility, and had faith in you. You may or may not have deserved it, but you really, really wanted it,and somebody gave you the break.
I’ve had lots of breaks in my life, and I’ve appreciated every one. As I get older, I appreciate them even more now than I did when I got them because I can see the sum total of the breaks. My breaks have given me a trade, a career, and a life of accomplishments that I never dreamed of.
My first break came as an opportunity to work in hardware store as a kid. I was only 15, but the manager hired me with the contingency that I would get my driver’s license as soon as I turned 16 so I could drive his delivery truck. Boy, did I have a lot to learn! I was told that I needed to be on time, because the other “floorman” could not go on his break until I showed up. I was taught to count change the old fashioned way- if you’ve ever given the odd change & a $20.00 bill to a cashier & gotten that blank stare, you know what I mean. And most importantly, I was taught the only customer that counts is the one standing front of you, because that is the one ready to buy. “Don’t answer the phone (that’s only a possible sale), don’t take your break even though its time, don’t point &
say aisle 3- show the customer, MAKE THE SALE”. Shopping these days is not the same.
When I got out of school, I knew I wanted to be a carpenter. I was working in a lumber yard at the time, and the forklift operator, who lived in East Haven said to me “go see those Vitale Boys- they have a lot of work”. And so I found “The Vitale Boy’s” job, which was a condominium project (a new idea in 1971) and boldly went looking for the foreman. I found him. Everyone referred to him as “Mert”. He was busy, harried, and never stopped moving around the job as I followed him asking if they were hiring helpers. He asked me if I had tools (for Christmas, I had received a hammer & a tool box), I answered yes. Did I have experience? (I lied), “yes”. When can I start? “Now” I answered. He said he had nothing right now, but come back in a few days. I came back before working at the lumber yard every day for a week, until he knew me & I knew him by name.
On Monday of the second week, exasperated at seeing me again, Mert (I later learned his name was Mario) finally said “come with me” and he led me see his brother Frank- the scariest guy you can imagine! Mario asked Frank if they were hiring helpers and Frank responded with a scowl: “does he have tools?”, and Mario said “yes”. Does he have experience? Mario answered yes. “When can he start?” and Mario answered tomorrow. Frank scowled again & said “start him at $3.00 and hour” and he walked away to deal with other issues on the job. Little did I know then in my terrified state what a warm, kind guy Frank was. But he was running a big job, and he had to be tough. So began what I consider to be the biggest break of my life. I learned from each of the Vitale Brothers.
Mario ran the carpenters, Al- the masons, Lou & Joe- the equipment and machine
maintenance. After a short time, I didn’t feel that I had been hired, but rather “adopted”, more like I was part of a family rather than a construction company.
As all projects do, this one came to an end after a year or so. The brothers kept me working for as long as they could doing everything from sweeping to paving. I got my layoff slip, but now I really did have experience, tools and more importantly, the confidence to find another job. And I found one with Al Secondino & Son. Here a man named John Bontatibus hired me. John provided me with my third break, and it proved to be a great one. He was tradesman, a teacher and a mentor.
There were many other breaks along the way, all of which I am grateful to have received. Over the years, I have had many opportunities myself to give these breaks back to others. The rewards have not always been obvious; one can’t expect an instant return. Pass on your breaks. "For it is in giving that we receive."