This piece was written about ‘Papa’ Jake Manzi. Papa was the Father of Carolyn Marzano, Grandfather of my friend Joey, and friend to a whole lot of us. As a kid, I loved being around him and getting to go with Joey to Silver Lake Caterers in Cranston, R.I. and “help out”. I guess I didn’t realize what an impression he’d made.


The phone rang late last night…and a part of me died. A distant, protected corner of my heart, saved for old friends and memories, openly cried.

They say that our adult life is defined by impressions made upon us as children, the depths of those impressions perhaps not being known of or felt until some key unlocks them later in life. I find it strange that, at almost 30 years old, I am affected of memories of both a man and a time, over 15 years ago. Memories that led to feelings I didn’t realize were that strong.

If I sit here quietly and close my eyes, I can still smell the scent of garlic and tomatoes. I can hear the clang of pots and pans inside the kitchen of the Silver Lake Caterers where he would sometimes take me and his grandson Joseph. I remember him letting us watch him and the other men prepare the gravy, sausage, and meatballs for the meals.

I can remember equating their cooking style to my Mother’s use of measuring cups–they just seemed to know how much of a handful equaled a cup.

The noise. God, I can almost hear the sounds of five or six old, Italian men, each shouting to be heard above the other and the noise from the kitchen.

He let me serve with them a few times at their catered parties. I remember being the only little non-Italian kid in the room as Joseph and I scurried to set or clear the tables, yet I never felt out of place.

There was a movie released in 1996 called “ROOMMATES” starring Peter Faulk as an older Polish baker trying to raise his young grandson by himself. I can remember turning to my wife halfway through the movie and asking her, “Do you remember me telling you about a smart-aleck old man named Papa Jake? I swear that this is the Polish version”.

If nothing else, Papa Jake was consistent. Every night after school the guys on the block would get together to play ball in the road. Every night Papa would stop his car on the way past and ask, “Did you see the pink elephant walking up the road? What, you don’t believe me?” Or he would just stop the car, roll down the window and say, “What?” You’d answer, “What, What?” and he’d come back with, “I don’t know.” Then he’d roll up the window and go on his way.

It seems he was always coming or going somewhere, always visiting someone. He just wasn’t Papa if he wasn’t cooking, eating, or telling stories. God, he was a character. He worked hard, played hard, and always had time for his family. You can’t paint a more complete picture than that.

My focus comes back to the present and I realize that knowing Papa Jake and spending that short amount of time with him all those years ago, made more of an impression on me than I ever knew.

I look at my life now and I have to smile. He’d taught me well.

Family, regardless of blood. That’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?

God bless, Papa Jake.

–Doug Clark

June 15 1997