So Much Good
“All the good the past hast had, remains to make our own time glad.”
My father, Saviour Cauchi, had his first feast of the East End of Long Island on the morning of March 29th, 1948. He was standing on the gray deck of the Polish maritime vessel the S.S. Sobieski, which had sailed almost a fortnight prior from the French northeastern port of Le Havre. The mouth of the Seine River lay directly south of Le Havre, emptying into the Bay of Normandy, which in turns, ushers up to the English Channel. The Sobieski sailed west across the very waters which barely four years before, carried an armada of 5,000 ships towards beaches dubbed “Utah,” “Omaha,” “Gold,” “Juno” and “Sword.” On those ships, more than 185,000 readied themselves to liberate Europe and save the world. My father realized the significance of this second leg of his trek to America. He knew that the D-Day invasion on the very currents that were taking him to his new life, most definitely saved his life and that of his wife, his sons, and all of Malta, from Nazi concentration camps, and sure death. His first son, Victor, was not spared the ravages of that terrible war, for he died at the age of nine months, in the arms of my 19-year-old mother, in an air raid shelter in May 1943.
Some two weeks before arriving at Le Havre, Saviour left the east end of his ancestral home in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, Malta; a small rocky island 65 miles south of Sicily. His family, the Cauchis, had hailed from a robust fishing village, Marsaskala. His uncles on both his maternal and paternal sides, were hearty, scored faced fishermen their entire lives. Their colorful Luzzi rowboats would leave the Bajji (bay) of Marsaskala before dawn into the dark waters of the Mediterranean Sea that had beckoned Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Greeks, Romans, Normans, Moors, the French and the English, as well as myriad cadres of marauding pirates, over three millennium. The last battle of The Crusades took place on Malta in 1565, when the Ottoman Turks waged a three-month invasion and siege of its rocky shores and fortress city of Valletta. Historians believe that if this invasion had succeeded, the demise of Christianity was certain. The Ottomans planned to use Malta as a stepping-stone to go right up the boot of Italy and capture and destroy the Vatican in Rome. The siege failed, due to the legendary courage of the Knights of Malta and the Maltese, who were outnumbered ten to one. This valiant defense of Christianity became iconic for centuries in European history. Voltaire, some two hundred years later, is quoted of saying, “if Malta fell, so went Europe.”
So, Saviour Cauchi, left the east end of his Malta homeland that last week of February 1948, for a month long journey to destiny. He was 38 years old, with a marketable skill, listed as “steam fitter” on the S.S. Sobieski’s passenger manifest. Malta was exporting thousands of its citizens, young and old, to Australia, Canada and America in the late 1940’s. Unemployment was high on the island after the World War II, even for skilled workers. My father chose to come to New York City because there were plenty of advertised jobs at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Steamfitters were especially in high demand, with America ramping down its obsolete World War II navy, and ramping up its more modern fleets for the Cold War.
The trek across the mighty winter Atlantic was plagued by agonizing thoughts of leaving his wife and two young sons behind, not knowing when he would see them again. It would take years to earn their passage.
The East End’s beacon of light burst from the hopeful horizon, double-timing his pulse, as he gripped the S.S. Sobieski’s iron railing with all his might. The seas that morning were calm, and Saviour’s palpitations were steadied, by the opportunities and dreams unthought of, and certainly unrealized. The decades of courage, hard work, and future building would come to fruition in due time, but for now, his paramount concern was to plant his feet on Terra Firma. At the time, Saviour did not know he was looking at the East End of Long Island, and the stalwart Montauk Lighthouse. Its Fresnel lens flashed every five seconds, blaring AMERICA into his psyche, just another one of the millions who had heard that very same clarion call for the past 150 years.
Saviour Cauchi was just one of those huddled masses, but he took pride in the fact that he, alone, was the primo gentry of the Cauchi clan venturing forth to create the destiny of his family.
He was told to first look for the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor upon his arrival. That vista was hours away upon first sighting land. However, my father was not disappointed by the rugged sandy bluffs of the southern pincer of Long Island greeting him and his fellow immigrants to America. Memories of rocky crags, blanketed by miles of white snow, reeded beaches, stretched westward to the mouth of Manhattan, warmly swathed his soul for decades, until his death in 1984. The initial trepidation and anxiety of starting a new life in a foreign land, with absolutely nothing, was never discussed with his family there after. Whenever he spoke of his passage, there was no such darkness. There could not be, considering the countless joys realized year after year to the Maltese-American Cauchis. My father earned enough to bring his wife and two sons to America in 1950, two years later. They too would envision the United States first at the East End of Long Island. The joyous births of two more sons, sustainable work with a modest pension, a home purchase in a Long Island suburb, two immigrant sons’ proud military service, one’s bravery in Vietnam, college graduations for the two sons born on its shores. “So much good,” he would say. “So much good.”
The lighthouse’s 110 feet spoke to him of the thousand-foot Empire State Building and spacious Central Park he had read about and seen in photographs, 120 miles away. The EAST END might as well have been the “Eden” Michelangelo saw in the quarry cliffs of Carrara Italy, where the visionary sculptor’s eyes pierced the blue veined marble slabs that cried out his masterpieces of Moses, David and The Pieta. The suns of his future, and that of his progeny would rise over the East End of Long Island, and streak across that forever-promising horizon long after his passing. The East End’s morning light beckoned him to rise every morning for 36 years after seeing it for the first time that cold March dawn in 1948 where he most certainly said to himself, “SO MUCH GOOD,” for the very first time.