Charles Piazza Cares for Others

  1. Feature Article, 4-9-00
  2. Charlie Piazza, 1920 - 2003
  3. Piazza's Floral Greenhouse Is Closing Its Doors

Charlie Piazza tends to plants in the family's greenhouse in AvonFEATURE ARTICLE from THE MORNING JOURNAL, April 9, 2000, By NORMA HIGGINS, Morning Journal Correspondent

"AVON - Sitting in a pool of bright spring sunlight, luxuriating in the greenhouse warmth, the 79-year old patriarch of the Piazza family reminisces about the years his father and mother, sisters and brothers, all worked to create the Piazza Greenhouses, starting with 19 acres of outdoors that had to be planned for, worked on, and harvested carefully, all through the years, starting with the early twenties.

In 1921, Charlie Piazza, then youngest of six children, aged one, and his mother and father, Charles and Salvatora Piazza, moved from South Euclid, east of Cleveland, to the far west side, Avon, to a small farm on the rise of the northside of the hill at 35676 Detroit Road [The Pickering - Piazza House].

"My dad used to go to market with some friends from Avon, and this one friend mentioned there was a farm for sale in Avon," he explained, "I don't know how they got here, with a horse and wagon or an old truck, but they liked it and they stayed."

They raised fruits and vegetables, primarily grapes and had an orchard," explained Mr. Piazza, reflecting the lives of most of the truck gardeners that originally comprised early Avon.

When he came out of World War II military service in 1946, (Mr. Piazza served three years in the U.S. Army Air force, starting out in France, transferring through the Philippines, and Japan) he said, "I had a lot of ideas.''

"It (service career) took me all over,'' he laughed, "At their expense, I could never have seen all that on my own!"

"We (brother Leonard and himself) built the first small greenhouse in the fall of 1946, and we had our first crop in l947,' he explained. "We had mostly geraniums and bedding plants,'' he said.

Mr. Piazza has two children, a son James and a daughter, Shirley Piazza Doss, and presently has four grandchildren, all in Avon.

Piazza's Floral Greenhouse is now run solely by James Piazza and his wife, Mary Ellen, and is a leading local distributor of plants, including geraniums, herbs, and garden decor.

Mr. Piazza retired in 1985 at age 65, but retirement doesn't translate into inactivity. "I helped Jim for a while, he said. "In 1996 I went to St. John's West Shore Hospital as a volunteer.''

That opened a whole new world for the still very active almost octogenarian. "My late wife, Josephine, was ill at the time, and we had help in the house, so to take up a little time, I went to the hospital to help out."

"I started in 1996, I've been there four years." "I go five days a week, from 8 am to 12 noon where I take care of outpatient registering."

He explained that while many of the tests and X-rays needed for preadmission surgery used to be done in physician offices, now the pattern is for the individual to come to the hospital, have their tests run, and the results are returned to the doctor.

Along with many seniors, Mr. Piazza also wonders how, with increasing costs, Medicare will fare in the future. "The costs are big and ever-increasing, and more and more people are coming in,"he pointed out.

He thoroughly enjoys his work at the hospital, and in four years has met many people, and a lot of the patients he encounters, coming consistently over the years, becoming friends. "Like the regulars, it seems as tho they have been coming forever," he said.

"It's been real good therapy for me, believe me," he pointed out,"In fact I look for Monday rather than Friday.!"

Then, with a ready smile, Mr. Piazza explained, "I come home, have lunch and then go down to the Avon Oaks Skilled Nursing Facility on French Creek Road.''

"I'm there from 1 to 4 pm, while it is very different, I enjoy my work," he said.

"It's very sad, some of the people were there when my wife Josephine was a resident, and they are still there, just waiting," he said. "In some cases there are few visitors," he explained. "They sit in the doorway, and no one comes," he said quietly.

"My sisters took care of my mother and father at home," he said, "until they passed away," he said, explaining a style of family life that has all but vanished.

He expressed the fear that many older people have these days, "they don't want to be there," he said, "It's scary!"

Mr. Piazza qualified his opinion by saying that in many cases there is no satisfactory alternative for people who have outlived their families' ability to take care of them.

He commiserates with some of the residents (it could occur in any patient care facility). "Like one old fellow, he's just a little bit older than I am," said Mr. Piazza, "I see him everyday." "He says, I'd be better at home, I don't belong here," said Mr. Piazza. "They do get good care," he said, "and medical assistance is readily accessible."

"He's a sweetheart!," said Miss Reidy, administrator of Avon Oaks, complimenting Mr. Piazza, "he's really like a personal friend to some of the people." "He's very caring and spends a lot of time with them," she said.

What does he do for fun? "Jim is always telling me, 'do something for fun', he explained, his sun-tanned face, topped with silver white hair, relaxed.

"We never had hobbies or anything like that, we worked, " he explained, " now, when people have time off or retire, they golf, they sail, they travel, but for us, we're lost."

"We worked on the farm, growing and picking, and we skipped our childhood."

"That's why we got the greenhouse, it had to be easier, and it was!", he acknowledged. "Outside we had no control, but now we have computers to control the heat and other operations,"

"Still, the season never ends, it never starts, it just keeps going," he says, waving brown fingers toward the fully laden greenhouse, beautiful with spring flowers.

"You're always working several months ahead of a holiday," he explained, "such as Easter, it was started several months back around Christmas time - you're always overlapping."

"Actually you don't have enough months in the year, you need an extra one to come out right!", he said, "And we never stop!"

Talking about the years when there many greenhouses dotted the Avon landscape, he explained the demise of these same units due to the cost of fuel. "The reason we're losing tomato growers," he said, "Their heating bills are hurting them." "You could see them heating in the middle of summer with the vents open. Vegetables take a lot more heat than flowers."

Certainly Mr. Piazza has a positive attitude about his own future and that of his family, and for people in general. "What am I really glad about? That they (later generations) don't have to do through what we did at their age."

He referred to a magazine written primarily for seniors, with articles about the nineteen twenties, thirties, and forties. These were the days of Shirley Temple, the Tin Lizzie, the ice cream social, hopscotch, the time when every lady bought a new hat and wore it for the first time on Easer, of home remedies, great family reunions, and Bank Night at the movies.

Sometimes accused of looking back at the old times, he defends his position, "I'd like young people to read that, it tells about the Great Depression, (which wasn't so great) and the bad times." "That's when we grew up, we were "depression kids',"he said, insisting, "I'm glad they are not having it so difficult, no way, no way!"

Holy Trinity Church at Nagel Road was an important part of their social life as he noted, "we were married there, had first communion confirmations there, and they will probably bury us," he said,

"We spent twelve years in school at what was then and is now known as the Village School," he said, "eight grades downstairs and four grades upstairs."

"When we got to be freshmen, the three schools, two catholic and one public,came together, and while we started out with 60 kids, only 24 of us graduated," he said. "Everyone else had had to quit to go back on the farm, times were tough and the folks needed us at home," he said.

"I graduated in 1938 in the auditorium, before the addition was put on," he said. "Mr. Blake (Waldo Emerson Blake), also known as "Lefty" was principal at the time, what a gem!" said Mr. Piazza of the former administrator.

"He knew we had to stay a home to work, but as long as we could keep our grades up, it was OK," he smiled. "He always said he knew if it was a rainy day, all the boys would be in school!"

"And most of us liked school, we did!", he emphasized, "our vacation started when school started, not like today, when school ends for the summer." "Mr. Blake was really nice, easy and understanding; and we liked him," he said.

Well, my wife Josephine and I had 50 good years of married life, and we did a lot of traveling."

Mr. Piazza has a good sense of humor and he said, "we would visit army buddies all over the country, but one time we went to Las Vegas, and after that no matter where we went we had to go eventually to Las Vegas because my wife enjoyed it."

"One time we made a trip to Minnesota and we had to return through Las Vegas,'' he quipped.

Is he still having a good time?

"I love my work, my days, he said, looking pensively at the glistening gardens under glass with pride. It is evident he feels he has used his time well, and is willing to share with others his good fortune!"