Now, Doctor Joe grew up on a ranch just outside the city limits of Murphy’s, California. That’s in Calaveras County set in the foothills of the Sierras. His one and only first cousin, Mario, grew up and lived his whole life in Sutter Creek, California. That’s located in Amador County. By car it may take 35 or 40 minutes over the windy two lane road (less time if you aren’t stuck behind an eighteen-wheeler. But, Grandpa Louie never owned a car, so visits to Sutter Creek were rare, if any at all.
During the Second World War, Doctor Joe got to spend more time with his cousin Mario, who was drafted into the US Army, and was sent to the VA hospital in San Francisco where we lived. Unfortunately, tests at the VA confirmed that Mario had a serious problem with Diabetes. He was immediately put on Insulin and taught to self-administer that life-saving drug. Thereafter, whenever Mario received treatment at the San Francisco VA hospital he stayed at our house with Doctor Joe and family. After treatment, he would take a bus back to his bachelor’s quarters, located behind his shoe repair store in Sutter Creek.
You’d be hard pressed to see any family similarities between Doctor Joe and Cousin Mario. Mario wasn’t tall, maybe five foot three. Doctor Joe was about five foot nine. Both Mario and Doctor Joe liked to eat and both carried considerable weight. But, I’ll bet Doctor Joe out-weighed his cousin by a hundred pounds at the outset. They put Mario on a strict diet, which he carefully followed and within a year his paunch fell away. One could then see that he really was small boned and rather delicate. But when Mario shook your hand you instantly realized that he had incredible upper-body strength for a small man. When he shook your hand it was like a steel vice. It’s hard to believe that when Mario was born, he was so tiny he was placed in a cigar box. No, really. No one thought he would survive, but he did and as an adult was one of a kind.
He was colorful, boisterous and cracked many humorous (clean) jokes. Everybody in Sutter Creek knew Mario and could tell you how far up the street it was to his shoe repair store. I don’t think Mario ever had an enemy, even among the German prisoners he guarded during WWII.
Doctor Joe drove to see his mother in Murphy’s every summer. And, once in a great while he loaded the family into the big Buick with the two spare tires encased in metal cocoons over the rear of the front wheels and we’d motor over the winding two-lane road from Murphy’s to Sutter Creek for a visit with Mario. When we arrived, it was always hot and there were two big fans, but no air conditioning. So the front door was always open and you could hear Mario carrying on with his cronies inside his shop. Those two fans blasted away with the whine of small airplanes and there was Mario behind the counter working the stitcher or the grinding lathe or the polisher all the while conversing with the fellows that had come in (never a woman in that “bachelor palace”). Bull Pup was a regular, but other times Pete, Butch and Shredder were also there.
Mario gave each of his cronies their nicknames. But, strolling through town with Mario just about every male in Sutter Creek had received a nickname from Mario. If he was in his shop and not calling out to passers by, Mario would be twirling his special shoe hammer up into the air catching it deftly and pounding home nails into a heel, all the while singing some inane ditty. One, two, three; Johnny caught a flea. Flea died; Johnny cried, one, two three.”