A thought occurred as I was writing the last post. Someone out there reading about Free Beer, Joey Cigars, or Sal (no pizza!) — someone might read this blog and say, “Hey, I once knew a guy who met all the same people in the same places, a guy who did exactly the same things, but his name was Mike Dunford!”
Yes, it‘s true . . . but not because I‘m stealing anyone‘s identity or stories. I was Mike Dunford, from grade school through college, and for quite a few years afterwards while bartending. Dunford was my stepfather’s name. And it was my name, until I changed back to my original surname, Qualtiere.
This has caused some confusion with my old college buddies, a few former girlfriends and the people I’ve worked with over the years behind the bar. A lot of them remember me as Mike Dunford. But what can I do? My name has been through a number of changes, and it’s been happening for years, even before I was born.
When my father’s dad came to America from southern Italy, his name was Gualteire — pronounced Gall – Tear (as in tear a piece of paper) – E.
That name was somehow changed when my grandfather arrived at Ellis Island. My aunts used to tell the story. Tobias Gaulteire was led away shouting — “Gaulteire! Gaulteire!” — over his shoulder, while the clerk at the desk kept saying, “Yes, Mr. Qualtiere. Welcome to America, Mr. Qualtiere.” (The new name was pronounced “Qual – tear,” as in tear drop.)
So I was born Dominick Qualtiere, Jr., son of Dominick Sr., who was the middle boy of Tobias (now) Qualtiere.
There were a lot of Dominicks in the family. It seemed all the boys had “Dominick” in their names, and all the girls had “Theresa.” There was one cousin everyone called “Dominick,” another was “Dom,” and my father was known as “Mickey.”
I became “Little Mickey.”
I was “Little Mickey” until my parents got divorced. I can’t imagine my mom really liked that name, after finally leaving Mickey Sr.
I remember being three or four years old, standing at the kitchen table of our new home in Hanover, MA (we’d just moved there from Boston). I remember the kitchen was filled with bright yellow light streaming through a large window over the sink.
My mom was at the table, layering frosting on top of a huge chocolate cake.
“Wouldn’t you like a new name?” she asked out of the blue.
Her question confused me. I’d been staring at the cake, mesmerized. Why would I need a new name? Maybe I asked, “I already have one. Why should I change it?”
“Well,” she said, “It seems that everyone in this family is named Dominick, or Dom, or Mickey. Wouldn’t you like to be called something else? Wouldn’t you like a name of your own?”
“I’ve always liked the name Michael,” she continued. “Yes, I think I’d really like a son named Michael.”
I couldn’t take my eyes off the cake. I had the distinct feeling that my answer was somehow related to whether or not I would get a piece of cake now.
I thought about it for a minute. What difference would it make? What’s the big deal with changing names . . . as long as I’d have that slice of freshly-made, frosted cake.
“Sure,” I said, “That’s OK with me. Call me Michael.”
I sold out my first name for a piece of chocolate cake.
I have one other vivid memory from that Hanover kitchen. I was being held over the kitchen sink with the bright light washing the room in yellow. My father was holding me under his arm while with the other hand he lifted a glass of beer to my lips. I remember spitting it out, gagging while my father laughed. I couldn’t have been more than three years old.
I remember thinking that I’d let him down by spitting out the beer, which I knew was very important to him.
I wanted to try again. I must have said something like, “No, no don’t put me down. I want to try again!”
The second time I managed to hold onto a big swallow, although the liquid seemed to be exploding in my mouth. When I finally gulped down the bitter stuff, I was proud. It was good to be a man, having a beer with my dad.
Then my mother walked in, and my dad caught hell.
For my mom it was the last straw in a barnfull of bad hay, and shortly afterward my father left for the hills of Utah to prospect for precious metals. (He’d been a coal miner as a young man.) I never saw him again, although we did exchange a series of letters and a few pictures over the years. But I still I have that memory — the first beer of what has perhaps been too many beers in the course of a lifetime — I had my first beer with my dad.
Anyway, after that slice of chocolate cake, my first name was “Michael”.
I was Michael Qualtiere until my mother remarried. My mom and her new husband decided that my sister Kathy and I should take “Dunford” as our last name.
I didn‘t like our new stepdad, Francis Dunford. I missed my real father.
I remember I was in second grade, and my sister Kathy was in third grade, that day our new stepdad hit her.
Kathy and I were standing together, maybe sassing him back, when Francis Dunford’s hand snapped across her face. It was a short, sharp little slap.
Sometimes you don’t know what you’re doing until it’s over. It was as though someone had suddenly shoved me so hard from behind that I flew up at my stepfather — as if shot from a cannon, two small fists flailing.
“Don’t hit my sister! Don’t hit my sister! Don’t hit my sister!”
He was falling back, so I was still up off my feet with my chest riding his, those little fists bouncing off his face.
“Don’t hit my sister! Don’t hit my sister! Don’t hit my sister!”
He pushed me off and I landed on my feet glaring at him, a seven-year-old boy, fists clenched and eyes filled with tears of rage.
I don’t know what happened next. The next thing I remember I was standing by my bedroom window, looking out on the upstate New York countryside that was now our backyard.
Looking back, I don’t hate my stepdad. If anything, I feel sorry for him. He didn’t know what he was getting into with those Qualtiere kids.
So, from grade school all through high school, I was known as Mike Dunford. I won a scholarship and became a collegiate wrestler as Mike Dunford. I started bartending and moved back to Boston as Mike Dunford.
But then I began working as a bartender at The Cantina Italiana in Boston’s North End (that’s where I met Joey Cigars). I was suddenly surrounded by the Italian culture. There were guys at the bar named Dominick. I loved the atmosphere, and felt vaguely connected to it. After all, I was second-generation Italian, despite my English last name.
At the same time, I was beginning to get published. Editors at the academic journal, Western American Literature, really liked my paper on Jack London and Nietzsche, and they were going to make it the lead article in that year’s biggest issue. I also had articles for Offshore Magazine, Hardcopy, and Restaurant Hospitality in the works.
So who was I? As I began to get published, did I want the name “Dunford” or “Qualtiere” credited in the byline?
I decided to go back to my name at birth. Unlike the incident at Ellis Island, or a decision made by my mom or stepdad — this was the first change to my name I actually made on my own. Now it felt particularly good to see the name published in a magazine or journal. I still go by “Mike” or “Michael” . . . but now it’s Michael Qualtiere again, or Mike Q.
(You can ignore this next part. I was trying to send my cousin, Rosemary, a family photo–see the comment from her husband Jerry Repash below. But my email wouldn’t accept such a large file … so I’m posting it here in case she wanted to look at or copy it. This is an old, old family photo of some of the Qualtieres. I’m at the bottom left, probably two years old, with my sister Kathy and our mom.)
If it helps any – I’ve ALWAYS known you as Mike – nothing else. Ever since you started working at Johnny D’s. Before reading this, I don’t think I knew what your last was/is. Now, after reading this, I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to remember what it is! Jeff Garber
Jeff: Hey Jeff, thanks for stopping by. Good to see you this past Sunday. Love to see you at more Jams, … good to hear you on stage again.
I am writing to you because my wife Rosemary Scorzafava’s grandmother Raphaela was a daughter of Tobias Qualtiere so she was a sister to your father. She remembers them talking about Uncle Mickey. Rosemary’s mother was Angela Rose Ledonne (scorzafava) I don’t know if you know of these people but if you want any info, please contact us.
Jerry: Thank you so much for writing! After my parents were divorced I lost touch with my father’s side of the family. “Uncle Mickey” … that’s what everyone called him. I’ll be in touch by email. I’d love more detail.
With this blog, I’ve heard from people I hadn’t seen in years. I received an email from a bartender in Ireland that had worked with me in the 1990’s at a club here in MA. I even heard from the United States Air Force Academy, when they were looking to contact two friends I’d mentioned in the post, “Men with Brass Balls.” But this … you getting in touch … is the best surprise. Thanks again for stopping by and commenting! I’m off to email you right now.
I think your father was my Uncle Mickey…his sister, Rose Marie, was my grandmother. She married Vincenzo (James – another mistake at Ellis Island) DeFelice. If that is the same Rose Marie…then we are related. The picture that you have here does look like my Uncle Mickey. Of course, I remember an older man – who was a coal miner in Carbondale, PA. Please feel free to contact me, if you want.
Hi Melinda!!! Yup, I heard that everyone knew my dad as “Uncle Mickey” and that he’d been a coal miner in Carbondale. I looked up some of my dad’s side of the family and visited Aunt Rose and her sister Auntie Ann often. I’m sure you must have heard the story of how Auntie Rose and her future husband, her next door neighbor, eloped. What a great story … with her father, Tobias, walking around the house swinging a hatchet, making sure none of the young American boys came anywhere near his daughters. As Auntie Rose told the story, she and her soon-to-be husband only whispered through the window right up until the time they ran away together. They remained married from that day until he passed away many decades later.
Melinda … I’ll definitely email you once I get moved. Just going a few blocks down Mass Ave, but I hate moving!!! Great to hear from you, and I’ll be in touch!
Yes, that was the story my grandmother told me – your Auntie Rose. I heard a clothes line and notes – and that’s how he proposed….she told him he would have to ask her father. When he did…her father said – Say, yes or NO! She said – well, he seems like a nice boy. He sent her to her room and that night – they eloped…she got in the car and there were men with guns out the window in case they we followed. She said she was lucky that my Papa was a good man. The story goes that he came over on a fishing boat…jumped ship in NY with 4 or 5 other men….this is what gets a little confusing to me. Took the subway to Carbondale…why Carbondale and how did he know about the subway that would get him there….then once there asked around if there were any girls he could marry…someone suggested Rose. My father’s middle name is Tobias as well as my Uncle Joe. We had assumed that was her father’s name. My father died 3 years back that started a string of deaths…that ended a month ago with my Uncle Joe’s death. It’s been a rough 3 years for us. One of my grandson’s middle name is Tobias as well. I wish my daughter gave him that for a first name. My son found your article and sent it to me. I enjoyed reading it. I don’t know why I never didn’t hear much about my grandparents family. If you visited my grandmother and Auntie Ann…I lived right across the street from my grandmother. My father was Guy. I absolutely adore your father. He was a wonderful man with an infectious laugh. There are a lot of gaps I’d like t fill in. Nice talking to you…Melinda
I’ve always known you as Mike …however, it used to be Dunford when we were in contact.
Luane Joslyn Coyle
Luane … it’s been so long! Still in CA? I remember riding horses (ponies) at your country home in Auburn, NY.