God placed newborn Nicholas Martinetti into the family of Laura and John Martinetti on January 5, 1924. His hard working Italian immigrant parents met and married in America. Soon after, this old world couple embarked on a life together in their new world homeland and began their family. They were blessed with three children, Nicholas, Faye and Mary.
Nicholas was a young boy when the Great Depression began. His parents dedicated much of their time to keeping their family secure in economically hard hit Brooklyn, NY. They lived in an apartment above a store on a busy city street. Without air conditioning or much room inside, the children wanted to be outdoors playing. Their parents, instead, wanted them inside where it was safe. So when their irrepressible son, Nicholas, wanted things like a BB gun or bike, his protective parents would say, “No, you will knock your eye out with that” or “No bike. The streets have too many cars and you could get hit or fall and break something.”
No one knows for sure how young Nicholas was able to get his hands on firecrackers but he did. He loved to put the firecrackers under cans and watch them propel the cans into the air. One day when one of the explosive devices failed to launch, young Nick went over to investigate. He removed the can and the firecracker went off, hitting his eye. Nick lost sight in that eye. Oddly, many who knew Nick never knew he was blind in one eye. Perhaps, he felt it was not important enough for him to tell.
The persistent, young Nick was adept at getting what he wanted. Somehow Nick was able to obtain a bicycle, another forbidden instrument of death as his parents perceived it, and kept it hidden. The details are sketchy as only Nick would recount this story many decades later, but while out on one of his secretive joy rides, Nick fell and broke his arm. Fearing what would happen to his beloved bike if his parents learned of the circumstances of his fall, Nick pushed the bike back to its hiding place, then went into the family apartment without anyone seeing him. He then staged a fall down the apartment stairs which he used to explain his broken arm. The arm never healed properly. It appears his imagination had no bounds as so many other similar stories would elucidate.
When Nick returned home from military service, he decided to join his dad in the trucking profession. Despite his physical limitations, he drove and unloaded trucks for his father’s employer who would one day sell the business to his loyal employee John Martinetti who still later sold the trucking company to his son, Nick.
From the start, Nick was the guy the other guys wanted to be around. He was the life of the party and was always dreaming up new adventures. It was unimaginable how Nick would ever find his match: a woman who would be able to take him on toe-to-toe. That was until he met the love of his life, Helen Galgano. Helen was self-reliant, quick-witted, perceptive, adventurous, and had the heart and hope of a child, just like Nick.
Nick and Helen hit it off as soon as they met. They married two years later and could not wait to have children. They loved children so much that not having their own yet did not deter them from enjoying little ones. Nick (and Helen) embraced their nieces and nephews and even some of the neighbors’ children as their surrogate brood. It is said the size of an outing was only limited by how many children Nick could snuggly fit into his station wagon. Now, grown with adult children of their own, these lucky beneficiaries of Nick and Helen’s kindness and joy narrate stories of trips to Mets games, the Statue of Liberty, Palisades Park, concerts, fishing, the beach and so much more. Nick kept a box of toys and fun masks in his house and kept to memory children stories and jokes all of his adult life, just in case, someone visited with a precious little one. When Nick and Helen later moved to Howard Beach, Nick made sure they got a home with a dock so they could also take children out on their boat (and once out on open water, let them help him steer). The vote was unanimous: Nick was everyone’s favorite uncle. And favorite neighbor. When questioned of Nick’s generosity, the consensus response was, “He was a kid himself. He was wanting, perhaps, to give children the childhood that he missed.”
The wait for children was long and difficult. Finally, after 8 years of waiting, Nick and Helen decided to adopt. First Andrea from the Catholic Angel Guardian Home in Brooklyn and soon after John from Italy with the help of the same agency. Although their adopted children came with medical problems and delayed development, Nick and Helen were undaunted. Family and children were a gift and they were grateful. Nick and Helen hosted dinners for up to 20 people regularly. They celebrated relationships by having “family” dinners, not just for their immediate family but for extended family, neighbors and friends they took in as “family”.
After Nick’s parents moved to Florida, Helen and Nick started visiting Florida to see them. With time, they realized his parents would need them nearby and so they eventually left their large “family” in New York and moved permanently to Boca Raton, FL.
Yes, the FUN moved to Florida. When they gained their granddaughter Sandra and took on the parenting role to their grandson Jeffrey, when nieces and nephews were visiting, and later when they “adopted” their daughter-in-law Cheryl’s children, trips to concerts, ball games, Boomers, Busch Gardens and Disney World were for the pleasure of the little ones they adored. Nick and Helen made new friends in Florida while making sure to also maintain their friendships from New York until their last days.
The love of his life, Helen, left Nick in December 2020, to be united with their daughter Andrea in His glorious, loving home. Nick was at Helen’s side for periods when it was very difficult to be present. When taken aside for comforting words and respite, Nick was strong and convicted, wanting to go back to his wife. His only concern was for that of Helen; he did not want her to suffer any more. He, like so many children of the Depression, had to grow up fast. Perhaps that is why they were so discerning of what was important (and what was not) and were so grateful for and giving of whatever they had. Like so many men of his generation, the GREATEST GENERATION, he knew the meaning of sacrifice. He, like others in that golden group, did not walk away from difficult things, hardships or challenges. They embraced them. They were frugal when needed and generous where it mattered. They were by no means saints. However Nick, like Helen, and so many of their generation placed material possessions in perspective and relationships above all else. A lesson, by example, Nick and Helen leave us. From all the grateful people who contributed to this tribute to his life and his love, and the many others who were fortunate to have been a part of his and Helen’s life, we say, “Thank you.”
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