Making It Count – Part 1, by Pat Cascio

Editor’s Introductory Notes: Several months ago, I asked our Field Gear Editor Emeritus, Pat Cascio, to write a serialized autobiography, and scan some photos, to accompany it.  In reading this, you will learn that Pat has had a remarkable life, with the opportunity to “wear many hats.”

The title of this series is an homage to the “Make It Count” tagline that Pat has habitually used in signing his letters and e-mails. Pat’s life has indeed counted for something. His influence has helped shape the lives, improve readiness, and provide spiritual guidance to countless others. Pat touched the lives of thousands in the U.S. Army, while keeping the peace on our streets, in Rhodesia’s bush country, countering international terrorists, teaching in dozens of martial arts dojos, writing for nearly a dozen publications, and even teaching in church pulpits. Pat is quite a guy. In his autobiography, you will see his rapid growth from an immature troublemaker from the streets of the south side of Chicago into a well-traveled and knowledgeable renaissance man who is worthy of emulation.

Rest assured that this five-part article series is not Pat’s “Swan Song”.  He intends to continue writing a few SurvivalBlog field gear reviews, as long as his health allows it. – JWR

I was born in November of 1951. Since I’m now in my seventh decade of life, it gets harder to remember a lot of details. Additionally, in the past year, I’ve suffered from several strokes and my thinking process has slowed down a lot, and my typing skills have degraded. I used to type 100+ words per minute. But now I’m down to about 30-to-35 words per minute, with a lot of typos that have to be corrected. That is frustrating, to say the least.

Growing Up In Chicago

My formative years up to about age 10 years of age, weren’t much different than that of a lot of kids my age. However, I was raised by my grandparents from the time I was six weeks old. My grandparents had already raised nine kids of their own. As I was told, my mother just wasn’t ready to settle down and raise a child – she had just turned 17 two months before I was born. I don’t know any of the details of her divorce from my birth father, other than that she remarried when I was two years old. At the time, and I didn’t realize it, my birth father lived next door to my grandparent’s apartment building for several years. It wasn’t until 1979, that I met my birth father for the first time. And it wasn’t a pleasant meeting.

I lived in a very tight-knit community in Chicago, and everyone knew everyone. I was raised in the area called “Bridgeport” and it was known as one of the toughest areas of Chicago – I haven’t been back there for a lot of years – who knows it might still be “that” tough. Bridgeport was a mix of races, but we got along. I last visited Bridgeport in 1992 – and not much had changed since I lived there. Most of my old friends still lived there in 1992, and many still do.

The grade school I attended was the same one that my mother, father, and stepfather attended, and I had some of the same teachers they had. I was told a lot of stories about them, especially about my stepfather – and none of them were flattering. On the other hand, stories about my birth father were just the opposite.

I remember when I used to watch the kids in front of the living room window, playing during recess, and couldn’t wait until I started kindergarten. All of that changed on my first day of school. And, I can’t remember what it was, but I didn’t like school from my first day until my last day of high school. My grandparents taught me to read and write and do simple math long before I went to school. Mostly my grandfather spent a lot of hours teaching me to read, write, and solve math equations.

I had a good life with my grandparents, and quite honestly, I didn’t know who my mother was until I was 3 or 4 years old. She never came to see me much – in my entire life. But I had a Great-Godmother who came to see me all the time, so she was more of a mother to me, than my own mother was.

I remember when I was very young, my grandparents worked at the same factory – I don’t know what kind of work they did. However, one would work an early shift and the other would work a later shift – so one of them was home with me at all times. Bother grandparents came from Kentucky, and I’m sure they had a bit of a southern accent – if they did, I never picked it up.

My grandfather was a great guy – when he wasn’t drinking. He used to drink beer – and he never got drunk on it. However, at the beginning of each month when the social security checks arrived, he would start drinking wine and he was a nasty drunk. He never raised a hand to me, however, when my grandmother would hide money from him, he would beat her trying to get the money – he never once laid a hand on me, though. One time when I was only about four years old, gramps was chasing my grandmother through the house – and I had a little wooden baseball bat and I hit him across his shins, and down he went – but he never beat me for doing that.

I used to love playing “soldier” with those little olive green plastic soldiers I had collected – and I would even miss some days of school, and stayed home setting up the battlefield with those soldiers. When I was outside, my friends and I had a very small circle of friends who would play “soldier” – shooting at each other with our toy guns. And, needless to say, we always had arguments about “I got you first” — that sort of thing.

When I was 10 years old, I started working an early morning newspaper route – do kids still do that sort of thing these days? And, in short order, I worked an after-school afternoon newspaper route. It was a lot of work, however, I learned what it meant to earn my own money.

Going back a few years, to when I was 5 years old, Every month, I would help my grandmother with the monthly shopping – we’d walk the four blocks to the new supermarket to do the majority of the shopping. Rain, shine, or snow – we pulled her little two-wheeled grocery cart – and I’m telling you, when there was snow on the ground, it was a long, hard walk to the grocery store – neither of my grandparents ever owned a car or drove. My grandfather never helped with the monthly shopping – ugh!

Whenever we needed some groceries, I would run to the corner grocery store…and to be sure, my grandparents were dirt poor. Sometimes my grandmother would send me to the corner store for a few pieces of baloney…and she told me to tell the butcher that we wanted 25 cents worth of bologna – and even back then, I knew he would always give me more than that. Everyone on the block was poor – and they all had a bill at the grocery store – except my grandmother – she would not buy her groceries on credit.  However, we always got by – by the grace of God, I’m sure.

When I was 12 years old, our Landlord told us we had to move, because he wanted our apartment. We moved two blocks away. It was shortly after that move that my grandfather had a major stroke and died from it. I’ve never forgotten when he had the stroke, he just got a glass of beer and sat down to watch tv…and he started shaking…and the look on his face…

Several of my aunts and uncles – told me I had to be the man of the house and help take care of Gram. I remember that to this day – why didn’t they step up to help care of my grandmother and myself – including my own mother? That was a cruel thing to tell a 12-year-old kid. Shortly after that, we moved to a new place – an apartment building owned by my aunt and her husband, and they charged her $125 per month rent. In the old apartment, we had only been paying $40 per month rent – so that was a big increase.  I don’t know how my grandmother paid that kind of money, but she did!

(To be continued tomorrow, in Part 2.)