What do my grandfather and William Shakespeare have in common? You might think that a strange question, but it is a legitimate one. They both died on their birthdays. The 19th of June was also Father’s Day in 1938. There was probably no celebration taking place in the home of John Anthony Damato, Sr. on that day. Forty-nine years earlier, Joseph and Angelina Damato were certainly celebrating the birth of their first child in Jacksonville, Florida. Having native Italian parents, John was baptized at the Immaculate Conception Church by Father William Kenny on 1 September 1889. This was the priest who was to later become Bishop Kenny for whom the Catholic high school in Jacksonville was named; several of my Damato cousins attended this school.
Even after the Great Fire of 1901 in which their home was destroyed, my grandfather had a real attachment to the city of Jacksonville for some reason. His father moved the family to Boston so his brother-in-law, who was a physician, could treat him for cancer. After his father’s death in Boston in 1906, John wanted to return to Jacksonville, so he ran away. He sent a postcard of the skyline of Jacksonville to his mother and brother in Boston. In the message on the postcard (which my father saw as a young adult), he stated that Jacksonville was where he was born and was his home and he planned to live there. He also told his mother that if they would come back to Jacksonville to live, he would provide for both of them. His mother responded positively to the invitation and, according to the 1908 Jacksonville city directory, the three of them were reunited. My grandfather kept his word to his mother and, to my grandmother’s credit, she carried out my grandfather’s promise after his death. John followed in his father’s footsteps as a tailor and, after some less than positive business partnerships, eventually owned his own business. Some of his customers were the city fire department and local theaters. In this day of mass produced clothing, it’s hard to realize that at one time uniforms were handmade by a tailor and fitted for the individuals who would wear them. Up until the 1970s, theaters employed ushers who would assist moviegoers to their seats, settle complaints, and enforce theater rules and courtesies; they wore uniforms to easily identify them. My daddy tells that because my grandfather made the uniforms for the theaters, he would often receive free movie tickets for the family. My daddy usually sat between his parents when they went to the theater. But on one occasion, their seats included one next to the wall where they let my daddy sit so my grandparents could sit together. At some point during the evening, there would be a drawing for $100 cash based on a particular seat in the theater. Wouldn’t you know that on this night, the prize went to the seat my daddy was sitting in, but he was ineligible to receive the prize because of his age.
John was not only skillful with his hands as a tailor, but also in several other ways. I had noticed a lapel pin he was wearing in one photograph in particular and wondered exactly what it was. I zoomed in and it appeared to be scissors and a square. I thought it must have something to do with being a tailor, but I wondered if it represented a tailor’s guild or association. After a lot of searching online, I couldn’t find anything that seemed reasonable. About two years ago, my cousin gave me a tailor’s box that had belonged to my grandfather with priceless items inside that my grandmother had saved. Among the memorabilia was a square piece of thick cardboard with this very design of the lapel pin. I suppose it was his logo, and now I believe the lapel pin was an original design by my grandfather. My daddy has a bookshelf his father made from wooden spools thread had once been wound on – a resource from his trade. My sister has a wooden trunk he made for my grandmother. I believe my own daddy’s skill in woodworking was probably inherited from my grandfather. According to my daddy and his two older brothers, their father was only about 5’4” tall but strong and stocky with a deep, rich baritone voice. My daddy remembers on Sundays his father would sit in bed shaving with an electric shaver while singing “Old Man River.” He appeared in local minstrel shows as one of the end men who made jokes with the interlocutor. When he wasn’t performing, he made costumes for the shows. His community and social involvement included membership in the Junior Chamber of Commerce and the Independent Order of Odd Fellows. NOTE: In order to do justice to my grandfather, I will finish his story in a later post.