An Unlikely Trio in the Time of COVID-19 (Article #2)

Father and son on a paddleboard
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By By William Holland and  Jude Tazioli

Take Us Back to the Beginning 

The Pandemic has demanded isolation and social distancing for months. Craving a small adventure, 54-year-old Jude and his 7-year-old son, Teddy, decided to scramble over a wrought-iron railing between their lake-front condominium and the terrace of 91-year-old, Bill, better known as “Guppy”. From that leap of faith, came a deep friendship that bridges generations.   

Jude, Teddy and Guppy

What About the Teddy Miracle?

Teddy will always be known as a late-in-life miracle for Jude and his former wife Marcia.  It had been very difficult for Marcia to conceive and Teddy’s birth was fraught with risk. At twenty-two and half weeks, Marcia’s water broke, and she was rushed to a delivery room at Prentiss Hospital in Chicago.  For eight hours, one high-risk Doctor after another visited the couple repeatedly, explaining that fifty percent of women deliver within 24 hours of breaking their water. Half of the remaining mothers deliver within a week, and every subsequent week, half of the remaining number give birth. They further explained that if she delivered via cesarean, the child would almost certainly have cerebral palsy and other severe congenital disabilities. The doctors demanded an immediate decision as they needed to know what they were doing when the inevitable childbirth occurred. 

Jude spoke first and said that he knew this kid was a fighter, that he believed in him, and he was not giving up. Marcia agreed. When the childbirth did not occur that night, Marcia relocated to a different hospital floor reserved for high-risk pregnancies. The nurse who wheeled her to that floor said all of the mothers experiencing premature labor the previous day were distraught, crying, and delivered prematurely, but Marcia was calm, and did not deliver. She stayed calm for another full six weeks, which was just long enough for Teddy to sufficiently develop his lungs so that he could breathe on his own when he was born 11 weeks early, on March 14, 2013. Less than one percent of women who break their water make it six weeks.  That one small detail about freely breathing often separates the premature babies who experience multiple health issues early in life and those who do not. Fortunately, Teddy, was healthy and went on to become an exceptional, happy child. It is no wonder that Teddy has always been the center of the universe for those who love him.

Eight years later, he spends four nights a week with his father and three nights with his mother and her new husband, and is struggling with the same thoughts and feelings as other children of divorce.  Those who love him are doing their best to help, and his dad’s move to a new house in a nearby village has brought Teddy to a neighborhood with many children who now call their yard the neighborhood playground.

How Did Jude Grow Up?

Jude was born the last of nine children.  He thought he was an  accident. After all, how many parents with seven sons and one daughter look at each other and say, let’s have another. But when he asked his mother, she told him that she had another child because she wanted him — just him.  Unfortunately, his brothers were aware of her feelings and when Jude’s dad added that he was also the smartest of the lot, jealousies grew. But he was headstrong.  Bullied by his older brothers, he often fought back. Two of his older brothers had guitars and although Jude was the only one who played one, his brothers refused to allow it.  Jude discovered the hiding place under the bed, carefully took a guitar out of its case and secretly played it until his brother found out. Jude said he would never see that guitar again and gave it away to his nephew. 

A very young Jude

Transferring from a Catholic school to a public school in the third grade Jude himself became a bully. In the principal’s office with his mother because of a fight in the third grade, Jude explained that each older brother took their frustrations out on a younger brother, but he didn’t even have a dog to kick. In the sixth grade he decided to change from class bully to class clown.  It wasn’t until high school that he realized that he had to change to be accepted by his classmates.  While prayer was ever-present in his life as the youngest of nine children in a Catholic family, it was not until his late twenties that the prognosis of death by cancer created a personal awakening that has guided him to this day.

And Finally, Guppy

Guppy is not sure if he was the second of four children or the second of six.  At the age of 94, his mother was totally alert and in a confiding mood. She shared the surprising news that she had at least two abortions after her fourth child was born after his parents agreed that four children were enough.  As life has it, Guppy was born on April Fool’s Day in 1929 in Berkeley, California’s Alta Bates Hospital. (Many of his friends believe that the date couldn’t be more appropriate to his sense of humor.)  His dad worked for the Zellerbach Paper Company in San Francisco and later transferred to the Los Angeles branch because the warm, clean air of Southern California would be better for Guppy’s oldest brother, an asthma sufferer.  He dad quickly moved up the ladder. He not only served as Vice President of Zellerbach, he later turned down the job of President because it required a move back to San Francisco.  

Guppy grew up in Pasadena, California one house away from the “Mile of the Millionaires” where his neighbors were the Wrigley’s and the Anheuser-Busch’s.  Nonetheless, his dad firmly believed that his sons (even as kids) should earn their way as he had so the three brothers were assigned the job of mowing their multi-acre front and back lawn but the brothers found a way to let Guppy do it.  They didn’t seem to mind that the modest weekly allowance went to Guppy and not them.  

A very young “Guppy” in front of his Pasadena , California home

Guppy deserved the punches thrown by his older brother but that didn’t stop him from teasing.  He was having too much fun.  But he wasn’t used to being bullied by his classmates. When a smart-aleck kid bigger and taller than Guppy said he was going to beat him up for teasing him, a circle of fourth-graders surrounded them on the playground and both boys ended up tussling on the ground.  Guppy twisted his body to get free and his elbow hit the bully in the eye, and he ran away crying.  (This was the first of a few lucky blows later in life.)  Guppy rose from the ground and walked away shoulders back, eyes front, with a skinned elbow and the elation that only Rocky would understand.  Later both brothers took boxing lessons from their dad although wrestling and kicking lessons might have served them better.  His father later moved them to a private prep school where black eyes were less prevalent and pronounced.

Despite the disparity in their ages, Jude and Guppy shared similar experiences — sibling rivalry and the kinds of things kids face in school.  But that’s a far cry from what Teddy faces during Covid-19 restrictions with half days in a classroom and half days in front of his laptop with his tutor by his side. Thank goodness Jude built a playground in their yard that has recreated the excitement and fun for kids of the neighborhood so that they can all feel normal in unusual times.    

Photos: Jude Tazioli

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