Sunday, March 20, 2011

My Friend Pete


My mentor was Italian whom I worked for when I was a college student. His name was Pete Rigutto, we call his nephew “Repete”.
Pete is long gone now.

Although Pete probably never went beyond high school, I believe he was the most intelligent man I have ever been around, in so many ways.

Pete began his training as a marble mason early, walking over the Dolomites to central Europe with his dad, slacking their own lime to use for mortar after World War One.

During the Depression, living with his mother he raised pheasants, trapped salmon, and grew vegetables around their Portland home. He told me they would catch pheasants in a net trap they set up, I don’t know exactly how this worked. Salmon were plentiful in those days in S. E. creeks, later going to the Oregon coast salmon was abundant, as was deer meat, although many flat tires had to be repaired on every trip. He told me a little bar by my present home was the first stop on the way to the coast, it being a long way out of town, it now part of Portland city limits. The Tillicum.

Later as a young man, he made ends meet by having three jobs at once. Professional wrestler, cello player, and marble mason for his dad. When he asked his dad why he always had to do bathroom work on commercial jobs, his father told him that’s where people sit and have time to look closely at the work, and it has to be good.

As a college student working for Pete I asked him why he always knew more about the subject matter than me, he told me it was due to the fact that Italian was is first language, which gave him insight into technical terms and “I never got along with my wife so I spent a lot of time reading at my beach shack by myself.''

Italian marble masons in those days didn’t bother much with what we call customer relations, so although he was a gentleman, he always put on a gruff face, to keep homeowners away and not peer over our shoulders as we did their marble work. A policy not practiced in todays' world, but still perfectly logical to me. Pete would tell you when he was finished with the job and didn’t invite silly questions by the customer. He was old school.

Pete had many expressions that solved most problems, if the customer questioned his work. His favorite being, “Can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. As a helper who mixed the cement I hated to hear ''Never got enough until you got too much.''

But Pete was at his best ad libbing uncomfortable situations. Once after working several weeks on a complex slate floor in a bank remodel all the ladies seemed to enjoy talking to Pete even though they seemed to get under his skin as they walked in and out every day. The bank president thought Pete layed the door entry at too steep an angle to the sidewalk, actully I did too but one never second guessed Pete. While we were redoing this entry ramp the women giggled and said you just got through doing that, Pete snarled back, “Women aren't the only ones who can change their mind.”

However I will never forget Pete's retort to a woman in Eastern Oregon who walked over the floor we worked on the previous day with a broom handle tapping the floor thinking she was checking for a good job. “WE JUST LAY THEM, MA'AM, WE DONT TUNE THEM.”

When Pete's younger brother Fred and I get together – Fred no slouch himself – we never talk about Pete, its just to hard for both of us.  

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