The Fourth of July is Peachy DiPietro Dixon's favorite holiday.
When the veteran waitress takes a break at Sabatino’s to peek at Inner Harbor fireworks, her mind travels to long-ago East Baltimore and relatives whose English was spiced with garlic and parmesan; proud immigrants and first-generation Americans whose blood was not blue but red, white, and blue collar.
“The Fourth was always about family,” says Peachy, the granddaughter of Italian immigrants, people who embraced the United States through honest work and the good life that it afforded.
One of her uncles—legendary Baltimore City Councilman and Crabtown character par excellence Dominic "Mimi" DiPietro—was a big shot marching alongside the Stars and Stripes in those long-ago parades.
Mimi, who represented Highlandtown at city hall for a quarter-century, was one slice of a large extended family honoring the country that allowed them to eat every day and have a chance to be somebody.
"My Uncle Cholly and Aunt Esther lived in Dundalk, and we'd always go to their house for the big Fourth of July parade," says Peachy from the kitchen of the Claremont Avenue rowhouse where she was born almost 70 years ago.
“We'd sit in the hot sun for two hours watching the parade and then we'd come back home to eat lunch. Then we’d go back to Dundalk in the evening for fireworks."
(Dundalk, as everyone east of President Street knows, is the Fourth of July epicenter—complete with a “Heritage Fair”—of metropolitan Baltimore.)
When the last Roman candle had burst in the air, the DiPietros again returned to Claremont Avenue, just a few doors from Our Lady of Pompei Church.
In the parlor, Peachy’s father gathered everyone to watch one of his favorites: James Cagney in Yankee Doodle Dandy.
"Without a doubt, my father loved this country," she says of the Bethlehem Steel laborer who couldn’t believe the company kept paying him in retirement.
(Carmen DiPietro died in 1973, long before Bethlehem Steel’s bankruptcy would rob thousands of his co-workers and their widows of a good chunk of their pensions and all of their health insurance.)
"America is where my father was able to make money, where he bought a house,” says Peachy. “He always said that if it wasn't for the United States, he wouldn't know what would have happened to him.”
Along with recipes for “pasta fa-zool” and gnocchi, it’s all in the book A Peachy Life, written by Peachy—born Leonora DiPietro—and just published by CityLit Press of Baltimore.
In it, she recounts her years at some of the city's most fabled eateries: Johnny Unitas’ Golden Arm; the Circle One Rooftop Revolving Restaurant at the downtown Holiday Inn; the incomparable Haussner’s; and her four decades at Sabatino’s.
The joy is mixed with bushels of pain. A date rape forced her into the kind of marriage that led the Corleone brothers to murder their sister’s husband; she raised two children alone because their father was a worthless junkie; and she stood on her feet—the ankles swelled and blue—for 10, 12, and 14 hours at a time, providing for her kids with the tips she made.
And yet, Peachy is true to the nickname given to her at birth and greets every day with a smile.
She is the kind of person that you meet for the first time and think you’ve known your whole life.
And if you haven’t, you wish you had.
Rafael Alvarez can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org
Peachy Dixon will sign copies of her memoir at Greetings and Readings in the Hunt Valley Towne Centre on Shawan Road from 12:30 to 2 p.m. on Saturday, July 9th, 2011.