Our Gussie

…Sharing the Life and Lessons of Gus Fanelli, Father Extraordinaire



Hopping off the Hamster Wheel of Life

Gussie was a true outdoorsman.  From when he spent every summer day at the beach as a teen, working in Atlantic City carrying beach cushions, to crabbing, fishing and hunting, he loved to be outdoors. Hunting and fishing were his favorite.  From the day after Thanksgiving, every year, when deer (buck) season started he would go to Potter County in Pennsylvania and spend a week hunting at his cabin in the mountains, which he owned with a group of his hunting buddies. He never missed the start of deer season in Potter County until claustrophobia crippled his ability to sleep in tight quarters and he reluctantly had to stop making the trip.


Success! Gussie nabbed a big one on this hunting trip.
Success! Gussie nabbed a big one on this hunting trip.

It was always an event when my father returned from his trip.  My sister and I hated that he was gone for a week; we missed him so much. We would count down the days until he arrived home and wait at the window until we saw his car pull up, then we’d race to the door to attack him with hugs. He always smelled like the mountains, his flannel shirt still musty from the cabin. His hiking boots were always a little more dinged-up. The best part of his return, though, was his unshaven face. Gussie never grew a beard until he went hunting; he always preferred to have a clean face, minus one or twice when he briefly grew a mustache.  He always came home with a week’s worth of beard, which he would rub against our cheeks to tickle us when he kissed us hello. An hour later, after his rifles were returned to his gun cabinet and my mother had started the washer to clean his hunting clothes, the beard would be gone, and our clean-shaven father was back. I always looked forward to Grizzly Gussie, who sometimes had a deer with him, and sometimes didn’t. Getting a deer meant gloves for us and a freezer-full of venison meat which only my father would cook and eat.

It was a sad day when my father returned early from his hunting trip in 2000. He couldn’t sleep in the bunk bed because he felt closed in and he felt trapped with so many people in the room.  His claustrophobia had become more and more of a problem in the past 5 or 6 years; he didn’t like to be in crowds at parades or festivals anymore. The first year he had decided not to go, I looked for local day trip hunting opportunities for him where I live but for one reason or another, they didn’t pan out. Gussie had resigned himself to a life without deer hunting.

My father had a very stressful life.  He knew the importance of pursuing a pastime that he loved so he could immerse himself, even for a short time, in something to distract him.  Hunting (and fishing, which will be another post), was his week to jump off the hamster wheel of life and go off the grid.  There was no telephone in the Potter County cabin, no tv; just a radio to check the weather conditions and kitchen appliances so their buddy, Billy, who loved to cook, could prepare meals for them. In the silence of the woods, my dad would watch for a deer to come into view and clear his mind.

My father’s devotion to his past-times taught me the importance of having activities that I am passionate about. My father was never bored.  In addition to his outdoorsman activities, he loved photography and had several cameras that he taught me how to use. A voracious reader,  he would immerse himself in material that fed his mind.  He had no time for vapid novels, but instead, he would devour history books; he had a special affinity for World War 2- he served in Germany after the war in the occupational troops. If he was watching tv, it was usually a biography or national geographic, with a sitcom here and there for some laughter- my father had a great sense of humor.

My father didn’t like the word “bored” when I was a child. When I was very young and told him I was bored, he would rattle off a litany of activities I could do- either alone or with my sister or one of my parents. I quickly learned that there was no reason to ever be bored with art supplies, books, cameras, bicycles, board games, balls, and other goodies that I had. There were no computers then, weekend tv shows for children ended at noon, and my parents didn’t believe in making weekends non-stop fun events for us on a regular basis just to keep us entertained. As a parent now, I realized I inherited this attitude from them.

As an adult I found photographing the outdoors to be my escape from the hamster wheel of life, if just for a little while.  I inherited that attitude from my father. The word bored isn’t heard in my home, and I can’t remember when one of my daughters even uttered it; they are both creative people who love to create, so bored isn’t in their vocabulary. When they were younger, they had sports. Now they feed their minds or create something from inspiration they get. Although nowadays technology plays a big role in most children’s lives, if by using it they are inspired to write or draw or paint or photograph something, then that’s something positive, and my father would be pleased that they are pursuing something that is their own and that makes them happy.




A Toast to Dad

My father was not much of a drinker.  However, in the summertime he would have a beer once in a while.  Sometimes after he mowed the lawn he’d go into the garage and grab a Rolling Rock pony from the extra fridge and then sit down on the patio on one of the thick, wooden patio chairs with the floral cushions and mop the sweat off his head with his handkerchief and sip his Rolling Rock.

I don’t know why my father liked one of the most inexpensive beers made- he had lived in Germany and tasted many different kinds of good beers, he was on the PLCB which took him to many bars where I’m sure he had access to better beers. And my  grandfather only drank Heineken so we frequently had a six pack of that in the fridge, too.  But no, my father was dedicated to his Rolling Rock.

When my father wasn’t looking, I would sneak sips of his beer.  It was mainly because he said no alcohol until I was 21- in his house or out.  So of course because it was verbotten, I had to have it.  And it tasted awful.  As did the Heineken, but my grandfather, being from Italy where age is irrelevant for having a drink, would offer a few sips to me or pour me a mouthful in a paper cup at barbecues.  “It won’t hurt ya,” he’d say, while making sure my father was nowhere near us.  It didn’t taste any better than the rolling rock and maybe even worse, because I wasn’t sneaking a sip.  On the occasions when my father caught me sneaking a sip (I really just liked the foam, to be honest), I would give him my cute cheesy smile that meant “I’m too cute to get smacked,” and my father would pretend to be angry with me but then shoo me away from his beer.  He also maintained that ladies didn’t drink beer, so that may be the reason I never acquired a taste for it.


This Thanksgiving, however, I decided we should toast my father, since it was the first holiday without him.  My husband ingeniously came up with the idea to toast with Rolling Rock.  We poured a half of a glass for everyone, and I made the toast, reminding everyone that Rolling Rock was the only beer we had ever seen my father drink- at home at least- and we raised a glass.  I have to say, that beer tasted like my youth- memories of stolen sips in the summer and pretend scoldings and time spent with my father- it was a sweet memory and I hope that if my dad was watching, that he raised his Rolling Rock pony in heaven at the same time.

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