Happy 120th Birthday in Heaven to our beloved patriarch, Neil Cerchio...our Pop, our Gramps, our Poppa Neil! Neil was born on May 22, 1898 in Jersey City, the son of parents recently emigrated from Castellammare di Stabia, Italy. When he was 16 years old, he ran away to join the Army and fight in WWI (yes, he lied and told them he was 18!). His hopes to see action were dashed, however, when the Army discovered he could cook! He was boogie boogie bugle boy during that time, too, receiving the honor of blowing Taps at Arlington Cemetery. We remember the faded homemade tattoos he had on his arms, which he got as a soldier. After the war, he married Raffaela Fucito, with whom he raised 3 daughters and a son -- Josie, Catherine, David, and Anna -- and opened a butcher shop and grocery store at 86 Wallis Avenue, the apartment building his father bought in 1920 and our source of inspiration for this IG page. Neil's Grocery was a centerpiece of the neighborhood, a place where women and men gathered not only to buy food but play a number, gossip, and enjoy each other's company. During the Depression, Neil "sold" food to people who weren't able to pay, logging their bill in a book and accepting their promises to pay when they could. He never bothered to collect. When the store closed in 1973, Neil renovated the store and moved into the apartment in the same space. In his retirement from the store, he would still sit outside on his folding chair, greeting passers-by and acting as the mayor of the block. He'd make his gravy, drink his homemade wine, and climb three flights every evening to his daughter Josie's apartment for dinner. She took care of him devotedly until he died at age 93...on her 70th birthday. We miss you, Poppa Neil...thanks for giving us EVERYTHING.
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