Weekly St. Helena Star Column

Wednesday, March 31, 2010



The church was quiet. “Nice of you to come. ”

“Are you kidding? Johnny always showed up.” “Ain’t that the truth.”

Ronnie knew Johnny Sciutto intimately. Ronnie rented space in Johnny’s building on Main.

Johnny ran Main St. Electric—at a time when Main St. featured plumbing shops, coffee shops, grocery stores, pharmacies, hardware stores, auto shops, appliance shops, banks, a sports shop (with guns and fishing poles) and bars, bars , bars.

It was a town which served locals—not those “just passin’ through.”

Don’t get me wrong. Had tourists come to the valley solely to buy 6 volt batteries or 100 watt bulbs, Johnny would have sold ‘em to them—gladly. He was a business man—not in it for fun.

Johnny not only owned his business, he was a tradesman who took pride in his craft. When you grow up four miles from town and live up a muddy dirt road, a mile from the closest people, plumbers and electricians take on mystical importance. And we had the best.

Country living has its pluses, but the wind and rain combo-platter doesn’t rank near the top. When mixed with aging oaks, rain and overweight tree limbs mean one thing: Downed power lines and broken pipes.

For years Johnny came out to Conn Valley at least once each winter—and often, perhaps half a dozen times.

How he must have hated those phone calls from Maggie. Any trip out to the Lazy J where the wiring probably hadn’t been updated since Roosevelt—no the first one—must have meant lost revenue.

Nothing was wired properly. But Johnny worked miracles. He just gerrymandered each unique problem and tried to make it hold up until the next storm.

Johnny was a member of the Greatest Generation. Born in Italy, he came over as a toddler and served in World War II. He could have played Sinatra’s, Angelo Maggio in “Here to Eternity”, except he was from St. Helena, not Brooklyn—and was Navy—not Army.

He was the poster child for what made America great. Johnny never sought out the limelight. He was humble, but he was always there.

Weekends he hunted and fished with Pep, Ralph and the boys. Weekdays he worked.

Father Brenkle read a letter written by his granddaughter, Samantha, lauding the fact that Johnny was there in 30 degree cold and 110 degree heat—sitting in the stands cheering her on as a college softball player.

I could have told her that. From Cloverdale, to Willets, to Travis Air Force Base,--from Friday nights at Carpy Field or Tuesday nights in the old wood-beamed high school gym, we knew that if we looked to the stands—there would be Johnny to pat us on the shoulder and give a word of encouragement.

We weren’t social friends. I was as kid. He was an adult. I wasn’t at his house for Friday night BBQ’s. He was married. He had little kids of his own. He set a standard.

He and Gwen were boosters—local merchants whose lives were intertwined with the everyday pulse of the town they lived in. Doubt they ever gave it a second thought. It’s what they did.

From Crab Feeds at Native Sons to Kiwanis Kapades, if there were a town gathering Johnny was there—laughing and smiling. Always asking about the family.

For years when I came back for a wedding or funeral, there’d be Johnny—coming up and saying “Hi. How’s Maggie?” He didn’t nod from across the room. He came right up—shook your hand and smiled that famous smile.

He was dependable. Constant.

Merchants up and down Main St. like Mel, Bill Vanderschoot, Vee Menegon, Mayor Acquila, Julius Ciaocca, and Ernie the Butcher set a tone. We followed it—in lock step. Starr Baldwin chronicled it with taste and dignity—unlike what we see in the local paper today. But Starr was like Johnny. A pro.

No one planned it. They were a different generation of men. They drank and smoked. They stayed married. They were loyal. They were men of substance—not phonies. They played by the rules. They loved their country.

When Johnny and Gwen moved to Oregon it was like a death in the family. But they came back. And all was right with the world.

They took pride in their work, their families and their town. They led by example. All we had to do was show up—and follow.

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