Rocco

• Synchronicity: A term coined by Carl Jung to explain what he believed to be the underlying order of the universe that manifests itself through meaningful coincidences that cannot be explained by cause and effect.

• Coincidence: God’s way of remaining anonymous. –Albert Einstein

One morning in January 1975, Jack Regan, my Homicide Sergeant threw an arrest report on my desk and said, half joking, “Hey, maybe this is your uncle.”

I looked at the mug shot and arrest sheet of a Rocco Padovoni that he had retrieved from the Robbery office next door. Could be, I thought, but who could say for sure? He had been arrested for the armed robbery of a Fannie Mae Candy store while using a blank pistol. His record indicated that at age 58, he had spent the vast majority of his adult life in Illinois State Prisons. He was soon to be headed back.

Literally over a hundred years ago in Baragiano, Italy our name had been Padovani. The guys in the unit knew that my family name had been mangled, first at Ellis Island in the 1890’s, then again when my dad and his older brother became wards of the state at Maryville Orphanage, and then one last time around 1924 when my father—perhaps not so inexplicably—dropped the last three syllables from his thoroughly corrupted surname.

I brought Rocco’s mug shot and arrest record home and he became sort of a scurrilous inside family joke, a real live authentic armed robber that might be my uncle. He became a living family legend, an armed desperado no less. Our very own family felon. Truth was, he favored sticking up Fannie Mae Candy stores with plastic guns. A poor soul that had fallen through the cracks of meager social services and had become institutionalized to the point where he found comfort and security in a prison setting. But I didn’t know that at the time.

Then in the early 80’s I was doing some genealogy research that confirmed Rocco Padovoni was in fact my uncle, a product of a second marriage of my grandfather. Our family’s sly references to Rocco only increased. Oh, we were so smug and clever.

To add fuel to the fire, at the age of 74, Uncle Rocco was arrested during the 1990 Christmas season, sticking up another Fannie Mae Candy Store. The newspapers reported he walked with a cane, was blind in one eye, and once again used a plastic gun. The responding officers were directed to a bus stop outside the candy store where he was waiting for his getaway vehicle, a CTA bus. Uncle Rocco pleaded guilty—he always pleaded guilty— and the Judge sentenced him to “intensive” probation, whatever that is. Somehow our image of an armed felon faded a bit, but we clipped the newspaper article and filed it away.

Then, the summer of 1992 everything changed. My wife called me at home from the local hospital where she worked.

“What is Rocco’s date of birth?” she asked. I looked it up and gave it to her.

“Well your Uncle Rocco is in the hospital. He was brought in last night by ambulance. He’s had a serious heart attack.”

“My Uncle Rocco.” That simple phrase had a sobering effect upon me. Now the butt of insensitive family jokes had a face, and a physical presence in the Intensive Care Unit a few miles from our home. A man I had never met needed help. “My Uncle Rocco.” He was an indigent patient and his hospital stay would be as brief as the doctors could justify. He’d be moved to a public aid nursing facility as soon as possible. We knew too well that would be a grim scenario.

Suddenly Rocco was indeed family. My wife visited a friend in the Social Services Department of the hospital.

“Is there any decent nursing home that could provide our Uncle Rocco with a public aid bed?” she asked.

As a matter of fact there was and within a week Uncle Rocco was resting most comfortably in an upscale nursing home on Chicago’s northwest side. They provided not only for his physical care but also the institutional structure that gave him comfort and security. Uncle Rocco was in heaven.

Perhaps not so strangely, he appeared at ease with the fact that I was a cop. But whenever anyone from our family visited him, he would find a way to express his opinion of our fractured family name.

“Padar, PADAR,” shaking his head with displeasure. Then he would hold his thumb against his fingers, palm up, and shake his raised hand , “Padovani, PADOVANI!” he would exclaim with a broad smile. He made no effort to conceal that he thought what had happened to our family name was a travesty. He was right.

Uncle Rocco passed away in December of ’94 at the age of 78.

Rest in peace, Rocco Padovani!

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12 Comments on “Rocco”

  1. Hal Ardell says:

    Congratulations, Jim. You finally got around to telling the family story of Uncle Rocco. I recall hearing it from your lips years ago…it’s a proud moment: having a felon in the family. We are few and should be counted.

  2. Mary Rita Shull says:

    Jim, I never heard the end of the story, but I remember Mike telling me about your uncle Rocco. Another great story. Thank you!

    • jimpadar says:

      Mike was there when Jack Regan tossed the arrest report in my direction in January of 1975, but it took nearly 20 years for it to play out with Uncle Rocco’s passing in December of 1994.

  3. Phil says:

    I loved the thumb pressed to the fingers of the out stretched, palm up raised hand, while shaking it and saying with emphasis, Padovani, PADOVANI…!!!

    I can visualize and hear it with clarity!
    Have you thought of changing you name?
    It does have a majestic ring to it!

    We all have skeletons in our closets!

    • jimpadar says:

      Our family has often lamented about the bastardization of the name. I have a niece who actually had the original family name embroidered on her high school jacket, but that’s as far as any name change ever got. Tom Nangle says we should always use “Padovani” when making reservations at Italian Restaurants. In fact, he actually did that one time when we went out to eat together. It was kind of neat…”table for Padovani, this way please.” 🙂

  4. I was so intrigued by this story!! I’ve heard stories about Uncle Rocco before, but I had no idea he had passed away when I was as old as 21. Thank you for writing this story, Uncle Jim!

  5. John says:

    Jack Regan, one of the best. Was my V/C Lt. for about 5 years until he retired and went to CCSAO. Last day he worked, came out on a homicide scene I had and found the murder weapon about 2 blocks away in a garbage can. Had a stroke a few years back and heard he wasn’t doing too well. He forgot more than I’d ever know about being the “Murder Police.”

  6. Lisa Padar says:

    I was really glad that I made the trip to the nursing home to visit him and meet him for the first time. One would never know by the looks of him that he had such a long arrest record. He looked like such a sweet old man. Most importantly, he was so happy in that nursing home. He had hot food and enjoyed playing cards with the other residents. He had made friends. It’s amazing how God directed Aunt Durell and Uncle Rocco to cross paths at the hospital. It was like it was planned. Uncle Rocco got to experience living a somewhat “normal” life before he passed, even if just for a short time.


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