That's Lauderdale

Simple act of kindness gets last dance

dlauderdale@islandpacket.comJanuary 23, 2014 

Luther Vandross ILLUS.jpg

A drawing of Luther Vandross

CHRIS MORRIS — Dallas Morning News

Reggie Deas could not have known when he sang "Dance With My Father" at The Jazz Corner that he was giving voice to the best of America.

Deas and his band had just finished their first set in a show Saturday night that was a tribute to the works of Luther Vandross.

Anita and Jim Fullam of Hilton Head Island were there with guests from North Carolina, but had to leave early.

Deas was almost out of the room when Anita asked him if he was going to sing "Dance With My Father," the song she wanted to hear most.

"He answered with a bright smile, 'Sure, I'll sing it for you now' and turned and walked back to the stage," Anita said.

As the popular island Deas-Guyz band performed the song that won a Grammy, Anita stood sobbing in the arms of club owner Bob Marsteller.

Peter M. Tarsi was Anita's daddy, and she was a daddy's girl.

Peter was 4 years old when he arrived at the foot of the Statue of Liberty on Ellis Island. His parents came from Naples, Italy, seeking opportunity they were sure could be found only in America.

Peter's education ended after the sixth grade. He somehow turned a pail of water and something like cement into a career in construction in Philadelphia.

When war broke out, he invaded Omaha Beach on D-Day. Four guys died right in front of him. "Their bodies were splattered all over me," he would say later.

After the war, he married Josephine Giuffrida, whose family had came from Sicily. Her father opened a small store, then a lot of small stores, and then a large deli-meat production company. His two girls were married on the same day so he would have to take only one day off.

Anita grew up amid large cans of olive oil and big barrels of homemade sausage because their home was above a store two blocks from the old Connie Mack Stadium.

Peter took three jobs to put his three children through college. His chair was often empty at the dinner table, even on holidays. Anita never saw him buy himself new shoes, shirts or jackets.

But on Friday and Saturday nights, Peter and Josephine went out dancing. They glided the floor like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in the heyday of the big bands. It was a joyous symbol of how they doted over each other for more than 60 years.

When "Dance With My Father" came out, Anita got the CD for her parents. They would play it while Anita danced with her daddy and Josephine wept.

... If I could steal one final glance, one final step, one final dance with him I'd play a song that would never, ever end 'Cause I'd love, love, love To dance with my father again ...

Peter M. Tarsi died in 2009, leaving behind a cool fortune. Josephine will turn 96 on Monday. And Anita will never forget a simple act of kindness by Reggie Deas.

Follow columnist David Lauderdale at twitter.com/ThatsLauderdale.

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