Joe Siracusa became the sole caregiver for his adult son in 1989 after a car accident left him severely impaired. Joe took up the mantel of caregiver and has selflessly taken care of his son, but it meant he no longer had the time to pursue his favorite hobby: dancing. Then Joe got in touch with MPTF.
Watch Joe’s story, performed by Toby Maguire (Spider-Man, Seabiscuit) and written by Bill Dubuque (The Judge), below–and keep an eye out for a special appearance from Dancing with the Stars’ Kym Johnson. You can also read the full text from the script below the video.
I may not be the best dancer in the world but I’m not afraid to dance. That’s what’s important. Because that’s what impresses girls. I think. A guy who’s not afraid to dance. I’m Joe Siracusa. I’m 17 years old. A drummer. I’ve got rhythm to spare. I’m not afraid to dance. I am not. Afraid. To dance. Right?
Wow. There are a lot of guys holding up the gymnasium walls of John Adams High tonight. I need something to do with my hands. I’ll hang up my coat, I’ll get some punch, I’ll lean on this wall–only for a minute–while I talk with the guys in the–there she is: Eleanor Cristino. She’s got a light in her eyes and a bounce in her step and don’t get me started on that dress. Watching her laugh makes me smile. Deep breath, Joe, you’re not afraid to dance. What do I talk to her about? Other guys are looking at her. Push off the wall, Joe. Push off the wall. I’m not afraid to dance. I am not afraid to dance. I’m …
I’m dancing with Eleanor Cristino. And my mind goes blank. I think I just mentioned the weather. Yes, it is cold. We’re in Cleveland. Ohio. In December. Eleanor does the talking. Her dad’s a milkman. Sometimes she rides the truck with him at night, making deliveries all over the city. They’re close, she and her dad. I tell her about my dad being a tuba player in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. Being a performer runs in the family. I make her laugh. Which makes me laugh. Eleanor smiles at me. We dance all night.
High school’s over. Eleanor’s my girlfriend. She’s strong, independent, smart. She’s 10 months older than me and I won’t let her forget it. She’s not amused. I love her. My dancing improves.
The Nazi’s are in France. Every day the news overseas seems worse. Eleanor and I work at a factory making parts for tanks. Tanks. Yeah, I’ve got a bad feeling about this. After our shift we go out dancing. I tell her not to worry. Then I ask her to marry me. She reminds me we’re only 20. I ask her again. She says yes. Who’s the happiest man in the world?
But then the Army decides I’ve an aptitude for making maps. I hate making maps. But I see the photos from Europe, the Pacific. I know I’m lucky. Eleanor joins me in El Paso. I’m a husband and a map-making soldier. I also play drums in an Army band. Eleanor and I have our first child, a baby girl we name Marie. I hold her, stare at her tiny hands, kiss her soft cheeks. I cannot believe you can love another person as much as I do this little girl. I’m a husband, a soldier, a musician and a father.
The War’s over and my little family and I are back in Cleveland. The work is steady, the pay decent, but it’s not what I want to do. Then one day I see it: an ad in the Plain-Dealer: Spike Jones is playing the Palace. Spike’s the leader of a band that travels all over the country. I tell Eleanor if I could just get five minutes with him, tell him I know his arrangements, that I’ve been a drummer in the Army…The man tours on his own train. Who has his own train? What do you think, Eleanor?
Backstage at the Palace. My mouth is dry, my palms sweaty. Mr. Jones has given me five minutes, no more, maybe less. I’m ushered into a dressing room and there he is: wearing a zebra skin robe, drinking a tall glass of iced tea. Spike Jones. I unload, tell him I’m a fan, that I know all his arrangements – okay, 75 percent of them–but I know I can do this if you’ll only give me a chance. He stares at me. Sips his iced tea. One month trial period, kid. $150 week. If I hire you full time, I’ll bump it. But if I hire you, you’re moving to California.
California? Good Lord. Long talk with Eleanor. She knows this is what I want, that it’s my chance to be a performer, an entertainer. It’s a big decision. I don’t make it, we do. First show is in Fargo, North Dakota. If I don’t cut it, it might be my last.
I call from Fargo. “Eleanor… I killed it!” I tell her how Spike held the band onstage after the show, announced that I’m the newest member. She tells me she’s proud of me. That she loves me. The Siracusas are moving to California.
We’ve performed to sold-out venues in 130 cities and it’s magical. Each member of the band has a private berth on the train. I see the moonlit country go by and think of my family. How many people can say they love what they do for a living? I can. But, I miss my kids. I miss dancing with my wife.
Our son is born. We name him Jim. I give Spike my notice. He’s a class act and wishes me well. I’ve been hired by UPA, United Productions of America. They specialize in animation. Eleanor thinks it’s a great opportunity, I’m not so sure. Looks a lot like cartoons to me.
Eleanor was right. UPA is wonderful. I spend my days combining music, dialogue, and sound effects, working with people like Dr. Seuss, Chuck Jones and Henry Mancini. At night I go home to a house full of healthy beautiful children. I call Eleanor from the studio; ask her to call the neighbor girl, see if she’s free to watch the kids…
I feel like taking my wife dancing.
Joe Siracusa is 93 years old. And like any life, lived long and well, it’s had its share of tears. In 1989, Joe and Eleanor’s son Jim was involved in an automobile accident that resulted in significant brain injury. In 1997, Eleanor Siracusa, Joe’s wife of 56 years, suffered a stroke and died. Joe is now his son’s primary caregiver, responsible for all his needs. And while Joe is there for his son, MPTF stands by Joe, providing support, both financially and emotionally.
When Joe’s home needed modifications to accommodate Jim’s special needs, MPTF was there to assist. When Joe needed a caregiver to come into the home to tend to his son so he could teach dance classes at the local senior center, MPTF was ready to help. Joe believes we’re given one life and it’s up to each of us to fill that life with memories. Many good. Many bad. Some wonderful. But to get to the wonderful, you just take a deep breath, push off the wall, and take a chance.
Joe Siracusa is not afraid to dance.
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