The Rose Garden – A Documentary on the Roseto Effect

RosetoI had the unique opportunity to be interviewed for a documentary about Roseto Pennsylvania and its historical significance related to heart disease research.  My great grandfather, Nicola Rosato, was the founder of Roseto in 1887.  The documentary was produced by Gabriella Flamini, a digital media student at Ryder University in Lawrenceville, NJ.  The documentary chronicles the “Roseto Effect” and the almost inexplicable absence of heart disease in Roseto, the first 100% Italian borough in the United States.  The vast majority of residents were immigrants from Roseto Valfortore located in the Southern Italian province of Foggia in the region of Puglia.  Of note, the background music accompanying the documentary is the harmonica playing of my 86-year old father, Pete Stampone – - not only a strong heart, but a big heart.

Well known author, Malcolm Gladwell, writes about the “Roseto Mystery” in the introduction to his book, Outliers: The Story of SuccessOutliers debuted at No. 1 on the New York Times Bestseller List and held that position for 11 consecutive weeks.  Gladwell is also known for The Tipping Point and Blink, both of which sold over $2.5 million copies.

Although the focus of the documentary is the medical significance of Roseto, be sure to check out a post I wrote a few years ago called The Roseto Effect – The Valley of the Roses.  In the post, I provide a historical review of the founding of Roseto, along with the medical significance of the town.  Hope you enjoy it.

More Than Life Itself

"Stevie Z"

“Stevie Z”

It’s rare in life that you meet someone who changes everything.  Someone who fills your heart with joy and gives you a reason to live.  Someone you can’t stop thinking about because just the thought brings a smile to your face.  Your wife, your husband, your children, and your parents all contribute to this unconditional emotion we call love.

On October 28, 2013, the Stampone-Zamulinsky circle of love was forever connected by the arrival of Stephen Joseph Zamulinsky, Jr., a very special gift.  Stevie Z, as he is affectionately known, was delivered by my daughter Nicole and husband Steve, in a bit of a surprise, 10 weeks early.  Nicole and Steve had followed the prenatal care handbook to a “T”, but at 31 weeks, Nicole had a sudden onset of HELLP Syndrome requiring the emergency cesarean delivery of a 3 lb. baby boy.  It was a scary day for all concerned as Julia and I were in Charleston, South Carolina attending Andi’s final collegiate soccer game (Drexel University 4 – College of Charleston 1) when we received a call about the emergency.  Immediately boarding a flight to Philadelphia, we had no idea what to expect upon landing.  You know the drill, all electronic devices off, seatbacks in their upright position, table trays up.  Three and a half agonizing hours later, wheels on the ground, Julia’s cell phone lit up with the news of Stevie’s arrival as well.  By the time we got to the hospital, a waiting room full of family including great grandparents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, cousins, in-laws, and Nicole’s longtime friend Kim Fogg, were already present to support Nick, Steve and Stevie.  Numerous others would arrive within hours.  Our circle of love had surrounded Stevie before he even had a name.

Circle of Love

Our Circle of Love

The initial weeks in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit were tense and unsettling because of the baby’s weight and his pulmonary and heart issues, but these problems proved no match for this soon to be “bull” of a baby.  After five weeks in the Bryn Mawr Hospital NIC-Unit, Stevie was released into the Stampone-Zamulinsky family, and I can truly say life will never be the same.  Stevie’s escape from the NIC-Unit was quicker than anticipated – - in part due to his genetically guaranteed power eating appetite.  Doctors and nurses were overjoyed with his rapid progress.

For Bill and Mary Z, this was their 15th grandchild, veteran grandparents, wonderful loving grandparents to all 15.  For Julia and I, this was Numero Uno!  (Need to teach grandson Zamulinsky some Italian).  This was unfamiliar territory for us, with new responsibilities and lots of traditions to pass on.  Having raised 5 children, you would think this is more of the same, but it’s not, it’s different, inexplicably different.  As a grandfather, I have it easy, Grandmom is the useful one, the one who spends those first weeks reassuring the new parents they are doing everything right.  The nurse, the cook, the go-to babysitter, for all intents and purposes, the best nanny money can buy.  Me, I just have to show up, toss him in the air, snap some photos, shoot a few baskets, and buy him his first baseball glove.  Boy, I love my job!

Stevie & Grandpop

Stevie & Grandpop

Almost 16 months have now passed, and there has not been a day I haven’t thought about Stevie, looked at his photo, or wanted to hug him.  I recently reminded Julia of a post I wrote a couple of years ago about Roseto, Pennsylvania, a small town founded by my great grandfather, an Italian immigrant.  The lesson of the Roseto story is how the people were able to live long healthy lives with no heart disease primarily because of their lifestyle – the emphasis being their focus on what really matters – family and friends.  They had insulated themselves from outside pressures of a fast world and somehow had extended their own lives.  No one dies of heart disease in Roseto.  I recalled the Roseto story with Julia because most homes were occupied by 3 or more generations under one roof.  My brothers and I were lucky enough to be raised in this very type of household and I have such vivid memories of my grandparents being more than grandparents; they were surrogate parents.  It has taken 60 years, but it all makes sense now with the arrival of Stevie.  How special it would be if I could come home to him every day.  But the world has changed, and that is not the American Dream, only my dream.  And fortunately, we get to experience that same satisfaction every weekend at the Jersey shore when we have just that, 3 or 4 generations under one roof.  Cooking, eating, playing the harmonica, splashing, all in harmony, all within our circle of love.



Being grandparents gives you a second chance at being the parents you wish you were.  Being more patient, less distracted, more fun, more attentive and not sweating the small things.  But for me, the most amazing thing is how much you can learn from someone who has an entire vocabulary consisting of “nana”, translates to banana.  (Nicole tells me Stevie can say dozens of words, but the only discernable one for me has been his food reference – who’d a thunk it.  We are working on “meatball”).

But I digress.  My point is, Stevie doesn’t care how you’re dressed, what you look like, whether you have brought him a gift or anything else material.  He’s just happy to see you and touch you.  He reaches for a hug not a handout.  There is no better feeling in the world than this little man running across the room, arms open for a hug and kiss.  So uncorrupted, so simple, so pure.

For me, the story of being Stevie’s Grandpop has not yet been fully written, lot’s still to do.  Babysitting, going fishing, having a catch, maybe even Disneyworld; but one thing’s for sure Stevie, “I love you more than life itself”.

“Monicker Mockers” or “Life in Tacony”

Over the years I have heard my grandfather  reminisce about his youth on innumerous occasions and no matter the theme of his story; whether it be tragedy or triumph, they always end the same way; with a good laugh. The common thread found in these recounted tales that leads to this unavoidable gut-busting conclusion is the humorous nicknames he uses to refer to guys from his old neighborhood, Tacony. Scummy, Chew-Tobacco, Double-Head, Slug, Scrappy, Long Balls, Shine-A-Mite, Tear-Ass – just to name a few. Who are these guys?

Tacony-Palmyra Bridge

William Brewster and the other Puritan travelers who came to the New World on the Mayflower would be shocked to hear such names being thrown around. The Puritans would name their children positive character traits such as Obedience in hopes the child would grow to embody their given name. They believed a good name would keep their children mindful of the errand they were put on this earth to serve. My grandfather, Pete Stampone (Railroad) and the Tacony crowd operated a little differently. The neighborhood guys would base their names off physical or mental attributes they already personified. Sorry Joe Salandro, maybe if you showered once a month you would be Joey-blank-blank instead of Skunk.

While I have heard my grandfather recount his youth countless times, I have yet to hear him mention a nickname one would strive to exemplify. Although I do suspect some of them have done their best to fulfill their nickname destiny – congratulations Joe Saltarelli a.k.a. Beer Belly. Brewster and his Puritan counterparts should consider themselves lucky they landed on Plymouth Rock and not near the Tacony-Palmyra Bridge where they would be forced to answer to, YO CUZ!