My dad was what I’d call an urban farmer. No, we didn’t raise crops in a metropolis. We built swimming pools.
The problem with the swimming pool business in Philadelphia is that it’s impossible to build a pool in a Pennsylvania winter. That meant Dad would do all the work he could between April and October, and then hope he had enough money to last us through the winter. Dad would pick up odd jobs to make ends meet.
I think I was about 14 or 15 when I helped Dad deliver salt. During breakfast one snowy day after early-morning seminary, Dad asked me if I would help him after school. Since basketball season hadn’t started yet, I said I would.
That day we put on our coats and boots and climbed into the truck that was normally used only in the summertime. We drove to the docks on the Delaware River in downtown Philadelphia where Dad pulled over and went into the office. Soon he came out and we drove through the gate and into the yard. Before long, we were loading several bags of road salt onto the back of the truck as snow began to fall.
Off we went, with Dad doing the driving and me doing the navigating. With the addresses and a street map, I tried to plot out the most efficient route for us to take.
We began near the historic area of the city. We drove by the Liberty Bell and into the business district. There wasn’t a place to park, so Dad just stopped the truck in the middle of the road and put on the flashers. We jumped out and carried three bags of salt into a small clock shop.
One of our next stops was a men’s clothing store. Dad made the owner laugh with one of his jokes as we carried the salt through the falling snow. After a few more deliveries, we went into a poorer neighborhood and delivered a single bag of salt to a small deli. The man there spoke with an Italian accent. I carried the salt as Dad talked with the man and had him sign the delivery papers.
The rest of the afternoon was spent in the low-income areas of Philadelphia. There were small grocery stores, laundromats, pawn shops, and hardware stores. And at each of the stops, Dad treated each person with dignity and respect—and often made them laugh.
Several weeks went by, and each afternoon delivery brought new insights, new observations, and new talks with Dad. We talked about all kinds of things—world events, Church doctrine, sports. Once Dad tried to talk about what kinds of girls I liked, but I wouldn’t let him. So he changed the subject.
There were lots of things I learned the winter I delivered salt. I learned that Dad was willing to “dig a few ditches,” as he would say, to provide for our family. I learned you can actually talk to your dad about things that really matter—things like testimony, friends, and relationships.
But looking back, one of the most important lessons I learned is that we truly are the “salt of the earth.” Dad made everyone smile despite the weather or their life’s status. It didn’t matter if we were delivering to a woman managing a laundromat in the slums, or a man who owned a tailor shop in uptown Philly. Dad cheered all of them with his jokes, his attitude, and the respect he showed them. At least for that winter, Dad was the salt of Philadelphia in more ways than one.