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February 28, 2011

I Was Just Thinking: A Dick Tracy watch and the Pope at the fair


Daily Star

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I always wanted a Dick Tracy watch. You know, the kind you can use to communicate with people.

When the World's Fair first came to New York City in 1939 ("The World of Tomorrow"), Dick Tracy watches were all the futuristic rage. Alas, they never came to be.

In 1964, New York hosted another World's Fair. And people were still talking about seeing the "Dick Tracy watch" at the fair. Well, I can tell you for a fact, it never materialized at this fair, either.

The World's Fair of 1964-65 was an unforgettable place of futuristic marvels, placed cheek-to-jowl with the corniest of exhibits, and all wrapped up in the glittery tulle of the nascent Space Age, which was "right around the corner."

Your many choices included seeing "The World's Largest Piece of Cheese" at the Wisconsin Pavilion, or going across the street to marvel at the "Talking President Lincoln" at the Illinois Pavilion. Florida brought its dolphins up.

Major corporations had fantastical presentations. The General Electric "ProgressLand" found you rotating around an animated exhibit of the history of electricity. Pepsi entertained you with the nonstop mutant chorus of "It's a Small World After All," an electronic pageant that survives today at Disney World in Florida.

On April 17, 1964, Ford unveiled the "Car of the Future" at its pavilion. It was the Mustang.

You could dine on Belgian Waffles at the Belgium Pavilion or sushi ("Ew, raw fish!") at the Japanese Pavilion. Sure, Belgian waffles. But where was the Dick Tracy watch?

I needed to go and find out for myself.

My family was always up for an adventure. Dad captained an enormous, baby-blue Ford Country Squire nine-passenger station wagon, with a swing-out rear door and railroad bucket seats (facing each other) in the back. It was a city block long and got about 10 miles to the gallon.

We went to the Fair on Oct. 4, 1965. Mom shepherded us six kids around while Dad dutifully filmed every amazing, exotic oddity with his cumbersome Kodak 16mm movie camera. Oh, and my mother was six months pregnant at the time.

At dark, a large contingent of police started to move into the paths of the fair, boxing everybody in. My father asked a cop what was up.

"Didn't ya' hear, pal? Da' pope's on his way!"

Yes, Pope Paul VI was coming to bless Michelangelo's famous "Pieta" sculpture at the Vatican Pavilion. Within minutes, the police had cordoned off the thousands of fair-goers, and we were stuck.

Soon, out of the dark, came the screaming motorcycles. We were right in the very front row. I remember feeling my heart pounding. "Viva Il Papa! Viva Il Papa!"

And then, riding in what must have been the longest limousine ever made (yes, even longer than our Country Squire station wagon), the pope appeared. He was a tiny, very thin, bird-like figure, dressed in iridescent, white robes. He had soft, friendly eyes. Sitting next to him, all in black, was the rotund Cardinal Francis Spellman. They kind of looked like a holy version of Laurel and Hardy, their physical makeups were so different.

As the car drifted by me, the thunderous chants faded into silence and the scene played out in slow motion. We watched in awe as the pope, waving side-to-side from his open-air raised seat, slowly turned and looked right at us.

I gazed up at my enlarged mother and saw her smiling and waving at the pope (in slow motion, of course). My father was on the ground, sweating through his shirt, trying to load another reel of film into his camera, therefore missing this once-in-a-lifetime family heirloom. Pope Paul VI turned deliberatively and looked directly at my mother. He reached his hand out toward her and made the sign of the cross. Mom is still convinced that the pope saw she was pregnant and was giving her a personal little blessing.

And then off he roared into the Vatican Pavilion.

It was exhilarating.

Twelve weeks later my 40-year-old mother gave birth … twice! My twin sisters, Mary and Teri, were born Jan. 7, 1966. And you say you don't believe in miracles?

Oh, and now that I think of it and replay this scene in my mind almost a half—century later, I remember what struck me. I saw something odd on the pope's outstretched arm as he waved to us from his limousine that night.

Yes, I think it was a Dick Tracy watch!

Catch you in two. …'Big Chuck' D'Imperio can be heard on weekdays beginning at 6 a.m. on WDOS-AM 730 in Oneonta, and also on Thursday nights from 7-9 p.m. on WSRK-FM 103.9 for his "Oldies Jukebox Show." You can find "Big Chuck" on Facebook under Upstate New York Books. He invites you to contact him at wdosbigchuck@aol.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/bigchuck.