Big Chuck Remembers Oneonta Fire Chief Francis “Cootie” Russo.
In 1985 I was a newcomer to Oneonta. Shortly after I arrived I opened up a restaurant in Clinton Plaza called “Cheesesteak Charlies.” We sold Philadelphia cheese steak subs and spaghetti. It was a very busy place for a year and then the drinking age was changed, our student business dried up (we were open late) and we decided to cut our losses and close.
But what a year it was.
And what a grand opening!
The day we first opened our doors we had a full house for lunch. People were lined up at the counter ordering our subs to go. Cootie Russo, then Oneonta Fire Chief, came in that day to sample my food (he would become a regular during my short year in business.) He really liked our homemade spaghetti sauce, and he told me that on several occasions.
But opening day was a madhouse.
Just at the peak of the opening day business my three year old daughter, who was at the restaurant with us that day, decided to “put on a show” for the customers. Her mother and I could not corral her because we were swamped making sandwiches. I saw Frances go over and pick up an empty plastic bucket and put it on her head like a helmet. She then grabbed a mop from the back room and proceeded to parade through he crowded dining room, like some diminutive little toy soldier.
A bead of sweat ran down the side of my face as I looked up from the grill and saw little Frances on her procession through the dining room. My whispers to “get back here!” became louder and louder. Everyone in the full dining room was smiling at the charming little girl who was giving her father a major headache on his big day.
I saw my little girl go over to Chief Russo who was sitting and enjoying one of our meatball subs. She marched right up to him, plastic bucket still pulled over her head. She stopped at his chair and tilted the bucket up just over her eyes. She looked at the impressively sized fireman and said, “Hi there! My name is Frances. What’s yours?” There was silence throughout the dining room. My hand began to shake nervously. All eyes were on the front table.
Fire Chief Russo looked down at my little daughter and said in a gentle yet booming voice, “How about that! My name is Francis too!” Frances looked at him with a perplexed impression. He then gave out a big belly laugh and the whole dining room erupted in giggles. I gave out a huge sigh of relief.
Overt the ensuing thirty or so years I would run in to Cootie Russo from time to time and we would chuckle when I would remember this incident so long ago.
He was a very nice man. He was a good man. R.I.P. chief………….