When Joseph Spinella was 5 years old and living in Sicily, Italy, he used some naughty language in front of his friends while he was playing outside. When he came home from playing, his mother told him to take off his dirty clothes, and he did as he was told. Before he knew it, he was tossed outside in the street stark naked and his mother told him that was his punishment for being a bad boy.
“I was so scared my friends would see me; I certainly learned my lesson,” Spinella says.
These days, Spinella, a Sarasota-based author, loves sharing that tale and many more through his book, “From Green, White & Red to Red, White & Blue.” The book features anecdotes complied from Spinella’s journals from the past 20 years. It chronicles his life as a child in Italy as well as his family’s move to Sarasota 38 years ago.
Before moving to Sarasota, Spinella lived in Patterson, N.J., with his mother and sister. His uncle ran a successful uniform store in the town, United Uniform, where his mother and sister both worked. Spinella spent a lot of time after school helping at the store as well, and, after his uncle retired, he opened his own uniform store, Spinella Uniform.
“It was such a thrill, because I did the uniforms for my own town and 30 other towns’ postal, fire and police uniforms,” he says.
One of the most prestigious uniforms Spinella ever created happened to be the uniforms for the United States astronauts’ first flight in space.
After 13 years of running his own uniform store, Spinella was ready to close up shop, move away from New Jersey and get somewhere warmer. In 1974, he and his family settled in Sarasota, and his four children attended McIntosh Elementary and Riverview High School. Spinella took a job at Taffy’s on St. Armands Circle, where he worked for 31 years as a salesman and tailor.
“My favorite part was the customers,” he says. “They were so loyal to the salesmen, and they loved to hear my stories about Sicily.”
Following his retirement from Taffy’s, Spinella continued to stay active playing racquetball, traveling and volunteering at All Faiths Food Bank. Spinella also has become a bit of an artist during the last few years. Six years ago he began painting murals on his porch and creating what he calls “artistica” frames following a stroke. Working with his hands and being creative were positive things for his recovery and also gave him a new creative outlet. His frames have been featured in the Venice Art Center, Sarasota Art Center and some are still on display inside the Crane Gallery.
Spinella has also been busy visiting local schools and talking about what it was like to grow up in Sicily. Spinella has spoken to students at Gulf Gate and Alta Vista elementaries, Sarasota Middle School and Pine View. Spinella also is slowly accumulating fodder for his next book.
“This book would be more about the customers and interactions I had at Taffy’s and about how I have used my first book to talk to students and I want to be able to put in their answers to the questions I ask them,” he says.