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Gift Hammers to Children Have Built a Lifetime of Memories

Tue December 25, 2007 - Northeast Edition
James A. Merolla

When Pete Mozzone hired builder and remodeling contractor Bob Adams to construct a barn to store his antique car collection, he had no way of knowing they were connected by much more than the job itself.

Adams, who was a contractor, as was his late father, Albert Adams Sr., literally had a history from birth with Mozzone’s late father Bruno, who also was a local building contractor and lumberyard/hardware store owner until poor health forced him to sell out a dozen years ago.

Bruno Mozzone was known for decades for giving a small hammer to the children of his good customers and friends, often saying, “Here’s a hammer ... go practice and grow up to be a carpenter!”

He was seeding the construction industry and, perhaps, building a supply of future customers.

’My Lucky Charm’

Since Bruno’s death nearly five years ago, several carpenters, contractors and millwrights have come to his son Pete, with stories about hammers his father gave to them.

What Pete Mozzone found out in the middle of the barn-building job, was that Bob Adams — maker of custom homes, custom barns, carriage houses and airplane hangars — had gotten such a hammer, too, many decades ago.

“I was talking to him, in the middle of the build, and I said, ’You know, Pete, I’ve got something I want to show you. And I want to tell you why I have it and why I treasure it,’” said Adams.

He showed Mozzone one small hammer he received much, much earlier than any of the other newer, bigger ones.

Adams was born a bit premature. The elder Mozzone had gone to Morton Hospital and Medical Center in Taunton to visit the family and offer his congratulations. All Bob Adams’ father could do was to point him out through the viewing window of the nursery, as he was in a special incubator, isolated from them.

Several Adams men — in the paternal tradition of that age — smoked celebratory cigars and waited for word.

When baby Bob was finally wheeled into his mother’s room for his parents to see him in person for the very first time, they discovered that Mozzone had managed to get a hammer into the baby’s basket.

“Somehow, Bruno knew somebody, one of the nurses, and the hammer was slipped in,” said Bob Adams. “We didn’t know if it was a curse or a blessing, but my father always said, ’As long as you have a hammer, the tools of the trade, you always have work.’ We kept it in my toolbox. This hammer has been my lucky charm. I’ve had it and used it since I was a kid. I’ve still got it today and use it on a regular basis for finish work. I always keep it close. I’ll probably die with it.”

’Something Like Johnny Appleseed’

Mozzone was deeply touched by the story, but not surprised. He said he enjoyed working with Adams on the project, which has recently been completed, “because Bob and I could enjoy swapping stories about our late fathers,” adding, “Bob and his crew did a wonderful job. Everything went a lot better than I ever expected, and I’d refer him in a minute!”

Of his late father, Mozzone became wistful.

“I guess my father was something like Johnny Appleseed, except he gave away hammers, rather than planting apple trees. He really left his mark on the world, and I’ve always been very proud of him.”

Mozzone always knew his father was a deeply committed man, trying to make life better for his family, friends, the contracting and construction industry and the community around him.

But it wasn’t until his father’s funeral, that he got an inkling of how many people his dad had affected.

“My family is originally from Nova Scotia. Bruno, Pete’s dad, helped my father get started here, moving into Taunton, getting his work started. They became good friends,” said Adams. “Bruno was a great guy. He is probably responsible for a lot of contractors being in business today.”

Bruno Mozzone died on Jan. 24, 2003, surrounded by his loving family.

At the funeral, the family discussed the impact Bruno Mozzone had on the greater Taunton community, as a homebuilder for more than three decades, a banker, within community groups. He had a quiet strength that would not be denied, and he was relentless in following his dreams to strive and succeed.

’He Was a Giant’

Mozzone was a self-made man. He held two city paper routes as a kid, and ran his own oil delivery business before, and after, high school classes. After graduating from Taunton High School in 1941, he worked to rebuild a logging business into a lumber retail facility, which he then developed into a new home construction, industrial land development and real estate business.

He never hesitated to perform great acts of charity, and was active in countless organizations in the greater Taunton area.

His widow, Jean, his wife of 50 years, summed his life up with one sentence of love, praise and admiration: “Bruno was a giant.”

As the family was grieving, several contractors and carpenters, one by one, approached them, sharing the stories of their nostalgic hammers.

If that wasn’t flattering enough, one millwright, a gentleman named Peter Krockta from East Taunton, stepped forward at Mozzone’s place of employment, unexpectedly.

“After Bruno had sold out his business, and I had no interest in being associated with the new owners, I went to work in sales promotion for Reed & Barton Silversmiths, an industrial icon in the silver business in Taunton, and worldwide,” said Mozzone. “One day, Mr. Krockta stopped by my office to say that he was sorry to learn of my loss, and that he had not been able to attend the wake or funeral, but wanted to tell me about his hammer.”

Krockta, who has since retired, worked for many years as a machinist and repairman, setting up and repairing machines, or completing maintenance chores on any of the company’s several multi-story brick mill buildings at Reed & Barton’s 14-acre complex.

“I remember as a kid always going with my father to your dad’s store,” Krockta told Mozzone. “One day, I can clearly recall that he took a brand new hammer off the display rack and handed it to me with a piece of two-by-four and a handful of 10-penny nails.

“He handed them to me, and said, ’Here ... have some fun and bang a few nails. Grow up and be a carpenter!’” Krockta laughed. “Funny thing, I still have that hammer!”

Mozzone added, “It was really a wonderful thing to have these people tell us about their childhood memories of Bruno, and I could see that the remarks were very comforting to my mom, Jean Mozzone, my sister, Mary Ann, and his grandchildren, Emily and Matt.

“My son Matt, just the other day, said, ’You know, Dad, when you buried your father, and stood in that church giving his eulogy, you convinced everyone there that he was a mythical creature, and not an ordinary everyday man.’ I said, ’That was easy, because to me he was a mythical creature!’”

’Lizzy Cried When Bruno Died’

Bruno Mozzone collected antique cars and his pride and joy, “his baby,” was his 1925 Model T Ford “Lizzy,” one of the cars now housed in the custom barn finished by Bob Adams and his special hammer.

“In the old Scot-Irish tradition, probably throughout New England, we take the branch of a spruce tree and we nail it on the peak of the house when we finish doing the structural build, when we finish framing it,” said Adams. “It’s the topping off ceremony, we call it, whether it’s a house or a barn, and that’s the hammer I use when I put the spruce branch up. Any superstition, anything that gives you a little edge, I’m all for it.”

Peter Mozzone tells a fascinating tale about that Tin Lizzy.

“The morning after my father died, I went out to check on Lizzy, and it was almost as if the old car was crying because she knew of his passing, because she had lost half of her antifreeze on the garage floor during the night,” said Mozzone.

Come that spring, Pete and his son refilled the antifreeze and nothing leaked.

He started the car up, and its planetary transmission lunged forward. Pete yelled for his son to jump in. They drove to Bruno’s grave site, where the old car mysteriously stalled. They suspected that the old girl wanted to pay a visit.

As Bruno Mozzone was laid to rest, his son returned the favor for all those countless contractors, carpenters and the like, who had been the recipients of tool shed nostalgia.

“When I buried Bruno, I put a brand-new Stanley cross cut handsaw, and Estwing Leather Grip hammer in his casket with him,” said Mozzone. “I also had the undertaker place in his hand, a small 6-foot, metal-cased Lufkin tape measure Bruno had given me when I was a child.

“It was snowing when the graveside services concluded, and I stood there sort of stunned that he was actually gone. His granddaughter, my daughter, Emily came up to me, and said, ’Don’t worry Daddy, that’s not snow coming down, that’s NeeNee [granddad] making sawdust in heaven.’” CEG

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