To The Bulge & Back
What Pete Piergiovanni remembers most about surviving The Battle of the Bulge in the Second World War is “the zero-degree weather! It was so cold for almost three weeks, you even forgot the Nazis were shooting at you, until you lit a cigarette at night and they would see it and pop away. I was so miserable I promised myself if I lived I would spend my winters in a warm place!”
It took a few more winters for that to happen on a consistent basis, as after his service to our nation he returned to his home in Youngstown and his job at US Steel that would last for 36 years, starting at 87 cents an hour, until retiring in 1975, but he never wavered on his promise. “That was my Number 1 goal; to get away from cold weather and come to Fort Myers Beach to enjoy the beautiful sunshine. I suffered plenty hard and will never forget how miserable was that god-forsaken cold.”
Pete says it began slowly – “my wife Liz and I would travel to Fort Myers Beach for a two-week vacation that became three weeks until I retired, then it was six months down here and six months up there. We’ve seen a lot of changes, and what stands out the most are the bridges on each end of the island. When the Matanzas Pass Bridge replaced the old swing one, that solved a lot of woes. The south end, however, did not have a bridge! You drove down Estero Boulevard until you reached the dead end, then turned around to drive back, unless you had a car that floated on water! Another huge improvement was eliminating the road through Times Square to be pedestrian-only.”
Times Square Pete knows well, as his family operates Pete’s Time Out there since 1983, although he is not the restaurant’s namesake, as there is a plethora of Pete’s in his clan. “When the idea came up to eliminate the road, the owners all thought it would hurt business but just the opposite occurred and everything started to boom!”
Happy Birthday to You
Business will boom this Saturday the 18th, as Pete’s Time Out hosts a 95th birthday party for him from 2 to 4 p.m. It will be a bit of a good-bye event as well, as Pete and Liz will relocate to Youngstown on Friday, March 3. “It is time,” says Pete. “I have a lot of trouble walking now, and it will be good to be home.” As for breaking his long-ago warm weather promise, “my neighbors say they are having a winter-without-a-winter this year, with temperatures in the 40s and not much snow.”
He will, however, miss a great deal about the beach: “I loved walking out to the pier to see what was biting. And I am crazy about watching the sunset – I like it when the sun is half-above and half-below the horizon; to me that is when it is the prettiest.”
While the fish stories and sunsets are nice, it is the people Pete will most remember. “Everyone is so very nice and helpful, especially at my age where I move slow, and everybody wants to help. About a month ago I was at a Little Caesar’s pizzeria, and while waiting for my order a gentleman who was waiting as well saw my World War II cap and thanked me for my service, then his pizza was ready and he was gone. Mine came up a couple of minutes later, and as I reached for my money, the counterperson told me the first man paid my bill along with his! It is these wonderful acts of kindness and those little memories I will take with me. I can’t complain, because my wife and I lived full lives, though we plan to stick around for a few years.”
Takin’ Care of Business!
John Lallo, who with his wife Debbie bought Pete’s Time Out from his father in 1990, reflects that if it were not for his Uncle Pete, his family may not be in America, much less running one of the most iconic restaurants on the island. “My dad and grandma and great-aunt Liz lived in war-torn Germany, where the Army assigned Pete after the Battle of the Bulge. He took care of them, buying them food, and he fell in love with Aunt Liz. When he returned to the United States, however, he lost her phone number and this was before the Internet so you could not easily locate that information. After almost a year he found a coaster from the local beer garden and wrote to them to ask if Elizabeth was still alive and if they could get his message to her. Weeks later he finally received a letter from her and posted a $500 bond to allow her to emigrate to this country where they married. He then brought over the rest of the family. Uncle Pete is the reason I live in this country, even though I was not yet born.”
But the story does not end there! “When Dad came to Fort Myers Beach in the early ‘80s and wanted to start a restaurant, Uncle Pete loaned him part of the money and Dad opened Pete’s Time Out on December 1, 1983, so Uncle Pete is the catalyst of everything, and I tell him that every day. He always provides for all of us, and our family, along with his Purple Heart and Silver Star, shows he really did his job! When Uncle Pete turned 90 we had a party for him as well, and the American Legion Honor Guard came marching in and presented him with our nation’s Colors – you could hear a pin drop in the entire square during that ceremony.”
To wish Uncle Pete Happy Birthday and good fortune up north, come to his 95th celebration at Pete’s Time Out on Saturday, February 18, from 2 to 4 p.m.