To begin with, we remember 521 Jefferson St. – railroad rooms, and nine children raised by a loving mom and dad of Italian descent.
As years pass, there is innocent amnesia, a fatigue of thought. Our bearings of the unexamined hallmark of our town may lose its clarity, but an elder family or two or three do emerge, in one case, the Lisa clan.
The family name has been a force field of military service, sporting feats, and a staple of restaurants with homemade gravy, not “sauce.”
While Charlie, Bobby, John, and Jimmy certainly left their mark on and off the field, brothers Michael, Harold and Joseph were carrying their gridiron fight in Europe to a more important landscape field during World War II.
What makes the family unit more unique was brother Jimmy, leaving Demarest High School in Hoboken to enlist in The U.S. Marines to engage in another conflict called Korea, which still is a flashpoint of angst.
James never completed high school but joined the Corps to clash in combat in Asia, where he was wounded twice and received the Purple Heart. Flashing back, while playing football, he made All County and All State Teams in 1949 and 1950.
Let’s ponder that for a second. You are a true high school football star at the local, county, and state level, but you find yourself called to disregard the gridiron to Marine up and forgo a high school diploma.
James Lisa’s life was cut short in the early 1990’s as a result of a heart attack. But his quality tasks would be enough for any family to feel honored.
Marie and Phyllis were the Lisa women, the guardrails for the younger brothers. Marie had the Usain Bolt burst of speed surpassing even Bobby’s hop in the 100 yard dash (even though Robert might object to the exaggeration.)
Phyllis was the moor after the death of mom and dad, allowing Bobby and John to live with her family, while the brothers found their bearings after graduating from college with limited cash dividends. Many would venture to say that the overriding success and grit of The Jefferson Street Unit was linked to the strong DNA structure of the ladies.
More restaurants than football
The high school sporting feats of the Lisas have been admirably noted by sports writers Hague, Spina, and longtime friend and blogger Joe Paulillo. While their collective achievements are distinct and rare for any town, food, not football, was the luring latch for so many.
Their cafes either on Willow or Clinton Street had affordable food and quality taste (no Ragu) without New York City prices.
It was relaxing to see pictures of Frank Sinatra and reflect upon Hoboken politics and sports. Their food set the table for discussing the best Lisa Running Back, naming Bobby as the premier prize while the older set captured Jimmy and Charlie.
From a coaching standpoint, John stood out while passing the bread and butter, Bobby was a close first. The Lisa Eateries, a salon of vibrant conversation between the eggplant and meatballs when we could still hear Terry Malloy’s echo from the piers.
While “On the Waterfront,” set in Hoboken, won the Oscar for Best Picture in 1955, the apartment at 521 Jefferson St. was a place of memories which will unlikely fade and probably will not again be seen by any Red Wing, with or without the extra cheese.