Mike Tharp: Local author writes about The Good Life

December 17, 2011 

David McCullough would like Rosario "Ross" Moschitto. So would Shelby Foote, Robert Dallek and John Keegan.

For that matter, so would our own Sarah Lim, director of the Merced County Courthouse Museum.

They're all serious historians -- the first three on a global scale, Sarah on a delightfully local scale.

And that's the scale Ross, 90, worked on for his 244-page self-published autobiography, "Bona Vita," available in both digital (www.Lulu.com) and printed form.

The Good Life.

And it has been for the man who moved to 20 acres of grapes in Atwater at age 7 and, apart from a few jobs and college years that took him to other parts of the state, has been a Mercedian for a long time. Four years ago the Merced County Board of Supervisors gave him a Certificate of Recognition "in honor of attaining 85 years of age and 50 years of residency" in the county.

His book, told as if he were a grandfather talking to his grandkids, chronicles a life of hard work, high hopes, gut checks, setbacks, success, joy and sorrow. In short, a long life lived full.

According to USA Today, "E-books are changing the way authors and readers connect. Today, authors ... can digitally format their own manuscript, set a price and sell it to readers through a variety of online retailers and devices. According to the Association of American Publishers, e-books grew from 0.6 percent of the total trade market share in 2008 to 6.4 percent in 2010, the most recent figures available. Total net revenue for 2010: $878 million with 114 million e-books sold."

Ross is probably best-known for his decades in the real estate business throughout the county. He started Dome Realty Inc. and sold ranches and then houses for decades. But he also raised cattle -- heifers and bulls -- ran a dairy and even sold shoes both early and late in his career.

Part of the book's charm comes from the ways it's put together. Besides standard narrative chapters and photographs, he includes a college term paper he wrote in 1940 about Irish statesman and author Edmund Burke; poems; the start of a novella; a letter to the Sun-Star; a short story; a song; and a booklet called "How to Be a Shrewd Home Buyer," which he wrote in 1977 and also self-published. Today he says the numbers in it would have to be increased five to seven times to account for inflation and property values.

Its other charms flow from the vivid conversations he recounts (we feel as if we're listening in when he talks to his first landlady in Berkeley) and a level of detail that speaks to a prodigious memory:

In 1928-29, "my dad and I planted five acres of black grapes with an inch steel bar, a sharp pointed edge, and a wood handle on top to push the bar two feet in the ground that he had marked every eight feet."

He never missed a day of school K-12.

While a senior at Merced High he was scheduled to be worked out by a scout for the New York Yankees as a catcher; a few days before Ross was due to meet him at the fairgrounds, he caught a ball in a game that split his middle index finger. That was the end of his big league hopes, and a few weeks later the Yankees signed a kid named Yogi Berra.

(The rest of the story is that Ross' son, also named Ross, replaced Mickey Mantle in centerfield and played two years with the Yankees in the '60s.)

Ross Sr.'s first meal in Berkeley, where he was enrolled at the UC, was a hot beef sandwich with brown gravy, mashed potatoes, carrots, lettuce salad and a glass of milk -- for 30 cents.

How he taught his wife Lila, an immigrant from Italy, to cook Italian food "because she could not even boil water without burning it."

He learned chemistry, trigonometry and physics on the job at PG&E in the Bay Area, working on steam boilers and in an electrical plant. He's had 26 occupations in his life.

Besides recording family history, Ross also started writing the book 10 years ago so it would be "educational, inspirational and sensational." For five of those years he took care of Lila, suffering from Alzheimer's ("I was typing while I was helping her"); she died in 2008. His grandson Joseph retyped the manuscript for five months early this year.

Why all that time, effort and money (paid to Lulu.com, which makes an online copy available for $5.99, a PR firm in New York and ads up and down the Valley to promote it)?

"I wanted to write a book on how to get ahead," he says, "to show people how to be successful. My wife said it was a good idea. It shows a young person how to get ahead, how to get a job."

On Feb. 24-25 Ross will sign copies of his book at the Italo-American Lodge, 1351 W. 18th St. in Merced, Saturday and Sunday, from 9 to 5.

The last line of the book sums up both his life and why he wrote the book: "So you can reach your ultimate goal in life as a successful, honest, grateful and cheerful person with money not really being the ultimate and most aggressive way to become successful and have a Bona Vita!"

Executive Editor Mike Tharp can be reached at (209) 385-2456 or mtharp@mercedsunstar.com

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