Peter Novak is a fictional character. I’m asked repeatedly if he is made up or if the character is based on anybody I know. To answer the first question, yes Peter is a fictional character. To answer the second question, he was born in 1889, so he’d be 127 years old today, so no, his character is based on anybody I know.
Peter Novak WAS, however, based on several characters I knew while growing up in a heavy Slavic and Italian ethnic community. Both my grandfathers were European immigrants, both worked in the steel mills, and many of my friends’ grandparents fit the same mold. Their manner of speaking, mannerisms, love for their culture as well as the American culture was, I found, fascinating.
As a boy I delivered newspapers to several ethnic neighborhoods, and always felt a kinship for the rich one-of-a-kind blended culture, and a sadness that once that generation as gone, so would the culture.
Particularly fascinating was the blended language words. Summabitch, became a term that took on nearly a non-curseword word aura, as it was used so often. I remember a story around that word. A little boy was practicing his math facts saying, “2+2 the summabitch id 4, 4+4 the summabitch is 8…” and so on.
His mother demanded to know where he learned such language and the boy said from his teacher. The next morning the mother, pulling the boy by his ear, approached the teacher and demanded he repeat the word he accused her of using.
With tears in his eyes, the boy repeated his math facts exactly as he had the previous evening. Upon hearing his recitation, the teacher smiled and said, “The proper term is 2+2 the SUM OF WHICH is 4.”