UNCLE FELIX OR “ZIO FELICE”
During the Great Depression as well as World War II or “Il Seconda Guerra Mondiale” as he called it, Zio Felice worked as a gang foreman on a construction crew, building large multi-storied complexes out of brick and concrete.
My Father’s brother Joe went to work under Zio Felice after he finished school, and was told to haul wheel barrels of concrete up a plank, and dump it, go down and do it again and again, at times climbing many stories. My uncle Joe’s hands were bleeding and raw from the hard work. This was before lunch. He goes to Zio Felice and says, “Look at my hands!” Zio Felice looks at the hands and says, “Go behind the building, and urinate on them.” This hardened the hands and after a while he never had problems with bleeding again!
Uncle Felix fathered 16 children; each and every one of them feared the little Caesar, as he commanded the respect that went beyond the call of duty for any child.
There is a story that went around the family that when he came to America, in his brown suit and black shoes, while on the boat as it sailed across the great Atlantic Ocean; that there was no macaroni in America. This made him highly agitated, and he wanted to go back to Italy, to the point of jumping ship! Probably an exaggeration.
When he landed in America and fathered all those children he insisted that they have macaroni every day! All his children had to be at the dinner table waiting for him, standing at their plates until he came home and sat down. Once Zio Felice sat down, everyone else could.
One of his sons wanted to become a priest and Zio Felice would not hear of it, and forbade him from doing so. His son then joined the U.S. Army and was killed in action at Anzio Beach, very near the birthplace of Zio Felice!
Zio Felice was also the older brother of my Grandmother Francesca. Zio Felice was the father figure to my Dad since his real Dad had died during the Great World War while in the U.S. Army, where he contracted the Spanish Influenza and died in a hospital during the cold of winter, where he tried to jump out a window to go home to visit his children.
Many years later on a Saturday morning when I was about 12 years old, my Dad said to me: “I have to take your Mother somewhere. I expect Zio Felice to come with Grandma and your Aunt to see our house for the first time. If he comes while I’m away, show him around.” Sure enough, the entourage arrives with a flourish, as the little giant steps from the car and I greet him. I immediately escort him and those that follow to the house, through all the rooms, and finally, take him back outside to the front of the house at his request. “Tella me, awhata you doer over here?” “What do you mean?” say I. He points to a spot off center of the lawn, about halfway toward the street, and says to me: Wella over here a you puta the bricks ina a nicea big circle an in the middle a here you puta the flaga pole.” “Ona the bottom ofa the flaga pole you puta the flowersa, a nicer colors. “Then I put a nicea picture ova Garibaldi” I whispered under my breath.