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Friday, October 09, 2015

“I NEVAH SEE A HIM BEFORE INA MY LIFE!”


Grandma Frances had rules. One of her rules was to listen to what she had to say, or else. It wasn’t hard, what was hard was the ‘Or else’!

One Easter Sunday “Pasqua Domenica” as it is called by all Italians, probably a bigger holiday in Italy than Christmas, many years ago, as I visited Grandma’s house for that special day, something happened that reminded me years later to always listen to my wife.

It seems that the whole family, from Hull Street in Bushwick, Coney Island’s Cropsey Avenue and the families from Norton Street in Patchogue, LI, NY all gathered at 2118 Fulton Street in Brooklyn, The East New York section of Brooklyn for the holiday. Grandma was cooking and her daughters and daughter-in-laws were all helping in the preparation. I in my Sunday best looked forward to seeing my cousins and so anticipation was running high.

Whenever you entered Grandma’s house, she greeted you with a lot of fuss, even though you just saw her the day before. You had gotten bigger from the day before, were still too skinny and needed to eat and so you got fed on an emergency basis, even though you still were a little full from breakfast. Present your cheeks front and center so she could squeeze them, all part of the greeting by Grandma.

Grandpa on the other hand, did what every good Italian grandfather did on Sunday morning religiously: play pinnacle next door at the Republican Club with the neighborhood local gentry of Italian persuasion. These games occurred in a small store front with maybe 4 to 6 tables of 4 players each, a picture of Garibaldi hanging on a wall that faced you when you entered the room from the street, a small bar and thick acrid smoke from the DiNapoli cigars, cigarettes and sitting on the tables were small demitasse cups filled, or shot glasses under the shadow of Italian liquor bottles, half empty. It is here that the story takes a turn.

As the morning wore on, and both family and friends arrived, it was getting time for dinner. Grandma was about to throw about three lbs. of spaghetti in the huge boiling pot of water as she tossed in a palm full of salt.

“Joe Joe, agoa next store anda geta Grandpa, tella him to comea homea to eat!”
Off I go next door and enter the den of Italian grandfatherhood and go over to Grandpa. “Grandpa, Grandma says to come home, it is time for dinner!”
Grandpa replied: “Ho kay, I’ma come.”

I return and tell Grandma. 10 minutes go by and the pot has started to gain some steam. “AJoe Joe, you tella grandpa?” “I told him and he said he’d come.”
Wella tella him again.”

Off I go once more, arriving out of breath up to Grandpa’s table and make the announcement once again. “Ho kay, I’ma come.” Says Grandpa again.
I report back to grandma, as she is pouring the spaghetti into the pot that can cook a cow standing up. Ten minutes later still no grandpa. Grandma is mad. “Sonnamabitcha!” She marches to the black phone in her bedroom and makes a call.
Dad asks if she called Grandpa. Grandma says: “Justa you watcha”

Out she goes to the street, standing there in her apron with wooden spoon, and flowered silk dress for Pasqua Domenica, her arms folded waiting. I think, “What is Grandma going to do, hit him on his head when he comes out of the Republican club?”

Suddenly, a Police van arrives, and raid the Republican club. Out they come, all single file and Grandpa in the middle of the line, heading to the paddy wagon. As he heads toward the van his grey fedora cocked on his head he looks up, and with hope in his eyes says: “Francesca, tell them who I am!” his hands pleading prayer like.

Without missing a beat, she announces to the arresting police officer:
“I NEVAH SEE A HIM BEFORE INA MY LIFE!”

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