Wednesday, October 14, 2015


Some of my earliest memories are of greeting relatives from out of town and their habits. It seems all of them had a need to physically remind you of their presence. For instance, there was Grandma, who in her floral apron, slippers and black mourning dress greeted you with a two-fingered squeeze of the right cheek. After the squeeze, she’d look you up and down, ask you why you don’t eat more, then slip you a few bucks and put her forefinger to her lips and tell you not to say anything about the money. Up until now, I never mentioned it to anyone.

Grandpa was another story. He would usually disappear somewhere, usually to go play cards at the local Republican club. It was furnished in early Italian Garibaldi, with anisette bottles, cigar smoke and swearwords: Italian of course.

Then there was my Aunt Tessie. Yup, you were probably wondering if I was a real Italian, did I have an Aunt Tessie? After all is said in done in Italian, the meatballs are made and the bragiola packed and tied, no mention of an Aunt Tessie?

Aunt Tessie was my Mom’s sister, looked alike but Aunt Tessie kept her wooden spoon for her own son, for me she had another strange habit, one I dreaded and I know she loved. Upon entering the room, there she stood, all 4’9” of her waiting for me. I tried shaking hands with her but she would have nothing to do with it. Cautiously I would approach her. Pretending to be speaking with someone, not even looking me in the eye, she would grab me and bite my cheek, then this smile across her face and a wonderful look in her eye, pure love.

Then there was Aunt Angie, yes, another name for the Italian books, who always asked about you in some form or fashion, usually with kindness, taking her mother’s position that it be nice to slip the kid a buck or two, even a candy treat, again the finger on the lip. Everybody loved Aunt Angie!

I had two Uncle Joe’s, who were married to two Aunt Tessie’s. The cheek biter and Martha Ray, or so she reminded me of. Quick with physical antics and funny stories, she made everyone laugh, except of course, Uncle Joe. He was a very handsome man, kind in many ways and I liked him, but didn’t get too close to him for some reason. HE HAD NO SENSE OF HUMOR! The more she made people laugh, the darker he looked, he, didn’t want to be clownish in any way.

My other Uncle was a bit of a sour puss with a bad temper, and was usually the life of the party! Married to the cheek biter, he was very bossy to her and although you loved his stories, he was to be a little careful with in what you said, once he got so mad after arriving, he just collected his family and went home!

Saying goodbye in my family was hard. Not the; I’m going to miss you hard, but the I can’t stop talking hard. If you scheduled a 9:00 PM departure, you began saying goodbye at 7:00 PM! This was a kind of dance with multiple dancers. There were the GOODBYERS and the GOODBUYEES. Slowly they rose from the table and made a statement: I’m leaving, right now, but first we talk. Slowly they slip-slide to the exit, in unison, hands moving at speeds so fast they were way ahead of their conversations.

Mom: “Joseph, tell your sister we are leaving now.”
Me: “OK Ma” then I would go find a chair to sleep for a couple of hours.

Someday I’ll tell you about the art of conversing over Penne and meatballs.


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