Tuesday, November 15, 2016


Well, we all lived through the election of the century, our lives and the lives to come. We must go on to more important things, primarily my Uncle Felix. ‘Zio’ as he was affectionately called was Grandma’s older brother. When Grandpa died, Zio Felice became the patriarch of all who spoke broken English.

For presentation sake, Zio Felice
Physically he has been described as 2’x4’, the ‘Little half a Cigar’ and my own descriptions, a Joe Stalin wanna-be, long handle-bar mustache and a pair of feet with a hat. He wasn’t very tall yet in his immediate family he towered over everyone at 4’7”. The family got to calling him stretch until he heard it one day and that stopped.

Zio always wore a suit and tie, he was the gang foreman in a construction company and the father of 19 children! Not only was his family large, but he was starting his own Italian neighborhood! Grey fedora, brown suit and tie, black shoes, he made a fashion statement, mainly: “Where are my brown shoes?”

Every night his kids would stand behind their chairs until the little dictator arrived. Once Mr. Stalin sat down, all 19 would then assume their positions around the table and wait for Papa to stick the first few ziti in his mouth. If you are wondering what his hobby was, I just told you.

A story goes that when he came to this country on the boat from Italy, someone told him there was NO macaroni in America, in which he then headed toward the railing to jump overboard and swim back to Italia. What stopped him? He couldn’t find his brown shoes to take with him.

He was a complex man if someone wanted to further their education, say go onto 8th grade, you needed the approval of Zio. Like El Excelente’ in the 70’s coffee commercial, he would give his nod, and the joyous population, all 19 would stand up and cheer, sometimes on a chair to be seen.

He lived on a short fuse, ready to ignite over the littlest of issues such as: “Where’sa my browner shoes?”, and “You gotta bigger plate for this ziti?”

Zio was also a teacher. My Uncle Joe while waiting for an acceptance letter from Harvard or Yale, went to work on Zio’s gang. He was assigned the job of hauling bricks up on a gang plank to the next story being built, the bricks in a wheel barrel. As the first day wore on, around lunch time Uncle Joe went to Zio and showed him his hands, cut and bleeding from blisters.

Zio: “Avete mani molli!”
Uncle Joe: “Whatta I do?”
Zio: “Va l'orina su loro, quella li indurirà.”

So, behind the building, Uncle Joe went to piss on his hands to make them hardened, just as Zio said he should.

It was World War II, and being he was a tyrant, he had a son who wished to become a priest, and Zio wouldn’t hear it. His son decided to join the army to get away from his father, and landed on Anzio beach, not far from his father’s birthplace, where he died fighting for his country. Had his father relented, he would have lived.

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 Stretch 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.

He died in the early 1970’s, at the tender age of 93, it might have been the DiNapoli Cigars that did it!


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