It was the winter of 1956, Perry Como had a hit song: CATCH A FALLING STAR, Ike was running
again for a second term and I was enjoying the fact that the Brooklyn Dodgers
were finally champions of the world!
But back in Brooklyn something terrible was about to happen,
my grandpa was dying. In his 60’s he had lived a hard life raising 4 children
after World War I, serving in America’s infantry doing his patriotic duty in
France. Raffaello was a very handsome man; features clear cut and sharp, tall
and well-built, always the strong figure, never spoke loudly and always had a
calm about himself, which contrasted with red-headed Grandma Frances’ explosive
temper and quickness that would leave a cat behind.
|Grandpa getting some sun|
Living on Long Island now, having moved recently in December
of the previous year, we received the news that he had past. Suddenly it seemed
like the world had stopped and the only thing on my mind was Grandpa. I could
picture him, as he would sit, his fedora cocked over his eyes, his legs and
arms crossed and he asleep, catching naps where he could. Grandma was
constantly giving him orders when she was around, but when she wasn’t: he
He had a reputation from his two sons, my father and my
uncle that he was a loving man but stern. He expected his children to listen to
him and not waste time or money during the 20’s and 30’s, the hard years for
Italian immigrants trying to establish themselves into American culture.
As I am writing this, I have suddenly realized it was on
this date in 1956 that he passed, and frankly it gives me the chills.
When he died, I remember my Dad standing in the back of the
wake, a dark and somber place and taking envelopes that people had left in
memory of Grandpa, and I remember the look on his face that matched the
atmosphere of the room. I remember the little Old Italian ladies with their
rosaries, praying and then kissing the cross as they left the casket. I
remember the lulling to sleepy murmur that encased the room and my grandmother,
calling his name, asking him why he left so suddenly, all in Italian.
|He was Primo!|
There is a certain kinship that used to resided in all
Italians, if you needed help or money or just conversation, because you were
Italian someone would always help you, whether they knew you or not.
There was the romance of Rudolph Valentino and my
grandmother, not real of course, just a young Italian mother and an Italian
movie star, there was the pride of being Italian when Primo Carnera fought, or
Rocky Marciano, the joy of Joltin Joe DeMaggio and Carl Furillo, no matter if
you were a Dodger or Yankee fan, he was Italian, you rooted for your own kind.
You never turned in your own kind either, because for a
struggling race, we were all brothers and sisters.
Grandpa was the core of that thinking in the family, leaving
me to wonder how I could ever be able to be Italian again without him. He was a
smart man, ran a couple of apartment houses, giving breaks when the rent wasn’t
paid, bringing food from the fruit and vegetable stand he ran for those who
were losing the battle with creditors and yes, even money was left without a
utterance that he did so.
I guess in a way he still lives in my heart and soul, still
is taking his naps and still is remembered for his being a simple man, strong
in heart and soul, simple in outlook and tough, as he had to be. I hope God
blesses him daily.