Saturday, April 9, 2011

The Elder

I first saw him in the bakeshop of our ancient Scottish village in 2005. I have seen him many times since. I am not sure; perhaps he was in his late 60’s? Decked out in huge rings, some of value, others not, he flared his fingers like a fan while pointing his pastry choice to the baker. His nails were filed sharp slightly beyond his fingertips and through time, I came to realize that he commonly wore black polish on the nail of his left ring finger. His strong yet melodious voice was commanding but he responded kindly in conversation. There was a habitual nod with his affirmative. He had a squarish face with sharp jaw and cheekbones and his neck was thin with a prominent Adams apple. He was blond with indescribable blue eyes.

He was short and slight. His build was accentuated by perpetual black pants and a black turtleneck, which clung to his concave chest where his gold chains congregated. I once envisioned the many gold chains fighting for survival out of the deep pit of his chest. ‘See me, see me.’ They called out for recognition. One would never see him sans his exquisitely carved walking stick. It was old ivory: the head of an elephant with its trunk raised to the sky. He held it with his pinky finger circling the trunk and the remaining fingers covering the head. He was alone: Always! He wore two-inch high thick heels and, from the glimpses I got, black nylons. The town knew him well and greeted him with warmth and respect: it’s only gay elder. He had lived in the same flat for over 30 years. The consensus was that he had been solitary.

In 2011, I came upon him in the town’s general store. He was a ghost on wheels: the walking stick leaned precariously in the back saddle of his motorized chair. Death? Imminent, perhaps the next morning? And although not exceptionally warm, the day does not warrant his knit hat or wool jacket at least not for the rest of us. Townspeople hide their dismay at his deterioration with brief nods, knowing smiles and the common ‘hi ya’. Teenagers who knew him from babyhood hide their discomfort with his decline by mocking his attire with rolling eyes and disingenuous greetings.

He wheels to the counter and I see that he is wearing his thick high heels without nylons. There is white hair showing at the nape of his neck and unshaven translucent whiskers on his face. I am saddened when he says ‘Milk’ in a wispy voice. It is two liters. I am amazed that his naked hand is able to lift it to show the cashier. ‘Ah, that’s aright sweetie, I got it.’ says the cashier as she leans over the counter aiming the wand at the bar code on the plastic container. His dull blue eyes widen in pleasure with this simple exchange. As he rolls past me, his chin almost on his sternum, he whispers a rhetorical, ‘And how are you today.’

At midnight, I walk to the seawall to feel the wind on my face and look across the sea at my home. I am safe as one encounters only ghosts at this time of night. I hear something and retreat. He is at the north end of the seawall. He has slid out of his chair onto the wide balustrade that runs the length of the wall. He sat on the very end where the wall meets the sea. His arms are raised, a specter of loneliness against the stars. Though the wind swishes and clatters, I am able to hear a random echo of his deep lamentation: The sound of a lone wolf without his pack.

I was told that he used to play fiddle in a road show. There was also talk that he was a retired bank clerk, a runaway sailor, a priest and a …….

Monday, January 17, 2011

Monday, January 17, 2011
Thursday, April 23, 2009
Daddy Local Man..... The End

Jimmy had appeared at my window. That meant he had to have sneaked out of his house, sneaked into our yard, let down the fire escape ladder without making noise, climbed up and waited. I had no idea how long he had been there and I had no idea what he had planned to do.

When I saw him at my window, I was just falling off to sleep. I was so scared! I could never tell anyone what happened.

The next day was Sunday. We went to church on Sunday, not Daddy, but Mom and my sister. I had no choice otherwise, my father would kill me. By this time, I couldn’t figure out who I wanted to kill me. Who would do it the fastest and the most painlessly? I figured my father was a better choice because Jimmy would skin me alive.

But why?

I sang in the choir. I was the soloist. The problem was that one of Jimmy’s sisters also sang in the choir. We got through the mass and though I tried to leave with the other choir members the two amazons, Jimmy’s sisters, one fifteen and the other, sixteen, cornered me.

“Excuse me.” I said to Siobhan the eldest. “I have to go to meet my mother right now.” Her sister stood in front of me. “Don’t tell.” she said with her chin leaning into my face. I ran passed her and flew down the stairs.

The next day Jimmy's father was arrested.

This is what my father told me.

It started before I was born. It was 1942. War. Though we were essentially safe. Daddy said that each neighborhood nevertheless took precautions. My father, the electrician, became an Air Raid Warden. He served quite honorably until June 1945 by which time he was an established member of the local police precinct’s poker games. He was tight with the cops. This was the thing Mom was alluding to when she said,” Some things are best left unsaid.”

“But, you see I did not want to concern mother with such issues. It went beyond poker. You know how things are at home.” He lit up a ciggy, blew into the air, widened his mouth till I thought that it would break while the cigarette rocked precariously on his lips, rubbed his large nose with his left hand and put up his collar around his thin neck with his right hand all while puffing away.

We were sitting in the backyard. It was a windy day. The story had come out but not in the newspapers because the cops at the precinct would have gotten hell for it. If it had been in the paper, it would have read:

Local Man Felice Zucchero Undercover Narc Foils Drug Gang and Prevents Murder.

Daddy was a thin man of 5 foot 6 perhaps a little taller with a small potbelly. He had thick salt and pepper hair, a small ruddy face and a five o’clock shadow that came out before he got off the train in the evening. He had small brown eyes, a huge nose and ears to match.

Daddy didn’t look like a narc. Well, he wasn’t exactly a narc but he wasn’t a stoolie either, he was quick to point out, because he took no money. He was a rather simple man who had gone from helping his community during the war to now doing his civic duty in another way.

They called him ‘ears’.

I was not breathing: could not take the chance. Sure, it was an incredible story. However, what was more incredible was the fact that my father was talking to me: in full sentences.

“It started with small stuff. I would go to play checkers or play cards and one night the lights were out in the Captain’s quarters so the Captain naturally asked me to fix it: Me being an electrician and all. I figured I had the privilege of hanging around the precinct so it was like paying dues. I made my way to the basement where the electric fuse box was located and in a few minutes the Captain’s quarters were fine.”

Daddy looked at me. I didn’t know what to do. I froze and tried to smile and I remember that I had to blink but was too afraid. I wasn’t going to be the one to break the spell.

“Well,” he continued, looking rather concerned at me, “that’s how it really started. It was the usual checker game and I was hunched over the board. I had to win this game. Captain Walsh had won the last round and I didn’t want to lose face. The room was tense as I contemplated my next move. Walsh maintained his calm. His wide amiable smile taunted me. We had known each other back to the war days before you were born.”

Daddy turned to me and smiled gently. “He has deep green, understanding eyes you know and your Mom has told me that he sometimes takes his elderly mother to church.”

He took a puff. This was my father?

“The constant tingling of the hourly precinct reports came pouring in, but I won the game.” He straightened up in the chair and wiggled his shoulders to unkink the knot about which he often complained. “I was quite pleased with myself but I knew it was time to leave. It was apparently a busy night in the neighborhood. I stepped out into the rain under the big green light above the precinct signpost and quietly felt proud. I had beaten Walsh but I had been coming and going through that door with the men's respect for years. Then the Captain’s car stopped in front of the precinct door. ‘Hop in Phil.’ He said. ‘But keep your shirt on, understand?’

‘Sure!’ I said.”

“I am not quite sure what year it was, but it was the beginning. After that, I often rode with them. I was quite useful because as an electrician I was able to get into places: Official ID shirt and all. ” Daddy looked at me with an apologetic look. “I began to get what you would call assignments-you know, at Russo’s poker game and listening to things on the street. As far as anyone knew, I was just a leftover air raid warden who had made friends with the cops. No one took me too seriously.” Daddy inhaled deeply, smiled ironically and said. “Jimmy Flynn’s father was already in the picture: just doing punk things. Unfortunately for his family, he moved up last year.” Then Daddy’s face turned stern and he looked down, shaking his head as he stomped on the ciggy. “Bastard should have never gotten his kid involved.”

He quickly turned his face to me. “Do you know why I am telling you all this?” I said ‘no’ with my eyes and a shake of my head. But I did perk up a bit. I was not only supposed to be listening, I was supposed to be understanding! Dad stared ahead, thought for a second, lit up, and inhaled deeply. “There was a make on big Jim. It was me who talked him into going to the Captain." He looked into my eyes. "I took him in myself. It saved his life-he was as sure as dead: now his family can visit him instead of bury him.”

Though he enjoyed a new quiet respect in the neighborhood, Daddy was now ‘made’ and never again walked through the precinct door.

Captain Walsh’s son was stabbed in the schoolyard. Walsh left the force to protect his family.

James Flynn went to jail.

Jimmy Flynn went to reform school.

I was to meet another Jimmy Flynn in my youth.

But, that is another story.

The End

Copyright © 2009 m.m.sugar
Posted by m.m.sugar at 6:28 PM
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
Daddy Part III Local Man.....

I was very scared of Jimmy and his threats. However, I figured that as long as I was with someone all the time and kept volunteering for the nuns, there was always something they needed or wanted, I would be safe.

I decided that I had to get my father alone. The best thing to do was follow him the next time he said he was going out, but only when my mother responded with, “I’ll take the kids to Moms.”

Oh my god! That had been happening my entire childhood and it took me until thirteen to figure it out? It was one of those, “Some things are best left unsaid,” things.

It was a Saturday afternoon. I was sitting out on the fire escape looking at the Pastorrini brothers playing ball two backyards away with their girl cousins. There were advantages to living on the second floor. I could feel something in the air. I didn’t know what. I figured I would prepare.

I made my way back from the fire escape through the window into my room. “Mom, I think if it’s ok, that I’ll go meet Marlene at Barbara’s house. They’re working on the paper and invited me but I wanted to do it myself, but I guess we could fool around and get some stuff done.”

“Oh?’ Ok, when?”

“Oh, I’ll call Marlene and see.” Better to be laid-back with Mom. You never knew.


“I think I’ll go out for a while,” said Dad.

Bingo! What timing! I just knew that my father was gonna do something today.

“I’ll take the kids to Moms.” That was the cue!

“Mom I’m gonna call Marlene now.”

“You go ahead honey.” She yelled to my sister to pack up her books. My sister acquiesced. Grandma had a new, larger than life TV. It was called a console. Though she would bring her books upstairs, we all knew that she would watch the boob tube while Mom, Grandma, and my fake grandpa played cards. She was sixteen but never went out with friends because she was practicing being miserable because she intended to enter the convent the next year if she failed algebra, which we all knew would happen.

It was the gutsiest thing I had done in my life. I called Marlene and told her to pretend that I was there if anyone asked. I didn’t give her a chance to say no. I just hung up and started out the door.

“Young lady where is your book?”

“I really don’t need it Mom and Marlene has paper.”


Off I went down the stairs to follow my father. My heart was in my mouth because Jimmy could appear at any time. At least I could yell for my father if I was really desperate.

This was the cagey part, following my father in the light of a summer day. I had an advantage because our blocks were slightly hilly going down so sometimes you could easily hide: duck into a drive way, something like that.

Then I almost dropped dead –what if he took the car?

I saw him ambling down the hill with the proverbial cigarette in his hand. He smoked like a chimney and often lit up one ciggy after another.

We ended up at the library! All of this for the library? Daddy spent time in the library? He stood on the corner, took a last puff, stomped it out, and proceeded to the backside of the library. I almost dropped dead when he went in the door under the large signpost that read 47th Police Precinct.

I ran to Barbara’s house and spent the rest of the afternoon managing to keep my secret even though they both threatened me with telling my mother that I had had a cigarette two weeks before. I knew that that would never happen because they had also smoked Marlene’s father’s cigarettes. After all, it was her idea. However, it was worse for me because I was a trained singer. No kidding!

I was safe for now because Barbara’s father would drive me home.

I couldn’t tie it together. Was my father in trouble like Sister St. Mary Elizabeth? Was he alphabetizing stuff because he had committed a crime? Were they letting him off the hook because he was a family man? God, he cursed a lot, smoked, drank, gambled and never went to church!

Is that why Jimmy pointed to the police precinct sign?

When I got home, I laid down in my bed. Thinking!

Daddy came home before Mom and my sister came back downstairs.

The lights were off and my door was partially opened. I heard him come in the door light a cigarette from the stove and empty the ashtray into the kitchen trash can so my mother wouldn’t yell. He walked past my door and stood for a moment and the smoke from his cigarette flew into my room like a pretty cloud. I was just about to shout “hi” when he said “nuts” real loud and then ran and picked up the phone, put it down again and said aloud, “Better go back.” I do that sometimes when I say, “Oh shit! I left my notebook home!”

I sat up in bed. He was going back? Did I dare follow him again? The moon was out. I was afraid that he might see me. However, I was afraid that Jimmy was out there loose and looking for me.

This time he raced to the precinct, he threw one cigarette into the street yet didn’t take the time to light another.

I was thinking that my mother was gonna kill me if I ever got caught and then my father was gonna kill me and then Jimmy would finish the job.

He came out so fast that I almost screamed as I hugged the corner of the building.

“Great game of checkers said a uniformed officer.” “Great game,” repeated Dad. “I always pay my debts.”

They both laughed. They laughed a lot! Then they shook hands and Dad started walking up to the avenue while I took the family house route. I just had to be sure not to let my cousin Frankie see me. I would go west and cut at 222 street then run for my life to beat him home.


Well, there was a sense of relief, but that night in bed, I kept thinking and thinking. So Daddy played checkers with cops? How much can you lose in checkers? He went back, for what? Why is that something not to be spoken about? I was thinking and thinking. Everyone was asleep. I was looking at the glare of the street lamp on my fire escape. The moon was very bright, and the breeze felt good. But, I couldn’t sleep so I got up to pull the curtain to hide the light when I almost dropped dead as Jimmy appeared on the fire escape, poked his head half way in my window and blew smoke in my face and hissed a "hey, hey, hey," laugh at me.

I slapped my hands over my mouth tripped backwards over my slippers, bumped into the doorway, and ran to the bathroom, sat on the cold tile floor and at thirteen years old: I wet myself.

No! This was not about checkers.

The End-tomorrow

Copyright © 2009 by m.m.sugar
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
Daddy Part II Local....

“You better tell you father to lay off. He ain’t got no authority anyway!”

I looked at Jimmy Flynn in stark terror. Though we were only around thirteen he was six feet tall just like his father and two older sisters.

He was especially intimidating because he was the only boy in the family much to his mother’s shame and father’s chagrin; however, that meant that he was next in line.

I know that my mouth was open but I did not know what to say. We were in front of the library. I had just finished reading Leon Uris’ 1958 bestseller, Exodus and still had tears in my eyes.

It was the longest book I had ever read and my sister was trying to get my mother to make me report the story to her every day because my sister wouldn’t believe that I was actually reading it.

“What? What are you talking about Jimmy?” I said in genuine confusion.

“You know, you know,” he said as he flared his hand in front of my face in a Zorro-like fashion that scared me silly. The Flynn’s ‘were known’, a phrase used by my mother to indicate something that was off the beam, but I was not allowed to ask any more questions. “There are things better left unsaid.”

Jimmy walked away yelling at me at the top of his lungs.“If you don’t know you’re the only god damn idiot in the neighborhood who doesn’t!” Then he suddenly turned around, rushed at me and was in my face. He lowered his voice, stopped in his tracks, his body leaning into mine, looked around, and in a hiss said, “Liar!” while his long finger was pointing ominously in my face and then slowly, deliberately to the huge signpost that jutted out of the back side of the library indicating the location of the 47th Police Precinct.

I looked around and where there had been a bunch of kids on the library steps and a bunch on the two opposite corners, there was no one.

I was shivering. I started to walk home. I was still suffering the impact of reading the story in Exodus as well as suffering the loss of coming to the end of the 600-page book. I had used it to reward myself with reading a chapter for doing things that I didn’t want to do like math homework, going to singing lessons and going to Sunday dinner with my Grandma and her husband.

I started to trot when I realized that no one was on the street. It was getting dark. Jimmy was Irish. He had cousins all over the place. In addition, the girls were just as dangerous as the boys were. I had almost a mile to go before I got home.

I would usually go along the family streets where I could play with the dogs and visit my cousin Frankie’s rabbit but somehow I figured I would be safer walking up to the avenue where there were people shopping.

However, I did not doubt that Jimmy was right. My family always kept things from me. They had kept my sister's very formal sweet-sixteen birthday party from me. Apparently, the entire neighborhood knew about it. I found out the afternoon of the party when a girlfriend asked me if I was excited about the party and I said, “What party?” and went home to find a dress waiting for me hanging on the closet door. “Oh, well, we couldn’t let the cat out of the bag now could we?” Said Mom.

If my mother wouldn’t tell me what Jimmy was talking about I was going to go on the longest hunger strike ever!

I was skinny. I didn’t like to eat anything except sweets.

I ran the last block. It was past 5:30 so I knew that my father would beat me home.

I caught up with Daddy at the top of the hill near our house. I ran to his side.

“The book.” he said without turning or saying hello.

“Yeah, I’ll never forget it. I cried in the library and all the kids made fun of me but I don’t care because they always make fun of me when I sing in school anyway.”


I knew better than to say anything else. It was time for spaghetti and beer. I was busting a gut!

All evening I was trying to figure out to whom I should talk about Jimmy. I really knew that I couldn’t ask Mom. “Some things are best left unsaid!”I couldn’t talk to my sister because I hated her and she hated me more. My Grandma was now married to a man who looked like Frankenstein. They lived upstairs but I never wanted to see them again. Anyway, I figured since the whole deal had to do with my father I would have to talk to him but I didn’t know when or how.

I saw Jimmy in school every day and he glared at me with bullets in his eyes. The fact that he was wearing the St. Mary's school uniform like me didn’t matter. We were both in the eighth grade-we were adults soon to graduate. For the whole week, I volunteered to help Sister St. Mary Elizabeth so I wouldn’t have to eat in the lunchroom or go to the schoolyard for recreation.

I knew that I was Jimmy's prey.

My girlfriends laughed at me calling me a brown nose. Yet, I was safe and Sister St. Mary Elizabeth had goodies left over from all the holidays, cookies in tin cans, wrapped chocolates and soda. I helped her alphabetize loads of junk. I never saw so many papers and folders in my life. My gut told me that she was being punished for something. Why else would she be stuck with such crap to do?

All I knew was that I had to be with somebody at all times because I knew Jimmy could find me, anywhere, any time!

Part III tomorrow
Monday, April 20, 2009

Daddy Part I

Please see April 17

My family lived in the same house for the first fifteen years of my life. When I was born, it was a large Victorian piece of art, which housed four families; the Fanellies on the first floor, my family and the Russos on the second floor and my grandparents on the third floor.My grandfather died when I was seven and Grandma became the escape haven when Mom went on a rampage.Dad was an electrician, commuted to New York City, and arrived at our train station about 5:30 every night by which time I had come home from school, taken off my uniform, put on what we called dungarees and a polo shirt and walked the three blocks down to the station to pick him up and walk him home.

It used to be a beautiful neighborhood. There was that empty lot where the dogs and we kids played. Now, for years it was filled with stuff: first with loads of metal then loads of cement blocks with wires. It was there, years before, that my friend Napoleon, the first black boy in the neighborhood, and I, first saw what the other had. “I’ll show you mine if you’ll show me yours.”

The great realization was that I had seen one before, but much smaller. Mary Pecorino’s baby brother had one. I had figured it out. I was content. However, Napoleon was ecstatic! (Napoleon was so grateful for our exchange that he told me that he would never forget me. I figured I’d return the favor.)

While waiting for Daddy I would go to the all-in-one shop. It was owned by Mr. Russo’s son who still lived on the second floor next to us with his mourning black-clad, forever-ailing mother whom Mom said had killed her husband by wearing him down through her complaining.Ernie (Ernesto) who, though quiet and polite, possessed a good business sense and a little creativity. Daddy said, “That can take you a long way.”

When his father died, Ernie bought the building next to their family candy store and made a kind of grocery, ice cream parlor, smoke shop, and poker beer lounge out of it. In those days, kids didn’t have to show proof of anything except with whom they came. We kids played in the street, caught lightning bugs and lit firecrackers while alternately standing behind our father’s chairs making faces until being yelled at by the men across the table.

Before Daddy walked down the two flights of the subway station, it was called the ‘El’ for elevated, I had invariably managed to coerce a piece of candy out of Ernie with the promise that he would not tell my parents. He took that promise to his grave when he got hit by a church door, it was a Catholic Church, their doors are big, and dropped dead of a brain aneurism leaving poor Mrs. Russo totally alone.She wore black for the last sixty years of her life having buried her husband, both of my grandparents, my father and her son and others too numerous to count.

When Daddy got off the train, he would take me into Ernie’s store and buy me a candy bar. Then we would walk through the door into the other store and sometimes buy a loaf of bread and generally a bottle of beer. I had a stash of candy at home. Always wanted to have a little in reserve.On Friday nights, the family would sometimes go down to Ernie’s who now had established a habit of sending out for pizza for the guys who were playing cards and drinking beer: what was called a brewski.When instructed I would go to Ernie and say, “My Dad wants a brewski please.” Then I would plunk 25 cents on the bar.

I was known as Daddy’s pet. It was a myth. Daddy was a drinker, always had a ciggy in his mouth, and he had a reputation as a singing poker player.He was gentle most of the time. He was known for spontaneously breaking out in song, Way Marie, Way Marie, which means Oh! Marie and Let Me Call You Sweetheart. Sometimes he disappeared for hours at a time. I never knew where he went and once with my persistent questioning my mother said, “Some things are best left unsaid.” In my house, it meant that you never asked that question again.My mother could get pretty crazy. She and Dad didn’t talk much.

One day when I got to Ernie’s, there were cops all over the place. I was real upset and envisioned myself dramatically trying to push through the crowd like an hysterical woman in the movies crying, “Let me through, let me through, that’s my husband in there!” However, I couldn’t get to Ernie but I knew that it was just a robbery and he was ok because I heard one cop say to another, “Russo, yea you know, Russo, he’s the owner. The Captain came in. He’s talking to him now.” So I relaxed and waited with everybody else. However, I think that I was a little disappointed that I wasn’t married to Ernie.

I heard the rumble of Daddy’s train. Suddenly, there was the realization that I wasn’t getting candy from anyone today!Then I went ballistic, that’s a term we used in the fifties. Because, as the Captain emerged, he spotted my father coming down the train stairs and waved. They walked toward each other; Daddy bent his head while the Captain whispered in his ear and then walked away. Dad lit a ciggy, his hand covering his match from the slight breeze. Then he caught my eye.Remembering Mom’s adage that, “Some things are best left unsaid,” I kept my mouth shut. I was ten and would have to wait until I was thirteen to find out what that conversation was about.

Part II tomorrow.
Friday, April 17, 2009

Off to the Cemetery Tra la, Tra la!

I went to the cemetery on Easter Sunday to visit my parents' grave. Now stay with me this is not maudlin! Big day for cemeteries! Flowers, balloons, little kids running around in their Easter best.I saw no tears.

I spoke with my sister upon returning home. We have had this conversation many times. You see, there are only three spaces in the cemetery plot. What were my parents thinking?One of us has to go first.It all came down to rummaging through family documents looking for the deed to the family plot; at least one of us would know where it was and inform the kids.You cannot be buried without an official stamped deed. Did you know that? You just cannot point and say, “Well that one is mine. After all my parents are there you idiot!”

Just what you want to read about, right?When mom died in 2000, I gathered all of the family documents and categorized them by year.I sat there for hours looking through my grandparents' citizenship papers, baptismal papers, etc and then I found something that, immediately upon seeing, brought back a childhood incident concerning my dad that has been totally out of recall for more than fifty years.My dad’s Anniversary is April 19. He will be gone almost forty years! Of course, I thought that finding this paper was a sign from the celestial heavens. I figured after all of these years he’s made it to that Big Tent in the sky and is thus free to make contact with us mere earthlings.

Dad wants his due; at least it is comforting for me to believe that.I have often written about Mom, though there is far more to write, but have seldom touched on Dad.The found item was a commendation from the then Mayor of New York, Fiorello La Guardia to my father for being a Deputy Sector Commander in the Civil Service of the City in The Air Warden Service. It was not an uncommon document. Daddy had been an Air Raid Warden from 1942 to 1945. Air Raid Warden’s were responsible for gathering people during the war in case there was a security threat, direct them to the air raid shelters and provide for the safety of the elderly and infirm and myriad other things.

The document was simply the trigger to my reliving this incident about my dad, which I remember as if it were yesterday. I am trying to get it down on paper and share it next week, the week of his anniversary.I hope that you will join me.

Copyright © 2009 by m.m.sugar

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Wedding day

The truth was at that time I wasn’t too upset when she left the house carrying her little suitcase and wearing her taffeta dress for the last time. There would be no teasing no yelling and no bossing me around anymore. Older sisters were creepy and horrible people. But I lucked out; mine was going into the convent. It was September 1958 and I had had what one would call an interesting summer.

We drove to the mother house, a convent in upstate New York. By ‘we’ I mean the entire Bronx which was comprised of my family, the Grasso’s. The weeping was continual. My grandma said that the word ‘weeping’ was better than the word ‘crying’. It had a kind of gentility about it which was reserved for occasions such as this.

Anyway, I wasn’t allowed in our car. I had to ride with my cousins. My parents and grandma and her two god-mothers, one from baptism the other from confirmation and of course my sister filled the car. It was kind of like a funeral cortege because when you became a nun? Well, in those days you died to the world. Sounded good to me.

You have to understand the dynamics. A girl was becoming a bride of Christ. She was going to shed her taffeta dress and cut off her hair. Actually hers was short, permmed curly and bleached blond so we kind of have to put that one aside. The entire Bronx borough was accompanying her to the ceremony, an assurance that it was not going to be quiet. It was going to be emotional my father would guarantee that. Like every fanatical Italian father he would break down with one hand extended to the door and the other crumbling his tie and shirt on his heart when she walked into that little room where she would leave the world behind: Shed her worldly coil.

There would be enough hysteria and eye fluid to fill a small reservoir and the crowning moment would be when she walked down the church aisle with a bunch of other pseudo virgins dressed in black flowing gowns starched white collars and short black veils. She would be particularly striking with the bleached hair and the brown roots showing. These days, 2011, they hand them a black skirt and vest and white blouse and they’re good to go.

The Calderaries came from California, they were her Confirmation god-parents and then there was Aunt Bell and Uncle Sam her Baptismal god-parents. Uncle Sam was grandma’s brother. Uncle Sam and grandmas other six brothers were bakers and they baked a casada cake the size of Yankee stadium for the reception which was to follow the first mass that the girls would attend as postulants,

The only problem that I could see and really looked forward to, was, that they never informed the convent that they were performing such a generous act. Italian men, back in the day, ruled with an iron fist. My uncles and aunts were all born in Sicily. Need I say more?

The family was dressed to the nines. There was no greater honor than to have your daughter called to be bride of Christ except of course if your son was going to be a priest. One up-man-ship in those days was big both in the Italian family and the Catholic Church. Hasn’t really changed.

My cousins Joey and Iz were driving the cake up from the Bronx. They were pretty much older than my sister and me in fact they were grown up guys who had jobs and lived like kings in their parents’ home free of charge with a guarantee of a good dish of spaghetti every night. Italian mothers like to baby their boys.

It was a beautiful Sunday morning. The problem was that the guys had been out on Saturday night and the buzz was that uncle Saverio was going to kill Iz and Joey if that cake turned up late for the reception.

At one point when we were gathered in the garden while my sister was being sequestered and morphed into a penguin I heard Saverio tell Aunt Mary. “You son-he go drinking again last ah night ah?” She took him by the arm as he looked behind to see who was watching. Aunt Mary who was a whooping 4’ 11 and made all of the Grasso men shake when she spoke said. “Hey you tink you know something? He’s ah you sona thoo. Hey, you live in da house?” And that was kind of the end of that for the moment at least.

Just then the bells began to ring. And I must admit that I teared up in anticipation of seeing my 19 year old sister transformed into a holy roller. No one cared about me so I just got myself into the church. You were supposed to sit with family members but we had so many people there that we outnumbered all the other families so no matter where I sat I was bound to be next to a Grasso.

As I sat down I heard Uncle Sammy call to Saverio in a loud whisper “I saw ah the truck ah, I saw ah the truck ah.” I was relieved that that drama was over. But with my family there would be another to follow so I sat down and honestly awaited my newly transformed sister.

The church was dead quiet. The organ music was first loud and grand and then became gentle and serene and the flow of black began down the aisle when I saw her and I swear genuine tears fell over my cheeks and I settled back. I wouldn’t confess this to anyone but I was really getting into it. Everyone was crying at least those of my contingent. And I knelt in somber prayer for the first time in my adolescence when I heard uncle Saverio cry out “what a you mean ah you drop ah the cake!”

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