WEDNESDAY, JULY 11, 2012
For someone who never finished college and who was basically a bartender most of his life, he surely did right by us. We weren’t rich, by any means, but we lived in a lovely home in a great city, drove good cars, wore good clothes and ate well (steak and beans every Saturday, the steak being grilled by Dad year-round; in the winter, he used the fireplace in the playroom for the grilling. I never found out whose idea it was to “upgrade” the “franks and beans” concept. I just enjoyed the hell out of it, without really appreciating it.)
On some level deeper than I knew back then, he loved us all and was devoted to making a good life for us. Six days a week he spent ten hours a day in that smoky, dark barroom, listening to the neighborhood drunks complain about their wives and lives. It’s no wonder he came home and promptly fell asleep after dinner, ultimately the cause of, or a contributing factor to, his early demise. In the summer, he never complained about the extra two hours added to his day because of the commute to our beach house, where the rest of us were lazing away the summer.
Did I imagine his envy of me, or was it based in fact? I was the first-born son, the Italian Prince. His sister, my godmother and her husband, (my mother’s brother, no less; my godfather) were childless, and so they brought a whole family’s-worth of devotion to me as the IP.
Still, he taught us the value of humor. We laughed a lot as a family, and he was very often a part of or the reason for it. Despite this, other than family gatherings, I remember only three times in my life when I felt really close to him:
Once, at the age of three or four, I stood behind him, he leaning forward in his armchair while watching a baseball game on TV. (Because of his proclivities toward and unfulfilled interest in things electronic, we were the first on our street to have a television set.) I stood behind him playing imaginary driver, using his back as a steering wheel and gearshift lever. I’m sure I was babbling something while I was doing this, the way kids do: talking to themselves out loud while in their imaginary worlds. I like to think that the slight and varying pressures I was placing on his back had a somewhat massaging, or even tickling, soothing effect on him.
Another time I remember: he and I were in the car, going somewhere, just the two of us. Looking back, it seems strange to me that we would be going somewhere, just the two of us, but the recollection is of me standing on the front seat on the passenger side — yep; no child-seatbelt laws or, apparently, concerns, in those days, about a kid going through the windshield — while we drove along.
The only other time was kind of golden: it was during the summer and the five of us went to a neighboring beach. For the day. Funny: what does one do to “get away” when one lives at a (then, anyway) wonderful beach, Nantasket? One drives twenty miles to a different wonderful beach, which is what we did that day as a family. Green Harbor. Dad at the beach was a rare thing in any event; having him drive us to a different beach — an adventure! — was a diamond in the sun. I remember the little refreshment stand, fashioned as a small lighthouse, where we got hot dogs and lemon-lime soda (my favorite then.) I’m sure I was allowed at least one Milky Way, too. They were actually good in those days.
Sometimes when I look in the mirror and see his ears looking back at me, or when I jot something down and see his handwriting, my chest kind of swells in pride and gratitude for all that he gave me, and I do remember, on more than one occasion, saying that I wanted to be “just like my dad; I can’t aspire to anything higher.” (No, his ears didn’t have eyeballs; mine just look like his, which is a wonderful pun if you think about it.) And I can’t help feeling sad for what he had to give up in his life, for family: first his, then ours. It almost makes up — it should, but it keeps falling short — for his occasional denigrating comments that undermined my self-assurance. Did those comments really undermine or did they inure? It must be my own ego that causes those to resurface as often as, if not more than, the sparkling days, even though I know it was just him being hard, ultimately for my own good.
He came from good Sicilian stock. I can’t help but think they were the best people ever and that makes me the luckiest ever.