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When my grandpa passed away, the family went nuts. Literally nuts. The old man had always had a gentle temperament, yet would not tolerate nonsense. He used to play with us always with a smile on his face, yet he would still govern his children, including my dad, in a serious way. My dad was one of five. Each kid had made its share of mistakes, I know because I hear my dad b**** about them every night, and continues to do so. But my grandpa had a way of understanding that his kids were idiots, and would help them through the difficult times. He was like a king, but when the king developed lung cancer, nobody knew who the hell would be the heir. So the family just sorta turned into anarchy.
My grandma turned a little crazy shortly after her husband’s death. She cooked until her arms were worn and tired, and then she didn’t eat the food. I mean, how can you make the best food on the face of the earth, and then just not eat it?! By the end of each day she would have pots of spaghetti, lasagna, and cappelletti just kinda cluttering up the counters. So lucky for me, she would deliver each pot of food to her grandkids. As she did she would say s*** to my mom like, “You haven’t fed the children!”
Many times, my mom would respond warily: “I have!”
“Then why are they so skinny?”
“My boys are skinny because of puberty. Rosey doesn’t need the extra food.”
Gee thanks mom.
“That’s ridiculous, if the boys are skinny because they’re going through puberty, they should be fed even more.”
“Many boys are skinny during puberty!”
“My boys weren’t!”
“Yes, and I’m dealing with your son’s diabetes right now, thank you very much.”
For the next seven years of her life, I watched grandma withdraw into herself. She had never seemed so lonely before. My mom told me that growing up, grandma had been one of thirteen children, and then she’d married grandpa and had five of her own. But then her children had all grown up, and now grandpa was gone forever. I remember a few years after grandpa’s death, grandma gave me his fedora, claiming it had lost it’s smell. Naturally I took a whiff of it, and didn’t know what the hell the crazy lady was talking about. It smelled just like her husband: like mint and tobacco.
Now you’re probably thinking she had a hard time after my grandpa’s death. Naturally she did. But her children were ten times worse.
My Aunt Greta left the family altogether. Grandpa had supported her even after she became pregnant with my jerk of a cousin before marriage. Now sure, you’re probably thinking this is America, that s*** happens all the time. Well for such a hardcore Catholic family, the fact that my Grandpa even spoke to her is a miracle. The man was sent from God. So I guess she just couldn’t deal, and left her mother behind. She moved across the country, where she lived alone with my three cousins. who I don’t care to speak about because they are major idiots. My aunt never called my grandma. Not for seven years. Nobody understood why she did this, but they were really pissed off. She was excommunicated.
Let me explain excommunication: It’s not that Italians just pick someone they hate and say “Hey get out of our family.” There is one single offense that results in excommunication. Italian families are very patriarchal: the men go to work and then come home to govern their families and wives. Don’t ask me why, if you ask me, screw the patriarch. But anyway, once the wife’s husband is gone, the widow is seen as fragile. The children treat her as if she’ss a dying princess or something, with respect. If anyone does a single thing to offend the widowed mom, then BAM. Suddenly they’re outta the family. Just like that. They’re not even allowed to be in the same vicinity as the rest of the family. They can’t join in on holidays, social gatherings, and if they’re even seen on the street, they’re dissed by family. It’s not even the mom who excommunicates, the mom couldn’t care less who does what to her. It’s the rest of the children who care. In-laws are judged the harshest. From the moment they are married in-laws are put on trial for the rest of their life.
One of my uncles, Stefano, couldn’t control my aunt or cousins. (I also despise these cousins, but don’t worry I’ve got plenty of cousins. I can afford to lose some.) My aunt constantly talked s*** about my grandma. My cousins always listened to my aunt talk s*** about my grandma. One day, my grandma was serving them some spaghetti, and when she asked my cousin, Jason, if he wanted some, he said, “I don’t want any of your s***ty food you greasy wop.” Knowing he had heard this from his mother, the family was immediately excommunicated.
So Stefano and Greta were out. My pop and Uncle Leo always talked s*** about them to each other:
“You heard anything about Greta?”
“Mom said she adopted two kids from Africa.”
“God help those poor kids, having to live with that wretched woman.”
“I hope she dies in a terrible accident.”
“If she does, I’m not showing up to that cruddy funeral.”
“I’m right there with you.”
Now, it’s not that my pop and uncle are terrible people; they aren’t. They’ve stood by their mother at every moment in her hour of need. My pop helped her out mother with his own paycheck when she ran into financial problems in her retirement home. Leo visited her every day, always with a smile on his face. It’s cause they love her so much that they hate their brother and sister so much.
Another idiot uncle of mine, Rocco, just barely avoided excommunication. For years, his crazy wife had been forcing him to avoid family gatherings and holidays. I forgot what he looked like for a while, and hadn’t seen my cousins for long enough that when I saw them next I didn’t recognize them. My pop and Leo had kinda become the new kings of the family: My pop because he’s rich as hell and Leo because he’s the oldest. Anyway, they were beginning to realize the domination Rocco’s wife had over him. (Again, screw the patriarch, but his wife was batshit crazy.) So my pop started snubbing Rocco, an early sign of excommunication. So, Rocco made an ultimatum: He divorced his wife. It was a good thing too cause this way only his wife was excommunicated, and he and his children remained safe on the Marinelli radar.
Every now and then, a grandchild, like me, would talk about how wrong the system was. How a family member, our flesh and blood, should not be kicked out of the family. But, of course, I’d be dismissed, and told that I’m not capable of understanding. But Christ, I’m sixteen years old, I think I can tell when my grandmother gets upset because of how screwed up her kids are. If my kids were a failure, I’d be upset too. The fact is, it’s only us grandkids who remember how gentle their grandpa had been with everyone. He was a man who adored small children and would have done anything to help his own offspring. Yet his sons had seemed to forget this. At family gatherings, excommunication was most always brought up, often in loud enthusiastic tones.
“I hope Greta’s eyes are mutilated in a car accident and she gets up to walk outta the car, and is hit by another one ‘cause she can’t see.” Leo would say, pounding his fists on the table.
“I hope that asshole of a husband of her’s is killed in the war.” Giovanni would add, making gun motions with his hands.
“Dad, that’s messed up!” I would say, throwing my hands in the air.
“You don’t understand, honey. She betrayed our mother.”
“I hope Stefano is murdered in the street when he visits her.” Leo would continue, making chopping motions with his hands.
“That asshole is visiting her? Screw him.”
Good old grandma would watch them, clutching her black coffee in her hands, trying to think through all the noise. Let me tell you something, Romans are loud. They’re always been known for their obnoxious loud ass speech. When they can’t think of the words to say something, they just shout the words, and that makes up for it. I’m guilty of this too.
Every once in awhile my grandma would whisper, “please stop,” and someone (usually me) will hear her and tell everyone to shut up. Then everyone just sits in awkward silence for awhile and then someone will start roasting Chip Kelly. Then eventually the topic would somehow come back to Greta and Stefano.
I can imagine that someday grandma fell into a coma. Her children will all visit her, and when Stefano and Greta try to get through the doorway, Leo or my pop will stop them.
“You can’t come in here,” Leo will say, holding his hands out to block him. “She’s not your mom anymore. She wouldn’t want you here.”
Greta will cry in the doorway, begging Leo to allow her to pass, begging Stefano to make Leo let them pass. But Stefano is a coward, so he will just turn sadly and go home. Greta will just fall to the floor, crying and then will eventually go home.
Poor old grandma awaken in a few hours, for just long enough to look around the room, and notice there are people missing. She’ll remember a game I used to play with grandpa, and that I’m sure he played with his own children. She’ll remember a little girl version of my aunt playing with her brother. She’ll think of them placing building blocks on a plate, and giving them to a young looking grandpa, probably with more hair, and less dead.
“Here is your spaghetti, daddy.” Greta would have said.
“Do you like it?” Stefano would have added, giggling slightly.
“Like it? It’s terrible!” Grandpa would have said, and then he would’ve smile and laugh. “This spaghetti is not al dente! What hellish kind of chefs are you?”
The kids would’ve giggle and take the blocks back, and come back later with a different plate. Just like I used to.
“Where is Stefano?” Grandma will ask. “Where is Greta? Where are the rest of my children?” And just like that she’ll die. As lonely as she was in life ‘cause of my idiot family.