Clan Culture: Stephanie’s Story

Stephanie in the ceramic circle of Narragansett inn

DIARY OF STEPHANIE IOVINO HEALY

November 29, 1995: 26 years old

This morning at 11:00am, I pulled into the driveway of the home of my Uncle Raymond. I was really nervous; I hadn’t been to his home on my own, and hadn’t had a ton of contact with my father’s side of the family. Don’t get me wrong; there were plenty of times I’d seen my family: once -a- year on Christmas Eve and other exceptions like high school graduations and over the years, had come to look forward to. But some time ago those stopped; Mom says the family got too big. And for reasons I was unaware of, my mother was never fond of my father’s parents, so visitation with them was kept to a minimum, and many died when I was younger.

Mom never talked bad of the  Iovino clan, but she also never encouraged interaction with that side of the family.  Dad’s side always seemed kind of foreign to me. My sister and I looked different; for one, we were blond and they never let us forget it. They cracked jokes and showed this tough exterior that is so like my Dad. My Dad was an integral part of the fun times in my life growing up. He taught my friends how to dive, he headed to the beach with my sister and I during his two weeks of vacation he took every summer. My first memories of Scarborough Beach are with him throwing us into the waves. But it took me a bit to crack his tougher exterior, only to find out that he is a big softie. But are his brothers just like him? I was about to find out.

The short answer? Yes, or at least my Uncle Raymond is.   My uncle has proven to be a huge softie and as soon as I sat down, he started crying. I was startled at first, and I told him that we did not have to talk about anything that might upset him, and he replied that he didn’t just cry when he was sad, but that he also cried when he was happy. I stared at him for a bit, feeling a bit uncomfortable, and then I slowly realized that I wasn’t there just to complete one of my last college papers. I was there to understand where my Dad came from and to understand that, I had to dig deep. Dig into my family’s past, from Italy to the USA. Tears sprang to my eyes and the years slipped away. We talked for hours, as if we had known each other for years, but knew no specifics about the other. My Auntie Camille hovered around waiting on us hand and foot, while their sons and daughters flowed through the house, dropping by unannounced: Something not done often in the house I grew up in. I soon realized that this house was a home – a home open to all who wanted to stop in to say hello, fill their tummies, give a hug.

I hadn’t planned on staying for dinner, which is served promptly at 2:00 pm on a Sundays, just like it was for me growing up. You were at the dinner table until you had a job, and only then was it excused. And you may have still gotten a hard time about it! But before I knew it, a huge plate of the best-looking macaroni, meatballs, sausage and gravy sat before me. “You’re staying for dinner, right?” asked my Auntie Camille. As my Dad would say, “You’re darn tootin’!” Dessert was served right after dinner, just the way I like it. Uncle Raymond said he got it from a local bakery especially for me. I felt very special in that moment.

The revelations which flowed more easily after a good meal were startling and surprising. I had an some preconceived notions about my Italian heritage, but this was not what I was expecting.   Still, many questions in my mind have been answered, and one of those revealed why my Mom felt so uncomfortable around Dad’s family.

My uncle’s health, unbeknownst to me, is fading, as he has a little box in the side of his stomach which kicks his heart into action if needed. He can no longer drive, but enjoys golfing with Dad every Tuesday morning without fail. Uncle Bobby used to golf with them all the time, but as of late, has made excuses. According to Uncle Raymond, honesty is the number one value in his book, which makes Uncle Bobby’s excuses even more painful.

Our family has started the Christmas Eve tradition once again, and I look forward to it now, more than ever; I know now what it represents: A tradition started by my paternal grandmother and a symbol of what remains of a large Italian family. And another morsel of valuable information revealed itself: Uncle Raymond had filled in as “Santa” some years, and others, it was Uncle Tommy.

Although this project changed my views about family and life in general, I can’t help but feel sad. I’ve had so little contact with Dad’s side that the deaths of many relatives had not touched me as much as others, a few having passed before my birth. But the few Sunday’s worth of time that I had with my Uncle Raymond left me saddened; saddened that it had taken me so long to get to know him. One of the last comments Uncle Ray made to me before I left that last Sunday evening was that looking back, he didn’t know where all those years have gone. He suddenly woke up one day and felt…old. I’m hoping this paper will be a legacy of sorts for the Iovino family in the years ahead. I’m also hoping to show him j- and the rest of our family – that his life didn’t just disappear in a day and that it lives on through many generations to come.

April 22, 2004: 34 years old

Uncle Raymond has passed. I was so saddened to hear this, more than any other Iovino relative so far. As I read his obituary, I was able to remind myself what that project meant nearly a decade before, and those special Sundays we sat together, broke bread, and shared stories that made me simultaneously laugh and cry.

March 3, 2005: 35 years old

Today was the last day on earth for my Auntie Camille, aka Carmela. She passed away less then one year after her beloved husband, my Uncle Raymond. I spent days trying to find that old paper somewhere in my files and was finally successful. As I began to read, I realized I had come almost full-circle. I smiled as I read how these two lovebirds had met – through that age-old game of “Spin the Bottle”, and can’t help but smile and giggle over this fact. I think back to the huge plates of food she put in front of me, while I listened with rapture over her loving husband’s life story. How grateful I am to have had that time with both of them. How precious this paper turned out to be – not only for myself, but also another generation of Iovino. Like my daughter Maia who was now a toddler. How will she feel about this story? We shall see!