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!

Clan Culture: Diary of Raymondo Joseph Iovino

Uncle Raymond and Auntie Camille at Cousin Ray's wedding in 1981.

Diary of Raymondo Joseph Iovino

November 1933: 6 years old

Papa has sent me to my room for the night, and I am very nervous. He says my teacher wants to talk to Mama and Papa, and that if it is bad I am in very big trouble, and I may get a beating. But I am trying to think over my school day, and I am sure I did not do anything wrong.  So why did I still have to take a note home to Mama and Papa? Well, I guess I will know soon enough.

November 1933: 6 years old

Papa came up to my room tonight before I went to bed. He says that the teacher from Kenyon Street Elementary said that Papa and Mama must speak English to me all the time, and with all the other kids too because I am not doing well in school, and they do not want the same thing to happen to my brothers. I asked if I could speak Italian with my friends, and Papa said that if he heard me speak anything but English, I would get a beating. Okay, I said. So later I learned to read the Italian paper. But soon I forgot much of the language, because I am out of practice.

December 1934: 7 years old

Today, Papa’s place of work dropped off a huge box of toys for Christmas. Mama told me under no circumstances was I to tell my brothers that there were toys hidden on my closet shelf. So I told my brothers’ that the toys weren’t on the shelf in my closet. Mama gave me a good spanking for that.

March 1937: 9 years old

Mama and Papa have put me in charge of all the kids while they go out to dinner with their friends the Menentas’. The Menentas’ are good friends; they always move in next door to us, no matter where the family moves. So now I am not only watching my five brothers, but also the Menentas’ kids. They have four sons, the youngest is only five months old. It is kind of scary, because I have to run back and forth to keep an eye on all of them. Last time I watched the kids, the baby made a big mess. The baby’s bassinet is kept next the stove to keep the baby warm. Well, I was about to change the baby’s diaper, and as I discarded the dirty diaper, the baby went to the bathroom all over the stove. This was not very fun, because it took me a long time to clean up the mess, and I was hoping the Menentas’ would not catch me cleaning their stove. Papa also gave me a nickel tonight because when he got home, he saw that I had scrubbed the kitchen floor for them. I enjoy doing things to help the family, such as ironing shirts and especially cooking.

May 1938: 11 years old

I am very proud today, because Papa asked me to do something very important for him and Mama. He kept me out of school, which was exciting in itself. Papa gave me a list of all kinds of groceries, and told me I am to go to the stores and finds all the things on the list. I am then to cut up the vegetables and prepare the dough for bread, and then wait for Papa to get home so he can show me how to make supper for the family. I will make him very proud of me. Mama is sick, so I must also take care of Dicky, Dotty, Bobby and Tommy. I will take Tommy with me, while the babies are napping.

October 1939: 12 years old

I made a very big mistake tonight. Mama and Papa always tell us kids that if we are not at the table at exactly five o’clock, we go without supper.   Tonight, I came in the house at 5:05, and I went without supper. I was really hungry tonight too. I guess I will not be late again for supper.

October 1939: 12 years old

I made another big mistake. Last night I sneaked downstairs to get some leftovers, and Papa caught me. Just for that I got 5 lashings with Papa’s belt on my bum. I will definitely not be late for supper again. This was worse punishment than talking during supper, which is three lashes.

December 1939: 12 years old

Today I was playing outside with my friends in the snow. My friend, also named Raymond, had a really neat sled that I just had to have. So I followed him home and watched him put the sled in his hallway. When he went further inside, I sneaked into his house and stole the sled. It was very easy. Well, I took that sled home, and told the other kids that if they tattled on me, I would give them a whooping. They didn’t tattle, but when Papa got home, he asked me where the sled came from. I told him a friend lent the sled to me.

December 1939, 1 week later: 12 years old

Today, Papa asked me again where the sled came from, for he had not seen me play outside with it. Of course I couldn’t take the sled outside because my friend would see it. Papa told me that I had better tell him the truth or he would give me a beating. So I told him. Papa said that I was to return the sled immediately and if I got caught putting the sled back, then I would get a beating. I did not get caught, and I never ran so fast in my life.

June 1941: 14 years old

Papa has told me that he needs me to help him support the family. So I will leave school, and this summer I will go and live with Aunt Marianetta in Hartford as a plumbers apprentice. Sometimes I think I will miss my favorite subjects such as English and penmanship. Although I am do not enjoy reading very much, I do enjoy History, especially European History, because someday I dream of visiting Italy where my Papa comes from. But I have found that I enjoy working with my hands because I can see the results of my handiwork much quicker than in any other job I might have. Maybe someday I will be able to go to a trade school to learn the theory of plumbing. I get to keep $3.00 a week out of $65.00, and the rest must be sent home to Papa for my brothers’ clothing for the new school year, as the hand-me-downs are quite ragged according to Mama.

July 1941: 14 years old

Aunt Marionetta and I drove up to Lawrence, Massachusetts to join Aunt Antonette, Mama and Papa, and the rest of the family for our once-a-year tradition of a “beach vacation”. We kids always have great fun up there, as it is fun to see how our cousins grow each year. This is a tradition I definitely plan to keep up when I have kids of my own.

September 1941: 14 years old

I have returned home from Hartford. What an experience. The best thing is that I did not have to go to church every Sunday like I do at home. Aunt Marionetta is not nearly as strict as Mama about those sort of things. Also, I see all my brothers going to Sunday school in order to make their First Communion. I guessed I missed the boat on that one being the first son and all. But now that I am home again, Mama wants me to help the kids with Bible Study, so that I can learn whatever I have missed myself. Personally, I believe God is everywhere, so why do I have to go to Church to find him? I asked Mama this question, and she slapped my face.

I am doing odd jobs around the Hill, for instance I clean the butcher block for the butcher, I slit the chickens throats that are hanging in the poultry shop, and I also shine shoes. Papa always says with hard work comes many rewards.

January 1942: 14 years old

Papa came up to my room tonight just like old times. He talked to me of the old country of Italy, and how much things are different there. Tonight he told me that the cats are very different here than in Italy. In Italy you do not feed the cats – they catch the mice to survive. Here in America the mice run right by the cats because the cats are fed by humans. Papa said that this difference in cats is not all that different from humans these days: some people do not work as hard here in America as they did in the old countries of Europe. Sometimes he tells me about his parents and him in Italy and his life later with Alphonse. It seems like a very tough life, and Papa also says he misses his Mama and Papa very much.

August 1942: 15 years old

Papa and Mama say we have to be in the house before dark, and if we are not, we must sleep outside. Well, last night I had to sleep outside. Good thing it is summertime! I just couldn’t stop playing Kick the Can and Hide and Seek with my brothers and my best friend, Ray Patriarca. Tommy told me that I should come inside with the rest of the kids, but I didn’t listen. I am also upset that I missed my favorite radio show. Each night, we gather around the radio to listen to such shows as Inner Sanctum Mystery, Amos and Andy, and my personal favorite, The Shadow. Next week I begin working at the Sea Bee Base at Quonset loading and unloading ships for the war effort. This is a good change for me from working in the local shops. Papa is also working for the Navy doing the same thing. He wanted to fight in the war, but the government said he couldn’t because it would cost too much to support his large family. So he will continue doing what he is doing until something which offers more money comes along.

June 1944: 17 years old

I have been working as a ship loader as of late, but when I tried to go and work with my friend in the plumbing and carpentry business, the owner said he could not hire me because I could not switch from working with the government to working for a private interest. So I decided to lie about my age and enlisted in the Navy. I leave for boot camp in a week. I will be leaving for boot camp in Samson, New York and I am very nervous, however, I am looking forward to leaving Providence, for this house is getting much too crowded.

November 1944: 17 years old

I have successfully completed boot camp in Samson, New York, and I am now stationed in Honolulu, Hawaii. The weather is beautiful, but I miss home very much. I cannot believe I ever wanted to leave. Mama writes to me all the time, and sends me my favorite food in the world: a box of pepperoni. I love milk, and Mama said she would send me a cow if she could. According to Mama’s letter, there is a big snowstorm going on in Rhode Island. After I finished reading it, I went swimming!

July 1945: 18 years old

I am getting into big trouble here in Hawaii. My friend and I got drunk and stole a fire truck. We got one month hard labor which included picking up trash all over the base. This is the second time I have gotten into this kind of trouble. Last time my friend and I went AWOL to California. Big, Big Mistake.

June 1946: 19 years old

Last week I was discharged from the Navy on the point system, now that the second World War is over. This was fine with me, as I missed my family very much. It was surprisingly easy to adjust to home, I guess I am easily adaptable. At one time, I was eager to get out of the crowded house. Now, I do not mind at all squeezing into one of two rooms with 2 double beds. I sleep with Joey and Albert sleeps with Rene. In the other kids room, Tommy shares a bed with Bobby and Dotty shares a bed with Dicky, because he is the baby. It is fun to be back in the old neighborhood with all my friends, although there is a new family on the block. Mama doesn’t want us to hang around with their kids though, because they are Jewish. Mama said they might want us to convert, whatever that means, so we had better stay away from them. So my brothers and I keep playing with our old friends.

February 1947: 19 years old

Today I married the woman I have chased around the neighborhood for thirteen years. I told her that I knew I wanted to marry her about four years ago, when my friends and her friends were playing Spin the Bottle, and I purposely stopped it when the bottle came spinning towards her. Her name is Carmella, and she says she will make me a good wife and give me many sons. This is good, for Mama and Papa are looking forward to many grandchildren.

August 1947: 20 years old

Carmella and I moved to Hartford to live with Aunt Marionetta. We hear that there are lots of plumber and carpentry jobs in this area. This is good because Carmella is expecting our first child early next year, and I must make good money to support my family.

January 1948: 20 years old

My first son was born today, named Joseph Alphonse. My brother Joe also opened up his own business, a drinking establishment. This worries me because I think that he drinks too much already. But Joe is very stubborn, and I can’t say anything to change his mind. I am still working in the plumbing business, and doing quite well.

May 1951: 23 years old

Carmella and I have moved back to Rhode Island. Mama and Papa are now living in Warwick, and they said we can move in with them until someone finds another house first. This makes for cramped living conditions as Carmella and I now have two children, the latest one being a daughter named Barbara, born on February 27, 1949. Dicky, Dotty and Bobby are still living at home. But we will make do. We split the bills half and half. This is agreeable to everyone.

March 1952: 23 years old

Father Delano lives across the street from us, which is wonderful because he is very supportive of us religiously as well as emotionally. The other day he came to visit and noticed that all the children’s clothes and shoes were quite worn. He asked us if there was anything that he could do for us, but Carmella and I are much too proud to admit that we cannot afford to clothe our children properly, so we said nothing, and Father Delano did not press the issue.

Well, Father Delano visited us again today. He had taken up a Church fund for us at Saturday night mass, and here are the proceeds. We are so grateful, and it is good to know that we can depend on the Church in our time of need.

June 1953: 24 years old

Three days ago, I went to a house that I was going to do some plumbing work for with my partner. It was for a Jewish family. While I was waiting for my partner to show up, Mrs. Myers asked me if I would like some breakfast. I said yes, and she invited me in for coffee and a bagel. The next day, the same thing happened. The third day, Mrs. Myers asked me my name, and I told her, and she seemed shocked. I asked her if there was anything wrong, and she said that she was under the impression I was Jewish because of my nose! I laughed at this, but that woman never asked me in for breakfast again, and my partner and I were there for one more week.

 February 1954: 25 years old

The plumbing business is not doing so well, so I asked Brother Joe for a job in the bar. Although I gave him a hard time at first, he would never turn his back on family. Joe put me in charge of collecting the debts from customers who owed him money. My job was to go to their house and do what it took to get the money owed to my brother. This was very difficult to get used to, but I was a good fighter in the Navy, and eventually it came back to me.

March 1954: 25 years old

My brother Rene was killed today in a car accident. This has devastated Mama, as she will not come out of her room. He leaves a wife and two kids. The brothers and I got together to grieve, and we have made a pact to become much closer, for we realize that someday, there will only be us kids to look out for each other.

August 1954: 26 years old

Carmella and I packed up the kids to go to Lawrence again this year. Financially, it has been a very tough year, but our cousins say they will help us to come and visit them anyway. Aunt Antonette has since passed on, but the cousins keep the tradition going.

November 1956: 28 years old

Papa called me yesterday very upset. He told me about how he had decided to go into the bakery business with a man named LeFrennier. Two weeks after they opened shop, LeFrennier took off with all their money. “Never trust a Frenchman, Raymondo”, Papa said to me. I promised I would remember what he said.

November 1958: 30 years old

Today, Carmella and I purchased a house. This is a very big move for us both financially and emotionally, for we will be moving out of Mama and Papa’s house soon. We purchased it for $5,000 from an Irishman. I was leery at first, but he seems like a very nice man. He has offered to finance the mortgage for us. That is very good for us. The only downfall is that it is a summer house, close to the ocean, and it needs many repairs and things to make it livable year-round. So I will do the work myself, and when the house is ready, we will make the move. Buying this house means that I will have to work even more hours than I do now. I already do plumbing, carpentry and any other work I can find on the side in addition to working with Joe at the bar. However, all this hard work does not allow for much of a social life, but at least we have our summer vacations in Lawrence.

October 1962: 36 years old

The end of our “baby” era has come. My wife Carmella has given birth to five more beautiful children:   Cheryl, born June 16, 1954, Janice, born January 11, 1958, Raymond, born January 13, 1959, Debbie, born August 3, 1960 and finally, my baby, Darlene, was born today. The doctor said it would not be in good health for Carmella to have anymore children, so Darlene is the end. Mama and Papa are very upset with Carmella and me for not giving the girls more traditional Italian names. I tell them we are not in Italy, we are in America and I want my kids to fit in. Mama did not talk to me for a month. Papa was more accepting of the idea.

December 24, 1962: 36 years old

This year, Mama started the first Christmas Eve tradition of having all her children’s families over for a big dinner. Dicky is the only one who is not here, for he joined the Army and is now in Germany. The food was wonderful, as everyone made and brought their favorite dish. There was seafood and pasta galore, I never ate so much in my life. If only the entire family could enjoy this feast!

November 19, 1966: 39 years old

The baby of the family, Dicky, is finally tying the knot today. Mama and Papa are not pleased because Dicky is the only child who will not be marrying an Italian woman. They are giving his fiancee’s parents a very hard time about the wedding, as she wants to get married in her Irish church, and Mama and Papa want them to get married in their Italian Church. But as the tradition is that the bride’s parents choose the ceremonial place, there is not much they can do about it, except to complain to us kids. My opinion is that if they are both Catholic, what is the difference? Besides Brother Joey, Dicky is the only one of us kids to have a big wedding. These Irish folks must have big bucks! But I must say that I admire Dicky for finding himself a nice college-type. But then I knew Dicky would make more of himself. Dicky says that his wife is making him go back and get his high school diploma. At least one of us will have one.

September 17, 1969: 42 years old

Tonight my brother Dicky called me up on the phone to ask me if I was going to his first-born daughter Stephanie’s baptism the next day, because brother Bobby’s wife had called him to say that Mama and Papa were boycotting the baptism because it was not in their Church. They felt that the only good baptism was a genuine Roman Catholic baptism. I told Dicky that I would be there, but it was a lie, because Mama and Papa have threatened to disown any one of us who goes to the baptism. I feel very bad about this. Not only that, but all the brothers including sister Dotty, lied about going.

July 1, 1976: 43 years old

Brother Joe has passed away at the age of 47. He died on the dance floor with a woman other than his wife, and has brought shame to the family. Alcoholism played a part, and his heart finally gave out. So I have been left with the bar to do as I see fit. Joe’s wife Lucia will not speak to any of us, as she feels we are to blame for everything. Two brothers gone, and we brothers and sister grow still closer. I turn on my favorite tune called “Sleepwalk”. Sometimes I like to listen to ‘50’s music, but I prefer instrumental music much better because it reminds me of cooking with Mama and listening to her old music, especially when I am sad.

April 1972: 44 years old

Some time ago, brother Joey allowed mob members, who happened to be very good friends of his, to come into the bar to set up booky arrangements with the customers. I was put in charge of the books. Joe gave them 50% of everything that came into the bar. Now they want the same agreement from me, but now I tell them that they can take care of the booking themselves, and I will rent them the space to do the booking, and they keep their own profits. They have agreed to this arrangement. But now I am bored without the booking job, so I will have to find another challenge.

October 1973: 46 years old

I decided to put a slot machine in the bar. This has brought me $500 a day in profits. Unfortunately, the cops have come in and confiscated it. That’s okay, it is only a misdemeanor charge. Next time I will put in two slot machines. That will bring me in $1000 a day!

December 1973: 46 years old

Today the police came in and confiscated the slot machines. I also have been arrested, and now I must appear in court because this is my second offense of this kind. Hopefully Papa and Mama will not be too ashamed of me.

September 1974: 47 years old

A very sad day, for Papa has passed away. He had a heart attack, and died in his sleep. Mama is heartbroken, and says that she cannot live without him. Us kids tell her she can, that she has all of us, but she has confined herself to her room just as she did after brother Rene and Joe’s deaths. Somehow I think that my trouble with the law brought upon his illness and death, but it is now too late to apologize.

February 1975: 48 years old

Mama passed away yesterday. She never quite recovered from Papa’s death, and said in the hospital that she could not wait to see Papa and her sons in Heaven. She told me to look out for the rest of the kids; I obeyed her wishes, and she died just moments later.

June 1980: 53 years old

My youngest child has graduated from high school. She, like the others has no desire to go to college. It has always been my dream for my children to get more of an education than I did. I suppose I should be thankful that at least they have all graduated high school. With Darlene’s graduation day coming up, I have gotten to thinking that I wish I had made something more of myself, and therefore maybe my kids would have a better life. Although I would not take back any of the gifts God has given me, I have to wonder. . . what if my background had been different, like Dicky’s wife Bev? You can bet her kids will get the education they deserve. Although money would have been tough, I would have found a way to put each and every one of them through college.

August 1980: 53 years old

Today I went fishing with brother Bobby. This is my favorite thing to do next to golfing since we purchased our small but cozy house near the water. I find the ocean to be the most beautiful thing in the world. I often wonder when I look out at the ocean what it was like for Papa to sail half way ‘round the world to America. So I decided to find out at least what it is like to sail, and purchased a boat with the last of the money I earned from the slot machines in Brother Joe’s bar.   I will keep it docked in Galilee, my favorite little town in Rhode Island.

I have decided to shut brother Joe’s bar down, as my wife and I are concerned about the types of people moving into the neighborhood, all kinds of Chinese-looking people and Niggers. So now I spend my days doing some carpentry work, but my health is failing me, so I mostly fish and golf with my brothers. This gives us a chance to spend more time together.

December 1983: 56 years old

The Christmas Eve tradition that Mama started some 20 years ago has come to a halt.  Brother Bobby’s wife, Gilda, says that the family is too big, and her house is too small, which is where we have gotten together since Mama passed on. I am deeply disappointed, and now we go back to each family having their own Christmas Eve celebration. What would Mama say to this?

October 31, 1985: 58 years old

Brother Tommy has died from the cancer which ravaged his body for years. Dicky and I went down to North Carolina to visit him after his wife called and said that it would not be long. Dicky and I were too late, and I will carry this guilt in my heart forever.

January 20, 1986: 58 years old

My only sister Dorothy has died today in Rhode Island Hospital of cancer. She has been ill for some time now, and Albert, Dicky, Bobby and I think that her suffering has gone on long enough. The end was painful and sad, for our only sister has gone on to be with our parents.

May 1987: 60 years old

My birthday today has made me reminisce about the old days, and my dreams which have not exactly come true. My dream of Italy was destroyed three months ago with my second heart attack, as the doctor has told me that I cannot fly. I have finally given up smoking; it is hard to believe that the cool Camels and Lucky Strikes of the old days have done this much damage to me. I try to get Carmella to stop, but she will not listen. My kids are happy, although I wish some of them would find better mates, but whatever makes them happy. . . Brother Dicky is taking me out golfing this afternoon for my birthday. Oh how I miss the carefree days of playing pool and touch football with all my brothers. Yesterday I received the best gift of all my life, my first grandchild. Although I never had much time for my own kids, what with all my various jobs in life, these kids I’m going to give all my attention to. I believe that they are the key to the future. I look at my nieces and nephews, and even my youngest kids, and I feel things are different now. They don’t have the responsibleness that me and my brothers and sister had, and they don’t respect their elders as much as we were taught to do. If this is what progress is, I don’t want it.

July 1994: 67 years old

Yesterday, brother Alberto joined Mama, Papa, Renaldo, Joseph, Thomas, and Dorothy in Heaven. He too has succumbed to cancer, and now we are down to three. Unfortunately, I suffered from my third heart attack the day before his death, so I was in the hospital the day he died. Again, I did not have the chance to say good-bye and to tell him I love him. But there is nothing I can do now, for he is in God’s hands. Robert, Richard, and I have made a promise to start those Christmas Eve parties again, and to rekindle a dwindling Italian tradition.  Maybe I can dress up like Santa as Brother Tommy did for all his nieces and nephews so many years ago. Now wouldn’t that be a hoot.

November 1995: 68 years old

Dicky’s oldest daughter, Stephanie is coming over to visit. She called a couple of weeks ago to ask me if she could talk to me for some class that she is taking at the University. She says she wants to know about my Italian heritage. I don’t know exactly what she means by heritage, but I’ll give it my best shot. I asked her if she knew the questions already that she was going to ask me, but she assured me that they were not tough questions, and that I’d see what she means when she gets here. This is the first time she has come to our house without Dicky, and the closest I have been to her is a dance on her wedding day, which was very short. I am a little nervous, and very excited, because for all that I have been through, I realize now that my family is everything. I do not have much else at this time. I hope I don’t cry when she gets here.