Sunday, November 22, 2015

Chapter 19

The two boys made their way back to Angelo's house.  Amadeo took deep, appreciative breaths as they walked down the dirt drive, loving the mixed scents of moist earth, wild flowers, things green and growing, the slightly sour tang of the blackberries that had fallen to the driveway and were fermenting in the heat of the day.  He smiled at the soft, contented sounds of the hogs who rolled in a freshly watered mud wallow, and the muted clucking of the chickens who had once again taken refuge in the barn.

"Mama, Pop!  We're back!" Angelo called as they entered the house.  "Paulie?  John?"

"There's a note on the table, Ange," Amadeo pointed out.

Angelo picked it up and brought it near Amadeo so that they could both read it. "Umm, shoulda known dad would've had to work today.  He's still trying to find a viable office space. So far everything he's suggested has had something wrong with it.  He's starting to think he's going to have to search in another city entirely," he sighed.  Then he laughed as he read his mother's request that he start dinner.  "She's feeling brave today, isn't she?"

Amadeo smiled.  He knew his friend was a pretty good cook, and he knew that Angelo knew it as well, but that didn't stop his friend from fishing for compliments.

"So what shall I prepare tonight?  Salmonela on a Stick?  Ptomaine Tartare?" Angelo asked his friend as he held his hand above the stove top to see if it were still hot enough to cook on.  He gathered up some kindling and old paper and arranged them in the stove, then picked up several pieces of wood and placed them carefully in as well, watching to be sure they caught before closing the door again.

Amadeo shrugged. "As long as it doesn't bite back, I don't think they'll care," he replied with a serious expression.

Angelo's laughter was happy and relaxed.  "OK then, let's see what we've got," he said, turning toward the quietly humming refrigerator.  He opened the freezer and looked in.  "Eh, nothing here will thaw by dinner time.  Did you know that when mom and dad first came here there wasn't a fridge?  Uncle Pat and..." Angelo hesitated, unsure of what word he should use.  "Well, anyway, they had an ice box!  Did you ever see one?"

"My nonnie and papi had one, yeah.  It was pretty cool.  No pun intended," Amadeo said quickly, grinning as he saw the look on his friend's face.

"Well, anyway, when mom and dad first came out here there was no electricity.  At all!  When dad came out he did most of the electrical work, installing outlets and light fixtures and all, and then some guys from the electric company had to install the poles and run the lines from the street down here," he said, rummaging through the refrigerator, pulling out onions, carrots, celery.  

"Hey, Dae, would you look in the alcove there, look in the pantry and see if we have any pasta?" Angelo asked, gesturing over his shoulder with his chin, as though Amadeo didn't know where the alcove or the pantry were.  "Under the sink is a big pot mama makes her sauce in, and another one that's a little smaller, and the frying pan... can you get those too, please?"

Amadeo did as he'd been asked, wondering what it was his friend planned to make as Angelo placed the first selection of vegetables on the table only to return to the refrigerator to take out another arm load.   

Angelo added them to the pile, unconsciously maneuvering past Amadeo in much the same way that his father did while helping his mother to cook, and picked up the cutting boards, several bowls, a jug of oil, and a couple of paring knives.  He placed all but the oil on the table, picked up the large pot and frying pan, put them on top of the stove, added a bit of oil and left them to heat.

"Would you start by chopping up the garlic and onions for me, Dae?  Or if you don't like them then start with the carrots and celery, please?"

Amadeo stood there, bemused for a moment while Angelo kept going, not waiting for an answer one way or the other.  He watched his friend open the door that lead to the back porch only to return moments later with an armful of potatoes which he dumped in the sink to wash.

"Ummm, how do you want the onion chopped?" Deo asked, peeling it before running it under the cold tap.

"Not too small and not too big," Angelo replied.

Amadeo fought off a grin.  He sat down, chopping the onion as he'd seen his mother do countless times.  He scraped the pieces into a bowl and began to peel the cloves of garlic.  "How do you want the garlic chopped?" he asked.

"Not too big and not too small."  Angelo answered distractedly, scrubbing the potatoes with enough force to take the skins off without the aid of a knife.

Amadeo ducked his head and tried to hide another grin before chopping the garlic.  He felt four large cloves were plenty so he scraped the pieces into the bowl with the onion and pulled the carrots over.  He picked up the paring knife and began peeling them, careful not to get the peelings onto the floor.  He brought them to the sink and washed them, glancing with interest at how his friend was doing with the potatoes, then brought the carrots back to the table to begin that task.

After Angelo finished with the potatoes he picked up several more pieces of wood and carefully added them to the stove, then he joined his friend at the table, where he carefully dropped the potatoes.  He returned to the table, sat down, and began deftly chopping the denuded potatoes into neat, bite sized squares.  

"So anyway, next month dad is replacing Old Smokey," Angelo said, picking up the thread of the conversation they'd been having earlier as though there had been no interruption, and gesturing over his shoulder toward the stove with his knife, "with an electric stove.  Mom wanted a gas stove but when she found out how much it would cost to run a gas line out here she said electric was fine."

He laughed.  "You had to see her eyes when she heard the estimate, I thought they were gonna just pop right out.  I know dad felt bad though, because there was a really pretty gas range mama liked and really wanted.  But honestly, Dae, it was huge, and I'm not sure it would have made it through the door, let alone fit into the kitchen without knocking out the wall between here and the living room," he quipped.  "It had eight burners and a thing on the side where you could put plates to keep the food warm.  She figured with so many kids and grandkids that when we were all here for holidays a stove that big would come in handy."

He finished chopping the potatoes and went back to the refrigerator.  He took out a covered plate of chicken breasts, pulled off the skins, and began to use a scissor to cut them first into slices, then into strips, and then into bite sized portions as well.

Amadeo looked at his friend curiously.  "I've never seen anyone cut chicken with scissors before.  Does it help?" he asked casually.

"Oh yeah!"  Angelo replied quickly.  "See, when I use a knife, no matter how sharp it is, the chicken wiggles all over the place and the pieces end up all skinny in some places and too thick in others and the pieces don't cook the same, so some end up kinda rubbery and some end up kinda chewy, you know? This way I get them pretty evenly cut, I can trim off any fat, and honestly I think it just makes the food look better when you serve it," he said laughing.

He stopped midway through the chicken to carefully scrape half of the onions and garlic into the large pot, stirring them quickly with one of his mother's myriad of wooden spoons, scraped the rest into the frying pan and stirred those before tapping Shave and a Haircut on the rim of the pan.  Still standing, he pulled the herbs over and began chopping up the fresh basil, oregano and parsley.  When that was done he put them aside and began coring and cleaning the red and yellow peppers, washing them thoroughly, before slicing them lengthwise and then into bite sized pieces.  He once again split half of the peppers into the pot and the rest into the pan, stirred them, then tapped Shave and a Haircut on the edge of the pan before putting the spoon down.

Amadeo had finished the carrots and celery by then and had begun cutting the ends off of the string beans and halving them.  "Well, you did say it was nice for heating the kitchen in the winter,” he said, raising an arm to wipe the fine sweat off of his forehead with a sleeve.

"Oh yeah, sorry Dae!  Gimme a sec," Angelo said apologetically, running back into the hallway which led to the back porch.  He returned quickly with two electric fans, plugged one in on each side of the kitchen and turned them on. He opened the windows wider, opened the kitchen door, and then opened the hallway door to create a cross breeze.  The temperature in the kitchen became noticeably cooler, for which Amadeo was grateful.

Angelo quickly washed his hands and hurriedly finished cutting the chicken.   He scraped the chicken pieces into the frying pan, and sprinkled the chopped herbs in, stirring them quickly to prevent anything burning in the hot oil, added a little salt and pepper which stood in decorative cellars on the back of the stove, stirred that, stirred the contents of the large pan, and once again tapped the Shave and a Haircut pattern on the edge.

He went into the alcove and Amadeo could hear him running the tap.  Angelo came back moments later with another large pan full of water, which he carefully poured into the large sauce pan.  The oil inside protested loudly at the intrusion of it's arch nemesis, but it was quickly overwhelmed and subsided with an annoyed, 'SSSSSssssss.'

Angelo returned to the kitchen, filled the pot again and added more water.  Once again he went into the hallway, returning this time with several glass jars full of home canned tomato.  He opened each jar, which, with a pop and another hiss, reluctantly gave up it's contents, and emptied them into a bowl.  "Hey, Dae? Would you put the potatoes, carrots and celery in the big pot please?"  He then began to use a knife to slice up the tomatoes without waiting for Amadeo's reply.

It didn't bother Amadeo at all, he was quite happy to be in the role of chef's helper, and enjoyed how intense Angelo became while he was cooking.

Amadeo carefully slid the vegetables into the pot, and then proceeded to clean the cutting boards, utensils and surfaces while Angelo worked his magic, while still managing to keep an eye on what his friend was doing.  Amadeo had no idea what Angelo was cooking, but it already smelled fantastic.

Angelo filled the next smallest pot which Amadeo had brought him with water and placed it on the stove top.  He then picked up the frying pan and spooned the contents into the large sauce pan.  

Amadeo carefully took the frying pan.  Angelo smiled at his friend's silent offer to clean it and handed it over before digging into the cabinets once again for something else.  He came up shortly with a couple of small bottles of home canned red kidney beans.  He popped the jars open, dug out a few with his fingers, tossed them into his mouth and poured the rest into the large pot which Amadeo was sure would over flow if Angelo tried to put one more thing into it.

With a satisfied smile and a more exuberant rendition of Shave and a Haircut on the edge of the large pot, Angelo turned to his friend and said, "And for now, we're done!  In about a half hour or so I'll put the pasta on and it should all be ready when everyone gets home."

"Well, it smells great!" Amadeo said.  "What's it called?"


"What you just cooked. Is it some New York thing? What's it called?  I don't remember my mother ever making anything like this and I bet she'd love the recipe."

Angelo shrugged.  "I dunno," he said offhandedly.  "I just sort of threw stuff together?" then he smiled.  "But it does smell good, doesn't it?  Wish I could remember whatever it was I did," he laughed.

Amadeo couldn't help but to laugh.  "Si dado!" he teased.  (You nut)

Angelo bowed. "Thank you!  Thank you! Applause isn't necessary, just throw money!" he said, taking an imaginary hat off of his head and holding it out to receive the donations.

"Get a job, ya bum!" Amadeo joked.

Angelo replaced his imaginary hat and wiped an equally imaginary tear from his eye.  "Ahhh, how I miss New York!  You just made me horribly homesick, Dae. All that's missing are the honking of the car horns, the smells of burnt rubber, oil and gasoline, hot asphalt melting in the summer sun, grumpy, sweaty, grizzled old men shouting at the kids to go home to their mothers and learn some manners.  Ahhh, those were the days."  He gave an exaggerated sigh and wiped away a few more tears.

Amadeo laughed and clapped his friend on the back.  "All right then, now that we've taken our stroll down memory lane, what would you like to do for the next two hours?"

Angelo shrugged.  "I'm kinda tired of the board games, and I don't think there's much on this time of day worth watching.  I know the animals are taken care of, and I'm pretty sure all the gardening's been done or mom, Johnnie and Paulie wouldn't've left."

"Well, hey!  I have an idea!  I've been dying since I met you to see all of the pictures on the wall in your living room, and you still never took me down into the cellar.  Can we do all that now?"

Angelo shrugged again.  "Sure, I guess.  Come on," he said, leading Amadeo into the living room.  He went to the far left edge of the wall and pointed to the picture on the top left which showed a young, clean cut gentleman man in a dark jacket, high white collar held in place with a neatly tied wide, striped tie, hair short and parted on the left side.  Amadeo took several minutes to admire the picture.  There was a placid expression on the man's face and he was looking to his right, at what, Amadeo could only guess.  And the expression in his eyes... Love?  Peace?  Pleasure?  It was a little difficult to decide what was going through the man's mind while the picture had been taken.

"That's great grandpa Di Marco," Angelo said, laying a gentle finger on the corner of the frame.  "And this is great grandma." 

Amadeo's eyes opened wide.  There were Angelo's large dark eyes and full lips. The woman was wearing a head piece made of what looked like coins which went from the crown of her head to her chest.  What could be seen of her hair was dark and wavy.  She seemed to be wearing several layers of what might have been brightly colored clothing.  A thick choker made of beads of some sort encircled her neck. A circular pendant made of the same beads hung from it. Her eyes were striking, large, almond shaped and dark, much like Angelo's.  She had some sort of mark or tattoo on her forehead, between and just above her eye level.  She looked shy and a little sad, and Amadeo asked about it.

"Great grandpa met her in Morocco.  His ship was at docked at the Port of Nador and the guys were on shore leave and he saw her.  The story goes that he was a typical sailor and had a girl in every port and when he saw her he forgot about all the rest of them and couldn't keep his eyes off of her.  He walked up to her and tried to talk to her, but she just smiled at him, said something he couldn't understand, and walked away.  So he decided he was going to learn whatever her language and just casually start up a conversation with her next time he saw her."

"How long was he on shore leave for?" Amadeo asked, surprised.

"Ummm, about three days I think?"

Amadeo smiled.  "He was determined wasn't he?  How'd he expect to learn a language in three days?"

"He had a gift for languages?" Angelo replied as though it should have been obvious.  "He could pick up on a language within a few hours of hearing it. Made him really valuable in the Diplomatic Corp when he retired from the Regia Marina.  He wouldn't have been one hundred percent fluent in it in three days but he'd know enough of it to get by, and then study up more later.  Dad can do the same thing. He speaks six languages," Angelo said proudly.

"So anyway, he asks around and finally runs into a native who spoke English, and the guy says to him 'Well, you're in Morocco, so what do you think we speak, insufferable American.'  So great grandpa goes around asking where he can learn Moroccan and people were either, probably, telling him they didn't speak English, or giving him these amused looks, and finally one lady whispers to him that the language is Moroccan Arabic and then asked if he were in some sort of trouble with the law or did he perhaps need a translator to help with a business transaction, because for a small fee she would gladly have her son act as translator for her."

"He was so happy to have someone else who spoke English and seemed willing to help, he scanned the market place and saw the girl again. So he pointed her out and explained his situation."

"Well the woman took one look at great grandma and said 'Berber.  I wish you luck, sir, but I find it unlikely that the women here would be interested in an American.'  So great granddad smiles and says, 'Well that's good then, because I'm not an American.' and he wished the lady a good day and went to the local pub where the sailors all hung out.  He got a quick course in Arabic and Berber, of course there were different dialects and he knew he couldn't learn all of them in one day so he just learned as much of the two most common," Angelo giggled.

"What's so funny?" 'Deo asked.

"Well, it turns out that French is, I think the second or third most widely spoken language in Morocco?"

Amadeo looked uncomprehendingly at his friend for a moment and then laughed.  "Did his buddies know that?  And I'm guessing he spoke French and they knew it?"

"Yep," said Angelo with a laugh. "So there was poor great grandad trying to stuff Moroccan Arabic and at least one dialect of Berber into his head in one night and all that time there was a good chance that she spoke French all the time,” he laughed again.

Amadeo loved the sound of Angelo's laugh, and thought again how lucky he'd been to find this wonderful boy.  "So did she?  Speak French, I mean."

"Yeah, turns out she did.  So anyway, great grandad goes out the next day and he's looking all over the place for her.  He finally finds her, right?  He went up to her and started trying to speak Arabic to her."  He frowned, I really need to find his journal, I think I'm telling it wrong. 

"We can find it later, tell me what you remember now, as far as I can tell you're doing fine," 'Deo encouraged him.

Angelo sighed, frustrated with himself, sure that he was 'messing it up', and continued, "Ok, so he started speaking Arabic and according to his journal she was just looking at him, and then she started to smile a little but she was polite and didn't interrupt but she didn't answer either.   Then he tried the bit of Berber he'd learned and her lips twitched even more and he could see she was trying really hard not to laugh.  He said in his journal that he could feel his ears getting hot like they'd do whenever he was embarrassed.  That's when she smiled at him and asked him in French if he spoke the language.  He wrote that she had the loveliest smile."

"He was so glad that they spoke a common language, and that's when he asked her how badly he'd been speaking the languages.  She ducked her head a little and he knew she was trying not to laugh again.  That's when she told him he'd asked how her goat was.  He'd remarked that she had a very pretty bucket of beans, and he'd asked if he could treat her to a cup of camel.  Then when he'd switched to the Berber he'd complimented the sandwiches on her feet and said that she had very musical ducks."

Amadeo couldn't help but to laugh, and Angelo joined in.

"So anyway, I guess they stood there in the market place talking for a while when her mother and one of her aunts came running out of a shop with baskets full of stuff and great great grand mother started yelling at her daughter.  Great grandad said he only understood part of what she was saying since it was in Berber but he tried to explain to Kenza, that was great great granny's name, in French, that his intentions were good, and that he'd like to marry Imane, that was great grandma's name."

"Well he said the looks on their faces were priceless.  He said Imane didn't know whether to be angry or flattered, and he could see Kenza's eyes raking over him, and little lira signs, or in her case perhaps 'darahim', glinting in her eyes. He said great great auntie Najwa, Kenza's sister, gave him the hairy eye the whole time they stood there talking.  Or would that make her my great great great auntie?  Ah well."

"So anyway, they allowed the courtship. It was pretty much unheard of back then, but considering how many kids they had and what the prospects of finding a suitable husband for all of their daughters were like in Morocco, he was as good a choice as any. Plus even Najwa said afterward that she liked the look of him.  I think they liked that great grandad only had another day left too, so that they could have more time to think on it.  When he shipped out he promised to write, and every time he wrote he'd send Imane a little token.  He sent her something that was a little strange, all things considered, but from what I read, Imane was thrilled with it."

"What was it?  Don't keep me in suspense."  Amadeo laughed.

"It was a picture made from his hair."

Amadeo smiled, confused, but waited for his friend to continue the story.

"It was... jeez it's hard to explain...  I think mom has it in one of the boxes down the cellar, along with the journal.  It was kinda like... fronds?  And there were little flowers made of the hair with little pearls where the center of the flower would be, and the, uh, bouquet?  Was held together near the bottom with a little gold band with more little pearls on it. There were little squiggles of gold wire, and a little butterfly made of the wire."

"Yeah, that does sound unusual.  Really pretty though.  Um, Ange, do you think you should stir the, uh, dinner?" Amadeo prompted, unsure of what to call the concoction they'd thrown together.  

"Hmm?  Oh! Yeah, I forgot.  Gimme a sec," Angelo ran into the kitchen, stirred the contents of the pot, accidentally spilling some on the stovetop which hissed and gave off a burned smell for a few moments, and then he was back moments later.  

He picked up the thread of the conversation once again. "So the next time great grandad..."

"What was his name?"


Amadeo tried not to laugh.  Angelo tended to get so involved in one thing that he'd forget everything else, and he didn't want his friend, no, make that boyfriend, to be self-conscious about it.

"What was his name?  You said your great grandmother's name was Imane, what was his?"

"Oh!  Matteo.  Matteo Donato Di Marco."  Angelo smiled.  Then he frowned. "Dang, now I forgot what I was saying."  He laughed self-deprecatingly.

"We have Matteo and Imane and he's sending her little gifts and the next time he..."

"Oh yeah! Thanks!  So the next time his ship docks she's there with her mother, her aunt, her father, two of her brothers and three of her sisters are there ready to greet him at the dock."

"So this was the second time they met?" asked Amadeo.

"Oh, no, sorry, his ship docked regularly at Nador, like every six months or so, so he'd seen her two or three times, and then there was about a year he didn't see her and that's when he sent that... ah... picture, but he kept sending letters every month or so, and photographs.  Or rather, he'd write letters every month but sometimes she didn't get them til a few months after.  The mail service wasn't so hot back then I guess.  And then, just before he went to visit that last time he sent a dowry, money, silks, fine china, linen, a suit made especially for great great grandad and a pretty traditional dress for great great granny, jewelry, silk shoes.  He even sent stuff for her brothers and sisters, and even something for however great aunt Najwa."

"How many brothers and sisters did she have?"  

"There were twelve kids in the family.  Eight boys and four girls.  Imane was the third youngest.  Poor Imane," he said, suddenly serious, "she went from wishing she'd been an only child or at least a member of a smaller family to nearly crying when she was finally married and on her way to another country with different customs and a different language."

"How old was she?  And how old was Matteo?"

"Great grandad, Matteo, was twenty four and Imane was eighteen.  Sorry, my oldest brother's name is Matteo so whenever I talk about great grandad I see Matty in my head.  It gets a little confusing sometimes," he laughed again.

"It's like that in my mother's family too," said Amadeo.  "You can't turn a corner in her family without running into an Anthony, even some of the girls are named Tonia, Antonia or Antoinette.  I asked once, mom said he was the patron saint of lost things, and that it was just a traditional family name, which is why none of us is named Anthony," he laughed.

"Hang on, let me show you something before we go on with the wall," Angelo said animatedly.  He went to the corner of the room and picked up one of the larger books that were stacked in the corner between the armchair and the couch, behind the lamp, which all stood about knee high.  He grunted slightly with the effort of lifting such a heavy book at a bad angle.  "C'mere, Dae," he said, sitting down with the book on his lap.

Amadeo sat and Angelo opened the book, half on his lap, half on 'Deo's.

"So who are these folks?" Amadeo asked, pointing to the photos.

"OK, here're some more pictures of the great greats," Angelo said, giving his friend a chance to look at the pictures before he turned the pages.  "This is them on their honeymoon, and whenever they went on a vacation they'd have a picture taken."  The people in the pictures changed slightly with each photograph, hair, clothing, sometimes smiling, sometimes serious.  "Then all of a sudden, BANG!" Angelo said, startling Amadeo.  "All of a sudden the two of them have a baby," he turned a few more pages and suddenly as if by magic the infant they'd been holding in the previous picture was a toddler being held by her father while an infant was being held to her mother's breast, only to be replaced with a picture of the adults with a child of about four, a toddler and another infant. 

"That's their oldest daughter Stephania," he said, pointing to the pretty, beruffled, dark eyed child who stood by her father, "Great grandad was holding Amina," he said pointing to the toddler in Matteo's arms.  "And great gran was holding Vincenzo.  Then came Kenza, Lucia, Kalid, Emanuele, Kaoutar; except people would call her Cuter as a nickname, Margherita, Ismail, Salvatore, Rania, dad, Rachid, and finally Domenico," Angelo recited as he turned the pages to reveal more and yet more baby pictures.

Amadeo laughed out loud.  "Holy cow!  And I thought I had a big family! That's great!" 

Angelo smiled, pleased at his friend's, no, boyfriend's reaction.

"Then these are just some photos of them as kids," continued Angelo, pointing to various photos of little children holding cats or dogs, playing on the beach, pulling each other in a little wooden wagon or trying to hitch a dog up and make it pull.  Amadeo wondered how that little experiment had gone, and how long the person taking the picture had allowed it to go on.  He blushed a little at his own memory of trying to dress his mother's cat in an old shirt and socks when he was two.

"Then these are pictures of them in just about every grade from first to eighth, and then another book full of pictures of them in high school and college, the ones who decided to go.  We have a bunch of other books full of pictures of their weddings, honeymoons, vacations and kids as they came along," he laughed again.  "Want to see those?"

"Let's finish the wall first, ok?  And um, I'll go stir the food this time," he offered.  The food smelled great but he was sure Angelo's family didn't want to come home to a burned mess.  With a grin he tapped out the familiar rhythm before putting the spoon down and rejoining his friend in the living room.

When he returned to the living room, Angelo picked up on the wall where they'd left off.  "Now what we have here is Gran and Gramp Di Marco, Maria Elisabetta and Renato," he said, pointing to two photos side by side.

"She looks like an angel," said Amadeo appreciatively. "She's wearing ballet slippers?  I've never seen anything like that before."

Angelo nodded, "She was really beautiful.  She was really graceful. I don't remember much about her, but I do remember that.  Her hair was like silk," Angelo said meditatively, then he chuckled, "And gramp looked like he was running for mayor.  I never said so cause I'm sure he'd've been hurt but honestly, doesn't he look like he's running for office somewhere?"

Amadeo looked at the man in the dark tails, pin striped pants and top hat and had to agree.

Suddenly self-conscious, Angelo pulled away and pointed to the next photograph.  "This is nonnie and papa Lombardi," he said, gazing wistfully at the picture.  The man had short black hair and a mustache. He wore a black suit and was seated, while his wife, also in what looked like a black gown, stood beside him, her hands clasped loosely on his shoulder.  The only thing indicating that it was a wedding picture and not a funeral were the white cuffs and high collar held with a white cravat on the grandfather, and a matching white scarf or bow at the grandmother's throat, and the lace veil which stopped about mid-calf and which was topped with white flowers.  Her long dark hair hung down her shoulders in silky ringlets.

Amadeo looked at his friend, concerned.

Angelo noticed the look and shrugged with a little smile.  "They were who they were.   I only wish..." his voice died away.  He took a breath and then pointed to another framed photo of his grandfather, this time much older.  "This was taken about a month before he died.  He was seventy four."

Amadeo didn't say anything but he was shocked.  The man in the picture looked as though he were in his late eighties, mid-nineties even, but certainly older than seventy four.

Angelo didn't need to hear the words, the thought was plain on his friend's face. "Yeah, I know.  He really loved her.  He didn't give a damn about his own son, but he did love his wife.  When she died he just didn't want to go on living. Amazing that anyone capable of that kind of love couldn't..." Angelo stopped abruptly, anger and sadness warring for dominance.

Amadeo stepped closer and put an arm around his friend.  Angelo laid his head on his friend's chest.

"It hurts to know they'd have hated me, too.  They'd have disowned me just like they did him," Angelo whispered.

"It's all over and done with, Ange.  There's no sense getting upset or angry anymore.  Your uncle is past it now, and no matter what else happened, he still had not only his sisters but his... his partner and his friends, and his nephew, who never met him, knew the worst of him, and loved him anyway.  And you,” he said, looking down into Angelo's dark eyes, "have me, and I'll be willing to bet your family will stand beside you too, and Milo.  You have people who know the worst of you and love you anyway."

Angelo turned into Amadeo's hug and laid his forehead against his friend's chest, silent, sad tears running down his cheeks.

Paul turned quietly away from the door between the living room and kitchen and silently left the house.

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