Sunday, April 10, 2016
Joshua walked into his son's room to find the boy, now in warm, dry clothes, sitting nervously on the edge of his bed, chewing his lower lip as he frequently did whenever he was nervous. Joshua tried not to laugh. No one could get dressed faster when he put his mind to it than his youngest son.
The older man closed the door and stood there for a moment, feet braced shoulder width apart, arms crossed as he looked at his son. Angelo returned the look warily from beneath thick eyelashes, his hands wringing in unconscious imitation of his mother whenever she was upset.
"What do you have to say for yourself?" Joshua asked quietly.
Angelo's gaze dropped to his hands. "Nothing sir?" he whispered.
"I... I'm sorry?" Angelo replied hesitantly, choosing his words carefully. "I know I should have kept a better eye on the time. I promised to be home for lunch. I know I worried you and mamma again, and I'm sorry. It...it won't happen again?"
Joshua walked over to his son's bed and sat down beside him. Angelo moved over slightly to give his father room, and while he didn't look directly at him he did position his body so that he was at least facing his father.
"Angelo, look at me." he said gently.
Angelo looked up, then away, unable to maintain eye contact with his father.
Joshua sighed, he supposed this was as good as he was going to get for the time being. "Angelo, when I was a kid I lived in what everyone considered to be a nice neighborhood. A safe neighborhood. Everyone knew everyone else and most of us were related in some way."
"One of my friends was from a very large family, larger even than great great grandpa Di Marco's." He held back a smile at his son's shocked expression.
"One day my friend's brother, Niccolo, who was about your age, had a big fight with his father. His father was going to punish Niccolo for being disrespectful, but the boy ran out of the house. For days no one knew where he was, and Patrizio, his father, searched and searched. His family, the whole neighborhood, searched. The neighborhood, the city, the police station, and the hospital. Eventually they went to the morgue." He stopped and looked at his son to see if the boy understood where he was headed with the story. Angelo was pale under his tan.
"That's where they found him. I won't tell you any more about that, Angelo, but the point is that it happened in what was supposedly a safe place, a familiar place, a place of family, and no one could believe that something that... like that... could happen." Joshua hesitated, he wanted to tell his son the story but didn't want to reveal the more gory details of that day. "No one could understand *how* something like that could have happened. No one could imagine who would do a thing like that. Niccolo was a good boy and everyone liked him, so no one could understand how he came to be where he was. No one remembered seeing any strangers around so the only other conclusion was that it had to be someone he knew, but of course no one came forward. None of us ever found out what really happened."
"It was worse back in New York, so big, so many people. Even in the neighborhood surrounded by people we knew, I worried. Even here, every time you leave the house I worry. I worry that you won't come back. I worry that I'll find you..." Joshua couldn't finish that thought. "You go off on one of your walks and lose track of the time, which is why I bought you that watch in the first place, but even with the watch you still disappear for hours, apparently with no thought that you might be worrying mamma and me."
"I'm sorry, papà." Angelo said apologetically. "I didn't know."
"I know, il mio angelo. You're so young in so many ways, I never wanted to tell you that story, but I want you to understand. One well-meaning but tactless neighbor said to Patrizio on the day of the funeral that he was blessed because he had so many other children that he wouldn't miss one.
Patrizio turned around to the neighbor and said 'If I had a hundred children the loss of even one would leave a hole in my heart that could never be filled even if I were to have a hundred more.' You think a family of six is large, perhaps, but did you ever think of what it would be like if we
ever lost another one of you?"
Angelo was near tears as he was reminded of his older brother whom he'd never met. "I'm sorry, papà. I really am. I'll try to do better from now on." His older brother, Paul, had had a twin who had been born with a heart condition. There wasn't a year that went by without some remembrance of his lost brother who he knew quite well through pictures and stories.
"I know you will." Joshua said quietly. "But there's still the matter of you disappearing again today to deal with, isn't there?"
"But dad, I was with 'Deo! I was safe, and I wasn't lost or anything, and I wasn't really wandering cuz I was with Dae, and it wasn't like last time where it was early in the morning, and I wasn't hanging around with those guys you told me not to, and he got me home as fast as he could when we realized what time it was, and..."
His name, spoken quietly, in that tone, was enough to stop his tirade.
Angelo looked up at his father. "Are you going to... sp... p... you know. Are you?"
Joshua hesitated a moment, "No, I don't think I need to now, do I?"
"You aren't?" Angelo said, surprised, "No, you don't, honest! Thanks dad!"
Joshua grabbed his son by the arm and dragged him across his lap.
"You said you weren't going to!" Angelo protested, squirming a little in an attempt to get loose.
"I *lied*." Joshua replied, emphasizing the word with a solid spank to his son's backside. "*Doesn't*. *Feel.* *Very.* *Good.* *Does* it?" he asked emphasizing each word with a hard swat.
"No sir!?" Angelo responded, wriggling, crossing and uncrossing his ankles in an effort to alleviate the sting, gripping his bed spread to keep his hands away.
"Then *Don't. *Do.* *It.* *Again.* *Under*. *Stand*. *Me*?" he demanded firmly, following those up with eight or ten more solid smacks.
"Yessir! *Sì, signore*! Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow! Owwwwwieeeee! Basta, papà! Per favore! Please stop?" he asked plaintively.
"*Ho*. *Il mio.* *Punto attraverso.* *Questa volta?*"
(*Did I*. *Get my*. *Point across*. *This time*?)
"Yessiryessiryessir*yessir*!!" Angelo quickly and fervently assured his father.
"All right then," Joshua said, righting his son who quickly got up from his seated position to hop in place and squeeze and gingerly rub the injured area, teeth clenched and eyes scrunched closed.
Joshua tried again not to smile. The boy really had a flair for the dramatic when he put his mind to it. He stood up and wrapped his arms around his youngest. He bent down to kiss the top of his son's head.
"Sei un po 'di dado, lo sai." Joshua said kindly, giving his son a squeeze and another kiss. "Diritto al largo della parte superiore della struttura."
(You're a little nut, you know that. Right off the top of the tree.)
"Then your hand is the trunk." quipped Angelo with a hitch in his voice as he tried to control his crying.
Joshua hugged his son again and laughed as he heard Angelo's stomach growl and felt it through the front of his shirt.
"Come on Dado Piccolo. Are you hungry?"
Angelo had nearly laughed himself as his father’s laugh had caused his head to bounce up and down against the larger man's stomach. "Yes sir."
"All right then. Come have a snack. Only carrots, celery and radishes for you though, since you weren't home in time for your actual lunch. Capire?"
"Rabbit food? I'm not a rabbit!" Angelo replied, going along with the joke. Even if Joshua were serious, he knew that Angelo loved vegetables, especially carrots and celery.
"That reminds me, you're not allowed to eat them like a rabbit today!" Joshua replied, referring to the way that Angelo would nibble around the carrot to get to the sweet inside to eat that separately, nibbling off the red part of the radish to eat the center separately, or to see how long he could get the celery 'strings' before they snapped.
"That's just mean!" Angelo complained, pretending to be outraged.
"You heard me, young man, eat like a human or you don't get any vegetables." Joshua replied with a grin, wondering how many other parents had to fight with their kids NOT to eat vegetables.
"Papà?" Angelo said, looking anxiously up at his father before they left the room.
Joshua didn't need to hear what his son was thinking. His other sons always understood that the end of a punishment was the end, but Angelo had always needed a little extra reassurance.
"Siamo tutti in questo momento, tesoro. Promessa." he said quietly as he looked into his son's remarkable, large, dark eyes. He gave his son a hug around the shoulders to lead him toward the kitchen.
(We're all right now, sweetheart. Promise.)
One of Julia's best friends, Batya Feldman, had always called Angelo 'boychick', which simply meant boy or young man, but which she'd explained always meant more to her.
"To me it means, sweet boy. Pleasant boy. Nice boy. Like my Yaakov, my little Jacob." she'd say, looking into the distance to see her long gone son, "Such a good boy he was. Such a smart boy. Your boy is such a boy. Sweet and sensitive he is, our boychick. A good boy, is our Angelo." she's say with a quavering smile. Then she'd give herself a little smack on the forehead and excuse herself as she'd remember she'd been in the middle of doing something. "Hard it is to get old these days!" she'd complain, "No room on this earth for the old, forgetful ones. If this old head weren't stuck on tight, forget it, I would."
She'd laugh and smile as Joshua would take her hand and kiss it, assuring her that she was neither old nor forgetful, and that if he were not already happily married he would snap her up in a heartbeat. He'd been shocked to hear that she was only about twenty years older than they were.
A hard life had taken it's toll and had made her old before her time. Except for her smile. The older woman had a beautiful smile, almost as beautiful as his Julia's. And her laugh which was light as any young girl's. Years were erased when she laughed and smiled which made the rare times that she did it more precious to the Di Marco's. Julia had been heart broken when they'd moved. She'd tried to convince the older woman to move with them, but 'Betty' had tearily declined.
"My home is here now. This is where my Efrayim is buried. And my Samuel I might still see some day. If I keep moving around like some nomad," said the older woman who had been in the same apartment since 1944, "How will he ever find me, I ask you?" she said, referring to her youngest son who had gone missing in Vietnam a year and a half earlier. Everyone knew that she kept a light on in the window for him every night, just in case.
With a final hug, father and son went back into the kitchen where they saw a plate of sandwiches, homemade pickles and iced tea, and a bowl of chips. Mrs. Di Marco was just coming in again with a handful of fresh carrots.
Mr. Di Marco gave his son a gentle pat and a shove in his mother's direction. The pat wasn't meant to hurt but it landed on a still tender backside.
"Ah!" Angelo hissed, "You coulda just said." he complained softly over his shoulder toward his father before heading toward his mother to give her a quick hug and a kiss.
"I'm sorry I worried you again, mamma. I'll really try harder not to do that anymore." He apologized sincerely, somehow managing to look up at her even though he was approximately four inches taller than her.
Julia held him at arm's length and looked him over closely. "That's what you said last time, Angelo." she said softly.
"I do try, mamma," he protested quietly, "I really do, I just... I just get caught up in whatever I'm doing or thinking and nothing else seems to really matter at the time. I don't mean to scare you... and Dad explained to me about his friend. I'm really sorry mamma, mi dispiace. Mi
perdoni?" he asked, hopefully, holding her hands.
Mrs. Di Marco grabbed her son to her then as though saving him from an incoming missile, tucking his head down against her shoulder. Angelo, while only average height for a sixteen year old, was bent down still more to accommodate his tiny mother's grip. He knew she was talking because he could feel the soft vibrations of her voice, but all he could make out were the words, 'Lose you.'
He hugged his mother more tightly. "I'm not going anywhere any time soon, mamma." he murmured back, then in a softer tone that she completely missed, he said, "Unless you want me to."
"Hey," Joshua said, breaking into their thoughts as they stood there hugging, "The carrots are getting dried out. You better eat them now before they end up in the salad tonight." He'd washed the carrots and cut the tops off while they'd stood there, lost to the world around them.
"Not until he washes his hands!" Julia scolded, turning Angelo in the direction of the bathroom and grinning as she aimed a swat at his backside which missed completely as Angelo tucked his backside away quickly with a grin he ran into the bathroom and locked the door.
Julia turned toward her husband and whispered "You told him about Nicky?!"
"Not the whole story, no, my love. Don't worry." he replied, fending off his tiny wife's threatening finger. "Just enough to get the message across." he continued, taking the shaking finger in his hands and opening the others to plant a reassuring kiss on the palm of her hand.
"All right then," she replied quietly, glancing toward the bathroom. "He's still just a baby in so many ways, Gio, there's no need to tell him more about the less attractive side of human nature than he's already heard." she said, allowing herself to be drawn into a hug.
"I agree, il mio dolce. I agree."
Several miles away in town a slightly different scene was playing out at the Rossi household.
Amadeo and his father had arrived home and 'Deo immediately began worrying when his father made him stay in the car while he was parking it rather than letting him out first. Then by taking his arm and escorting him into the house.
Johnny closed the door and delivered a whack to his son's backside that caused the boy to go up onto his toes. "Study. You know the drill."
Amadeo scurried to the study and stood before his father's desk at attention. He'd stand there until his father came in and gave him permission to stand at parade rest or... well, he hadn't been spanked in years, not counting Cobrane and that blasted paddle... but he had to admit it didn't look good for him. The clock was on the wall behind him so he glanced quickly to see what time it was and kept track of the time by counting it's ticking.
Twenty minutes later his father came in, and for another five minutes did nothing but stand behind 'Deo. No one could stand more quietly than Gianbattista Emanuelle Rossi once he was of a mind to do it. 'Deo knew why he did it but it didn't stop him from giving a little shiver.
If his father was going to spank him then why didn't he just get on with it!
"What was that?" Johnny asked, circling around to stand before his son, arms crossed, head tilted just slightly.
Amadeo tried not to notice the tanned, muscular legs above the sandals and the tanned, muscular arms beneath the sleeves of his father's polo shirt. He avoided looking at the darkly tanned face under the dark hair cut in the military style his father had worn for as long as he could remember. Even while seemingly doing nothing more than leaning casually against his desk with his arms and ankles crossed, Johnny Rossi was an imposing figure and not someone to be messed with.
"Repeat yourself." Johnny barked, the long dormant Drill Sergeant alive and well.
Theeeeeeerrrrrrrre it was.
"Sir! I said if you were going to spank me then you should get on with it. Sir!" 'Deo barked back, clicking his heels as well as he could for wearing a worn down pair of canvas sneakers rather than a sharply spit polished pair of combat boots.
"Do you really think this is the time to get a smart mouth, young man?" Johnny barked again, leaning into his son's space.
"Sir! I'm already in trouble, I don't think there's much else I can do to make it worse. Sir!"
"You think so, do you?" his father asked.
A shiver went right down Amadeo's neck, down his spine and into his pelvic region. What the heck! Had he been taking lessons from Cobrane? Amadeo shot his father a quick sideways look to make sure it really was his father.
"Sir, yes sir!" Amadeo shouted back, unconsciously licking his lips nervously, keeping his eyes forward by great force of will.
Johnny Rossi was having difficulty refraining from laughing. He'd seen that same look on the faces of so many new recruits. So many tough youngsters had come to him only to find out that they weren't so tough after all. Some of them had been crying for their mothers by the time he'd gotten done with them. He had no intention of reducing his son to tears, his wife would kill him, but it was still a good feeling to know that despite his sass the boy was still, mostly, respectful.
He returned to his perch on the desk and once again looked at his son for another five minutes before he barked the command "At ease!"
Amadeo took a breath of relief. His neck and back were beginning to cramp up standing at attention for a little over a half hour now. It took all of his will power not to flex his muscles and twist his neck back and forth to get the blood flowing again. He stood at ease.
"It might interest you to know that I hadn't intended to spank you. Until you sassed me." Johnny said conversationally.
"Oh." 'Deo said weakly.
"Oh." his father repeated. "Now, perhaps you'd like to tell me what exactly was going through your mind when you convinced your friend to do something you know upsets his parents. Why would you want your friend to get into trouble, 'Deo, can you tell me that?"
"I didn't mean for him to get into trouble, sir." Amadeo said penitently. "It was the last thing I wanted for him. It's just that we were having such a good time, just the two of us, no brothers or sisters, no other friends around... we don't get a lot of time just to ourselves without Milo or one of the guys or Con or Ange's brothers..." he realized he'd just about slipped up.
"Why is that so important, Dae?"
"He's the only other one who speaks Italian. I haven't really had the chance to speak it outside the family for years and it's just nice to sit there and brush up on the language, learn things I didn't know before, things from the New York perspective. We've been here so long that sometimes I forget there are other places and people out there. Other points of view, other ideas. Angelo is like, I dunno, opening the windows after a storm and letting all the fresh air in, you know?"
Johnny and Natie had both noticed a difference in their son when he came back from visiting Angelo and his family. But then, he also had to admit that visiting the Di Marco family was much as his son had said, they were like fresh air after a storm, and just as quiet. Even when their kitchen was full the noise level was never as deafening as it could get in the Rossi household, but the company never lacked even though the volume did.
Johnny sat on the edge of the desk much as Cobrane had, and he crossed his arms again, looking at his son. "There are two things I'd like to tell you, Amadeo Christophoro, and then I'm going to ask you a question to which I expect an honest answer. Agreed?"
'Deo bit back the reply that he hardly had a choice in the matter. More sass was not the answer. "Yes sir." he replied respectfully.
Mr. Rossi leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees, and told his son the story of Niccolo, not thrilled at the look of horror on his son's face but glad that he'd gotten the message across without having to divulge the full details.
"And now I'd like to know if Angelo ever told you about his brother Peter?"
"Peter? He didn't mention a Peter, no, sir. There's Matthew, Iggy... Ignacio, Luke, John, and Paul."
"There was also Peter, Paul's twin brother. The little boy was born with a heart defect. The doctors said he wouldn't live long enough to leave the hospital, did you know that?" Johnny asked his son.
"No sir, I didn't know." Amadeo answered respectfully, the desire to be a smart mouth completely gone.
Seeing the light dawn, Johnny continued with his story. "When they were pregnant for the fifth time, they were only expecting one child, Pietro.
They knew that that child's heartbeat was erratic, sometimes weak, and thready, sometimes strong. The doctor's weren't sure it would survive the birth process. They had no idea that there were two babies until the Di Marco's went to the hospital to deliver, at which point the doctors had to do an emergency C section to remove the babies because the cord was wrapped around the two of them, basically tying them together. The doctor worried that trying to cut the cord to deliver each baby separately would result in the stronger one dying as well. After that, they told Mrs. Di Marco that she'd never have more children. Did you know that, 'Deo?”
"No sir." Amadeo replied quietly, feeling worse and worse as his father spoke.
Mr. Rossi had nearly laughed when Josuha and Julia told him that Paul had nearly been named either Philippians or Philemon in an effort to give both boys a name that began with P that also kept the family's impromptu tradition of using the books of the bible as their children's names. Luckily, despite the haze she'd been in from the anesthetic, Julia had kept her head and decided on the name Paul, very quickly, just before she'd passed out from the accumulated efforts of trying to give birth, the news about their twins and the anesthesia.
"Little Petey died just a few months before he turned two. The Di Marco's were, of course, devastated. Then on December 22nd that same year, Peter and Paul's birthday, Mrs. Di Marco got the news that she was pregnant again. The doctors told her repeatedly that she'd never carry to term. Then when she went into labor a month early they told her the baby would be born dead or impaired. One year to the day that his brother died, Angelo was born. Small, but healthy and perfect."
"So now you can see, Amadeo, why the Di Marco's go a little... nuts... where their kids are concerned, especially Angelo."
Amadeo forgot that he was supposed to be at parade rest and bowed his head. Johnny Rossi didn't comment on it.
"I'm sorry dad. I really am. I feel like such a... an irresponsible, selfish..." he made a sound of disgust, "I really can't come up with enough nasty things to call myself right now. Mr. and Mrs. Di Marco must hate me right now. Angelo too. It really was my fault he was late." He looked up at his father, his feelings clear on his face. "If... if you wanted to... I mean, if you wanted to beat the living daylights out of me I wouldn't blame you." he said with more bravery than he actually felt. "I deserve it." he finished, turning his eyes once more to the hard wood floor of the study.
Johnny Rossi tilted his head down to catch his son's gaze and quirked an eyebrow. "That answers the question I had for you, but now I have another one for you. Have I ever *beaten* any of you kids? In any way? For any reason?"
"No sir, but if you did now I wouldn't complain. I really messed up." he said dejectedly.
"As mature as you are, Dae, you're still a child. You still have a lot to learn and you'll learn from experience. I know that if you'd known you'd have been more careful, more attentive, more responsible, for yourself *and* for Angelo."
Angelo. The boy had come to mean a lot to his youngest in a very short period of time. The two boys had seemed to become closer more quickly than even 'Deo and Milo had all those years ago. Even their relationship seemed different than the one between Dae and Milo. The whole situation was unusual. Good, but unusual. Johnny couldn't quite put his finger on why it seemed so different, but the two were good boys and he was sure he had nothing to worry about. It wasn't as though they were part of a gang. He nearly laughed as he thought about Amadeo and his entourage these past few weeks. If the town didn't know better... ah well.
"I'm sorry dad, really. Are... are you... I mean, I'm just saying, I deserve it if you are."
"Do you *want* me to?"
"Want?" Deo asked, slightly taken aback. "No sir. I don't want it. If you want to know if I think I deserve it, then yes, sir, I do."
"Have you learned a lesson here today, 'Deo?"
"Are you going to make that same mistake again?"
"No sir!" 'Deo responded, surprised that his father would ask.
"Then I think you've been punished enough, don't you?"
“‘Nothing is more wretched than the mind of a man conscious of guilt.' “ Johnny quoted.
"Who said that?" Amadeo asked, smiling wryly. His father was a wellspring of quotations and seemed to have one for every occasion.
"Plautus, Titus Maccius Plautus, he was a Roman playwright of the Old Latin period."
"I guess it fits." Amadeo sighed.
"Well, Dae. I could give you a good spanking if you think it would make you feel better. Or, if you don't want that but still feel badly you can always go talk to Father Frank."
Father Frank Ryan was the second of two priests who ran the Catholic Church in their town. 'Deo had been an altar boy for years and had even considered becoming a priest when he became old enough, but Father Frank had convinced Amadeo that he had other, equally important things to do with his life that didn't involve the church. At first Amadeo had been a little hurt, feeling as though he were being rejected before he even tried, but then something odd had happened.
It had been a grey, drizzly day that day. Father Frank and 'Deo had been sitting in the rectory drinking cocoa. Father Frank had been sitting in his chair with his back to the window when he'd told the boy that he felt that 'Deo was meant for bigger things than the priesthood. It was then that the sun came out from behind the clouds and the light had touched Father Frank's hair, turning it golden like a halo. Moments later the sun had gone back in and the rain started fresh.
'Deo had never considered himself a particularly superstitious person but the timing and effect of that sunlight, combined with the fact that the priest had been completely unaware of the whole thing, had been enough to convince the boy that the other man might have a point, and he looked to the man as a mentor.
"Amadeo." Johnny said, clicking his fingers with a little smile on his face. "Still with me?"
"Yes sir, I'm sorry dad. Guess my mind wandered. What did you say?"
"I said that if it's still weighing on you you could always go to Mr. Di Marco and do chores for him to make up for your part in what happened. While we were sitting there waiting to see if you boys were going to come back any time soon he was talking about hiring some summer help if the crops keep ripening as quickly as they have been."
"I could do that." 'Deo said, happy with that option. "But how do I get him to keep the money, since I don't think I should get paid for causing them so much worry." he continued with a frown. "How can I convince him to let me work without pay? I don't think he'd do that."
"Your other option there is to accept the money... hold on!" Johnny said, holding up a hand, "Accept the money and donate it to a soup kitchen or a homeless shelter, an orphanage, an animal shelter. There are a lot of people out there who would benefit from the donation."
"Would it count, dad? I mean, it would be for a good cause but if I'm only donating because I want to feel less guilty about what I did... it's like doing a good deed with the idea of getting a reward afterward." the boy said uncertainly.
"Your atonement would be in working for Mr. Di Marco, doing anything and everything he tells you to do without complaint. I'm simply saying that if he insisted on paying you and you still felt you hadn't worked off your debt, donating the money is an alternative, and you can do it anonymously so there would be no expectation of reward. Understood?"
"Yes sir. Thanks Dad. I really appreciate you taking the time to talk to me, and giving me all these ideas as to how I can make things right again." he said, feeling considerably lighter. "Do... do you think that if I call Mr. Di Marco now he'd talk to me? Do you think he's still really mad at me?"
"I think you're safe calling him, and I think he'll appreciate the offer. Feel free to use the phone in here, just this once. All right?"
"Thanks Dad." Amadeo said, giving his father a 'Patented Rossi Bear Hug'.
"All right then. Oh, one last thing." Johnny said, turning Amadeo by the arm and giving his son an all mighty whack on the backside.
"OW!" he shouted, giving his father a disgruntled look. "Dad! You said..."
"That wasn't for you, son that was for me and I must say, I do feel better. Now get on with that phone call, we have things to do to get ready for tomorrow." Johnny said, throwing his youngest a sharp salute before leaving the room.
Amadeo spent a minute or two rubbing the sting out before sitting gingerly to make his phone call.