Wednesday, July 20, 2016
With the trail being over so very quickly, Amadeo was able to begin working immediately for Mr. Di Marco, who, at Johnny Rossi's request, worked his son hard, but not cruelly. Amadeo for his part, relished the manual labor, the stretching and bending, using it as an opportunity to work on rebuilding muscle which had been getting soft during his enforced inactivity. Once or twice in the following weeks he'd been scolded by Mr. Di Marco for working through what Amadeo finally admitted were monster sized headaches, at which point he'd been brought inside, given aspirin, and made to lie down on the couch for an hour, despite his protests after about twenty minutes that he felt fine.
One day Mr. Di Marco raised his voice at Amadeo several times for taking on too much too fast. Lifting several bushel baskets at a time to stack in the truck. "You're gonna strain something, and I want to send you back home in at least as good condition as your folks sent you to me!" he scolded.
"It's like Mr. Young says, sir, can't let the bear getcha!" Amadeo laughed, referring to the gym teacher at the school who would use that phrase to encourage his boys to do 'just one more sit up' or run 'one more' lap.
"You slow down or the palm of my hand is gonna getcha! Got me?"
Amadeo smiled and blushed, "Yes sir." he replied with a little laugh. He doubted that Mr. Di Marco would actually smack him but it just made him feel very at home and part of the family that he'd done so, rather than threatening to call his father.
Mr. Di Marco had a slight run in with Carlos, who thought that by mixing alcohol with his cola he would get away with it, but Joshua could smell it and rounded on the boy, immediately regretting shouting at the child as he cringed, arms over his head and face as if expecting to be beaten. Mr. Di Marco hugged the boy, who initially stiffened up in shock and then finally leaned into it, and then guided Carlos by the arm to the far end of the driveway. No one could hear what was said but Carlos came back, looking sheepish and Joshua held the offending bottle. No mention was made of the incident and Carlos reported for work every morning, sober, smelling of nothing more than soap and shampoo.
Ethel was offended at first that as the only girl she seemed to be relegated to working at ground level, picking the lettuce, cabbages, herbs and other low growing fruits and vegetables until her brother's third run in with an irate bird, or a hornet's nest in the trees.
Mrs. Di Marco kept the kids hydrated with lemonade and iced tea and fed them a hearty lunch every day. Amadeo had started the trend of tucking one of his nieces clean spit up cloths under his baseball cap to keep the worst of the sun off of his neck. Except for Parker and Steven, who turned red rather than tan, the majority of the boys took off their t shirts and hats entirely as the heat abated around four pm. Angelo always won when they compared tans, Amadeo always came in second.
Carlos grunted that he should win hands down because Angelo was dark more than tan, and Amadeo was more bronze.
Parker and Steve joked that he could be red like them so not to worry about it. Bruce looked on quietly, a grin on his face, knowing that by mid-winter the three of them would still be dark and all of this forgotten. Ethel just rolled her eyes at the ridiculousness of boys.
Once the truck was loaded, Johnny and Paul drove the truck in to the farmer's markets or the local grocery stores, and would come home every night with very little unsold. The few things that didn't sell were baked in pies, baked or mashed with chicken or beef or cut up into soups and stews and carefully frozen for colder days.
As predicted, the kids went home too tired to want to go out at night. Mr. Di Marco received several interesting phone calls, first from Steven's parents, Mr. and Mrs. Christopher and Millie Walker, and then Bruce's parent's who'd gotten the number from the Walkers, thanking him for hiring their sons and giving them a chance.
"Steve didn't have a direction before he met you." said Mr. Walker. "He'd do a chore here or there when I asked him and bribed him with gas money for his scooter but for the most part he just hung out with the other boys and got into trouble. The fact is that once he hit about fourteen or so he was too big for us to do anything with, and we figured he wasn't doing anything too bad." Mr. Walker maintained, apparently unaware of his son's drinking, smoking and vandalism, "So we just let him run with it and be a boy. Now he's happy, he's earning his own money, and better he's offering to help pay some of the bills around here. I don't know what you did out there, Mr. Di Marco, but thank you, from Millie and Me."
"Bruce is so shy he can't get the words out, and if Ethel goes with him they think there's something wrong with him and won't hire either of them,” said Mr. Mustow. "Their little sister is the same way but she can at least talk enough to the kids in her class to say hello. Poor Bruce eventually came around and made a few close friends. And Ethel... well, she's a force, that girl." They'd laughed. "Thank you, Mr. Di Marco, for giving our kids a chance, and for hiring Ethel on too. She's a lot happier working for you than in a grocery store or the library.
The most stirring phone call came from Carlos' father. His story was much the same, in that Carlos had grown too big too fast and there hadn't been much that Mr. Reyes felt he could do as a single father of four.
"But Mr. Di Marco, I thank you,” he’d said, voice gravelly. "He got the drink from me. What you told him, he told me. At first I was mad, and I was about to... Yo no estaba contento con lo que dijo, y yo casi ...well... I almost...but then it made me think, about finding the courage to face a day away from the bottle and how that just caused more problems. I... I got rid of the drink. It was a tough few days but I got through it. If it hadn't been for your words coming from my son. De las bocas de los niños. If it hadn't been for him... I'd still be... and I'd'a never known about Carlos. Gracias, de mí y de mi hijo. Mis hijos." Mr. Reyes finished before hanging up.
(I wasn't happy with what he said, and I nearly...) (From the mouths of babes.) (Thank you, from me and my son. My kids.)
Joshua had gotten the numbers of the other two sets of parents and wished that Mr. Reyes had left his first name and number as the others had. He reminded himself to ask Carlos later if he thought his father would mind another friend. He also decided to ask around to people he knew who might be looking for kids to work through the winter months.
With the summer quickly passing, the Rossi's planned their Welcome to the World party for the babies. Mrs. Di Marco had sent out what seemed like hundreds of invitations, which at Amadeo's polite request now included Bruce, Ethel and the others, and their families.
She, Bethie, Teresa and Carmie sat on one side of the table and, working like machines, produced one beautifully written invitation after another while the boys struggled to write neatly enough to pass muster. Mr. Rossi walked past now and again to get a drink and grin at his family as they labored.
"You could help, you know." Natie said in a tone which for her, approached snappish.
"You know I always failed handwriting in school, my darling. Chicken scratch, I believe, is what you call it?" he dug a little further into the refrigerator.
She pursed her lips and continued with her writing.
"How you got to be a businessman without being able to write legibly, I'll never understand." Gabe groused.
"That's what secretaries are for." said Johnny Rossi with a grin.
"And how fair is it that you always get on my... I mean... you've always insisted that I write neatly ever since I was a little kid." grumbled Con.
"There's only room for one rooster per household, my son. When you have your own family you have my permission to write as badly as I do."
"How am I supposed to do that after years of writing neatly?" Con asked, perplexed.
"Stick a pin in it and watch it deflate." were his father's words before he took his glass of ice water into the other room. "Carry on!" he directed with another grin as he joined his oldest son in the living room to play with the babies.
"Stick a pin in it?" Con mouthed.
Amadeo and his sisters who'd simply been watching from the sidelines looked at each other and shrugged before going back to their writing. Bethie paused a moment, looking at her perfectly formed cursive, the lower case L's and B's. The D's. She imagined taking a pin and deflating them like balloons and what they'd look like. In her imagination they looked oddly similar to her husband's horrible writing, and wondered if that's what he did and why he did it, because surely the Rossi's must have demanded at least passable writing from all of their children. She decided to ask him later how many times he deflated those balloons on purpose.