Amadeo and Jim sang 'Save the Last Dance For Me' while Adam Krahe played the guitar in accompaniment, which had many of the girls starry eyed as they imagined being Amadeo's prom date. Girls who had til that point overlooked Adam had their eyes opened when they realized what a stellar guitar player he was, and even Jim, who had always been considered something of a lunk by the girls was getting looks and a few smiles as his deep bass echoed through the auditorium
Angelo wouldn't sing anything solo despite the fact that he'd pulled off the presentation for the fund raiser without a hitch, but he agreed to get up with Amadeo, Jim and Felix to sing Sam Cooke's, 'Wonderful World'.
Sharon Parker, Amadeo's friend from the school office, and her boyfriend, Scott, entertained the audience with their rendition of 'There's A Hole In The Bucket' beginning with Scott downstage right, his back to 'Liza', stealthily drilling a hole in the bucket with an awl while her back was turned.
Over six hundred dollars had been raised and divided between the two widows. They'd been stunned when they received the checks and the offers for free babysitting. The change that couldn't be split had been used to buy penny candy for the kids. The left over coupons from the balloons had been gathered up and ironed out to be given to the widows, with the stores' permission, for them to use when and if they needed. Coupons for diapers and services had been somehow been found as well and given to the women. Enough, apparently, to last the children well into their twenties.
A few of the gnomes had found their way to the women's lawns and seemed quite happy to stay where they were. The others, tired of being shunted around, had apparently run off and found a home of their own somewhere else.
September quickly changed to October and before they knew it everyone was getting ready for Halloween. Angelo and Amadeo had both been warned that if they went out on Mischief Night and anything at all happened while they were out they'd be held responsible, so it would make sense to simply stay home that night and have a little quiet fun.
At first the boys had been disappointed until Angelo's mother told him that he could have Amadeo and the rest of his 'gang' over for dinner.
Being intimately associated with Mrs. Di Marco's cooking, none of the kids said no. They were told to wear old clothes that they didn't care about, and to bring a change of clean, comfortable clothes along.
The directive got some raised eyebrows but everyone did as they were told, showing up in their tatters and tears with their grubs in bags of one sort or another, which they put aside.
The boys all blushed as Mrs. Di Marco greeted them in her usual exuberant way, and Ethel's eyes sparkled when the woman gave her a kiss on each cheek and called her beautiful in Italian.
The main topic of conversation had been Amadeo's nephew, who had had the surgery and whose bandages had come off only recently.
"Well, he can track it when you take a toy and move it left to right or up and down, and when you smile at him he smiles back. But the doctor says there's no way to be sure exactly how well he sees until he's old enough to talk, then we can find out how clearly he sees, and if he can see color. But everyone is thrilled that he has any vision at all."
The other fourteen children were happy to hear the news but no one asked about Beth Ann's parents and brothers, and Amadeo didn't mention them.
They began the night by baking cookies, cutting out skeletons and ghosts, cats and pumpkins with special cutters that Mrs. Di Marco had.
While the cookies baked, they made popcorn which Mrs. Di Marco drizzled with melted toffee and shook in a bag. The kids had never had anything like it before and couldn't get enough of it. When the cookies were cooled they decorated them with homemade orange, green, black or white vanilla flavored icing.
Afterward, they went down into the wine cellar to Angelo's 'Hobbit Hole'. They gasped in surprise when he turned on the lights. There were paintings stacked against the walls, covered in a tarp, and another on the easel which was obviously of Mrs. Di Marco washing dishes, head tilted. Her face could only be seen in profile but it was serene and happy.
"Wow, Ange! Way to hide your light under a bushel!" Ethel said admiringly, moving the tarp and looking through the pictures on the floor.
"NO! Don't!" Angelo begged.
But it was too late. Ethel pulled out a painting that could be none other than her. She was seated at a desk, pencil eraser pressed to a lip as she contemplated her answer before writing it down on the paper in front of her.
Another was of Bruce on his blue Vespa, head down as he checked his throttle. A close up of Amadeo. Jim swinging a bat. Felix and Aiden flying multi colored kites in a cloudless sky. Ralph, Steven, Carlos, and the others seated in a line, tallest to shortest, left elbow on the shoulder of the one next to them, right leg crossed.
"We never posed for this!" Steven said, impressed at the detail.
"It's nothing, I'm sorry." Angelo said, blushing darkly. He'd wanted to hide the pictures but there hadn't been anywhere to put them except on the back porch and he'd known that they'd be going out that way eventually.
"When did you take the pictures? We never saw you with a camera." said Ralph with a smile.
"I didn't take pictures, it’s just from my head."
"You did these out of your head?" Carlos asked, awed.
"Look at this!" Aiden said, picking up something that fit into the palm of his hand.
Everyone looked. It was the stone from Mrs. Christoff's class. It had been chiseled into a perfect ball. The center had been carved out at an angle, leaving a smooth empty space. He put it on a table and rolled it gently, perfectly, looking like a large marble with a bite taken out of it.
"Look! Look! If you hold it this way it looks like a turtle with his head sticking out!" said Felix excitedly, "But if you hold it this way, it looks like a dove about to fly! How did you do this?"
"It was an accident." Angelo admitted blushing. "A chunk came off and I just went with it."
"How'd you get this shine?" Milo asked.
"Car wax. Look guys I didn't mean for you to see this stuff, I wanted to show you this so we could have some fun!" he said pointing to a barrel of what looked like muddy water, effectively getting their attentions off of the other things as he covered them back over.
"Stick your hand in there, nice and deep, and pull out a hand full."
Amadeo was the first one brave enough to do it. "Ange, man, I can't tell you what this stuff makes me think of." he quipped, wrinkling his nose as he pulled up a slimy looking mass of mud. Milo, Charlie and Dennis had a few suggestions as to what it could be, making Eddie and the others even more reluctant to stick their hands into the mess.
"Clay, guys. Clay! Come on! Go wild! What have you ever wanted to see that you never did, what thing did you ever believe should have been made but never was as far as you know? Make a vase, make a dragon, make an ent! Just make! It's clay, it can take it!"
The kids worked feverishly for over two hours making the most outlandish things they could think of using sculpting tools that Angelo provided.
Ethel created a very realistic looking tree. Each leaf was hand cut and 'slipped' onto her tree after Angelo showed her how to use the more liquid 'mud' to use as glue.
Jim created a very realistic... something... that was out of a fascinating nightmare. It had feet like a chicken, the hind legs of a jack rabbit, the front end looked like a beaver with the horns of a ram and the front legs of a t-rex. He'd carved fur on the body with a small blunt knife.
"That has to be the coolest thing I've ever seen." the usually quiet Bruce said admiringly as he worked on a finely shaped vase for his mother.
Mrs. Di Marco's voice wafted down the cellar. "Are you kids nearly done down there? It's almost dinner time."
"Just in time!" said Jim. "I was about to topple over from hunger!"
"You could always eat your critter, there." Ethel quipped.
"You kidding? In real life, this thing is as big as a rhino, didn't you know that?"
"Thanks for the warning." She said with a grin.
"Oh yeah, and if you see one, don't bother to run."
"You'll never get away from it. Just say your prayers and shake a little salt on yourself."
"Idiot." she laughed, shouldering him gently. He smiled back.
"Come on guys, put your things in the kiln, then lets go out back and rinse off, then we can change into our clean stuff." He lead them out the back door, turned on the hose and they washed as much of the clay off of their hands and out from under their fingernails as they could.
Mrs. Di Marco allowed Ethel to use her bedroom to change. The boys took turns in Angelo's room and the bathroom. They were all clean and dry and their mouths were watering as they smelled the roasted chickens and potatoes with onion and herbs that Angelo's mother had made for dinner. The kitchen was packed.
Even though it was October it was still around seventy-eight degrees outside, so Mr. Di Marco set up tables outside to accommodate the fifteen teenagers and also give the rest of the family space to have their own dinner.
Angelo and Amadeo brought the food out and set it on the mish mash of tables, Felix and Aiden set out mismatched chairs from the barn, Jim and Dennis helped bring out utensils and napkins, Ethel and Bruce juggled glasses, Steve and Carlos brought out jugs of lemonade and iced tea.
There was some discussion as to a prayer over the meal since they weren't all the same religion. Finally, one had been successfully made up and Angelo sat respectfully by as Dennis intoned the prayer and then they all dug into the food. His mother had gone all out tonight and the food was, as usual, magnificent.
After they'd brought in, washed, dried and put away the dishes and utensils Mrs. Di Marco set out plates of still warm chocolate cake, filled with still soft chocolate chips, drizzled with hot chocolate sauce and glasses of milk, which the teenagers brought back out to the impromptu picnic tables.
"I have died and gone to heaven!" said Ethel. "Think your mom would give me the recipe for this cake? Oh, my word!" she said between bites.
"Ask her, she probably has it written down for everyone already." Angelo laughed.
After they finished their dessert, they brought the plates and glasses back in and everyone pitched in, washing, drying, putting away, folding the tables and putting them and the chairs away before settling into the kitchen for another large pan of freshly made pop corn, pulling in more chairs, but even then there wasn't enough room in the kitchen for all of them to have a seat, so no one thought twice about Carlos sitting on Steve's lap, or Parker on Bruce's.
"You know," Carlos said suddenly, "This is the coolest house." as Paul came in through the back door to the kitchen.
"It is. Did you know that there's a long history of this house before my uncle even came to live here? It was only one level back then, just a little farm house in the middle of nowhere."
"Really? When did the second floor get put in?" asked several voices.
"Same time as they installed the plumbing I think, about thirty or so years ago. Before then it was just this kitchen, the living room and bedrooms. And the cellar of course. When my uncle expanded and added the bathroom and alcove he expanded the cellar as well. There's a great story about the cellar if you want to hear it." he said conversationally.
"Sure" said Milo. "Of course, this place is so fascinating anyway, nothing would surprise me now." he smiled.
"Well," said Paul, "It was always a farm house, but for a long time the only people who lived here was a boy named Johnny, and his parents, on this one floor, no electricity, no heat other than the big stove like we used to have, no running water. They'd have to go out to the spring and wait an hour for the pail to fill, or when it snowed they'd gather pails of snow to use as water to wash and cook and melt them on the stove.
"Anyway, despite that they were really happy. But then the mother got really sick and died. It was a really bad winter and the ground actually froze. so they put her in the crypt to keep til spring and then they buried her. In the meantime, one of the neighbor ladies, a widow, had been coming round, bringing food, washing and cleaning and doing for the widower and her son, and the man fell in love with her, and he married her the next fall."
"Well there was a lot of scandal about that but they two didn't pay any attention to it. The boy was upset but he didn't say anything, you know? He didn't make any secret about the fact that he didn't like her, and she wasn't as obvious, but she didn't like him. She knew that if her husband knew she'd be alone again, since the man loved his son so much."
"Anyway, the following winter the father had to go off on a trip and left the boy and his step mother alone in the house. Well once the father was gone she showed her true colors and would beat him, and make him do any nasty chore she didn't want to do herself. One night she heard noises coming from the cellar and she told the boy to go down with a candle and check the noise out. The boy said it was probably just rats or mice, or maybe even bats, and not to worry about it because they were down there and he and his step mother were up here."
"The woman beat him about the head and shoulders but he wouldn't go down, so finally she lit a candle and started going down herself. Her foot caught the hem of her long skirt and she went tumbling down the stairs and broke her neck."
"So the kid was alone in the house with a dead body?" Eddie asked with a shiver.
"Yep, and he was scared. Everyone knew that he didn't like the woman and he was afraid that that when his father got home he'd think that his son had done it, so the boy waited til the next morning to go down the stairs when it was lighter, and there she was. All cold and pale, with her neck at an angle and her eyes all open and glassy, and staring right at him. So, he got a shovel and dug a deep hole in the dirt floor, and he buried her deep down as he could, figuring he'd tell his father that she'd run off when he got home.
"That night the wind was blowing and he was trying to stay warm next to the stove when he heard the voice." Paul said, lowering his. " 'You would leave me down here in the cold while you warm yourself by the fire? Let me join you.' came the voice from the cellar. Then he heard the first stair creak. 'Johnny, I'm on the first step,’ she said in a low voice. Then the second stair creaked and she said 'Johnny, I'm on the second step.' the voice came again."
"Three more creaking sounds, three more stairs and she announced each as she was on it. 'Johnny, (creak) I'm on the sixth step. Johnny (creak) I'm on the seventh step.' he said dangerously. "Closer and closer she came as the stairs creaked and she announced in a dead voice which stair she was on. Finally, she said 'Johnny, I'm at the door.' and the door began to creak open," he whispered, making the creaking sound slowly, " 'Johnny...' " he said almost inaudibly... the teenagers leaned forward to hear his voice.
The door to the hallway leading to the back hallway slammed open and a white faced apparition screamed "I'm here!"
The teens jumped the proverbial mile and screamed as the gaunt, white faced, grey haired thing jumped out of the doorway with blood on its lips.
Paul and Johnny began to laugh, holding their sides as they saw the looks on the faces of their little brother and his friends.
"You... you! Bas...! You... sons of... you... you... ass..." Angelo yelled brokenly, stunned and startled as his heart tried desperately to jump up his throat and escape through his open mouth. He felt Amadeo's hand putting pressure on his shoulder so he managed to maintain enough control of himself to avoid getting into trouble in front of his friends.
Mrs. Di Marco came out of her bedroom just as suddenly, startling them again, and told her boys firmly and thoroughly off.
"You're lucky you controlled your mouth, ragazzino!" she scolded Angelo. Then she turned to her older sons who were still laughing, "And you two! Look at what you did to my refrigerator!" she yelled when she saw the indentation where the door handle had slammed into it. They immediately stopped laughing and began to apologize.
Amadeo and Angelo used all of their will power not to laugh as Mrs. Di Marco switched to Italian, ordering them to get upstairs to their rooms and threatening the two older boys with a bottom warming they'd never forget. The other kids didn't need to know or understand Italian to know that Angelo's brothers were in for a rough time.
John and Paul scurried upstairs, apologizing for all they were worth. The other boys stifled giggles as they heard the tiny little woman delivering smacks to the two older boy's backsides as she followed them up the stairs. Ethel bit the inside of her lip and shook her head.
"That really was a great story though." Said Eddie, laughing and causing the others who'd been holding their breaths to laugh as well.
Jim looked at the refrigerator and leaned down to ask Angelo a question.
"Why, is it backed up? No one's been in there for hours." he replied, a little embarrassed that the clog hadn't been dealt with immediately.
"No man, I just think I can get that dent out of your mom's door, or at least make it less noticeable."
Angelo wrinkled his nose. "With a..."
"Yeah, unless you think she'd be OK with me taking the door apart and doing it from the inside?"
"How long do you think she'll be up there with those two jokers?" asked Parker, catching on.
"A few minutes anyway." Angelo said, "There's the two of them and if she does what she said she was going to do..."
"Get me a couple of screw drivers quick, we can get this done before she even gets back down. We'll surprise her. Someone clear out the door fast."
Working feverishly the teens cleared out the refrigerator door, and took it apart. Angelo refused to use the plunger that stood out in the enclosed front porch even though it had been treated with bleach and had been standing in the porch for weeks since it's last use, so Jim used a dish towel as a cushion, and the handle of the larger screw driver to bang out the dent from the inside.
There was one little ding that he couldn't do anything about without possibly chipping the enamel so they left that and put the door back together, replaced the items and closed the door just as Mrs. Di Marco came back through the hallway door, muttering under her breath. She looked at the refrigerator door and then did a classic double take that had the teenagers grinning.
"I could have sworn there was a large dent in this door!" she exclaimed. "Who did this?" she asked, looking around at the smiling teens.
Seeing Jim with the screw drivers partially hidden behind his back she reached up and took him gently but firmly by an ear, pulled him down to her level and soundly kissed both of his cheeks several times, making him turn bright red.
"È dolce ragazzo! È intelligente ragazzo! È bravo ragazzo! Grazie!"
(You sweet boy! You smart boy! You good boy! Thank you!)
She looked around to see who else she had to thank but Angelo spoke up and said quickly, "It was all Jimmy, mom! He was the brains and the brawn." he announced. He knew his mother well enough to guess how they'd spend the night as she praised and kissed the rest of the fourteen teenagers who were now in the kitchen. Besides, it had been Jim's idea and work, so he should get full credit.
She kissed Jim on each cheek again and proudly and happily said, "Grazie!"
"You're welcome, ma'am." he said, trying unsuccessfully to stop blushing and grinning. "Happens all the time at my house. It was nothing."
"Do you like lemon?" asked Mrs. Di Marco out of the blue.
"Ummm, yes, ma'am. I do." he replied, uncertain of where the question was leading.
"Good!" she said, turning back toward her bedroom. "Oh," she said, turning back, "Your folks will be coming for you soon, so get your things together. Angelo, call me when they're ready to leave." she said, pulling him down much as she'd done Jim and giving her son a sound kiss on the cheek, causing him to blush and grin and the others to smile. "OK mom."
"What was that about lemons?" Jim asked Angelo quietly after she'd gone.
"I think you're in for a treat." was all Angelo would say.
"Hey!" protested Ethel jokingly, "We helped!"
"Don't worry, I'm pretty sure mom knows that. I'm telling you, I can't wait now!"
"You'll see when you see." Angelo said mysteriously. "Ah ah ah! No punching the guy in the know or I tell mamma and then no treat for beating up on her baby boy!" he said, smiling and not the least bit worried, as he saw Jim advancing on him with a fist and a threatening grin.
"Not now, but later. I know where you live."
"Then no goodies for you!" Angelo said smugly.
Jim wondered, not for the first time, how someone so innocent looking could be such a brat.
The next night was Halloween and everyone was excited. A lot of the families didn't celebrate Halloween because of it's ties to pagan holidays and their strong Christian beliefs, but some people loved it and just had fun with it, despite their scowling neighbors.
The Rossi's were the second kind. Johnny Rossi would rig his house up with trip wires that would cause things to jump out of the bushes or fall from the trees, or set off recordings of screams and howls. And every year he held a party to which even some of the scowlers would come and have a great time.
With three infants to worry about, he toned it down quite a bit, much to the teenaged population's dismay, but they were still happy with the candy he handed out that year with the savings. Some folks bought bags of penny candy and handed those out. He handed out full sized candy bars, some of which shocked the recipient who didn't notice the joy buzzer around the bar, eliciting grins or frowns which turned into grins when Johnny Rossi told them a joke or added another candy bar to the bag by way of apology for the trick.
Amadeo and his friends all decided to stick around the neighborhood, Bruce and the others came on their bikes and parked them in Amadeo's driveway around the corner so that there was no chance of a car hitting them.
"This is going to be great." Steve said. "We've never been out this way for Halloween. The kids back home are starting to notice we're not around and have been calling us snobs." he laughed. "They never noticed us before unless they had some stupid comment, so it's kind of funny."
"Any chance of you guys transferring to our school?" Eddie asked. "We still have our share of jerks but not so many as we used to."
"They live in the whole next town over, numb nuts," said Jim. "They'd have to move here to go to our school."
"Numb nuts?" the others asked, staring at Jim until he blushed.
"It's what my big brother Jonah calls me sometimes, so lay off." Jim said, shrugging.
"Numb nuts." Eddie repeated, and then laughed. "Numb nuts." he laughed again. "That really is kind of funny. Not that I wanna be called that all the time, but it is funny."
The other kids looked at each other with understanding looks. They all loved Eddie but it never ceased to amaze them what little thing would take his fancy and give him hours if not days of amusement afterward.
After the party was over everyone bid their goodbyes and left, but not before the 'oldsters' spent another half hour shaking hands and talking some more about what they were going to do the next day.
Carmie and Amadeo had been asked to finish up in the kitchen where they washed and dried the last of the glasses. Amadeo nearly fell when his foot came down on a half sized basketball.
"Holy crow!" he said as he and Carmie struggled to get his balance back and keep the glasses he'd been about to put away from falling. "What the heck is that? A basketball for the garden gnomes?"
"No! It's another toy that Bethie bought for Nate! I swear those kids are going to be spoiled before they're a year old!" she complained. "She spoils all of them, but especially Nate. There's not one day she doesn't go out grocery shopping or to a club meeting and she doesn't bring them something back. Some toy or other, but the other day she brought back a ball and bat for Nate. A couple of days ago she brought him home a football!" Carmie exclaimed. "And today it was that little basketball."
"It bothers you that she's buying gifts for the babies?"
"It bothers me that she buys them stuff all the time! Every day nearly, as though she has something to make up for! And there's no proof that Nathan has his full sight back or that he'll ever be able to use any of those things she's bought for him."
"They're three months old." Amadeo protested. "And the doctor did say that he was positive that Nate had some sight after the operation."
"But no one knows how much!" Carmella said, frustrated. "I mean, I'd love it if he had full sight too but I'm watching him compared to the girls and he's not like them."
"Carm," Amadeo said, putting an arm around his older sister, "He is different, for one thing he's a boy." he joked.
Carmella batted at her little brother but smiled for a moment before becoming serious again. "I don't think he's ever going to be like them as far as sight goes. And it bothers me that she's trying to treat him like any other sighted child."
"We won't know til he's older how much sight he has. The fact is he's seeing something. Doc said there might be more that can be done once he's older if it's needed."
"Dae," Carmie said as though Amadeo were a little dense. "She's going to get this little boy's hopes up when he's older. She's going to make him think he can do the same things we can and he can't! He's going to end up being hurt and I don't want to see that! I swear it's like she's trying to make up to them for being born early, or for Nate being born blind, like she had anything to do with it!"
"She doesn't, Carm. She knows she doesn't."
"Then why are they three months old and they have more toys than... the toy store! I mean, honestly, Dae, what is a three-month-old going to do with a baseball and bat?! Chew on them? Poor little Nate might not ever be able to do more than that! She's just setting him up to get his hopes dashed."
Amadeo personally thought that his sister was being overly pessimistic, and that it wasn't any of her business if his sister in law wanted to buy a baseball team for her kids, but he wasn't about to say that to her.
In an effort to disarm the situation he said, "Carm, maybe mom can talk to her OK? I'm still a kid so I can guarantee you she would tell me, nicely, to mind my own business, but mom she'd listen to." He thought wryly, hoping that he'd be around to hear what their mother had to say about Carmie's ideas.
Amadeo was relating that conversation and his frustration with what he called his sister's nosiness to Angelo before classes the next day, when he noticed that Angelo looked pensive.
"I just wondered something," he said quietly, looking around to see who was nearby before breaking into soft Italian, "Do you think you and I will ever have kids? What they'll be like? What kind of parents we'd make?"
Amadeo gave his boy a look but Angelo continued with a slightly sour look at his man, "I know all about biology, smartie, but I also know there's something called adoption,” he said, still in Italian and even more softly. "I knew this woman in New York, a neighbor of ours. She wasn't married, but they let her adopt a little girl. She had to jump through all sorts of hoops to get the baby but they did let her adopt. And then there's surrogates? Surrogacy? Is that the right word?"
"What?!" Amadeo nearly shouted, forgetting Italian all together. Then he lowered his voice and switched back to Italian before hissing, "And who do you suppose we'd get to give up their baby to a couple of homosexual men, or let us adopt?"
"There's any number of girls here who'd sleep with you as soon as look at you," Angelo said, innocently, still in Italian.
"Look, this isn't..." began Amadeo in English before switching to Italian and keeping his voice low, "This isn't the place or time, OK? Let's talk about this after we get home. We can talk in the tree house, or better yet, let's meet at the gazebo at the park."
"Fine," Angelo said in English, slightly put out and unwilling to admit that that conversation really wasn't meant for a crowded school corridor, even if the other students didn't speak Italian.
As an act in front of anyone who might be looking, Amadeo grabbed Angelo by the arm as though he were angry but didn't grip tightly. He leaned down slightly and whispered in gruff Italian, “I'm not mad or upset, you just caught me off guard. If we weren't here in school I'd kiss you senseless. Now let's get to class."
Feeling a lot better, Angelo shrugged out of the grasp, stuck his tongue out and his nose in the air before walking into their next class.
Save the Last Dance For Me , The Drifters, 1960
Wonderful World , Sam Cooke, 1960
There's A Hole In The Bucket
Based on the version by Odetta (Holmes) and Henry Belafonte, 1960
grubs - comfortable clothes