A grandmother is a mother who has a second chance

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Uncle Joey from Chicago

I'm Italian. One rule in an Italian family is that there needs to be a plethora of men named Joe. And our family was no exception. Before my first husband and son came along (both also Joe's), I had two uncles - Uncle Joey, and Uncle Joey from Chicago. No, truly, that was what we all called him. UJFC was a brother of my maternal grandmother. One of 16 children that my great-grandmother had. And, since Uncle Joey lived in Tucson, it made it easy to rename the older man as Uncle Joey from Chicago!

UJFC would visit Tucson often since his mother and a couple of sisters lived there. I remember he had these great blue eyes and was always so much fun to be around. Here he is in the token Tucson photo (see previous post and this one). Notice the saucy tilt of the cowboy hat. He was a dapper one, my UJFC.

And he was short. Italian men from that generation were all short. When I reached my full adult height of 5' 2", I was not only the tallest woman in my family at that time, but I also saw eye-to-eye with most of the men! I remember one scene at an airport. I was married to my kids' father at the time and UJFC was arriving for a visit. This was back in the day when we could actually go to the gate to wait for our loved ones to get off the plane. And the whole family was there. Must've been 20 people there including my great-grandmother (UJFC's mom) wearing the traditional Italian grandmother apron and knee-high nylons.

I went to the bathroom and when I returned, I saw the whole family standing together and my ex was in the middle. Now, Joe isn't exactly tall - probably 5'7" on a good day. But that day there he was head held high above the whole crowd. In fact, his was the only head you could actually see! The rest of the group came to his chin. He said he never saw the top of so many adult heads at one time.

Uncle Joey from Chicago played the piano. Really well. Ragtime piano - my favorite. Another treasured memory of him was the day the whole family took a drive to the top of Mt. Lemmon to escape the summer heat. There was a ski lodge at the top which was open year round. So we all went inside and very soon it started raining. Thunder, lightening - the whole thing. It was wonderful. We ordered hot chocolate all around and some snacks. Over in the corner was an old piano. UJFC asked if he could play and they said yes. So he started hammering out great ragtime music. We kids all got up and started dancing. It was such a great day - raining outside, warm and cozy inside with lots of love and laughing and music.

A final memory was at my aunt's house. Now, most Italians have pretty clean houses, but my aunt takes cleaning to a new level. A spot on anything can make her apopletic. And don't even talk about fingerprints on the sliding glass door or a spill on the kitchen floor. She didn't have any live plants in her house because they needed dirt to survive! And no newspapers, that dang print ink comes off on hands and stuff. I'm talking REALLY clean house! So, imagine her horror the day UJFC was there for dinner. We had pasta (although to us it was "macaroni" no matter what shape or form) and Italian bread.

As a side note - when I was growing up there were two kinds of bread - Italian and American. It wasn't until I was an adult and asked someone if they wanted American bread and they said "what the hell is American bread?" that I found out Wonder Bread was simply call "bread"! But, to us, the fact that is was already sliced and came in a special wrapper made it American bread.

Back to UJFC. We were all eating and talking. Dinner was over and the women cleared the table (don't get me started on that one). The rest of us continued talking and UJFC was also gathering bread crumbs as he talked. He was moving all the crumbs close to him into a nice, neat little pile, leaving the table very clean in those spots. Suddenly, with a bit of flourish (see reference to saucy cowboy hat) UJFC put his hand next to the pile of crumbs and proceeded to brush them all off the table and onto the floor! My aunt's floor!! Then he brushed his hands to rid them of any extra crumbs and went on with his story. There was a moment of dead silence in the house - had he really dared to do this? Did he even realize what he had done - the mortal sin he had committed?? But my aunt was still in the kitchen and non the wiser. And of course, no one was going to tell her.

So we just kept eating and talking. It's what we do.


namaste said...

what a great tribute to uncle joey from chicago! really sweet, sandi.

and i can't even pick one of your memories and say which was my favorite because i loved them all.

you guys sound like a t.v. show. i can just picture all you kiddies dancing to ragtime. sweet!

Jenni said...

He DARED to put CRUMBS on Aunty Mary's floor???!!! Wow. Glad she didn't see it - that could have gotten ugly.

judypatooote said...

Sandi that is hilarious....so many Joes....good name though....that is my sons name....I love this story....my hubby always said he wanted to be Italian...people use to think he was, because of his dark hair and olive complextion. His friend from work was Italian, and his name was also Joe, and he always wore large gold necklaces and looked like one of the mafia... but he was pretty cool...

Isn't it fun writing about memories....I just posted one on Proms.... Well you have a good evening.....judy

carmella anderson said...

so many of the same things. UJFC used the tell me the words to the song (Only the Lonely) by (Roy Orbison)was really(Tony Bolonga) I guess cause Butch was engaged to Tony and & he was coming around quiet often when UJFC was at grandma's. He also played poker w/auntie Lu & uncle Ed and others late evenings.I loved your Dad's mom too, Goma Theresa? I remember going to the train station a lot earlier I guess, and he was there. Including U Mike.I wrote about them characters in my book. I loved them all so much. They were a big part of my childhood.

ba and the boys said...

so love the bread story! we called it bread (american) and good bread (italian)!
this story came at a great time! today i uncorked a bottle of wine for cooking dinner (us mormons dont drink wine) and i took a whiff of the cork...the memories came flooding back!

ba and the boys said...

oh and we had joes, nicks and anthonys!

Anonymous said...

We had a lot of Paulies in our family ;)

Fleur de Lisa said...

I like UJFC's stance in that photo. It goes perfectly with the jaunty wearing of the hat. :)

Proud Italian Cook said...

We had alot of Tony's, and still do! Great posts here Sandi!