The whispers accelerated during the summer. And the whisperers were not as cautious about anyone hearing what was on their mind.
‘They will sit around on their asses, never bathe, or lift a hand to help with the dishes!”
“We’ll be expected to cook for them and drive them all around to visit relatives.” I couldn’t wait.
The escape plan for my cousins was to be whisked off to Wyoming to spend two weeks on Charlotte’s ranch. My request to go along was summarily denied. I’d never met anyone named Charlotte nor had I been on a ranch. Never mind, because I was needed to help out when they descended on us. I moped.
They were the several adult children of the old man who lived in the basement. He was my great-uncle, who shuffled along with a cane and had never lost his broken English, Grandma Philomena’s brother Tony. As usual I only had half the story because children were to be seen and not heard, especially crazy Jimmy’s daughter. What I knew of the visitors-to-be was they lived in Denver and they had multiplied like rabbits. Two daughters and one son had all married other Italians and had led a mysterious life far away from their father. Our family held their secrets tight against their chest and only in times like an impending visit were they forced to show some cards. Being Jimmy’s daughter I expected the worst.
When you’re young, families are enigmatic to be sure, because they are all we’ve got just then. Imagine my surprise when I first laid eyes on the two daughters from Denver. They were blond! Of southern-Italian descent, brown eyes and black hair, I’d only dreamed of being a platinum blond. And they had done it. ‘Sure,” Rose laughingly explained. “We thought it would be fun to be blond and it, is so we’re staying that way! I’ll fix your hair later, kiddo.”
These visitors prepared wonderful food while they were in town. Taking over my aunt’s kitchen, they laid out a banquet of things I’d never eaten before like stuffed cannelloni, sausage lasagna and sublime pastries. After meals they would sit around with coffee, laughing and reminiscing for hours.
One visit included a son, Salvatore, who it was whispered was always too busy being an accountant to come up to see his dad. I watched from the kitchen, dishtowel in hand, when after dinner one night, Cousin Sal reached in his pocket for a deck of cards. Forbidding glances were passed around the room. Some sat in and others tittered. He asked me if I wanted to play and I blushingly stammered I had to dry dishes and besides I didn’t know how to play Blackjack. That was the day I learned that men could be kind because Sal said he’d teach me the game. It didn’t hurt that he was very handsome, smelled good, and spoke softly. He was smiling when he said all I needed to know was how to count to twenty-one. Sal taught me to say ‘hit me’ when I wanted to add another card. He would never know that for a 12-year-old abused girl, this was the last thing she’d want to say. Card games still conjure up memories of beginners luck and Sal winking at me as he dealt the cards.
One more thing I learned that summer: Rose showed me that you should always pull the dishcloth between each tine of a fork when you’re washing dishes otherwise they won’t be really clean.
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