Nanna refused to pick up Papa at the Airport. So, he had to take a cab to her apartment. I could smell his cheap cologne all the way up the six flights of stairs. He stood in the middle of the living room, wearing a golf shirt, a pair of black polyester trousers with white leather shoes, and his usual three thick gold chains around his neck. One had the Italian horn hanging from it! I went over to kiss him on the cheek, and then he told me to get him a cup of coffee, never bothering to ask me how I was doing or what was new in my life. I know that other girls might like their grandfathers, but I never really took a liking to mine. He is not your traditional gray haired, jolly looking grandfather. He looks more like a character out of the Godfather movie.
Nanna said that Papa had a fear of growing old and dying and that is why he dressed the way he did. Were the gold chains supposed to ward off evil spirits? I asked. Nanna just gave me a look.
As soon as he got his coffee, he turned on the T.V, took his teeth out and went and sat on the sofa. Papa wasn’t a conversationalist by any means. I took my leave of the whole scene because I knew that at any moment he was going to strip down to his boxer shorts, and that was a sight I didn’t want to see. I told Nanna that I had more housework to finish up by tomorrow, “Tell your sister to make sure to come over to say hello to her grandfather,” I heard her say as I took the back-porch stairs two at a time.
Mother was all nerves Christmas Eve morning. She awoke in a panic and stayed that way right up until she smoked some weed just before the relatives started showing up at 5:00pm I finished setting the tables around 3:30pm, and then stayed away from her. There were three grown-up tables squeezed together in the living room, and two kid’s tables in the dining-room. Kids never sat at the grown-ups’ table, one did not get to have that honor until one graduated from high school. Mother came to inspect the tables, and I guess they met with her approval because she dismissed me to my room, telling me to wear the red plaid dress, white tights and black pumps that my grandmother had bought for me. I flipped her off behind my door. In fact, I did not give her just one middle finger, I gave her both fingers.
Father was helping mother in the kitchen with the antipasti, and Anna was in her room getting dressed. I tapped on her door to see what she was going to wear. Anna had recently gone crazy for Michael Jackson and every single poster of him from his Thriller album was on her bedroom walls. That didn’t bother me as much as seeing Anna wearing the exact same dress as mine. “What the fuck?” I said. “There is no fucking way I am wearing the same thing you are wearing,” I said to her.
“Mother,” I screamed as I made my back to my room and began ripping off my dress.
There are piles and piles of photo albums filled with pictures of Anna and me through the years wearing the same holiday outfits. Mother thought it was so cute to match us up in whatever took her fancy on a given holiday. I heard from Nanna that mother wanted twins, and that was the reason she liked to dress Anna and me up the same. Take for instance, one Easter Day when we wore matching pink and white-striped dresses with white leather pumps. My god, we looked liked Candy Stripers going off to local the hospital to do charity work. In fact that is what my cousin Carla said, when she saw us at church. Or take the time my mother had purchased red plaid Scottish kilts with matching hats one Christmas Eve when Anna was three and I was six. The list can go on and on, but last year I put my foot down to end the matching outfits craze. I wore jeans much to the dismay of my family. But this year it appears that my mother had tricked us both. She never told me that we were to wear matching dresses again this year. My only saving grace was that the dresses were not purple; it appeared that Nanna had reached deep into her pockets and actually ventured away from the clearance racks and over to the name brand section to buy our Christmas outfits.
Well, I was not going to look like a freak this year. I reached for my black pants, white tuxedo blouse and matching red bow tie I had found at Marshal’s(can you believe it) in the Men’s section, and of course the fedora hat. Screw her, I said to myself. I am no longer a child to be dressed up like a doll and paraded around before my psycho family.
My mother walked into my bedroom. “What the hell are you screaming about?”
“I am not wearing that matching prissy outfit, especially if Anna is wearing the same thing.”
She just looked at me and shook her head. “I don’t understand why you have to be so difficult and why you want to dress like a boy.” With that said, she just walked out of my room. I could not believe it. She didn’t even yell. Wow, I thought, she is smoking some good weed. I picked up my cape and made my way to the front door to start taking coats from the wacko D’Arco’s as they filed in to gorge themselves on the all- you- can- eat Southern Italian style Christmas Eve Feast!
I love food. I can’t help it. My only saving grace from getting fat is that genetically from my father’s side I am skinny, and when I hit puberty, nothing really happened which is a curse and a blessing at the same time considering my little problem up top. Of course the D’Arco’s can’t say the same. They all are fat—up top, downstairs and all around, but that doesn’t stop them from eating. My cousin Carla for instance, who is two years older than me definitely has a weight problem. Despite hating her guts, I have never made fun of her weight, even though my cousin Johnny, her little brother, is relentless in his teasing her about it. And even though the first thing she said to me when she saw me at the door was “Freaky Susie”, my high-school generic nickname for all the girls that attended SSA which she knew I don’t know how. I refrained from calling her a rotten tomato. Because that was what she looked like in her skintight red dress and watermelon boobs. Didn’t she have a mirror? Thank god, I didn’t have to wear my red dress. I mean was it some-sort of family conspiracy to have all the kids wear red dresses this year!
Nanna gave me a hurt look and then asked me why I wasn’t wearing the red plaid dress she bought me. I tried to make nice and took the pot of red sauce with eel from her arms. It smelled so bad, I gagged, but I didn’t want to make a face. This was not my favorite dish. No, I was going to feast myself on the shrimp antipasto, lasagna, and of course, the lobster. The lobster was what put my parents in the poor house every year; that and the open bar. Buying 20 lobsters at market price maxed out their credit cards, and caused the fighting that would go on for months after the lobster was gone.
Of course the kids only got half a lobster.
Right behind Nanna was Papa. He only made a grunt of a sound when he saw my outfit and then made his way to the living room. Of course his hands were empty, he made Nanna carry everything. I took his leather jacket and threw it on my parents’ bed. It missed and landed on the floor. I didn’t bother picking it up. Next to appear was my Uncle Leo. He had arrived from California a week earlier but hadn’t come around until now. He looked just like Papa except with more hair. He was staying with some friends off of Clark and Division. He liked to play the big shot paying for every one’s drinks as he went from bar to bar along Division St. bragging to all his so-called friends how he was soon getting a lead in some B movie in Hollywood. No wonder I never got a Christmas gift from him. His money was spent long before he made it back to Devon and Western.
Uncle Leo was 13 when he ran away from home to California to become a child star. That lasted a month and then he hitch hiked back to Chicago, and got hooked up with some gang that robbed old people. He too, like my Papa broke my Nanna’s heart. He landed himself in the Juvenile detention center for five years for petty robbery. It was all over the papers back in the 50’s. He swears to this day that he only drove the get away car. Yet, his career as a felon didn’t stop there because right after he got out of Juvie, he started running with the wrong crowd again. This time it was the mob. He still robbed old people but instead of only handbags off little old ladies in the park, he drove the get away car for armed robbers who were breaking into mansions in Hyde Park and Lake Forest. Uncle Leo got caught with the goods at O’Hare Airport and spent six years in the State Pen down in Joliet. He swears to this day that he only drove the getaway car.
He says he paid his dues to society and now he is on the up and up, and is trying to become a big movie star. Yeah, what I hear from Nanna is that he only gets bit parts playing felons in B movies.
The rest of the lot made their way in. My great Aunt Stella, Papa’s younger sister, who looks just like Papa, but not so hairy was wearing her mink wrap. Despite her fear of cats, and asking me if my cat was securely locked in the basement which I lied and said yes, the cat was in my bedroom this year. And despite the fact that she called my cat, a rodent which I ignored, I didn’t miss the bed with her coat. She is a nut job, but a loveable one.
My Father’s side of the family arrived right after the D’Arcos. My grandmother Lester, started complaining as soon as I took her coat about some coffee cake we picked up for her at local German bakery saying it, was not fresh. What coffee cake? I wanted to ask. But then she mumbles “I am very thankful that your parents have finally come to their senses and sent you to a Catholic high school.”
She, like my Italian relatives is Catholic and can’t believe that my mother had my sister and I baptized Lutheran. She has really never forgiven my father for marrying a Lutheran but than again I don’t know how the heck we became Lutheran because my mother’s side of the family except for my maternal grandmother are all Catholic!