I sat on the couch as I had over the weeks and months prior to this moment. I had my arm around my mother’s shoulder. She was snuggled into my chest. My father watched from a chair opposite us.
“I was in the backyard on 92nd street and I saw my mommy kissing my daddy,” she giggled. “They were kissing right there.”
Mom was 83 years old. “They kissed a few times,” she giggled. I squeezed my mom’s shoulder. She was skinny by this time.
She would call me “Frankie” as in “Frankie, I saw my mommy kissing my daddy in the yard.” But today she had forgotten my name. She knew she knew me – at least I think she knew me – but my name was now lost to her. Most of her memories were lost too – although some long-term ones still could be bubble up a little here and a little there.
My Mom was born in 1925. Her father died in the mid-1930’s leaving six kids behind; five daughters and one son. There was no welfare in those days so my mom left school in sixth grade and she and her sisters went to work in the factories. My grandmother cleaned schools. They skimped and saved and they were able to keep their house on 92nd Street in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. Where they lived is now an entrance to the Verrazano Bridge.
The son joined the army for World War II. He always volunteered for the most dangerous assignments. I do not know how many enemy soldiers he killed. Those who knew him called him fearless and daring.
My two strong memories of him concerned how much he smoked. He always had a cigarette in his mouth. And second, he would twist my arm behind my back and tell me to say that my father was a “bum” or “I’ll break your arm in half.” I’d cry but I never gave in. I am surprised he didn’t break my arm. Oh, yes, he was a hunter too. That might be my third memory of him. So it was his smoke, my pain and various creatures’ deaths.
The five sisters were loving. They doted on each other. They emotionally supported each other. They had an unbreakable union that lasted until the very last one passed away almost a decade ago.
The sisters held their brother in very high esteem. As a kid, I never told my mother that he tortured me. It wasn’t until I was older, an adult actually, that I told her about him. She wouldn’t believe me. She couldn’t believe me. Then the other male cousins started to tell their tales about him, how he would get each of them alone, and hold a lit cigarette closely over the palm of one trapped hand, daring them to flinch. The sisters started to believe. The female cousins had no tales about him. He spared them.
My mom’s was an immigrant family. Italian laborers. Hard workers. Perhaps the New York City version of the salt of the earth. The sons in such families were often lauded and revered. It was true of my family. It didn’t really matter what the child was like, if he were male, he was premier.
This fearless and daring son sent his army paychecks home during the war and my grandmother saved the money so that when he returned from duty, he received a substantial nest egg. The daughters had worked tirelessly for money through the Great Depression and the War, but they had no nest eggs. Instead, they had supported the family. Their brother took his bank account, and left.
My uncle died at 50; as far as I could tell no male cousin shed a tear. I didn’t go to his wake or funeral.
My mom was the middle sister. She worked until her mid-60s. Her final job was at the World Trade Center. I could talk to my mom about anything.
At another visit, my mother snuggled into me, “I have a picture of my daddy.” She would always say that and then she’d point to someone in a picture, some relative or friend, and say, “That is my daddy.” It never was.
Until this day.
Up to that time I had never seen my mother’s father. But this day, on the wall near the couch, was a new photo – an old new photo – a little grainy but it showed the clear picture of a young man. He was dressed in a leather overall and he was standing on the side of an ice-truck. He was an ice distributor, an iceman.
I didn’t look like him. But then I realized that this man was indeed my grandfather. His hands! I looked at his hands. They were my hands or, rather, mine were his hands.
“He is your granddad,” my dad said.
His hands and my hands.
“My daddy,” my mother nodded and then: “I saw my mommy kissing my daddy in the backyard.”
“Where was that?” I asked. “Do you remember the street?”
“My mommy was kissing my daddy.”
I am Frankie, mom, your son. I have my grandfather’s hands. I have your father’s hands. I held my hands up. “Look at my hands,” I said.
She was looking far away. “My mommy was kissing my daddy,” she said.
In a few days, she stopped talking. In a few weeks, she stopped eating. She died. March 22, 2008.
Frank Scoblete’s web site is www.frankscoblete.com. His books are available from Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, Kindle, e-books and at bookstores.