Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Uncle Danny is In the Closet

My family is small. Like super small. All except one grandparent is deceased. I have two great aunts, one of which is 89 and the other, I have no idea how old she is because she's in Italy. I do have family in Italy, but we do not know them, we just know they exist...in a villa just outside of Bari. We have contact with them through my father's cousin who lives in Paris, a native of Monaco, but that's it.

My father has two siblings, one of which we refer to as Voldemort, just because we don't talk to or about her anymore. We DO NOT mention her name, we say "Thou Who Shall Not be Named." Long story short, she's a nasty bitter woman who alienates people. No big deal. My family is fun loving and good natured, we have no use for people of her like and she is on the outs with just about everyone. Again, no big deal. However, we do talk to her son, God I love my cousin Michael, he's awesome, but he lives in Florida (he too has issues with his own mother). Then my father's other sister has two daughters, both grown. This is the closest family we have and we don't see them but every few years on occasion.

My mother's family is even smaller. Again, her aunt is 89 and her cousin is in her 60's. We see them the most, but again, that's like once a year. My grandmother, my only living grandparent, lives a few towns over and I see her quite often. I love my Nanny. - As for siblings, my mother did have a brother. Uncle Danny.

My Uncle Danny grew up during a very hard time in history. He was an impressionable young man in the 60's and 70's giving himself up to the "make love not war" revolution. My mother was opposite, she was like me, a good girl with a good head on her shoulders, not hating anyone. She just lived her life and kept her nose clean. Uncle Danny however, got into drugs and the hippie life.

I really don't know too much about my mother's side of the family. I know that her father was in the mafia and I know that watching The Godfather is a home movie for her, but its not often she speaks of this life. Its not often she speaks of this life at all. She has told me that she remembers as a child about a time sitting in the kitchen with her grandmother counting piles, yes, PILES of money because her dad and his crew robbed a bank. She also remembers the time his new car (they had a new car every single year) was given a parking ticket for parking in front of a fire hydrine. Her father marched into the police station and said, "IS THIS WHAT I PAY YOU FOR!" - or how growing up there was an entire wardrobe in her parents bedroom dedicated solely to machine guns, regular guns and stuff of the like.

No need to get into more stories, but I tell you this because growing up with a perfect sister and a mafioso father must have been hard and in a way I guess he found his escape through drugs.

I don't know much about my Uncle Danny and I only have one real memory of him growing up. I remember I was really excited to see him because I had heard all about him and I couldn't wait to see him. I couldn't wait to see another adult that I could charm and love. But when I did finally see him, he had long hippy hair and he was really sweaty and nervous. At 3 it scared the bajesus out of me. (side note: I have memories as far back as 2 years old - I'm weird).

Well after that I didn't see him ever again. I'm not exactly sure why, but I have a feeling it was because my mother was not as liberal as she is now. He continued to have problems, health problems....I think and I also think he had money problems. My mother was very hush hush around me and my sister so these are all things that we've pieced together. I wondered about him from time to time and I wondered if I'd ever see him again. But then he got really really sick and died. My mother wouldn't answer our questions and now my sister and I understand why.

It was the early 80's, he was gay and he had AIDS. He traveled "that" path and it was a way that was forwned upon. I remember hearing her and my grandmother discussing him and his issues, but nothing stands out because I was too young to understand.

Nowadays my mother is much more informed, she's more liberal and I'm sure if I asked her about this she would talk freely about it. But why do that to her? Her memories of him are of when he was her kid brother, a handsome young boy who would follow her around on dates with my father.

Fast forward to when I'm about 21 and my grandfather dies (not the mafioso grandfather, he died when my mom was in her teens - my grandmother remarried when I was born). My Grampy died and we had him creamated. I walk into the kitchen one day on a conversation my mother is having with her best friend about having Grampy's ashes placed with Uncle Danny's ashes. My grandmother was going to purchase a vault at the cemetary and put them in there together.

"Hey mom? By the way, where are Uncle Danny's Ashes?"
"In the closet."
"In the closet in your father's office."
"Let me get this straight. My gay uncle's ashes are in the closet?"
"Seems kinda redundant no?"

We all had a good laugh over that one and it felt good to discuss it without it being avoided. I brought this up to my mother before - about how I don't know much about her life, and she was really surprised to hear that come from me. She doesn't realize how secretive her entire life is to me, she doesn't see how little she has spoken about growing up the way she did. My father on the otherhand, well I know just about everything with him. But mom is still a mystery. She doesn't keep pictures up of her dad and her brother, I actually wouldn't know what either of them looked like in a mound of pictures.

Its sad because both of my parents celebrate tradition and love the little things we do year to year. Like tacos on Halloween, its just tradition. Or homemade cinnebons on Christmas morning - or cutting down our Christmas tree the first weekend in December. These are staples in our lives, yet our heritage is almost non-existent. Our family name is on the memorial at Ellis Island, but I don't know much about the family who came through. Not sure why I find it so important, but then again I'm a very nostalgic person.

This year I plan on writing down these memories. I want to ask questions about our family and I want to know more. They know it all, they know our family's past - they know that Grandpa John (my father's dad) was almost sent back to Italy when his sponsor did not show up at Ellis Island (Cousin Yaya). I want to preserve all of this and pass it on to my nephew - because god only knows if I'll ever have kids. Its important to know where you came from, it helps you find your -----self. I need that. Its part of my journey in Finding Mer.


NCTRNL said...

I wish I had a family history like that it just doesn't seem to exist. I'm sure there is something out there but I have never seen any indication of it. Sad...

anne arkham said...

Awesome post.