I remember the words so clearly, even now. "Stop following me. You are getting on my nerves following me around the house." I think most women can remember their brother saying those words. I absolutely loved following my brother around. During the 1970s, he used to wear Aramis cologne. He had a method to putting on his aftershave. He would slap the right side of his face and then the left before putting on his dark blue and beige polyester shirt with the pointy collar, he would once again run his hands over his face. He wanted to be sure that his face was as smooth as a plum.
Danny never liked to tell me where he was going. If I asked he would say, "You are just a kid, mind your own business." Afterwards, before he would leave the house he would smile and tickle me under my arms. Before I would let my brother out of the house, I would say, "Pick me up so I can be an airplane." He would oblige me and I would stick out my arms like I was ready for take off while he carried me around the room.
Sometimes, if I was lucky, my brother would show me a card trick. Back in the 1970s he had a magic set. He loved that magic set, with the cards and other tricks. He always made me smile. As his green Mustang pulled out of the driveway he would wave to me and say, “See you later!” I remember thinking how cool he was as I watched him pull out of the driveway and I would not take my eyes off his car until his car disappeared up the street.
It was funny how I never had any sense of time when I was a child. A few moments after he had departed I would ask my Mama, "When is Danny coming home?" My Mama would say, “Joanna, I do not know, he does not always tell me what time he is coming home." It always seemed that as soon as I devoured my plate of tortellini, I would hear my brother's car coming down the street. It was amazing how I would fly out of my chair when I heard the sound of Danny's car. I remember Mama saying, "You have to finish eating, where are you going?" I had important business to tend to. I had to see my brother and follow him around yet again!
Many times he would come home with a toy for me. I remember him bringing me Sky Rockets. Ah, those Sky Rockets! He would fill the pump with water and push the lever and up into the air they would go. Several times he brought me a yo-yo. That was as nerve wracking toy that I never had a talent for, but my brother always knew how to use one! Sometimes, my brother would return and play the game “Clue" with me and I would be in my glory!
There were several occasions when my brother was my babysitter while my parents went to Italian weddings or dinner dances. As an Italian-American, my parents did not believe in hiring a babysitter, so my brother was it on Saturday nights. If my Mama was in a hurry she would make a fritatta, or if she wanted to be “Americanized” on a particular night we would eat fish sticks, tater tots, or my brother's favorite, "Swanson’s TV Dinners". My brother was less picky and really enjoyed American food. He loved the fried chicken dinners with mashed potatoes and a brownie or the salisbury steak variety! Saturday nights with my brother were very special to me.
My brother and I watched the baseball games together. I never understood what was going on in the game but I enjoyed it. We would play tag in the house or sit outside on the porch together. Then it was time for reruns of "Leave it To Beaver", "The Honeymooners" and “The Carol Burnette Show". Saturday night with my brother would not be the same without out Carol Burnette. My brother and I would share a bag of cherry licorice called “Nibs". I remember sticking those bite sized pieces of licorice on my teeth and running around the house pretending to be Dracula. I usually became drowsy by the time “The Johnny Carson Show” began. I would hear a voice on the television saying, "Heeeere's Johnny..." as I drifted off to sleep.
My brother is an easy person to get along with. He is the ideal brother. He believes in minding his own business and he wants me to mind my own business. Usually, I ask him nosey questions because that is what a younger sister is supposed to do. He knows all there is to know about collector coins, stamps, baseball cards and baseball teams. He is a walking Sports Illustrated Magazine. If it were not for my brother, I never would have passed my Accounting class in college. The trauma of taking Accounting was eased as he would sit with me for hours at the kitchen table and help me with my studies. My brother still plays his favorite albums including the comedian Pat Cooper, and the musician, Elvis Costello, as well as several other bands from the 1960s. My brother is not embarrassed that he continues to listen to albums and that he has not converted everything to a compact disc just to be downloaded to an MP3. I think he may still have some eight tracks laying around.
My Papa died when I was thirteen years old. He had joined my mother and I on vacation in Italy. Unfortunately, he had a heart attack and died suddenly during that vacation My last memory of Papa was eating lunch with him in la montagna or the mountains of Italy. We had prosciutto with melon as we sat under a grape vine and then devoured our pasta and fettina (thinly sliced meat). We also enjoyed grilled verdura that day. Funny how my mind has frozen that last memory of my Papa. It was a hot, humid and hazy day in August of 1980. The ride in the little Fiat from the mountain back to San Donato seemed a bit long and the roads were narrow and winding. My Papa was not feeling well that night and he thought he had all the signs of indigestion from the heavy food and homemade wine and that traveling in the hot weather had contributed. Unfortunately, my Papa died later that night in my Nonna and Nonno's house. It was the first vacation my Papa had ever taken with me. He was a stone mason and never took long vacations. Although it was the only vacation that I had taken with my Papa, I am appreciative of the time that I had with him, eating wonderful Italian food in the mountains.
I think this explains why I love returning to Italy. It is not just for the food or the sights, but it is my Papa's resting place. My memory is a bit blurry to me on certain details, but I do recall my brother flew to Italy with my uncle for Papa’s burial, while the rest of my family remained in the states to plan a memorial service for my Papa. We had a funeral and buried my Papa in Italy. My Papa always said that he wanted to be buried in his hometown of San Donato Val Di Comino if he were to die. It was his destiny. My Mama did the right thing, regardless of anyone's opinion. She did what was in her heart.
Upon our return to the states we had a memorial mass for Papa and for some reason I do not remember anything surrounding that day. I do remember Papa’s funeral in San Donato and the entire town attending his funeral. I was thankful to have my brother there, he would now be the man of the family or the leader of the pack, as I called it. I remembered how seeing my brother eased my pain, and somehow, I felt safe again. I knew we would be okay with my brother by our sides. My Mama and I were very lucky to have my brother to help us with mountains of paperwork and settling Papa’s estate. There are so many dimensions to my brother.
I will admit, he is a little bit messy at times, but we are blessed. He never complains and demands nothing. My brother appreciates the simplest of things, even a $5.00 gift card to Dunkin’ Donuts. He is a simple man, with much strength and intelligence. I never remember my brother judging anyone. He has always been in the background, minding his own business, except when his sisters took too long in the bathroom or argued about silly things. He was and is wise as I do not even remember those silly arguments about which sister borrowed another’s shirt without asking or who stayed on the phone too long. None of it really mattered in the end.
A brother really is a blessing and as each year passes, I realize how lucky I am. Fortunately, we both belong to the same political party, making the dinner table less stressful. I know that my brother and I always vote for the same political party and we can talk about politics without arguing. (Now, I will never say if I am a Democrat or a Republican, as I like to leave my political preferences out of my writing!)
My brother has always tended to mind his own business in the area of romance as well. When I was a teenager, the usual words that would come out of my brother's mouth were, "Mom is going out tonight and I don't want any of your friends or boyfriends here. I hope you are not planning on having a party. I don't want anyone here when mom is not here." Well, I never listened. I always found a way to sneak someone into the house while my brother watched television. One night I told my brother that I was, "Just having a few friends over." The evening started with four friends, but by 10:00 p.m. there were wall to wall friends, somewhere in the vicinity of 100 or so, to be more exact!
If I assembled a collage of my brother there would be a New York Yankees emblem in the middle of the drawing and sketches of his baseball cards. I would draw a picture of The New York Times and Investors Daily, both a part of my brother and his daily routine. I would draw the airplane that he took to Italy when my Papa died and include the desk that he used to sort out my Papa's paperwork. Most of all, I would draw the television, with the characters of “Saturday Night Live” and the “Carol Burnette Show”. The television was the bond that tied us together. Even shows like "Lost in Space" and "Outer Limits" tightened the bond with my brother.