From then on, he played to an audience of one.
For once, the Campobasso and Case families had something in common – the youngest member of each clan was the first to extend their education past grammar school. But that didn't mean that Francesco and Maria Campobasso approved of Eddie, let alone the American custom of dating.
True, their reclusive older daughter, Rose, had married Eddie's big brother Joe, but that didn't bring the families together, even when Rose gave birth at home to Anthony Joseph Case in 1927.
The birth was a difficult one, and despite the efforts of Viorica DiPaolo, the Italian community's ostetrica – midwife -- Rose had to be taken to the Troy Hospital, where Doctor Positano, the Italian community's obstetrician, attended to her postpartum complications.
The baby was healthy, but the name the parents chose rankled the head of the Campobasso clan. It was expected that the first son would be named after the Case patriarch, but Francesco hoped that at least the boy's middle name would be the same as his. Instead, Joe had named his firstborn after his grandfather and himself, and proud Francesco took it as an insult.
The economic depression didn't make things easier. It seemed as though half the population of Troy was out of work, and the Campobasso Confectionery store, even though struggling, extended credit to many of their regular customers.
It wasn't easy for people like Joe Case, either. Although he was employed, Joe worked on commission, and found fewer customers coming to the haberdashery, as more men made do with worn and patched clothing. Despite the downturn, both families scrimped in order to send their youngest to the Catholic high school.
Esther was aware of the tension between the families, but she still enjoyed Eddie's attention whenever they crossed paths on their way to class in the former Troy Hospital on the hill.
Although Eddie wasn't a sports star, he took an active interest in basketball, tried out for the all-male CCHS cheerleading squad, and made the team. Even back then, the rivalry among the high schools was keen, and Eddie, using his wiles, had developed a special trick to help his team get an added advantage over the Troy High and La Salle Institute teams.
In an era when nicknames were more common, Eddie would learn the special names that the members of the opposing teams would call each other. Sitting at courtside, Eddie would wait for his opportunity – as a rival player was driving toward the goal, he would call out: “Butch! Over here!” The player, thinking it was a teammate calling, would break stride, and either earn a foul for double-dribbling or lose the ball to an alert Crusader. Naturally, this earned Eddie his own nickname: Slick.
Although Esther's sense of justice and fair play was offended by his trickery, she had to admit that she admired Eddie's ingenuity. His good looks and attention to her didn't hurt, either.
If you had asked Eddie about Esther's looks, he would have said they were perfect. Actually, she combined the best of her parents' features, with her mother's wide-set, hazel eyes, high cheekbones, and her father's large mouth with a slight overbite, all set into a smooth olive complexion. She wore her auburn-tinged hair in the latest style known as Marcelle waves. When she smiled, which wasn't often, the effect was sufficient to cause double-takes from the boys, and envy from her female classmates.
Besides her looks, Eddie admired her demeanor, too. While it's true that she was serious and strong-willed, her piano-playing revealed a sensitive side. When she played at the school's annual recitals, Eddie gave her his complete attention. It wasn't that she played his favorite music; far from it. Esther played classical pieces; Eddie favored the popular music of the day whenever he found the time to fiddle.
In fact, one of his favorite songs was a ditty recorded by the now nearly forgotten Jean Goldkette Orchestra, called “Gimme A Little Kiss, Will Ya, Huh?” To show you how much Eddie appreciated good music, the band featured Bix Beiderbecke on cornet, Jimmy Dorsey on sax, younger brother Tommy Dorsey on trombone, and Joe Venuti on violin. And to show Esther how much he cared, Eddie painted the song's payoff line on the wall in the backyard at Liberty Street:
“Gimme a little kiss, will ya, huh?
And I'll give it right back to you.”
Esther would see it on the rare occasions when the Campobassos visited the Case homestead, and know it was for her.
©Copyright 2009 Frank LaPosta Visco
Next: In Part Six, a little kiss.