It was almost the witching hour on a moonless April night in 1935 when the ostetrica (midwife) Viorica DiPaolo, was summoned to the home of Francesco and Rose Campobasso to receive her instructions. The last time she had attended their daughter Rose, at the birth of Joseph Anthony Case, complications required a trip to the hospital. The Campobassos wanted to emphasize that that option was to be avoided.
The old woman made her assurances, gathered her bundles and proceeded the few blocks to the Liberty Street flat of Joe and Rose Case.
The next morning, it was announced that the newest Case had arrived -- a healthy 9-pound boy, and that he would be christened Joseph Anthony, the same two names of his older brother, but reversed.
Esther, now released from her confinement, and pale from not being allowed in the sun since the previous summer, was eager to help her older sister with the care of the infant.
House calls were common then, and Dr. Positano, the physician who had attended Rose after the complications of her first difficult delivery, called frequently at the Case household to check up on Rose and the infant. The fact that Esther was there every time he visited was far from a coincidence, for the good doctor had been enamored of Esther for as long as he could remember. A shy man, he barely managed to speak to Esther, experiencing that all-too-common male fear of rejection when faced with the object of his affection.
One day, though, he spoke more than the usual banal pleasantries, and berated himself for it afterwards
After examining Rose and the baby, the doctor was offered the usual hospitality of sharing coffee and biscotti at the kitchen table, and he accepted.
Esther, aware of his interest in her, tried to keep the conversation limited to the most banal of topics, the weather, but she sensed an undercurrent of seriousness about the physician, as he nervously stirred his expresso. What she couldn't know was that he was trying to tell her something he had rehearsed over and over, phrasing and rephrasing it, never quite satisfied that he had the right words, and worried that he would be betraying a confidence and his Hippocratic oath if he revealed the reason for his speech.
Being lost in these thoughts caused an embarrassing silence that he suddenly became aware of, when he was asked the same question twice.
“What's that? Oh, yes, I'll be back again on Tuesday,” he stammered out as he stood up from the table and prepared to leave.
“Esther, could I speak with you, please?” The doctor gestured toward the door, hoping Esther would escort him to it for a private word. She went with him, a concerned look clouding her face.
When they reached the front door, the doctor said, “Esther, I've known you and your family for a long time. I wouldn't do anything to hurt you in any way. I – I just want you to know that if there's anything I can do to, um, help in the, you know, situation, I'd be honored.”
Despite her smile, Esther's eyes turned cold. “Thank you, doctor. I think we'll be all right,” was all she said.
As the doctor had feared, getting out of the Campobasso house and into the Case compound was an opportunity for Esther to reestablish her relationship with Eddie, despite the strong objections of the parents. Obviously, when Esther was with Rose and the baby, everyone concerned made sure that the two were never alone.
In spite of the obstacles that the families put in their way, courtship resumed, and two months later the strong-willed Esther had her way; another Case male would wed another Campobasso female, although as far as the couple was concerned, it was their second wedding to each other.
These days, when the modern-day descendants of the Campobasso and Caserta/Case families look at the June 1935 wedding pictures of Esther and Eddie, they see something unique. Actually, it's who they don't see that makes it so – Francesco Campobasso isn't there.
It's not that he was deceased in 1935; he would live another ten years, passing on just as the second world war ended. No, he's not there because Esther refused to allow him any part in it.
Esther blamed her father for her imprisonment. True, he was the enforcer of the strict rule, but it was the women of the family, led by Esther's mother Rose, who decreed the punishment, in order to clear the family name of any taint that could result from the elopement of Esther and Eddie the previous July.
Francesco had made no exceptions – Esther had had no contact with the outside world since her return from the civil ceremony in Vermont – a non-wedding in the eyes of Troy's Italo-American community.
And although he didn't say it to Esther, Dr. Positano understood what that would mean if everyone knew what he knew.
©Copyright 2009 Frank LaPosta Visco
Next: In Chapter Twelve, Double Trouble.