Now, prosperity really was just around the corner, although things would never be the same as they were before the war. Many more women had experienced the liberating sense of worth of being the family breadwinner, and were resentful when the jobs they had been doing were taken away and given to the returning men. Was this the beginning of the equal rights movement for women?
There was still war on the horizon, of course – but it was a Cold War, as Soviet Russia, our ally in the war, began their land grab and swallowed up much of eastern Europe and a divided Germany.
At 13 Liberty Street, everyone did their best to return to the way things were, but the men who had been in uniform had seen and experienced too much to be the same as before. Of course, they were idolized as conquering heroes by the family, especially us kids, but we knew enough not to ask too many questions as they packed away their medals and souvenirs.
During the second half of the 1940's, as I got older, I sensed that the two Campobasso women who had married into the Case family, Esther, who was my mother, and Rose, her older sister, didn't seem as cordial as two sisters should be.
It's true that there were many years between them, but it didn't seem as though that was reason enough for some of the remarks that flew back and forth. Even though many of them were in Italian, which the children didn't understand, the adults couldn't hide the tone of the comments. Even though Italian is a beautiful language, there are angry phrases that can be spit out, and on several occasions, they were.
Children don't miss much of what's going on in the adult world, and even in the whispered comments and the attempts to cool down heated arguments, we knew there were things that kept our parents, aunts and uncles on edge.
Turns out that it wasn't just the sensitive nature of Italians and their easily offended sensibilities that caused the heating up of language and the icing over of relationships. There always seemed to be an uneasiness between the sisters, especially when they would take us – me and my double cousins – out for a stroll in the neighborhood. Since two sisters had married two brothers, I had the same grandparents on both sides as my cousins, Rose's children did.
So, I wondered as I got older, why both my mother and her sister seemed at a loss for words whenever people would look at us and assume that we were all beautiful siblings. I certainly came to understand their fear of the malocchio, or evil eye. The way I understood it, Italian superstition said that if a child is praised or envied by someone who doesn't invoke God at the same time, a curse is placed on that child, and it has to be removed. By a strega, the Italian word for witch. (You can read more about it, here.)
Luckily for us, we didn't have to go far to find someone empowered to remove the evil eye. Another one of my father's sisters, Philomena, lived with her husband Luigi and daughter Annamaria in a flat on Fifth Avenue, around the corner from Liberty, and across the street from Stanton's Brewery.
I remember Aunt Phil putting three drops of oil into water, saying some Italian words, then doing something with needles and scissors to remove the malocchio. What would happen if the curse weren't removed, I'm not sure, but there seems to have been the fear of sickness, or maybe even the secret ritual was performed when a child was already sick, in the belief that the sickness might have been caused by an inadvertent curse.
I'm not superstitious myself, but I firmly believe that when the malocchio is removed from a mildly sick child, the sickness will disappear in seven days. And that without the ministrations and mumbo jumbo of the strega, the cure will take a week.
In our family, it was said that the ability could be passed on only from mother to daughter, and only on Christmas Eve. I don't think Aunt Philomena taught it to Annamaria, and even if she had, Annamaria didn't have any children, so the practice – in our family – ended there.
But even when someone complimented the beauty or health of me and my double cousins and also invoked the name of God, the Campobasso sisters who became Case sisters still seemed uncomfortable, and often avoided each other for days. There was something they didn't want others to know. I was determined to find out what it was.
©Copyright 2010 Frank LaPosta Visco
Next: Backyard frolics and another farewell.