Anna Caserta, matriarch of the Case family, was dead. Her youngest son, Eddie (Egidio) had committed adultery, and was found out. His strong-willed wife Esther, about to give birth, considered moving back with the Campobasso clan, but was rebuffed by her equally stubborn father.
So she locked the door on Eddie and forced him to find solace elsewhere. Fortunately for me, he moved in with his widowed oldest sister, Aunt Giovi (Giovanna), who lived upstairs with her 3 sons and one daughter, and not with Yolanda, the town “flirt” (to use a gentle euphemism), who it was said had seduced him. To tell the truth, my father was easily seduced.
It's time I introduced myself, because this is just before I appear in the saga of the Cases and the Campobassos. I'm Eddie Case Junior, or “Little Eddie” as I was called as soon as I was born to Esther and Eddie, on the last day of December, 1939. I'm the one who's been telling the story, and you'll learn more about me later.
But right now it's late November of 1939, Europe's in a mess, America's having a very slow recovery from the Great Depression, and things aren't much better at 13 Liberty Street, home of the Caserta/Case clan.
Eddie slept uncomfortably upstairs on his sister Aunt Giovi's living room sofa. She already had three mischievous teenage sons, her lovely introspective daughter Michelina and the lifelong bachelor brother Vincenzo living with her, and Aunt Giovi tried in her quiet way to effect a reconciliation between her youngest brother and his very pregnant wife downstairs. Esther's sister Rose and her husband, Eddie's brother Joe, who lived next door, downstairs, tried to help the estranged couple, as did Michele, the head of the fourth Case family in the other upstairs flat, next to Aunt Giovi's clan.
Esther, the wronged wife, visited St. Joseph's Convent House and had a serious discussion with her piano teacher, the wise Sister Mary Magdalene. A very talented musician who was born Margaret Mary Bonaccio, she had left Little Italy after high school for New York City, studied with world class musicians, sampled the favors of rich and powerful men and women, then renounced it all and returned to take her vows and devote her talents to her religious community.
She and Esther had a rapport, and while they had chosen different paths, were more spiritually attuned than Esther had ever been with her quiet, reclusive sister Rose.
The beautiful nun, the daughter of an Italian fruit peddler and a South Troy girl of Irish descent, advised Esther to let Eddie back in, make him promise to atone for his faithlessness, and rebuild their marriage. “Deal with the devil you know – it's better than with the devil you don't know,” Sister Maggie said, as a look of wistfulness appeared in her blue eyes.
Although all the relatives took credit for facilitating the reunion, it was really the nun who convinced Esther to forgive. But, ingrained in the steel-spined daughter of a long line of blacksmiths and forgers of scissors and revenge daggers was a reluctance to bend and forget.
Although Esther took the nun's advice, she would never completely trust her husband again. Eddie moved back in from his sofa upstairs, and life resumed, with more of an edge to it. Esther continued to take solace in playing Chopin's etudes on the piano next door, waiting for me to leave the comfort of the womb.
But my scheduled appearance was still a month away. Whenever Maria Campobasso, Esther's mother, could leave the confectionery store, my tiny and spry maternal grandmother would walk the few blocks to Liberty Street and visit her two daughters who were now part of the Case family. But never on weekends when the men of the family were there – only during the week when the husbands were at work. Perhaps that was because the same characteristic unwillingness to forget was engrained in her, too, having been so long a part of the Campobasso tradition.
She was generous with food from the store, even if it was day old bread and produce, or a dented can of imported plum tomatoes that wouldn't sell. But Maria Campobasso never told her husband Francesco, because he refused to forget the sins of his daughters, Esther and Rose. One had defied him and kept him from her wedding, the other was complicit in a secret that no one dared to discuss aloud.
Of course, later in life, when the old ones would be only faded photos and half-remembered stories, I would discover the family secrets, and, as writers do, use them to tell my stories. And use them I will, when the time is right in the saga I'm relating to you.
Meanwhile, I hope you'll continue to follow the ups, downs, laughter and tears of what may or may not be a typical family with its roots in Troy's Little Italy.
©Copyright 2009 Frank LaPosta Visco
Next: In Book 2, Chapter 2: A child is born.