We had to pass through my Uncle Joe Borzellino’s barber shop on Schuylkill Avenue in Reading, in order to visit my Grandmother’s home. The barber shop was located in the first room of their row home where my Grandmom lived with her second of three sons and his wife. I don’t remember much about the barber shop because I was always anxious to get into her home, the kitchen and dining room to be exact, because that is where the good smells were coming from. The rooms connected to one other in her narrow home and you had to walk through each one to get to the next. We hit the dining room first, where we saw our dessert- the delicious freshly baked apple pies, cooling on the table that was covered in an Italian lace tablecloth. Then on to the kitchen to eat Sunday dinner, which was something delicious like Ricotta pie with ham and hard salami and multiple Italian cheeses baked into the savory pie, or hand rolled meatballs made with veal and pork. I couldn’t wait to tear into them all.
We went to my Grandmom’s house almost every Sunday. Her long grey hair was always back in a bun at the nape of her neck and she didn’t bother hoisting up her breasts, which were ample and hung low under her cotton, flowered apron with a bib. I don’t recall her ever having the apron off but then again, Sicilian grandmothers did a lot of cooking and baking. And I remember her ring on her finger- a delicate, platinum basket design with a modest diamond in the middle. My grandpop, Serafino, died when my mom was seventeen and we never knew him. My mother said he was very kind and loving and wrote beautiful poetry. Perhaps I take after him as a writer.
When I kissed my Grandmom Borzellino good bye on the outside steps every Sunday, I always said, “See you later,” and she commented, “If I live.”
“Oh Grandmom,” I bemoaned. As a young girl, I thought that silly. Of course, in my mind, she would live for a very long time. Who thought of death? Not a youngster. This was our ritual at every separation.
But she did die, when she was 71 and I was 16. I remember my mother being very, very sad. We kids didn’t know it then but her brother Joe would not let her have her mother’s ring and she was supposed to have it. Actually, we did not learn this fact until ten years later. To an extent, we had been unconscious to our mother and as kids, we dissolved into our own lives- college, boyfriends and the like. It was many years until we realized that we had not seen our relatives on our Italian side for a very long time.
“What’s up with that?” all four of us kids asked. When Mom said that she was hurt by her brother and had not spoken to him all these years, we understood her pain over missing her mother and the robbed ring just compounded her loss, but we all thought enough was enough. We had not seen our cousins for many years and we had been close at one time. One cousin in particular, Bobby, was only three months apart in age from me and although he was the son of another of my mother’s brothers, Mom had drifted away from them all.
“You call up Uncle Joe and make up with him,” we four kids instructed her and remarkably, she listened. She got her relationship back with her siblings, even got her mother’s diamond ring back to boot. For us cousins, however, it was too late. We lost many years of an important family relationship and all us cousins had gone our separate ways. We too had been robbed.
It has been over thirty years since my mother has gone. Too many years to ask her questions about my Grandmom Borzellino. I know very little. My family and I went back to Sicily a half a dozen years ago and I learned more about my relatives across the ocean than my own grandmother. And then, out of the blue, I received an e-mail from my cousin Bobby. We were 60 now and had both lived a good chunk of our lives. But surprisingly, he loved to hike and loved mountains and nature, painted pictures and played music and built guitars and did woodworking and I couldn’t believe how much we had in common. He was my blood.
He came up to our home to visit the other week and Bobby, my sister, JoAnn, and Todd and I went for a hike on the Blue Mountain. JoAnn was wise enough to know the great gift of Bobby’s return and she would not miss the hike for the world.
We had so much to catch up on. I had no idea if he had kids, how old they were, what kind of job he did, or anything. Forty-five years of life is an overwhelming amount of years to catch up on. I knew, like me, he was happy just to be walking in the forest and so we were just together, not trying to learn everything that first hour.
Bobby walked behind me and when I heard his voice speak to me, in my mind, I saw him as a sixteen-year-old. He sounded the same. I would turn around to speak and was continually shocked to see a balding head, big muscles, tatooes and not a sixteen-year-old, dark, curly-haired kid. We did not talk about what we remembered about Grandmom. Next visit. One conversation we did have was very weird. We were talking about driving late at night and I shared how I love to lick Tootsie pops to stay awake once it is too late in the day to drink coffee. He then showed me a bulge in his raincoat which was tied around his waist. Two tootsie pops. What a weird coincidence. He loved them too. Two grown 60-year-old cousins who love Tootsie pops.
I hugged Bobby hard when I said good bye, my grandmother’s diamond ring on my finger. I won’t let him get away this time. We have too much in common. Our grandmother. Tootsie pops. Our childhood memories which I can’t wait to share. And all those trails we have yet to hike together, making up for lost time. Just because you are robbed of something in life, does not mean you can’t ever get it back.