Saturday, May 21, 2005

Visions of Days in the past

In keeping with the order of things, I have some time to myself, Peter is at the gym, and I am in the mood to write. I saw a report on the news last night about a group who has a booth at Grand Central Station ( David Isay ) has been documenting people's stories for the past 20 years. The link is above (story corps.net ) ...

So I thought I would continue my story and talk about the women in my life. Since they play a prominent role in who I am today. The good thing that came from being the first born son, is that my grandmothers and my mother's sister played an active role in "raising me" in those first three years of my life. It gave me an opportunity that I don't think my brother had. If memory serves, being the second out, was just that second place, although grandmothers will care for all their grandchildren equally. But as I have intimated, I "was the mistake" that should not have been born. And from what i can gather from other family members who were there...he made no bones about not wanting me. But, I will never konw what he and my mother did that Fall of 1966.

Back then, "premarital sex" was SINFUL and birth control was a BIG NO, NO...

We lived in New Britian Connecticut. Until the early 70's ( i am gonna say 1972). I came first in 1967, my brother came along in 1970. My Mother did not become a naturalized U.S. Citizen until 1974!!! That was a secret she never shared with anyone. That was the key to my sucessfully getting out of the U.S. So my brother, should he ever choose, could attain Canadian Citizenship because of this little fact. I have copies of my mothers papers in a file here at home.

Anyways...where was I. Ah, yes, grandmothers.

I will begin with my fathers parents. My grandfather, was a true alcoholic. He drank from the moment he opened his eyes, until he passed out at night. They lived in a modest little house on East Street in New Britian. It was a 2 bedroom, 6 room house. It was a very "Italian" house, for that was my father's lineage. My grandmother was a "master chef" and if there was one phrase to expamin the kind of woman she was, "Martha Stewart" comes to mind. She could grow anything. There were terraced flower gardens in the back yard, and gardens surrounding the house and garage on all sides. She had a fantastic vegetable garden where she would grow all the food that she used to cook with. The lot next door was empty, there HAD been houses on the lot many many years before then. Now, it was a HUGE dump garden. All the cuttings my grandmother would cut from her yard would go over the fence. So year after year there were flowers galore. There was even a raspberry and blackberru bramble as well. She grew raspberries on the back line of the property.

Nothing says wonderful, like going out in the morning and being able to pick berries every day of the Spring and Summer for cereal or cooking! There was a simple bird bath in the back yard, that was visited by many different birds. So my "natural education" started early. I always associate the "red breasted robin" with my grandmother. That's how I see her now, in Montreal. We don't see those birds very often, but I did mention that I saw a robin one night at my homegroup one Tuesday... I remember cause the bird landed and approached me and she stood there and looked at me, as if she knew me, (yeah, i know, I am such a dreamer!)

My grandparents house was a study in mechanical history. because all the appliances in the kitchen were updated, the basment housed a "cast iron" stove from way back when, she also used a top loading washing machine with a roller system, to wring out the wet clothes to hand either outside or in the basement. In the kitchen sat a fridge that had a roll out freezer on the bottom. They had a console stereo with a (78rpm) record player. They had a fine collection of big band and other assorted music on record discs. They weren't vinyl at that time, they were thick and almost plastic like. In the living room was a grand fireplace, and it was a room to recieve visitors when they used the front door. The front stoop was used all the time, we would sit out on the front lawn or on the steps and people and neighbors would come over to visit. Mary lived across the street, she was also a "Martha Stewart" type woman on a GRAND ITALIAN scale. What my grandmother could do, Mary did BIGGER and BETTER. They lived in a huge house. Her mother lived upstairs on the third floor. a very fine elderly woman, whom we used to go over and visit every day. My grandmother was fluent in Italian. My grandfather was fluent in Polish. I never used those languages in childhood.

Alcoholism...
My grandfather perpetuated the family curse. As I said above, he drank from morning to midnight. There was a pub/liquor store,barber shop, corner store complex next door to their house. On (East Street). My grandfather (AL) had bottles of brandy and liquor hidden all over the house. In the bedside table, in the bathroom hamper, by the sides of his chairs he sat in all over the house and yard. He drank to excess. And when he didn;t drink at home, he could walk next door and drown his sorrows at LaRosa's tavern. He spent alot of time in that place, and not at home. He and my grandmother worked at Stanley Tools in New Britian. My father worked at Fafnir Bearings not far from the Stanley Tools. My father, at that time, had horrifically beaten that curse into my father, and in turn, my father beat that curse into his wife and children. So you have three generations of alcoholics, that I know of. I know nothing of my great grandparents.

My father was an only child, after my grandmother had a son who died in childbirth, so the story goes. HE is buried in the childrens section of St. Mary's cemetary in New Britian. All of my grandparents and family on both sides are buried in that cemetary. I have not been back to New Britian since my Mothers Father died in the early 80's. ( i think)...

So you see how things are perpetuated generationally. That the cycle of denial and abuse can be traced back to a source. My father did not have a very good childhood, knowing from what I observed in his father. There was a horrific accident they were in, I once saw pictures of it. But as I now know, dealing with trauma, tragedy and family issues was not something that you talked about with the "neighbors!" Alcohol became the social lubricant, and the "great silencer."
it also became the great "destroyer!"

My grandfather's only saving memory was this one. On the odd occasion, when he was sober enough to think and drive, he would take us to go for icecream. You know those old ice cream parlours where they had people working behind great counters filled with every imaginable flavor of ice cream in great big tubs... It was almost like a "Willy Wonka" kind of experience. After we picked our flavors and were served, we would head not far to a lake, where we would eat our ice cream. There was (across the lake) i guess it was a kind of resort or beach head. where we parked you could go into the water, but it was covered by rounded rocks. That is where I learned to skip rocks on the lake.

I spent alot of time with my grandparents, well my grandmothers. Both my grandfathers were absent alcoholics. Although i have memories of them. They both hold a place in my memories. My mother's father was more docile than my father's. He was a Quebecois old man, you;d have to live here to understand that reference. He was very quiet and held his hand, but spoke when necessary. I am moving across the town into my grandmothers house. We mover here from little Italy, to Little Quebec.

My mother's lineage is centered here in Montreal, around the Bilange/St. Michel area of the city. Although I HAVE visited my mother's birthplace once when i first arrived in Montreal. Friends of mine took me to find the house (Which is still standing today).

ok, so my father was an only child, so no siblings but a cousin, who I may talk about later. Now, my mother had 4 brothers and a sister. Paula liven in Wethersfield, Leo lived in another section of town, the name escapes me. Guy and Peter have always lived here in Quebec. My uncle Guy now lives in Drommondville and Peter her other brother lives somewhere in Quebec. Michael, the youngest brother lived with my grandmother. And from what I have been told, (There is a HUGE secret there). None of my aunts would elaborate on the story to me. But I think there is an issue to who fathered him. Because if memory serves me, my grandmother moved three times in my child hood, i remember my grandfather being in a home for the elderly - this i remember clearly. I remember him from my childhood, but sitting here trying to place him, escapes me.

My father was a RED BLOODED, DIE FOR your COUTRY, fought in Viet Nam, came home with a very big skeleton, hidden in a huge black closet, hated blacks (he called them N_____s), he was a white mans man, Gay or Queer would not exist in his lexicon of language. He was introduced to my mother, i take it they dated, they screwed, he had to marry her then, because my mother's mother (Camille) was a good Catholic mother. She was all of 4 foot 2, but she could level my father verbally and physically, when i was a kid.

Here was the BIG DEAL and agreement he made with my mother:
This was factually proven by the rest of my mothers siblings to me when I came to Montreal.

He would import her to the states, she would give up her allegiance to Canada, WITH that allegiance shift, she would renounce everything Canadian from her life, including family. BUT because I came along in 1967, and they needed all the help they could get, the Canadian contingent of our family was present IN my life until I was in ( oh at least high school). In the early days, my father had to suffer the torture of family B.B.Q gatherings at my assorted families houses. HE hated the Canadians. I think he was jealous, that he had no family to speak of, so that alienated him from the "family" dynamic. He kept his alcohol close at hand. He began drving stakes between his wife and her family, and because she married him "for better or for worse" he made sure he showed her what "worse could be."

We had a HUGE family. They are all but gone now, living their own lives scattered all over Canada and the U.S. West Coast. With all the brothers and sisters, and their husbands, wives and children, and cousins and others, we counted in the 20's to 30's at grand family gatherings.
The last such gathering that I can remember was my Uncle Leo's wedding to his wife. There were so many people there from Canada. We partied and drank until we could not stand up. I was old enough to remember that one.

When we moved to Florida in 72, we lived in a small duplex in Homestead, for one year until we moved into our first house in central miami. That's when the Canadian's would start coming South for the Winter. I don't think my father appreciated that he was a hotel for family that he despised and hated. But he stood his ground and he verbally abused every one equally. He was especially BRUTAL on my mother's mother. He tortured her until she died. He made fun of her French Quebec accent... he would imitate Maurice Chevalier ( hu hu hu..) he thought he was funny, HE wasn't.

He called her all kinds of names. The "old goat" and "french frog" were among his favorite insults. I hate that bastard. He made her cry at least once a day, and when she would call on the phone he would say mean and nasty things to her as well. And what did she do to deserve that, I THINK, that she forced him to do the right thing when my mother got pregnant, THEN she took a stand to make sure I lived when he wanted me dead. I THINK there was alot more to this sotry than I will ever know, because all parties that would tell me are either dead or not talking, because I have asked about this issue.

ok, Memere' where was I...

From what i understand, Memere ruled with a heavy hand. And it seems to me, from what my great aunt has told me, my great grandparents died in 1920, from the great flu epidemic in Montreal. Memere was raised by my great aunts family. (the Cote' side of the Quebec family).
Living in Montreal in the 20's and thirties was not easy. I don't know when they moved to the States, it had to have been before I was born. she cooked and sewed and i remember she had a hard life, due to a broken back. As a young child i learned how to "take care of home." As early as I remember, i was raking, sweeping and working in the house in one home, and in the yard in another. I learned how to cook "GOOD QUEBEC FOOD!!" and "GOOD ITALIAN FOOD!"

There was a recipie that i still cook today.. they are called i guess (crepes, or pluggs as Memere called them, buckwheat pancakes). They are one side cooked pancakes. The reason we cook them here, is because we can get real bulk, buckwheat flower here in Montreal. When i lived in the states we would import this stuff to cook them at home. She would make excellent "meat pies" by the dozen, and she had a sweet tooth, she would bake furiously when i was little. I became quite the little "Martha Stewart Homemaker" as a young boy. The reason that I bring Martha up, is because even before we knew her, the women in my family did all those things that she did when she started on TV. ( the big huge gardens, the good food, and crafts and such). That was a part of our traditions and culture. So the reference works. I knew what "good things" were even before Martha came along.

My father's mother played her role in giving me an education, and teaching me about the world, on a 'big scale" homewise. My mother's mother, always lived in small apartments, and not a huge house. I think that the absence of my granfather from her life, and the existence of her youngest son still living with her until ( i guess i was in high school). They had a very love/hate/violent relationship. I never learned why Michael was so messed up. but i do remember he was sent away to a military school early in my life, because we went to visit him. He had problems with authority. And basically with everyone else. There was a very rebellious streak that ran through the young people one generation ahead of me. My cousins and such, had always talked back to the parents and did what they pleased.

Memere was my connection to God, plain and simple. She was a living conduit to the living creator. We have a saint in the family. Marguerite D'Youville. This specific thread of religious observance, would, at 34, bring me to Montreal. Looking into my minds eye, Marguerite knew of my existence early on, and so did the Grey Nuns here in Montreal. I know now, from conversations with my aunt, that Memere wrote her and told her about me up until the time she died. My aunt is still alive at 87. One of the FIRST memories I have as a young child was the first visit to the church, where Memere took me to the church that she went to for mass. She walked me down the center aisle that day, she stood me before God, as if she was talking directly to HIM, and presented me to Him for his care. I think she knew something WELL BEFORE i did. She was visited with a miracle healing in her life, as "positively verified" at the Mother House, not far from where i now live. There were statues and rosaries, and cards all over her house. If Grammy was one portion of my femininity/Memere was my feminine religious example. What God and Marguerite did for her, they would do for me, and I know she believed that.

There was nothing that either of these women would not do for me, and the length they went to to keep my father from beathing me up and making his "failure" and "mistake" message materialize in my demise. I KNOW for a fact, and I remember several times, in a drunken stupor he would chase me around their houses with a bat. I remember this because I would always hide under their beds, in both houses. And I remember, like it was yesterday, hearing both of those women, stopping him amid run, and threatening him with total destruction should he harm me. But he got his licks in when he got me home, and for the fact they defended me as well and i did not obey him when i was in their houses, he would be extra vicious. My father was a cruel animal of a man, although he provided for his family VERY well, he brutalized us at his pleasure.

I carried a scapular in my wallet of Marguerite D' Youville in my wallet for 30 years, because my grandmother gave it to me, and what I have left from her, in in my relic wallet in my backpack. In 2002, when i arrived in Montreal, i started walking the path to find her. That path led me to Old Montreal and the Mother House located there, there are 2 in Montreal and one in Chateaugay on the South shore. anyways, one step at a time, i walked into the mother house that day and introduced myself, all the nuns in the house wanted to meet me. I had completed a part of the family tree that had been missing for years and years.

On that visit, i mentioned a name to the Mother Superior and inquired as to where she was buried, as I did not know she was still alive. she ran into her office and got a phone number for me to call, on the way home I made the phone call, that totally changed my life. I had a living relative who is an active part of my spiritual journey. I am good friends with several nuns at the mother house. They call me to the house for dinner and discussions, and they always have small but generous gifts for me. They are very sweet. I am blessed.

My mother's sister Paula. She was married and has a daughter, who was a dancer come rebel, come pain in the ass as a teenager and older woman. What i watched her put the family through was amazing, but you know I was no saint either, i did my damage as well. I learned from those who tormented adults before me. Paula had a huge house, that's where we had family gatherings. She had a "POOL" where I learned to swim. My uncle Sam lived across the street, he was related in some fashion. He was a farmer who tilled the land across the street from the house. I spent many summer vacations between those 3 houses... Grammy's, Memere's and Paulas. Paula lived on a grand scale in a grand house.

The rift between my mother and her sister is still a legendary story. They loved each other one year and they hated each other the next. It was like turning on and off a faucett. My mother was no spring chicken and she was no beauty queen. Paula, my mothers sister was the mother of a true beauty queen in my cousin. Paula liked nice things and beautiful clothing and makeup. I think my mother was jealous. And I think my father had something going on with the sister, she knew his secret and she kept him in check. I think my father wanted a piece of my mother's sister, and she wasn't giving it up. My father was a screw around kind of man. It ended that my mother and her sister do not talk any longer.

I do know that the children suffered the curse of the fueding parents and adults. Even though my mother was always fighting with her sister, I kept and I still do keep lines of communications open between as many people as I can. I did alot of things behind my mothers back. Because I could and i wanted to. I thought she was petualnt and stupid at times. And she was unreasonable like my father and as I grew up it started to manifst itself, into the woman she is today... OLD, Bitter, Judgemental and alone.

Paula gave me a sense of the good things. I mean nobody was rock bottom poor, everyone lived within their means, Paula just got lucky in the man she married to get her where she was then. Now she is divorced and remarried to a very wealthy man, and they have several houses in Florida. Paula was smart she married UP! She didn't take shit from anyone, i guess I get that from her.

So you see, the feminine thread in my life is pretty obvious and very strong. My mother does not play very high in the memory department. We had a 3 bedroom house with a outside deck, converted basement a huge yard with a swing set and i remember an aluminu christmas tree one christmas. I remember Winters and walking to school in the snow. Back then kids walked to school if they were not far, pedophiles and rapists and kidnappers were not something we thought about back in those days.

Some of the memories I have of home are of music, and sights, i knew alot of kids in the neighborhood. Jimmy and Steven Panckiewitz, (sp) they were a polish family, they lived across the street. I never knew what happened to them, but we lived at 69 Kennedy drive, in New Britian Connecticut. I have often wondered of this medium of internet communication might reunite me with people who might come across one entry or another.

So that's my entry for now.

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