You Can Go Home Again
You Can Go Home Again (if only in your dreams)
They say your life flashes before your eyes at the moment of death. Obviously I cannot offer personal testimony to the accuracy of this adage. But I can report that in the twilight hours of early morning, when sleep escapes and thoughts pour in, memory surges, often triggered by events anticipated.
I awoke at 4:40 AM and thought of Pellicci's Restaurant. Tomorrow we shall dine there. After church. We're going Italian after going Scottish, an observation some of you will understand, but to explain here would divert focus from the point of this essay: to wit, the wondrous thing memory is.
Pellicci's in Stamford CT, my hometown, started as a small pizzeria when I was a child, before, long before, there was a pizza store on every corner of every town across this land; back when "pizza pie" was a well-kept secret within the emerging Italian-American community of Stamford's West Side. I grew up there on the West Side, and went to Hart School with classmates named Joe Bochicchio, Chester Falsetti, Pauline Colucci, Adolph and Rudolph Serrichio, Al Sette, Vito Summa, Anthony Boccuzzi, Theresa DeVito, Nicky LoRusso, Peter Calo, and Teddy Farfaglia, to name some of those who immediately come to mind, the children of Roman ancestry who filled my classrooms, ... in the early hours of the morning... when sleep escapes and thoughts pour in, and memory surges.
Victor Provenzano, the late beloved head usher at Grace Church, Valley Stream, once observed with a twinkle in his eye that he thought Italian surnames, ending as they do in vowels, just had a smoother, lovelier sound than those of other ethnicities. Yes, Victor, and to say them transports me to my hometown and my growing years and walking up West Broad Street and looking through the front window of the salumeria at the hanging mortadellas and provolone loafs, causing this Anglo child to salivate.
No wonder that, when Barbara (I am her husband) went to work and I felt guilty about her having to cook as well as teach, I decided I would learn how to cook. Italian, of course. Risotto is now one of my specialties.
But again I digress.
Memories, how strong they rise. Seeing again inside my head that noon hour in the schoolyard when Joe, showing the early signs of his high school football captain stature took the measure of Chester's bullying behavior. Joe carefully folded his shirt and placed it on the wall before proceeding to smite poor Chester with a couple of well-aimed roundhouses. Adolph and Rudolph, the twins who could hit the softball over the fence into the Rippowam River, were witnesses with me and a lot of others to the comeuppance. No more would Chester regularly chase me down Adams Avenue after hours threatening to kill me. He never caught me. I ran faster than him. Now after Joe's performance my bÍte noire was a has-been.
To mention any one of the names listed above is to invoke similar personal memories of interactions, happy and not so happy, with each one. Without which, these personal recollections embedded in my memory bank, my sermons through the years would have been little more than Latinate (!) platitudes empty of detailed illustration. Thank you, Joe and Chester.
Hell has been described as living forever with your memories, which for the serial killer and Adolf Hitler should be excruciatingly (!) painful, assuming that in the not-so-sweet bye and bye God sees to it that one's sins are no longer self-justified or denied. Hell might be, as Sartre wrote in No Exit, "other people"; but to be stuck with one's memories for an eternity could be even worse.
On the other hand, a brighter consideration, heaven for, say, St. Francis of Assisi or Barbara's father could be a grand recollection, a happy return in memory, to those moments, of which there were many, when one touched another fellow traveler with a kindness from whence life rose better and stronger.
So off to the Fish Church and then Pellicci's, shortbread followed by Fettucine Alfredo.
On another night, perhaps, the reminiscing will be about the Irish minority in the West Side, like Johnny Griffin, Jimmy Kearns, Jimmy Convery, Joe Tooher, and the Briscoe girls. They went to parochial school, but on summer evenings we played kick-the-can on Ivy Street and gathered around the Good Humor truck as daylight faded.
Yeah, this child of an immigrant and her husband had an all-American upbringing... with loads of splendid memories.