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  • In my family, Zia Angelina KNOWS everything. And she TELLS everything to everyone. Correction: She tells everything to everyone in the family. It's not gossip if you keep it in the family, right? And it's still a secret if only the family knows about it. For Zia, nothing is sacred or personal. You see her watching you through the curtains in her sewing room where she has positioned her machine so it faces your house across the street.

    Uncle Salvatore is the head of the family, but only on paper. He is like the Queen of England. He never goes out unescorted, he never makes any real decisions, and he never has any money of his own. You thought this normal since he has had a hip replacement, first one on record at the Mass General and he uses a cane and he can''t work as a laborer anymore so he watches TV all day and sits in the backyard watching the tomatoes turn red. You think this is normal for an old guy in his fifties anyway.

    Mama is tolerated when you arrive in Boston because she is family and is married to a really great guy and has two adorable children, who can sing in Spanish and Italian and tap dance, which amuses the adults. You come from Europe by way of South America so you have a romantic history even though you don't really know it. You have to endure pity because your father died so young and left his poor wife pregnant and with two little girls. And you shrink when everyone tells her she is lucky to have such fine girls to help her because you know she does not believe that because she shakes her head at you.

    You have to figure things out since you're too young to be trusted with any real truths. Like in the early days when Charlie and Peggy fought, it was because he was out late. But you figure out that he wasn't just out late, he was out late drinking. You notice one day that Charlie has a glass of ginger ale in his hand rather than the beer he used to always have. You eventually figure out his meetings are AA meetings and then you understand all the crap that has gone down in that branch of the cousins.

    You know when Uncle Salvatore and Zia Angelina are butting heads because when he asks her for something, like a sandwich or a drink, she takes her sweet time getting it. When he asks you to go and refill his highball glass for him, you run it past Zia. Usually, he gets just one a day, but you can't blame him for trying for a second one sometimes. You know you can't get away with just walking into the pantry where she keeps the bottle of booze and making him a drink like he wants; the whiskey is closely guarded. Although the beer truck comes down the driveway and delivers cases of beer each month and take away the empties,, liquor is different. It is portioned out. You take the little tiny glass and fill it to the line Zia has drawn on with a china marker... in red. You put that liquid into his highball glass, and then you fill it to the top with ginger ale. "Don't fill it up all the way, Carina," he shouts from his chair in the living room, but you know that Zia Angelina will take the drink from you and fill it if she sees you so you just fill it to avoid getting that look she's going to give you. Anyway, you bring the drink back, and he looks at you crooked with hefty disappointment but would still say, "Grazie" before downing it in one long swallow.

    Poor Salvi, you hear Mama say, but you think he's got the Life of Riley since the stroke. He sits in his chair in the living room watching cartoons and soaps, drawing with pencils on his TV tray, sitting in the garden in the sun. You would sit in the garden in the hammock, reading, but nobody is asking you what you want to do. You just do what you are told. And quick if you don't want to get a good slap. You'd change places with him in a heartbeat.
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