Albert and Josephine

Al Billings

Posted below is a wedding photograph of my adoptive aunt and uncle, Albert and Josephine Mariorenzi. Their formal wedding attire must have set them back quite a pile of cash, even if they did rent some of it. Josephine appears to be sullen and mistrustful, as though someone had already secretly filled her in on the disappointments of the matrimonial contract. Albert, on the other hand, seems to be containing the urge to laugh, but he was always the joker in the family. Many years ago, I once asked him if he attended church on Sundays. He burst out laughing and said that he’d go every day if they served beer.

There were six Mariorenzi children. You can see them in the second photo. Angie, Fanny, Mary, Lucy, Josephine, my mother, Albert seated in the middle, and my grandparents on either side of him. There were also a few still-born infants. My grandmother claimed that cats got too close to the infants’ mouths and sucked the breath out of their lungs. But then, she treated cuts and scars by wiping spider webs over them, so who knows what sort of home-brew Voodoo she believed in.

Listen to Martin Scorsese, and you’ll hear the voice of Calabria, near the well-stubbed toe of Italy, whose natives typically deploy a rapid-fire machine gun stream of words when speaking. And, if you can find a copy of the Scorcese Family Cookbook and prepare its recipes, you’ll be eating exactly the sort of food that my grandmother served on a daily basis.

Albert joined the navy during World War two, and saw action in the Pacific. He never discussed his nautical adventures. Like many of the men from that era, he sucked it up and kept on marching. Looking at the family photo, it’s clear to me that they’re proud of him, and probably delighted that he’s come home more-or-less intact.

We lived a Catholic life. All the marriages in our family were set in matrimonial stone. And although I did have a much older cousin who was gunned down by a Mafioso who failed to appreciate cousin Mike’s sexual proclivities, monogamy ruled our family.

emigrants

We moved to San Bernardino, California in 1955. A few weeks after we arrived, my father received a late-night, long-distance phone call from Uncle Albert. In order to make this call in 1955, operators had to patch through a series of local connections, with much buzzing and sputtering issuing from the receiver. It was a Very Big Deal, and the sound quality was usually terrible, causing the speaker to sound as though it was trapped in the hull of a submarine at the bottom of the ocean. Usually, it meant that someone had died.

Incredibly, Uncle Albert’s wife Josephine had run off to California with a man, and they were living, of all places, in San Bernardino. My parents were stunned. More calls were made, and my father somehow got the street address of the man who Josephine was now living with. So, my father loaded us into his DeSoto and shot off to the south end of the city, where Josephine and her new boyfriend where apparently holed up in a house. But after lapping numerous streets, my parents were unable to locate Josephine.

The following morning, Uncle Albert made yet another long-distance call to my father. Apparently, the man who Josephine had run off with had died in the middle of the night. Oh, man! To me, this was better than watching Dragnet on the TV!

Somehow, Josephine acquired an airplane ticket back to Providence, and the dead boyfriend’s corpse went along for the ride. It must have been a miserable trip. In those days, you’d be lucky to have a rumbling, smoking DC-6 to ride in, and most of the airports looked like glorified bus stations. And there was Albert, waiting for her to walk down the stairway. He took her back, and I suppose they picked up where they’d left off before.

My cousin Charlotte relived the adventure for me a few years ago, and she delighted in pointing out that while Albert was a Mariorenzi, Josephine was a De Cristofaro, and just the thought of it caused her to break out cackling with delight. I remembered being on Phenix Avenue in 1966, and spending the summer at my Aunt Lucy’s house, and watching in horror as various De Cristofaro women and their off-spring, who always seemed to be hanging out at my Aunt Lucy’s house, resolved their differences by punching each other into submission, and then laughing about it an hour later. And it was only then that Charlotte explained that a female relative of mine whose place of residence always seemed indistinct to me was in fact the offspring of two of my first cousins.

emigrants

My wife, who always suspects the worst, believes that the man who died in San Bernardino might have had some help in expiring from certain Sicilian gentlemen, perhaps contracted by Uncle Albert. My Uncle Larry once told me that, during the depression, when money was short, my father was able to borrow large sums from a local Mafioso that he used to construct houses during the summer, and then paid off his loan in the fall. And San Bernardino certainly had its share of Mafiosos. Albert and Josephine died long ago, and there’s no one left to corroborate anything, and it’s probably just as well.

August 8, 2011 5:52 pm

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