Sunday, May 15, 2011



“The legacy is your honor”

The murder of Reina had a profound impact on Gaspare D’Amico. Messeria was his ally and was Reina’s ally. Messeria had ordered the murder of Reina. This was treachery that disgusted Gaspare. He liked and trusted Reina and saw his murder as unjust. Gaspare could do nothing but sit back because a war for ultimate power was being waged. Gaspare did not want to pick a side. He was an old time boss with good instincts. He decided to sit on the sidelines to see where he stood after the smoke had cleared.

Gaspare secretly purchased a hideaway home in Paterson next door to Giuseppe. D’Amico relied on his ability to “feel” bad things and wanted an exit plan. This move could have threatened Giuseppe’s safety with Stefano Badami. If Badami thought Giuseppe had ambitions to be “The Boss” someday, Giuseppe would be killed. D’Amico knew Giuseppe had no ambition or desire to be “Boss”. To offset any doubts Stefano may have had, D’Amico slowly started transferring his power to Badami, setting up Gaspare’s eventual retirement. This move along with Giuseppe’s relationship with Badami’s cousin, Mario, made the bond between Badami and Giuseppe strong.

By 1933 the Castellammarese War had long been settled. Messeria was gunned down in April of 1931 at a restaurant in Coney Island. His rival Salvatore Maranzano was also killed in September of 1931 paving the way for a new structure for the American Mafia based out of New York with a commission run by Charles “Lucky” Luciano. D’Amico’s instinct to stay neutral had paid off. He had maintained power in New Jersey keeping New York as a strong ally. Stefano was running the day to day operations in Newark and Giuseppe prospered as Gaspare’s driver and confidant making his sought after Anisette. Cases of Giuseppe’s Anisette were shipped weekly to New York for the “Bosses” consumption.

Giuseppe would take his son Anton on trips to Newark. Giuseppe would try and pass on his father’s advice and knowledge during their drives. Anton would listen and think what a fine man his Grandfather, Salvatore must have been. He also would think what a wise man his Uncle Gaspare was. Anton loved listening to Gaspare D’Amico. Anton was often seen trying to imitate Gaspare’s mannerisms when he drank from a glass. D’Amico would sip his coffee, nod his approval and look to the sky. Anton would mimic Gaspare down to the stare toward the heavens. The men gathered around Gaspare would point out the boy’s antics. Gaspare would smile and proudly state, “Anton’s a wise boy” and he would reach over and rub the smiling boys head.

During the depression Giuseppe actually prospered. In 1936 his friends had turned to prostitution and gambling as major sources of income. They were also robbing warehouses for the merchandise to be sold on the black market. Giuseppe tried to stay away from the activities that put his family at risk. He was not the same angry young man that emerged from the war with Mario. He now had a son, a wife who stood by his decisions and his loving mother. Giuseppe also knew that staying close to Gaspare and the lucrative business of crime sheltered his family from the horrid soup lines and cold nights without heat.

Giuseppe followed his father everywhere when he was young. Giuseppe was very proud that his son, Anton wanted to follow him and listen to his stories. Unlike Giuseppe who was nick named “The Shadow” by the farm hands because he went everywhere his father did. Anton was known as “The Ghost”. When Giuseppe drove to the bakery to meet with his boss, Gaspare, Anton was searching out the soldiers who would entertain themselves playing Bache Ball in the basement on the dirt floor. In one corner a card game (ziganet) might be playing, in another the young gangsters would be sitting around telling war stories from a recent heist. Anton loved watching the guys laugh and enjoy themselves. Soon he was getting their wine, coffee, and sandwiches. Giuseppe was far too involved with taking care of Gaspare and counting the money that was coming in to worry about his son running around doing errands for the guys.

Rosa and Sophia never asked questions and stayed away from the newspapers documenting the gangland violence that was being reported for almost 15 years. They knew Gaspare D’Amico from the many visits he made to his house next to their own. He would have Sunday dinner and the conversation was always about how their lives were on the other side in Sicily. He always showed manners and privately would assure Rosa and Sophia that her husband was a protected man and was not involved in nefarious activities. During the day the women would see Gaspare tending to his garden. He bragged how delicious and sweet his tomatoes were and insisted they use his when they would prepare a Sunday gravy. The women always smiled and thanked the older man for his thoughtfulness. His visits were infrequent for the past years. He’d come by to visit relatives he moved into the house from Sicily. They were quiet and kept to themselves.

Rosa and Sophia were also very keen to their treatment when they went to the market or for walks in the neighborhood. They were given a great amount of respect and were offered free food from the shop keepers and strangers would wave to them. They never accepted the free food and always returned the strangers wave with a dignified smile. They both knew how “men of honor” and their families were treated and accepted the fact Giuseppe had associations with people America may have seen as unscrupulous. They looked at the treatment of Italians in America as a disgrace and saw Giuseppe as an honorable man earning money making his Anisette and driving the aging Gaspare places. Giuseppe was not harming anyone and was earning for his family.

Rosa and Sophia maintained their jobs. Rosa was able to open a coat and dress shop making custom clothing for women. The Depression gave her little business so she was only at the shop a couple days a week. Sophia always dressed in black worked at The Silk Looms becoming a trusted and valued asset to her company.

On weekends Anton would spend hours with his grandmother and she would tell him of the beautiful country and people Anton was a part of. She spoke of her husband and how proud she was of her son being a man of integrity like his father. The young Anton would ask questions and insist on details. Sophia loved the boy’s interest in their family and obliged him with the Giordano history.

In June of 1936 Sophia felt she needed a rest from work and decided to quit her job. She only worked to stay busy and valued her time at home with her grandchild. Soon after quitting her job, Sophia began to get headaches. She attributed this to not being busy as she had been all of her life. She decided to work with Rosa making clothing. The headaches seemed to go away.

During one of their drives from Paterson to Newark Anton asked his dad, “Papa, are you the Black Hand?” Giuseppe looked sternly at his boy. “Where did you hear such an expression?” Anton sensing the irritability in his father’s voice stammered as he answered. “I listen to the men in the basement Papa.” Giuseppe looked straight at the road ahead of him. “There is no such thing. It is old country talk. They drink too much wine.” Anton knew to stay quiet. What he did not know was his father was working for one of the last “Mustache Petes” from the Black Hand days. Giuseppe was not lying to the boy. The American Mafia was in power and The Black Hand as it was known was no longer in existence. Gaspare managed to survive the transition from the old guard (The Black Hand) to the new organized crime syndicate known as The Mafia.

Giuseppe was not pleased when he pulled up to the bakery. Soldiers and associates were sitting outside enjoying the sun and drinking coffee. As they all went to greet him and Anton, Giuseppe walked by them grabbing his boy’s hand. The men looked around to see who fucked up. Everyone shrugged their shoulders and they went about their antics.

Anton was confused. “Papa, are you mad at me?” Giuseppe looked down at the lad. “No, I want you to stay with me. Those idiots tell stupid stories that you do not need to hear.” Anton pulled his hand from his father. Giuseppe slapped him across the face. “Are you trying to disrespect me?” Anton stared back at his father trying to show no effect from the stinging sensation that was burning through his face. “No, my hand was hurting; you were squeezing it too hard.” Anton met his father’s glare and did not flinch. “Okay, you stay with me.” Anton followed his father into the backroom. Upon seeing Gaspare Anton ran to him. “Uncle Gaspare” he screamed. Gaspare almost jumped. “Hey Anton, give your uncle a hug.”

For the remainder of the day Anton stayed close to Gaspare, ignoring his father. Anton didn’t like the smack and he was letting his father know it. Soon Gaspare told Giuseppe he needed to speak with him alone. “Send the boy out with the guys so we can speak.” Gaspare said. Anton leaped to his feet as he walked out with a smile. His father was not pleased as he listened to his boss’s instructions.

By September of 1936 Sophia’s headaches were constant. Anton did not take the trips to Newark with his father because he wanted to stay and help his grandmother. She tried drinking gin to alleviate her pain. Instead she would become drunk and pass out, only to awaken a few hours later with the same pain.

Soon Sophia was slipping in and out of dementia. Doctors were summoned and it was determined that she was dying of brain cancer. The doctors prescribed heavy doses of pain medication and told the family to try and make her as comfortable as possible. Sophia had lost her appetite and her beauty and her inner glow was dimming as the disease mercilessly devoured her from the inside.

Rosa tried to spare Anton the horror the disease was causing Sophia. He would have none of that and sat hours trying to talk to his beloved grandmother. She was heavily sedated and with the cancer eating away at her brain she was barely coherent. Every so often she would open her eyes and see Anton and smile. He sat hours hoping and praying for those brief moments when he knew she was connecting with him. Rosa would often have to pull Anton away from Sophia’s bedside to feed him. The youngster who had just turned seven knew his grandmother had little time and he wanted to be with her. “You must stay with her Mama. I will eat but you must stay here while I eat.” Anton believed if she was never alone then death could not sneak her away. Rosa would relent and have dinner waiting for Anton and then when he was finished she would let him sit by his grandmother’s side.

Giuseppe was having difficulties watching his mother slowly suffer and die. He reflected on the many turns in his life and how his mother was there to encourage him to stay on course. He was also at a cross road with his life with his boss. Gaspare had given full control of his operations in Newark to Stefano Badami. The reign as “Boss” for Gaspare D’Amico was coming to an end. This gave Giuseppe few options. He could stay on with Stefano and then be more involved in the more unsavory side of the business, or he could follow Gaspare’s lead and retire from the day to day operations. Giuseppe knew in his heart it was his time to get out. He needed Stefano’s blessings and he went to Gaspare with his decision.

Gaspare was in the back room of the bakery (his office) when Giuseppe walked in. Gaspare asked how Sophia was doing and Giuseppe bowed his head. “It’s a terrible thing to watch. I am helpless and I fear while I am away I will not be there to say goodbye.” Gaspare sat up straight and grabbed Giuseppe’s forearm. “My son, why are you here? Go home. Stay with your Mama until it is time for you to return.” Giuseppe then looked at Gaspare and held back his emotions. He wanted to hold the old man that had treated him so well. He wanted to tell him how alone he felt and how he needed guidance. Giuseppe never felt so weak and naked and it scared him. He then said, almost as if he went into autopilot not revealing any stress, “Gaspare, I feel now that you are retiring that maybe I should step back.” Gaspare let go of Giuseppe’s forearm and sat back in his chair. “Step back?” The old man inquired. “Step back into what? We are your family here Giuseppe. Stefano loves you like a brother. You have all of the men’s respect. You cannot just step back.” Gaspare then took a sip of his coffee and continued. “You go back to Paterson and stay with your Mama. Then when you have a clear head we can talk.” Giuseppe nodded. Gaspare then said, “And Giuseppe, don’t speak of this stepping back to anyone, eh? I will forget this foolish conversation because of your grief. Now go home and take care of your family, they are the most important thing right now.” Gaspare then stood up and kissed Giuseppe on the cheek. Giuseppe thanked Gaspare and walked out of the bakery. He had a lot to think about as he drove to Paterson.

Anton kept one eye on his grandmother and the other on the street looking for his father to drive up. When Giuseppe pulled into the driveway Anton resisted the urge to run to him. The boy stuck his head out of the bedroom door, not letting his body leave the room. “Mama, Papa is home, tell him to come upstairs.” Rosa screamed back, “Okay bambino, okay.”

Giuseppe drove his car home almost numb. He thought for sure Gaspare would let him fade out of the picture. Instead he was told in a nice manner to keep quiet and to be a good soldier. This was not sitting well. Giuseppe had hoped to leave Paterson and start a legitimate business with the money he had saved over the years. As Giuseppe pulled into the driveway he could see his son looking down from Sophia’s window then dash out of sight. Giuseppe smiled. He knew Anton was not leaving the room; he was just alerting Rosa that he had arrived. This made him smile. He thought what a good boy he had.

Giuseppe walked up the stairs to greet his son. Anton was excited. “Papa, Papa, Nana spoke with me twice today. I think she may be getting better.” Giuseppe smiled at his boy and walked over to his mother and dropped to a knee as he whispered in her ear. “Soon Mama, soon you will have peace with Papa.” She did not respond. Her eyes seemed to be glazed as her breathing increased. Giuseppe then turned to Anton. Would you like me to stay here with Mama while you eat downstairs? Your Mama is just finishing dinner. Anton walked up to his father who was still knelt over his Nana. Anton touched his father’s shoulder. “Okay Papa, but I’m going to eat fast.” Giuseppe turned and met the boy’s eyes, “That’s fine son. Nana and I will be waiting for you.”

As Anton ran down the stairs Giuseppe put his head in his mother’s lap. He needed her to tell him to be strong and have integrity like his father. Instead he could smell the onslaught of an imminent death. Knowing his mother’s fate was all but sealed Giuseppe still closed his eyes and imagined her words. The silent power she carried with her life’s experience and the pride she exhibited with every breathe she took. The cancer had made Sophia a skeleton, aging her 20 years. Her room had a foul smell and would repulse even a battle tested veteran. None of this was evident as Giuseppe lay in his Mama’s lap. With his eyes closed he was back in Sicily and his mother was teaching him how to cook. As he let his mind drift back he remembered Sophia’s tenacity when her husband never returned from Messina and her grace as she dealt with the reality of what their life was to be without her beloved Salvatore. As he traveled through the memory of his mind, Giuseppe was feeling his mother’s spirit within him. Pride overwhelmed him as he clutched his mother’s bed and held his head firmly to her body. He then looked up, tears were streaming down his face and a sense of relief began to enter his soul. “Oh Mama” Giuseppe whispered. “I feel so selfish wanting to keep you. You have stayed with me to fulfill my destiny and now when it is time for you to be with Papa I want to keep you. Let go Mama, please let go. Papa is waiting for you in heaven.”

Anton walked into his Nana’s bedroom seeing his father weep. “Papa, Papa.” Anton began to cry. “Did Nana die?” Giuseppe looked at his frightened son who was wiping mucus from his nose and starting to sob. “No Anton. She is alive, but very soon she will leave us. I am crying because I am happy for Nana. She will go to her husband, your Poppa in heaven.” Anton walked over to his father and put his hand on his shoulder as they both looked at Sophia lying in her bed. She then looked over at the father and son, coming out of her daze. She smiled, she then said, “My men, my proud men. Always remember, your legacy is your honor.” Sophia then took a deep breath and passed away. Sophia was 55.

No comments:

Post a Comment