09 February 2007

photobooth friday

my grandpa corrona used to take me to the VFW lounge with him. I must have been about 7 or 8 and let me tell you-- the smoky, amber basement of the VFW was nothing less than fantastic and otherworldly. something about the crack of the pool sticks and the one dim, lonely television in the corner announcing baseball scores to no one in particular. all so terribly exotic and unknown to the seven year-old me. and the sour smell of the place was something I could never quite seem to identify. it sounds depressing, I know-- but it wasn't. not to me, not at the time. more than anything, I was just thrilled to have been chosen to go. my small hand disappeared into his large brown-skinned one as we took the stairs down into this other world. I remember being helped up onto a barstool at which point I was served ginger ale. or 7-up. I loved the squatty glass the bartender set in front of me, the skinny brittle straw and the tinkle-tinkle of the ice cubes. I loved the way the barstool spun me around and around. I pretended not to listen while my grandpa talked with the bartender, which was easy to do because there was just so much to see. I knew I wasn't supposed to be there. it felt like a forbidden place and kids always know-- they instinctively know about forbidden places. for this very reason, I paid close attention to all that was around me.

it was on one of those trips to the VFW that my grandpa played a little trick on me. he gave me beer instead of ginger ale and I gagged at the taste of it. he smiled that rare, wide and generous smile and I remember how special it made me feel. I was in on the joke and everybody laughed and I felt cute and important. I don't remember him playing a lot of jokes like that. not that he wasn't funny or didn't smile, I just seem to remember him more for his reticent nature, his stubborness and short temper. I was sort of afraid of him too, I think everyone was. I've heard stories about the temper (a trait that runs in the family though I wouldn't know ONE THING about that).

I stayed with my grandparents a couple weeks each summer and one afternoon when I was bored, I stuck a bead up my nose. in my defense, that bead looked just like a genuine ruby-- red and sparkly and absolutely impossible to resist. I'd found it while digging all through grandma's big candy tin of buttons and was instantly convinced it was the most beautiful thing like, ever. I had a fabulous two-piece pajama set that looked exactly like something a genie girl or belly dancer would wear and believe you me, that bead begged to join the costume party. I didn't know it would get stuck, how could I have ever predicted that? I was a hot frantic mess trying to dig that thing out, scared to death of what grandpa might do once he discovered I'd been putting beads up my nose all the live long day. the harder I tried to dig it out, the further up it went. and then my nose started to bleed and MOTHER OF MARY, the blood and the ruby, the ruby and the blood. who could tell the beginning or the end of one or the other? that's when I broke down and told them. he was just as mad as I thought he'd be and I did my best to hold back tears. in the end, it was nothing a trip to the emergency room and a good, strong vacuum couldn't fix-- sucked that ruby-colored bead right out of my left nostril in no time. they gave me a piece of spearmint gum afterwards too, I remember that. I had survived the legendary wrath of grandpa and felt stronger for it. plus, I'd gotten a fresh stick of gum out of it. juicy fruit would've been my preference, but still. I never wanted to be on the receiving end of his anger again.

even in the most prosaic of moments, he was something to look at. velvet burning eyes and hair the color of the blackest night. his hair never changed color either, even in later years and we pitied anyone who dared tease him about it. heaven help the fool who insinuated that a shade of hair like that could only come from a drug store bottle. I do believe this caused steam to come from his ears (and I'm being kind, if not a tad dramatic). again, even when he was sitting in his favorite chair with his feet up (watching benny hill or gunsmoke or hawaii five-o), he was something to see. he smoked a pipe (like all grandpas should) so he always smelled sweet like tobacco. and always just a little bit like home-fried fish. several years ago, when ward and I were in italy, we visited a tiny, colorful island near venice called burano. there was a neighborhood fish fry happening the afternoon we arrived and I wanted to cry big salty tears over the thick scent of it. in that moment, I was transported back to my childhood and my grandparents' home in southern illinois-- back to the living room with the dark pine-knotted walls and I could see him sitting there, legs crossed, pipe in hand. I wanted desperately to tell him all about italy-- he was so proud of who he was, where he came from. funny, I grew up thinking we were italian, only to find out later that we were, in fact, sicilian (which is a very, very different thing according to family). all the same, there I was-- halfway across the world, wandering the streets of this sleepy italian island and he was everywhere I looked. but most especially in the scent of the fried fish that wafted past hanging laundry and all through the narrow alleyways that afternoon. he was right there, he was all around me.

so many photobooth friday stories this week, my friends:

scrumdillydilly (last week)
scrumdillydilly (this week)
the whole self
nessie noodle
woof nanny (last week)
woof nanny (this week)
acumamakiki (last week)
acumamakiki (this week)
matt (last week)
matt (this week)
bobby choice

(and please do not forget the photobooth friday flickr group, lovely peoples)


  1. I loved every word here Andrea. And growing up I always thought we were Italian but really, it's Sicilian blood, 50% which makes 150% according to my husband. And in a beautiful mix of genetics, our girl, who is only 25% Sicilian has my dad's beautiful olive coloring and dark chocolate eyes.

    Thank you for sharing about Grandpa Corrona and here's to you and I someday, getting to Sicily (big dream for me) to find our roots!

  2. this is an achingly beautiful story. if your grandfather were irish, he would have been my father. temper, trips to the forbidden pub, hair that refused to grey, and all.

    thank you.

  3. This is a really fabulous one. And what a looker!

  4. i think your grandpa would have liked mine....

    thank you for telling us about him.... it's magic the way you weave a tale!

  5. I am also Sicilian...one whole quarter! My Nana's father came here years and years ago and my mother remembers him waking up in the middle of the night, afraid of the "Black Hand."[mafia] Guess he had a good reason to come to America. There also was a knock at the door one day. Turned out to be his son, from his OTHER family in Sicily.My Nana also used to tell the story of her grandfather being a soldier on horseback in Sicily... he said they would throw hot olive oil as a weapon.Yikes!

    My bar stool days were had with my dad at Welker's...his corner bar. I loved the syrupy cokes and the cocktail stirrers that doubled as skinny straws. And what was it about bar room ice that was so good? Chewy almost.It was there that I would show off for my dad by rattling off the names of the NY Giants. Thanks for bringing me back to those days with your great post.

  6. gramps was a hottie!
    excellent writing!

  7. Oh, the VFW scene...that is such good stuff, and beautifully written. Rock on.

  8. i love the smell of my grampa's pipes....mine smoked cherry tobacco and i still stop in my tracks when i smell it....and close my eyes and see him right there ....i'll even find a real good excuse to go to the tobacco store and just smell....(they do sell the newspaper there too)

    [remember the smell-y machine from "Harold and Maude?"(what was the name? the olfactory machine?) I think of that every time i smell a good rememberin' smell and wish i had one....]

    my my my, you are an AMAZING writer, you can put such life into those words, you have been blessed with this talent, don't waste it....when you get famous and published, don't forget us little folks honey
    ...and how the heck do you have time to write such wonderful things when you have your lovely family to tend to?!?!? Are you sneaking around in a time-stands-still-when-Andrea is-in-it contraption? And where can i get one? (whine)

    hows things going?
    details please
    talk soon

  9. thank you for sharing these memories. they made me think of my own grandfather.

  10. such a handsome fellow. and a great character by the sounds of it. what a great story you tell. even down to preferring juicy fruit, but not saying anything. nice one.

  11. what beautiful words you've written. the photo is so wonderful.
    makes me want to find out more about my grandpa.

  12. You have such a gift with words. Thank you for sharing with us!

  13. loving this post. such a great photo, words so lovingly and beautifully woven and dear memories shared with such clarity and care. thanks for posting this one. (i delurked-- lookie me! tee hee)

  14. Your way of telling stories cracks me up. Like that remark about the gum and how you wish it was juicy fruit - FUNNY.