By: Jerry Vilhotti
My father and I left on a Thursday to go see my older brother Leny One N who was doing time at Attica for taking things from trucks. By Sunday I was wondering who I was. Who I really was. Was this old gentle man nearing his eighties, who was called Valintino when a young man, my father or was, as whispers of the past that were always just out of reach of my full understanding, that person who had had a movie chronicle part of his life that had him become a middleweight champion after he went to reform school in New York State and who had gone out with my sixteen year old sister Tina of the Troy - considered the knockout of The Bronx - before I was born for a whole six months? When I asked the old sad man why was it that I was the only one among my older siblings born in an apartment, he said: "Johnny when I was fourteen years old, I killed a sixteen foot snake with my long knife in a rain forest the likes you have never seen.... Like I said: my father and I left on a Thursday and by Sunday I felt like an old born baby; especially after hearing more:
"Johnny don't you know the story of the count that was your mother's great grandfather. He introduced his sister-cousin Maria Fabrazzi to his friend the Duke of Austria Leo Rudolph and had to flee just after the two lovers committed suicide since the king wanted all her relatives killed and it was said Romolo Remus De Cielo was a rouge Count who had joined the forces against the monarchies that ruled most of the European countries which came to a head in 1848 when uprisings occurred in most of the countries of the time and so incensed were the nobility over his actions which almost made nations built on the pseudo assumption that a god had bestowed upon kings the right to rule unfettered and gave the ruling class the right to be the first ones to enter a bride on her wedding night and this lustful practice would led to the creations of Camora and The Mafia to protect the dying of hunger from the big eaters to eventually become governments that recognized that the "Mortafama" were also humans. The nobility - threatened as they would during for real revolutions - hired assassins to do away with Count De Cielo; this person with such liberal eyes and indeed they almost did succeed but he avoided death by sword fighting off his three attackers and escaped to the country where the assassins feared going into since the area was occupied by peasants who wanted a better life for themselves and their children. Lying beside the roadside severely wounded he was noticed by a band of gypsies who took him along with them and restored him to his former self. After a year of traveling south going into the province of Benevento which had been renamed by the Romans from Malevento to render impotent their many witches and evil eyes that flourished among their inhabitants throwing stones at them fearing and distrusting all strangers and just before reaching the town of stairs, so high it stood among the clouds home to a monastery to be closer to God, he proposed to the beautiful green eyed Esmarlda the king of the Gypsy's daughter and when she accepted they were married and as a wedding gift De Cielo was allowed to have whoever wished to go with them to become his band of which he would be their king but after a few years he freed the band to go their own way as he was going to stay in the town of stairs to become a father and a grandfather to children named Micalino who begot Amadeo, Nicalangelo, Pauolina, Delorada who in turn begot the likes of Flap, Lillia, Curly, Little Micalino, Leny One N, Tommy Tom Tom, Alice in Wonderland, Tina of the Troy and Johnny of the Dreams."
"You know Johnny when I was on my travels as a young man and my ship stopped at Marseilles - you know what the French and Italian fascist would do to suspected communists? The cowards would force them to drink bottles of castor oil and when they came to me asking me what I was - I told them humbly I was for all human kind and not for chickens running about with their heads cut off and Johnny believe it or not they left me alone!"
Probably because, Johnny thought, he would have taken a dozen of them down into the Mediterranean sea with him so strong a man his father was. The chicken word made Johnny recall how once he went to visit his uncle's chicken market on a street that once had been part of the Little Dublin section of Burywater not far from Tavern Cough Hill where they moved to after living on the peel-side of town and saw a chicken without a head walking about the chicken market Buffo owned while several customers were laughing at the sight. Johnny never again went back to his uncle's place of business just as a five year old he never went back to Webster Avenue in The East Bronx where he had seen the big burly man with the big red nose bumping together two crying children his age while shouting: "They got to learn how to fook sooner or later!" Then too people laughed but his father's eyes became misty and remained so all along Fordham Road and onto Arthur Avenue where they lived.
"Johnny did I ever tell you of the Otti Clan? I told you about the Count so it's only right I tell this what was told to me by my great grandfather when I was just a little boy learning soccer and able to do bicycle kicks for scores! The Otti clan was the protector of the Virgin Mary Code and they also believed in the separation of church and state to prevent from happening again witch burnings and the inquisition. The Holy Blessed One was in love with a Roman soldier from the province of Malevento and his name was Dolceotti - notice before my father changed our name to Sanque it ended in otti - and he impregnated the sixteen year old Mary and the old man Joseph who she was assigned to marry suspected this too but fearing a Giovanni Dolceotti retaliation Saint Joe made a demand that if Mary would never see the young man again, he would be the father of the child. The Roman officer accepted the terms afraid he would be sent back to the province full of evil eyes and witches and it was he after he became a general who changed the name of the province to Benevento. The whole Otti clan devoted themselves to be the keepers of the secret. Though the clan dispersed over many lands, you know them by the last four letters of their last name!"
"You stood out like the sun, Johnny. You were the best and that's why you became my favorite!
And Johnny wanted to say: And that's why my brothers and sisters resented me so much but he would not hurt this man's feelings for the pain all that had caused him. He could still hear his father playing on his accordion the many tunes he still loved: "Gypsy Violins", "My Buddy" "Till We Meet Again" and "Donkey Serenade" ....
In Johnny's mind many years after his father had passed away, he still galloped to those songs of long ago and far away.