Shocked In The Bronx (70 Years Ago)

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I know in the previous post I was on about youth. Recalling memories is one thing. In comparison, pondering possibly on yourself as “older” is a different ball game.

I’m realizing I’ve embarked on the latter in writing Conventions. I have taken to working on producing something that requires me to imagine myself in old age. That has had me thinking a lot also about older – and now often deceased – family.

My mother died back on October 26. And my uncle (her brother) died exactly two weeks before that, on October 12. If you have read Passports, you’ve read about their uncle (therefore my great-uncle), “Gino”:

Excerpt from "Passports," on the iPad app for Kindle. Click to expand.
Excerpt from “Passports,” on the iPad app for Kindle. Click to expand.

He died in 1980. But I do remember him fairly well. (“Gino” wasn’t his real name.) That scene – which happened years after he’d died – in Passports took place in real-life much as I describe it in the novel.

“Gino” was a “juvenile delinquent” in his mid-teens. By 17, he’d been told in the strongest of terms by New York City law enforcement that he had better get his act together or he’d end up in prison. His family could see no better alternative, and consented to his joining the army.

That was in 1937. He was promoted when the draft began in 1940, and during the Second World War served in the Pacific. Postwar, he remained a sergeant in the reserves until the 1960s.

My great-uncle, photographed somewhere in the Pacific, between 1939-1942. [Family photograph.]
My great-uncle, photographed somewhere in the Pacific, between 1939-1942. [Family photograph.]

He returned home to New York after the Japanese surrender. I’ve heard that in a scene resembling the famous Norman Rockwell Saturday Evening Post “Homecoming G.I.” cover, he showed up at his parents’ Bronx home with no warning. There was no email or cell phones in those days, of course.

The Pacific war had been such in early 1945 that he had been in no contact with his family for over a year. I don’t know the details of why that lack of communication. Whatever the reason, the family had by now assumed he was dead and were awaiting the final word.

He was the only brother (and youngest child) alongside half a dozen older sisters, several of whom (my grandmother included) were now married, but a couple of the sisters still lived at home. When one answered the door, both she and my great-grandmother (and my great-grandmother pretty much spoke only Italian) apparently nearly collapsed in shock. It was as if, I remember hearing as a kid, he had returned from the dead.

Sometimes, who needs fiction?

Have a good Tuesday, wherever you are in the world. 🙂

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