So off we all went to the hamlet of Pittsburgh. Saturday morning - pretty easy since my St. Patrick's day did not involve in any way shape, or form getting soused.
We all drove in a caravan, me and my younger brother following my baby brother and his family. To appreciate Pittsburgh (for the uninitiated) I recommend going in the spring, summer or fall not at the dead end of winter unless (like me) you have relatives or an actual plan and things to do for your visit. Pittsburgh is a wonderful city. I love Pittsburgh. The trip was a sort of melancholy one - a mixed bag filled with sadness, familiarity and happiness and that's what life is - so you could say I had a big slice of life's pie. (At one point, when I got to my Irish granmother's house I told my sister-in-law I felt like I was in the commercial where you hear Robert DiNero talking about NYC and how it's his heartache and his greatest love...like I said 'bittersweet')
To capture the essence of this city you really have to (should) visit, but these pictures speak for themselves:This is where the 3 rivers meet:Twilight time in downtown:The night skyline:
First off (per the insistence of my sister in law) we went to Ikea
; (insert an 'Oh my God!' here. It was amazing and you really HAVE to go check one out),we were only there for an hour but I could see where I could spend easily hours perusing this store - in fact I told them I was going to begin to have seizures if they did not get me out of there because it was simply too overwhelming.
Well then we were off to my aunt 'Jada's' house. We were of course late (and this made me feel really bad but it could not be helped). The traffic in Pittsburgh is often horrendous and leaving a place like where Ikea is situated on a Saturday when they are the only store like this for miles away did not help. Further it's easy to get lost/confused while driving in Pittsburgh - and the route we had to take was frustratingly difficult. But we made it there for a late lunch and sat and talked. It was good seeing my mother's sister (she is also my godmother) - her house was just as I remembered it and she herself (although 85 yrs old, blind and crippled) was still spry and amazingly sharp. At one point when we were leaving she said 'I am not the same old Aunt Jada' I answered, 'You will ALWAYS be the same old Aunt Jada!' and she will. This was probably the hardest of the visits we were to make to the city of my birth. It was difficult seeing her struggle - it was even more difficult not getting to eat her amazing Italian cooking (she and my mother were both amazing cooks and I am lucky to be 1/2 that good myself) but being in her presence and seeing my eldest female cousin was really wonderful - just sad as well Â so many of my relatives are gone now or informed or just simply don't talk to each other and that's hard to witness.
Next was my Uncle Frank's we also got lost going there - all of us (my siblings and myself) lived in Pittsburgh however, none of us ever drove there - I know my way around MY old neighborhood and can find my way to my Aunt's blindfolded but not to any other family member and my brother being even younger than me I think had an even harder time...
We went to my uncle's for dinner he is a heart transplant recipient and seems to be in amazing health. His wife, not so much. My youngest cousin (Chrissy) was there and it was wonderful seeing her - she is a famous author. Their entire family is basically a the success story of that side of the family - rather obviously I might add due to the fact that my uncle was - well let's just say it's like walking into a scene from the 'Sopranos
' without the overt violence but you know it's an underlying theme (that type of background - let's just say my uncle did work a 'normal' job but he also had 'connections' and let's just say that sometimes those other ways of making money weren't so legal. My aunt always had a new fur coat, they lived in the finest neighborhoods with all the accoutrements, color TVs, jewelry, velvet paintings, French dÃ©cor, always over the top. I remember for my first holy communion him showing up and pressing a $100 bill into my palm and my mom went ballistic - and ripped it up and told him to never bring 'that' money into her house again - I remember not being phased by her outburst and instead went on to admire my new green and blue neon-jewel-like watch). So basically his children had the best of everything (while we were perhaps a couple steps above 'dirt poor') and because of that my cousins in that family are doing very well themselves, very successful. The oldest boy (3 months older than me) is a head chef for a restaurant in NYC. His younger brother, my sister's age, is an investment banker who has a wine cellar with wines totaling in the thousands - I was told by my uncle he just recently sold off $25K in wines so he could put in a swimming pool (yeah, conspicuous consumption, how nice that must be, am I jealous? NOPE not a bit (seriously, it does not matter to me at all. As I said his baby girl Chrissy is married to a surgeon and is a well-known author in her own right, Chrissy is the most down to earth of the bunch. My aunt Angie (uncle Frank;s wife) put on quite a spread, it was amazing. I like her cooking to that of my mother's and my Aunt Jada. I mean there was salad, bread, pasta (baked rigatoni with ricotta cheese and pepperoni), chicken cutlets, meatballs, and a vegetable 'bake' with zucchini with lots and lots of cheese. There was wine (lots of wine!), coffee and dessert (2 different pies). It was way too much food and of course if you refuse anything you end up insulting them. Mange, mange!
The visit was typical of such visits but different in many ways. In the sense that we are not children anymore and there's nothing to be intimidated by; as these people get older they hang onto us with vigor, with a love they seem to have misplaced, misty-eyed and reminiscing about the past, always painting it more rosy than it ever was; we were treated well, like visiting dignitaries, and with a sort of respect I was unaccustomed to - every now and then my uncle would do the 'Tony Sprorano' bit but then he'd stop and go back to being the perfect host. My uncle was always charming and my mother's brothers were all drop-dead gorgeous - I mean *really* absolutely gorgeous men - my mother too had 'movie star' looks and the highlight of the evening was going into my uncle's 'study/office' where he surrounds himself with pictures of his family including his long-passed-on brothers and my mother. My uncle, tears welling in his eyes told me my mother looked like Merle Oberon (and yes I was too young to remember who that actress was - but my mother's beauty was unsurpassed, unfortunately, I didn't get much of it to say the least). It was amazing looking at these pictures and I found myself transported to a different time and place, where life was tough but in my estimation more *real* than it seems to be today and family was everything, simpler ways of living were the norm and we all had time for each other Â and yet times seemed more sophisticated (that could have stemmed from me being a child) but people had better manners and more common sense. The evening ended with happy thoughts and promises to 'do this again soon'; we went to our respective hotels where I got to share a room with my snoring brother - so my sleep was sporadic and fitful.
Got up early the next morning, took a shower and headed to the 'Southside' to see the Irish side of the family. This was a much more relaxed visit and more fun. We were early this time and my cousin answered the door in her pjs complaining that we were too early but they were all thrilled to see us. This was my grandmother's house and so many memories came flooding back (including those of being molested there on her front porch). All but one of my cousins from that family showed and they in turn brought some of their children and grandchildren. The house was filled with laughter, children, food and love - it was wonderful and the best birthday gift I could have asked for. I felt closer to my girl cousins on that side than I ever have (and we were never particularly close) but age and distance does something to people and I think we all realized that this is important and staying in touch is important and family is a great thing. I am going to try to get there more often.
Coming home was anti-climatic and now dealing with the drama with my son (another huge blow out last night) does not help my mood or my feelings all that much. I just want some peace in my life. I want to have a refuge from the crap I deal with daily and not have to deal with his 'artistic' temperament. He said another round of things that really hurt me last night and I don't even know where to begin...I guess the sad thing is that I feel he truly believes the things he says and that hurts the most. When I see my cousins rallying around their mums part of me wonders, is it love or obligation? For Aunt Jada I am somewhat convinced it's obligatory - for the rest of them (on the Irish side and even my uncle Frank's kids), it's love, but then that family always seemed to be very tight knit while the Italian side was always fighting and I guess I'd rather emulate the Irish side (LOL with the food of the Italian side). All in all heading closer to the grave (as it were) makes me think a lot; I am hoping and praying that my son and I will survive this rift/shift in our relationship and if we don't well then I guess that's not going to be anything strange if most family dynamics are any indication.