If you ever lived in an old house built in the early 20th century, chances are that at one time or another, it had a dead body in it. Not the kind of body you see on a television crime show, but a relative who had died at home. Back in the day, funerals were held at home in the living room. And funeral homes, as a business, only came into widespread commercial use in the 30s and 40s — too late for the recently deceased Beppo, his widow Bina, and the Black Widows.
News of Beppo’s passing spread rapidly thanks to Carmelle. Upon hearing the news, Carmelle and the Widows rapidly sprang into action cooking, preparing a wreath for the door and providing moral support to Bina. Lately it seemed that there were more and more wakes as the grandmas and grandpas were getting older.
Once all of the preparations were in place, they made the pilgrimage to Bina’s house to pray the Rosary. It’s normal to expect a certain amount of tears, prayers and wailing – it’s part of the culture. What wasn’t normal were the shrieks that could be heard as the six Black Widows burst through the front door screaming and crossing themselves.
I was pitching pennies with my brothers against the side of our house when we saw this mad, mass exodus of the Widows and all of the mourners. Our eyes grew wide in a combination of wonder and fright. You would have thought poor Beppo had risen from the dead – which in an Italian, Catholic and superstitious neighborhood such as ours — was quite possible.
Just then Zi’ Michele (uncle Mike) stepped outside and onto the top step of Bina’s house.
“What happened?” “What happened?” we pressed him.
“You know Beppo he could never sit still. Right in the middle of a Hail Mary, he sat straight up,” Zi’ Michele said.
“He rose from the dead?” Tony asked.
“No, cidrule (cucumber/stupid)!” Carmen said with the authority of an older brother.”He was never dead to begin with.”
“Oh no, he’d dead all right,” said Zi’ Michele who was an expert on everything.
Zi’ Michele paused and took a long drag on his Camel cigarette. “His last meal was pasta fazool (pasta fagioli) and apparently he had a little gas.”