("A rose by any other name would smell as sweet")
My Moms, Linda Rockino, and my Pops, Nick Rossi. were married in 1955. Here's a little video of Nick explaining how he met Linda.
The future was bright for both of them. Linda was barely 21, and Nick was settling in to his responsibilities of overseeing the family business, a successful pasta manufacturing concern that distributed product throughout the Northeast and the Ohio Valley.
They didn't waste anytime screwing around starting a family. Or maybe they wasted all their time screwing around starting a family, depending on your perspective.
As Linda tells the tale, she had one menstrual cycle after getting hitched and got pregnant with my brother Alfie, and after he popped out she had one more menstrual cycle and then got pregnant with my sister Becky.
That was love, Italian Style, circa 1955-1957!
Nick and Linda wanted to follow the same procreation schedule and continue their "one-and-done" baby timetable, but I took a bit longer to conceive. I didn't become a bun in the oven until three years later. Even before I existed, I was already the problem child.
As my mother was carrying Alfie to term and was going through the "early-stages-of- pregnancy-naming-process-of-the-day-and-age" of "If it's a boy,? If it's a girl,?", little did she know that if it was a boy his name had already been pre-determined about two hundred years and fifty years ago.
Evidently in the Rossi branches of the family tree, every first born male child was named either Alfredo Nicola Rossi or Nicola Alfredo Rossi. The names alternated through each generation, and had been doing so since time immemorial. Since my Pops was Nicola Alfredo, my future older brother pulled Alfredo Nicola.
Although my mother may have internally bristled a bit at having no say in the naming of her first child, she knew better than to lock horns with her father-in-law Alfredo. He was the patriarch, the ruler of the entire roost, and the ultimate source of her personal ticket out of Palookaville by marriage. Immediately fighting hundreds of years of family tradition wasn't really a strategic option for her.
When she was pregnant with my sister Becky, no one seemed to have an opinion on what name should be chosen. She was constantly surrounded by little old spooky mustachioed Italian ladies dressed in constant black mourning attire, and when my Mom finally gathered up the courage to ask her mother-in-law why nobody had an opinion about what to name her gestating fetus, my Grandmother Pasqualina looked up at her while she was peeling garlic and perfunctorily said, "Eh...its a girl."...and then went back to her garlic peeling.
The Rossi matriarchs always knew the gender of a fetus, through observation of how the fetus was being carried, and some form of witchy dark arts Italian Catholic voodoo. Clearly, my mother was never going to be allowed into that club, or have the opportunity to learn those dark arts. She married into the clan, but she wasn't blood.
My parents were second generation Italian Americans starting a third. In America, it was very important to Americanize, and assimilate as quickly as possible into American "mayonnaise faced" culture. Italian was only spoken by the first generation, per example. So when my sister was born, my Mom named her "Rebecca Lynn". Nobody even batted an eye at the White Anglo-Saxon Protestant lilt of the moniker.
Perhaps because of the de-escalation of the superstitious Italian voodoo shit surrounding the birth of my sister, this gave my Moms a false sense of security when it came around to naming me. She hit a home run her first time at bat by having a masculine child, gave a drama free birth to a lovely little girl approaching the age of three, and both were popped out with due diligence. She had now been around for a few years. She had paid her Rossi Family dues to a significant degree at least in her mind and had at least earned the right to name her own children.
So much to her surprise, one day early on in her pregnancy with yours truly, my future Grandfather Rossi saddled up to her at the traditional Sunday family dinner, rubbed her belly lovingly, and asked, "Howza-Giorch-yo?"
"a-Giorch-yo!" My grandfather declared happily, still rubbing but now wildly gesticulating with his hands around my mother's barely bump of a belly, as Italians are wont to due when words fail. My grandfather would have been a PHD Magna Cum Laude graduate from the Vanna White School of Hand Modeling, had one actually existed in 1959.
Evidently, the witchy Italian ladies of the kitchen and Catholic Voodoo arts had broken the news to the King that mother was carrying another man-child.
"Oh Poppy... It might be a girl in here you know"
"No, eetzaleetle boy. A-Giorch-yo... a-Giorch-yo Ju-seppuh-Rossi!"
He was beaming.
"Well, Poppy, Nick and I have discussed this... if its a boy, we've already decided on a name."
"No, No, No. Dis eetza-Giorch-yo!", he declared, slightly more forcefully, but still with a frozen grin pasted on his face. The gears in his head were starting to grind.
"No, Poppy... if its a boy, we've decided to name him Andrew Steven Rossi"
Maybe my mother saw this as an opening to finally assert some type of independence in a Patriarchal system where she had absolutely none. But she was sadly mistaken.
The meltdown quickly ensued at the Rossi Sunday Dinner table, with all of the voodoo ladies and my Grandfather transitioning into the mile-a-minute dialect of Italian and hand sign theater that even my father couldn't decipher. War had been declared by the upstart neophyte of the family.
Ahh, La Guerra! The Procino and Rossi family past-time! Although my mother had probably been debriefed extensively by Nick just how "La Guerra" Rossi style could manifest itself, you are never prepared for it when it is declared.
Sunday dinners? Cancelled! All communications? Blacked out! You are immediately dis-owned, shunned, and isolated from the rest of the herd. Philistine!
For my entire gestation period, war intelligence was only delivered through intermediaries and most of it from The Patriarch's side was news of collective heads on fire, hair pulling, wall wailing, teeth gnashing, hand wringing, melodramatic hearts breaking... and steely resolve. It was going to be "Giorgio Giuseppe or total exile and banishment, FOREVER!". A real over-the-top Italian Opera.
And although my poor Father was caught in the middle of all of this very real nonsense, he still supported my Mother, and her need to assert her independence. It was going to be "Andrew Steven", and the whole rest of the family can go fuck themselves if they think they can name our kid.
That's Love... Nicolo Alfredo Style. And that's why they've been married for 57 years.
So positions hardened, boot heels got dug into deeper foxholes, and nobody talked to anybody for the entire term of the pregnancy. Until March 19th, 1960, the day I decided to leave the comfort of my nine month swim in amniotic fluid and see what the rest of the world was up to.
These weren't the days of natural childbirth. There was no new age Enya music, family witnessing and video documentation of birth, and comforting warm baths for the newly born.
They pumped mothers full of Demerol, Morphine, and God knows what else in the chemical cocktail, knocked them out, jammed a set of forceps up their crowning vaginae, put the plates around the heads of the babies, squeezed the handles together and then pulled the little suckers out like corks from nine month old vintage wine bottles. Then they slapped the baby's asses to get them to gasp their first breaths of air.
Welcome to the world, little Andrew Steven Rossi.
My parents held their ground. That's what went on the birth certificate. La Famiglia Guerra was officially over, and now it was time to negotiate the peace treaty.
In temporary truce, in honor of the blessed event of my birth the warring family factions collected around the glass partitioned viewing area to discuss the first visable evidence of my genetic mix of attributes before my mother even got a chance to see me, let alone hold me.
As she started to awaken from her dope induced haze in her recovery room, lo and behold she was greeted by the sight of my grandfather kneeling at her bedside, weeping openly.
"I justa saw a-Giorch-yo...heeza beeyoootifuls. Please, a-Linda-Loo...Pleaza forgivamee."
In my mother's narcotic haze, she may have recognized a seam in the Rossi family defense shields and systems. She won the war. I was "Andrew Steven" and she at least knew that for fact in her doped up delirium. But she was finally going to be allowed to ask the question that everyone had refused to answer while I floated around preparing for my first journey; a forceps aided dive bomb out of the birth canal.
"Why?", she asked. "Why 'Giorgio'"?
My grandfather, in his broken English translated the narrative of an epic and heroic poem in Italian, that had been passed through generations of Rossi's orally.
The story he wove centered on the only Giorgio Giuseppe Rossi in the entire history of the family. There was only one Giorgio branch, and it was barren. A real black sheep in the family history, but one that garnered much respect in certain family circles.
Through the excruciating period of the Italian Unification process, Giorgio was a follower of Mazzini and Garibaldi, a red-shirted revolutionary. As legend had it, one Sunday morning he waltzed into a Genoa Cathedral where The Dean of The College of Cardinals was giving a high mass to make the case, and with a cross-bow my namesake shot the Galero clean off the Papal emmissary's head from 150 feet away.
The point of the fabled arrow pierced the marble heart of a statue of The Christ on the Crucifix that rose above the altar, and stuck; the red tassled Galero dangling from the vibrating shaft of his instrument of protest.
He received a Papal death sentence, and was promptly boiled alive in a vat of oil via hook and pulley. At least that was how my Grandfather spun the tale. He was probably hanged, but the boiling detail was a little juicier.
My Mother's head was now reeling from more than the awakening of a drug induced sleep as she asked Alfredo why in the world would he want me named after the official family ne'er-do-well, black sheep revolutionary assassin and reprobate.
My poor mother couldn't be expected to know what planet she was on, let alone the day of the month. She was doped up but good, but she still had enough control of her faculties to make an educated guess.
"Thatza right. Marcha Nine-a Teen. Dis izza da day da firzta Giorch-eyo wazza bornt anna dis izza da day da secundo Giorch-eyo izza bornt. Giorno di San Giuseppe... Santa Joe-seffzza'sa Day!"
St. Joseph, the spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the Patron Saint of Sicily.
Suddenly, the clouds started to part from my mother's delirious state.
Those family witches not only prognosticated the gender of her child, they had predicted the exact day of his birth well before she had completed her first tri-mester to the minute: 11:11 AM.
As they toiled and troubled stirring and sweating over the Sunday cauldrons of blood colored boiled and bubbled tomato brew, they not only knew the gender and date of birth.
They knew that the warrior soul of the first Giorgio Guiseppe Rossi, the family rebel revolutionary, and the chosen one that would fearlessly stand up and be counted to the point of death was being re-incarnated. The family lunatic was back in the fold. Back from the dead.
His soul was mysteriously stewing amid the DNA juices in the cauldron belly of the neophyte when they had broken THAT news to The King Of The Family on the ill fated day that family war was declared.
Those little mustachioed witches clad in hairnets and black dresses knew.
They saw it in the sauce.
Fifty one years in retrospect, they were dead-on right.
The lawyers were called and the birth certificate was changed immediately. "Andrew Steven" was consigned to historical irrelevancy, and Giorgio Guiseppe arrived; The product of war and a form of ancient Italian necromancy.
I was forged in utero boiling in the heat of La Famiglia Guerra, and emerged steeled and ready to assume the mantle and responsibility of my family's crazy namesake. It was predestined.
Like I said: Spooky, Dark Arts, Catholic Voodoo Shit.
THE END OF THE BEGINNING OF THE END
"You may shoot for the stars and end up in a back alley behind Pluto, beaten and bloodied, but at least I dare to dream, and that’s better than being Earthbound, mired in the muck of mediocrity.
I judge my forward progress and success by the crushingly epic nature of my failures.
The more epic the crash, the more I’m convinced I must be doing something right"
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THANK YOU KINDLY,
COLONEL BEAUREGARD "IRON THIGHS" JEFFERSON, A.K.A. "THE MANAGEMENT"