My grandmother had two sisters, Angie and Mary, and a brother, Joe. My Aunt Mary had a daughter, Georgina, who was about my sister’s age. My Uncle Joe had a son, Bobby, who was also around my sister’s age. But my Aunt Angie had two sons, Johnny and Ralphie, who were closer to my brother Richard’s age. And here is where all the trouble began.
By today’s standards, Johnny, Ralph and Richard would have been on heavy medication, like Ritalin, to keep them focused and behaved. But back then, the boys were just being boys. And no one would even have dared tell my Aunt Angie that Johnny and Ralphie were trouble makers. No! Not her boys! But Ralphie and my brother Richard were younger than Johnny, so any trouble they got into was usually headed by Johnny, the ring leader. So Ralphie and Richard were always guilty by association….with Johnny.
What kind of trouble did the boys get into? This is a blog, not a book, so I will give you just a few of the stories that have remained a constant series of discussions in my family till this day, some 60 years later.
For some reason, by grandfather was always the focus of Johnny’s practical jokes. Maybe because my grandfather did not have a sense of humor when it came to the execution of these pranks. No, he never saw the lighter side of Johnny’s childish games. The harmless fun that excited the boys. The mature understanding that boys will be boys. Nope. My grandfather was a serious guy. And that egged Johnny on even more.
It was Christmas Eve around the year 1955 or 56. The entire family celebrated the holiday together. My Aunt Mary and Uncle Joe lived in Brooklyn, but my Aunt Angie and Uncle Benny traveled in from Queens for the holiday, so they would always spend the night. Sleeping arraignments were taken care of for everyone and Johnny, Ralphie and Richard had the added bonus of spending the night together. I was too young to hang with that crew. Let the games begin.
When my grandfather went to bed he always wore a night cap. A little wool hat he would put on to keep the chill off his head during the winter evenings. On this particual night, Johnny and the boys snuck into my grandfather’s room, just before everyone turned in for the evening and stole my grandfathers night cap.
Now one would think that on Christmas Eve children would be anticipating the arrival of Santa Claus and eagerly dress for bed and try and get to sleep as quickly as they can and dream of sugar plums dancing in their head. Not Johnny. He saw an opportunity here.
The boys were in their bed and waited for my grandfather to go to bed. He lumbered up the stairs and took care of the evening things he would do before turning in. All was quiet and you could hear everyone saying good night to each other. But on this evening, my grandfather’s routine screeched to a halt. His night cap was missing.
At first, I’m sure he thought he misplaced it, and asked my grandmother if she moved it. And when she revealed she never touched it my grandfather immediatly turned his attention to the boys. But the boys denied that they had ever been near my grandfather’s night cap. And my Aunt Angie believed them. But not my grandfather.
My grandfather went to bed that evening without his night cap. But in the morning made a decree that Johnny and Ralph were never to set foot in his house again. They were banished. My brother Richard was devastated.Will he never see Johnny and Ralphie again?
About 6 months later my grandmother was dusting the lamp shades in the living room, when something fell out from the inside of the shade. It was my grandfather’s night cap. Now how did this get here? If you are going to lie, you have to live the lie. And never admit to your crime, as long as the evidence is missing. But this was totally incriminating for Johnny. As if my grandfather didn’t already know.
But the boys’s pranks did not end with my grandfather. Everyone was fair game. My Uncle Benny’s brother-in-law, Sebastiano, was spending the night at their house one evening. Sebastiano was a burly man, if I had to describe him I would have to say he looked like the character in the Godfather Luca Brasi. You know, the one that slept with the fishes. Just before Sebastiano turned in for the evening, Johnny took an alarm clock and set it for 3am and placed it under Sebastiano’s bed. Can you think of a worse thing to happen to you at 3am?
Needles to say, the alarm going off at 3 am not only woke Sebastiano but everyone in the entire house was rousted at that ungodly hour. Poor Sebastiano had no idea what was happening. He jumped out of bed and had no idea where that alarm was going off. And even when he did pin point the source there was no way this man was going to fit under the bed in order to turn it off.
I’m sure Johnny denied any knowledge of what just happened. Like the time they denied throwing bags of water out of their hotel window at the guests below. On a trip to Italy Johnny and Ralphie were passing the time and having some fun as they dropped bags of water out of their hotel window. The hotel manager knocked on their door and my Aunt Angie answered it greeting the hotel manager. “Signora, your children are throwing water bombs out of their window and hitting our guests below”! “NOT MY BOYS!” insisted my Aunt Angie, “you must be mistaken. It must be coming from somewhere else!” How can you argue with a sincere, loving mother? The hotel manager apologised for making the mistake and left, allowing Johnny and Ralphie another opportunity to chuck some more water bombs at the unsuspecting guests below.
This time the hotel manager came back and was more adament that the water was coming from their window. And my Aunt Angie was even more adament that it was impossible that her children would ever do a thing like that. The funny thing is, she really believed it.
But these were childhood pranks. Harmless pranks and games that children do without giving any thought to whether it is right or wrong. So as Johnny and Ralphie grew older, their pranks matured along with them. Like the time they were teenagers and my brother was spending the night at their house. My mother was still over having coffee with my Aunt Angie. Outside, the boys were planning a staged “gang fight” among themselves and a few of their friends to impress some girls that they knew would be passing by. What could be more macho than men fighting? This was a great plan. As the girls approached the macho men started fighting with each other, creating the attention they so much wanted from this group of girls. Only problem was, the “gang fight” was happening right in front of my Aunt’s house. And with all the noise and screaming going on just outside, my aunt and my mother came running out of the house, thinking that their boys were in trouble and tried to break up the fight. Not exactly a macho moment when your mother throws the other boys to the ground and grabs you by the hair and slaps you on your end as she drags you into the house. I’m sure those girls were VERY impressed. Not all of Johnny’s pranks worked out.
But as the years passed on, Johnny and Ralphie and my brother Richard matured into fine adults. Oh, Johnny still appreciates a good joke now and then and on occasion can hardly resist bringing a water pistol to a family cook out or gathering. But for the most part, all three guys grew to maturity and did very well with their lives. My brother Richard became a teacher and worked his way up to Guidance Counselor and is now retired and enjoying a very successful career in Long Island Real Estate. Ralph worked his way up from a butcher to a Union leader and is now a Commissioner. And John? Well, let’s just say that after a tour in Korea, Johnny got himself an entry level job with a little start up company that insured nuclear power plants and over the years became Vice President of that multi-million dollar company, and is now retired.
I think Ritalin might have prevented the boys from the life experience process that was so important in the foundation of growing up. Because after all, boys will be boys.
My friend Bobby Goff from Brooklyn mentioned the other day a “fried spaghetti” dish his mother used to make for him. Real comfort food. I didn’t get the exact recipe but this is a dish my family made that used spaghetti as the main ingredient. You can use fresh made spaghetti or this is a good dish made with left over spaghetti. Ever wonder what to do with left over pasta? Well, here is an option. Unless my son eats it right out of the refrigerator before I get the chance!
- 3/4 pound cooked spaghetti
- 4 large eggs
- 1/4 cup pitted black oil cured or kalamata olives, chopped
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 1 tablespoon capers, rinsed
- 1 tablespoon fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped
- 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- olive oil
In a medium size bowl beat the eggs.
Add black olives,onion, capers, parsley, and cheese. Mix well.
Add the spaghetti and combine well.
Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a 12 inch nonstick frying pan. Pour the spaghetti mixture into the pan and flatten the top evenly. Cook over medium heat until the bottom is golden brown, about 5 or 6 minutes.
Carefully invert the frittata onto a flat plate, loosening the edges with a spatula first. Slide back into the pan, browned side up. Add a little more oil to the side of the pan. Cook until golden brown.