NICE DAY FOR A WEDDING

“Well, we got lucky, sweetheart; the rain held off. Ella, are you ready? The musicians are waiting for my signal.”

I could hear the sound of my dad’s voice but his words were garbled like I was under water and my thoughts were being carried away by the current. When I didn’t answer, my dad motioned for one of the musicians and told him to “just keep playing”.

My dad and I were always close, even more after my mom passed away last year. He knew me better than anyone; when I didn’t answer his question, he stood silently by my side waiting patiently. I knew he was concerned and I loved him more than ever for not pushing me.

We were standing at the doorway to my future. A hundred or so guests sat far enough away so that I could not see them nor could they see me. The top of a white tent far down the pathway on the left side was barely visible – the tent where my groom James was waiting. 

We fell in love with the view of this breathtaking winery after attending a wine tasting with friends. All we could talk about for weeks afterwards was how lush and green everything looked; James said he couldn’t think of a more beautiful spot to get married. Next thing I knew we were engaged and now, at the worst possible moment, I was having doubts.

My relationship with James was meteoric; we met at a bar where we were both plastered. I had just split with my long-term boyfriend and on the same day learned that my mother had pancreatic cancer. James’ fiancé had just broken off their engagement after learning she was pregnant by some other guy and was going to marry her baby daddy. Needless to say we were both miserable; even in a drunken state our antennae went up and we found each other, commiserated, got even more drunk, went back to his place and had sex.

What should have been a one-night stand turned into a relationship and in record time we were “a thing”. James is a doctor which impressed the hell out of my mother and she fell instantly in love with him. He was wonderful to her; that’s something I will never deny. Mom kept saying what a great catch he was, how I shouldn’t let him get away. Her dying wish was for us to be married. 

And why not? We weren’t kids, we both had great jobs, we wanted the same things in life and we were in love. But shortly after my mom passed away, I began to feel not so much in love with James as I thought I was. Sweeping away the detritus of negative thoughts from my head, we set a date for the wedding. How could I break a promise to my mother? How could I ignore my commitment to James? My heart told me one thing while my brain told me another. I shut out the voices in my head and they were quiet for a while. Today, on my wedding day, my brain was screaming at me.

The pathway leading to the tent seemed incredibly long and I could easily imagine myself escaping down one of the side paths between the hedges. What kind of thought was that for a bride on her wedding day? I was not one for fanciful imaginings; what I was feeling was very real. My knees buckled slightly and my dad steadied me.

“Talk to me, kiddo.”

I turned to face my dad. “Daddy” was all I managed to eke out before the tears started. I hadn’t called my father Daddy in years. 

Dad magically produced a handkerchief. “What’s going on, honey?”

“This doesn’t feel right, Dad. I’m about to marry James because of a promise I made to Mom.”

“Ella, if you want to back out, I’ll stand by whatever decision you make. But it’s best for everyone if you do it now, not after you’re married.”  

My dad’s love for me was boundless and all I could manage to say was “But you spent so much money to make this day perfect.”

Dad put his hands on my shoulders. “Damn the money and damn the promises. All I want is for you to be happy. If you think this is a mistake, say the word. My car is parked right outside.”

“What about James?” I asked biting my bottom lip.

“I’ll talk to him privately, Ella. Don’t worry about that.”

I looked at my dad and quickly nodded. He reached into his pocket and handed me the keys to his car.

Go on now. I have some explaining to do.” He kissed my cheek and took off down the aisle.

NAR © 2022

In response to Sadje’s picture prompt on What do you see #158 October 31, 2022

OY, MY PAPA!

My father was the type of man who liked to have fun, even if the joke was on him. I’m guessing the picture shown above ⬆️ was taken at least 60 years ago but I remember it like it was yesterday. While my mother, sister and I were occupied with other things, Dad quietly went around the house collecting stuff – in this case a scarf, a yarmulke from a friend’s wedding and our family Bible. He then sat there not saying a word until one of us noticed and we all cracked up. I’m pretty sure at that point he started chanting which made the whole scenario even funnier. I showed this pic to my husband last night and even he cracked up. Yes, dad, your legend lives on!

Dad’s jokes weren’t always funny and he didn’t have much of a filter. I remember a family friend was complaining that she needed to lose weight. Dad told her she looked fine just the way she was which would have been totally acceptable if he’d left it at that but he had to add that she was “pleasingly plump“. Our friend was not happy with that description and huffed off, angry and embarrassed. Meanwhile dad couldn’t understand what he said that was so bad. He’d often do things without thinking them through like the times he’d invite people over for dinner and fail to tell my mother until a couple hours before their guests arrived, usually resulting in mom reacting sorta like this:

Mom was like Gina Lollobrigida on steroids!

She never really hit him over the head with a frying pan but she wanted to – lots of times. But that wouldn’t have stopped dad from telling the same old joke about the canary who ran out of gas or thinking he was entertaining countless waitresses by ordering an Al Pacino instead of a cappuccino which always resulted in an eye roll or a blank stare.

Speaking of blank stares, some of my relatives were hard nuts to crack and dad’s cornball jokes were definitely not appreciated. This was a particularly tough crowd; they look like they’re at a funeral instead of a bridal shower. ⬇️ And why is the woman on the left clutching her purse so tightly? She’s in my parent’s house; who’s gonna steal it? Probably fight or flight reaction due to Dad’s jokes.

L. to R. – My Aunt Cesaria, my grandmother (Dad’s mom), my Aunt Lena

What’s with all the purse clutching? Must be a generational thing. Man, I would have loved to have been around when this next photo was taken. ⬇️ Talk about surreal! The parents look like very nice, normal people but totally confused and amused at the same time; I think those guys had that effect on all of us. (I was going to say they looked “Dazed and Confused” but that was done by a much better band – no offense.)

KISS with parents

My dad was a good guy who meant well and wouldn’t hurt a fly. He was all talk and no bite, like the time he convinced an art auctioneer that he was “connected“. The poor guy was wetting his pants and falling over himself to make sure ‘Don Vito‘ was satisfied and there would be no retaliation. Mom just rolled her eyes and called dad “stunad“.

Dad had a lousy head for figures so, naturally, he volunteered to be the church treasurer. He then proceeded to botch the books so terribly, the Elders of the church came to our house looking very serious and officious in their black suits and asked dad how he managed to screw up the numbers so badly. Even dad couldn’t figure out what he’d done wrong; he was totally flustered and way over his head. Everyone felt sorry for him but business is business and dad was officially removed him from his position.

Dad was an immigrant from Sicily who taught himself to speak, read and write English entirely on his own. And he barely had an accent. His biggest achievement in his eyes was being able to do the New York Times crossword puzzle in ink! Everyone loved my dad and it gave him so much pleasure to entertain his friends and spend time with his family.

Times were tough, often heartbreaking. In 1943 mom and dad lost their first born and only son, the brother I never knew, when he was only 2-years-old. Baby Frank passed away on New Year’s Eve; my parent’s never celebrated or went out on New Year’s Eve ever again after that. Then my dad got drafted and was sent overseas. I can only imagine what Father’s Day must have been like that year. Talk about rough times!

Dad with Baby Frank, 1943

Now that I’m older and hopefully wiser, I regret being embarrassed in front of my friends when dad told a corny joke or sang a silly song. I wish I didn’t think of him as a clown or a buffoon; no one else saw him that way (except my sister) and he made a lot of people happy. I was young and stupid; I didn’t realize at the time everything he did was with good intentions.

My grown sons remember my dad, or ‘Papa’ as they called him, but I have four grandchildren who never knew him. I hope when my granddaughters start dating, my sons will wait up for them to come home from their dates, just as my dad did right up till the night before my wedding.

Me and Dad on my wedding day, June 10, 1972

When you’re young you think you have all the time in the world, then you start to realize the older you get the faster time goes by. There are plenty of things I wish I could go back and do over; I can’t. I just have to believe that my dad knew I loved him even when I didn’t show it. I hope he’s proud of the person I have become. I’m proud of my dad and I miss him. I know he’s listening so “Happy Father’s Day, dad! I love you!”

Dedicated to my father, Vito Schembre, July 14, 1915 – August 1, 1998

NAR © 2022

THE BUS STOP

Every morning my father would walk with me to the bus stop and wait for the school bus. No matter the weather, he never missed a day. Once I was safely on my way to school, he would go to work at the bagel store right on the corner by the bus stop.

Dad was a widower raising me on his own. My mother died from a fever when I was still an infant and I don’t have any memories of her. We had no other family nearby and dad did everything himself. I never heard him complain and I knew I was loved. Dad always packed small bagel pieces in my lunch bag; he sprinkled them with sugar and cinnamon and I giggled when he told me they were the ‘bagel holes’.

Next door to the bagel store was a shoe repair shop. A young woman sat in the window busily attaching new soles onto worn shoes. Sometimes she would stitch together a tattered handbag; I liked to watch her work, her fingers deftly plying the leather and pulling the needle through.

The shoe lady never looked up from her work but I could tell she was beautiful. She had dark brown hair that fell over her shoulders and long eyelashes. I asked my father if he thought she was pretty but he said he hadn’t noticed.

One morning during a rainstorm, we stood under the awning of the shoe shop. I watched the lady in the window and this time my dad watched her, too. She must have become aware of our presence and she looked up at us. I don’t know if it was a thunderclap or some other force of nature but when her eyes met my dad’s, the shop’s big front window shook and the lights inside flickered.

The next morning on our way to the bus stop, I noticed dad was carrying a worn pair of shoes – and he was softly humming. I said nothing but my heart began to dance. Together we walked into the shoe repair shop and the lady smiled shyly at us. She was indeed very beautiful. Dad handed her his shoes and asked if they could be repaired. Their fingers touched and neither one pulled away. The lady said dad’s shoes would be ready in four days.

Each morning after that as we waited for the bus we would smile and wave at the lady in the window. She’d smile and wave back, her gaze lingering on my father’s handsome face. On the afternoon of day four dad picked up his repaired shoes. He surprised the lady by giving her a bag of warm bagel holes sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon. The shoe lady peeked into the bag and laughed gaily, saying she never had such a treat. She and my dad smiled radiantly at each other for a long time.

That was chapter one of our happily ever after. Now every morning both my dad and the shoe lady walk with me to the bus stop; he holds my right hand and she holds my left. From the bus window I watch them walk to work, their heads close together and their fingers intertwined, and my heart does a little dance.

NAR © 2022

SAFE IN A BUBBLE

“Arabic For Dummies”? The Qur’an? What the hell are these disgusting books doing in our house? You’re still associating with that .. that .. savage, aren’t you, Gloria? Answer me!” 

“Papa, please, calm yourself. It’s not good for your blood pressure. If you’re referring to Yusuf, he is not a savage. He’s a sweet, gentle and loving man and you’d  realize that if you got to know him. He’s a student at the university studying religion and…..” 

“And the making of bombs and God knows what else! Gloria, he’s an Arab, a Muslim, for the love of God! Haven’t you seen enough on tv and in the papers to know what these people are capable of? Crashing planes into buildings, blowing up villages, turning themselves into human bombs! They’re animals, all of them!” 

“And since when did you become an expert on Muslims or Arabs? You’ve never even tried to get to know them. All my Arab friends are good people .. peace loving people. We’ve spent hours talking, exchanging philosophies and sharing meals.” 

“I cannot believe what I’m hearing. You actually sit down and eat with these people, if you can even call them that? This is a nightmare! How can you do this to me?” 

“What am I doing to you, Papa? You haven’t even given him a chance. You refuse to meet him, to sit down and have a conversation with him. You’d see he is a man of peace, a good man incapable of hurting anyone.” 

“Are you crazy? Do you actually think I would sit with him in my house? Please, God, don’t tell me he has you brainwashed already! That’s what they do, you know…draw you in to their cult and before you know it you’re hooked and there’s no way out. Why can’t you stick to our own kind, find a nice Jewish boy? An Arab and a Jew .. whoever heard of such nonsense?!?

“I can’t believe we’re fighting over this again! Why must you keep bringing it up, Papa?You didn’t give Evelyn a hard time when she said she wanted to marry Sal. And what about Kenny when he and Makayla got engaged? An Italian son-in-law and a black daughter-in-law are in our family now and you won’t let me see Yusuf, simply because he’s an Arab!” 

“Oh no, there’s no such thing as simply an Arab, Gloria. They all have a hidden agenda! Are you blind to what’s going on around you?” 

“Papa, look at me. I’m a grown woman capable of making my own decisions. Why can’t you trust my judgement like you did with Kenny and Evelyn?” 

“Gloria, you’re not thinking clearly. Sal is a doctor, making a fortune. Your sister and their kids will never want for anything. Makayla’s parents are both lawyers and she’s in law school herself. Your brother and sister made smart choices. They didn’t bring some maniac suicide bomber into our family.” 

“STOP! Stop saying that! You know nothing about Yusuf and you have no idea what you’re talking about! He’s a wonderful man and I have deep feelings for him.” 

“Deep feelings? What are you saying, Gloria? Are you sleeping with him?” 

“Oh my God! I can’t believe you just asked me that! I’m not a child and, frankly, that’s none of your business.” 

“None of my business? As long as you’re living under my roof, it’s my business.”

“Here we go again! Well maybe it’s high time I moved out of this prison and found a place of my own!” 

“PRISON! After all your mother and I have done for you, you have the nerve to say that? And by ‘a place of your own’, you mean shacking up with that terrorist, don’t you? Why don’t you just stab me in the heart and put me out of my misery!” 

“Enough! What’s going on here? I can hear the two of you all the way downstairs!” 

“Hilda, אהובתי (“my love”) I didn’t hear you come in.” 

“As if you could hear anything over all the yelling in here! What’s gotten into the two of you?” 

“It’s your daughter. She’s being absolutely unreasonable. I don’t even know who she is anymore.” 

“Oh, so now she’s MY daughter? Sheldon, the last time I checked she was OUR daughter.
Is this about that Arab boy again?” 

“Mama, please, I can’t talk to Papa about this any more. If anyone is being unreasonable, it’s him.” 

“Gloria, why don’t you go out for a while, go to that nice coffee shop near the university.
Sheldon, come sit with me.”  

“Hilda, are you crazy? She’s going to run right to him! Don’t you see what you’re doing?” 

“Just like you ran to me, Sheldon, when your parents called me a filthy Nazi? Look at me, Shelly. Do you remember what it was like for us when we first met? You a Jew and me a German. Ach du lieber! What were we thinking? My father was so furious, he wanted to kill both of us. But we knew we’d rather die than be separated. Sheldon, you should know better than anyone that you cannot judge one man simply by the color of his skin or what country he comes from or what god he worships. You’re a good man, liebchen. You were a good man when we were teenagers and you’re a good man now. You’re scared, Shelly, just like we were scared back then. But we persevered and in time my parents saw the real you and your parents saw the real me. Do you remember what you told your parents all those years ago?” 

“Of course I do. I said ‘I love her and I would die for her’.” 

“Ja. And do you remember what I said to your parents?” 

“Like it was yesterday. You said ‘I love him and I would die without him’.” 

“Things haven’t changed that much, Sheldon, except now WE’RE the parents. I hate to burst your bubble but they love each other and it’s as simple as that. Trust them.” 

NAR © 2018