After the Second World War, Aunt Demi followed her brothers Des, Spiro and Tony to America. She had sent letters to Pop and their sisters, Carmela and Helen, telling them to come, too. It was Aunt Demi’s fault that we were now one big happy family. Aunt Demi had opinions on everything. I decided to remind Nadia of one of Demi’s opinions.
“Your Dad didn’t check with Aunt Demi when he got married here. Aunt Demi still calls your Mom a Wop.” I was sorry as soon as I said it. Aunt Betty was my favorite Aunt. It was a low blow. Nadia muttered, “Ah, she don’t mean it. My Mom says family should stick together.”
“My Ma says we don’t have to live on top of each other.”
Sticking together didn’t mean the same thing to our mothers. Aunt Betty had lived the American dream. She had her privacy in a cozy four room home for her own little family. I had been born on Pop’s parents’ farm in Malta on the same day our single Aunt Helen and Aunt Carmela, along with her husband and daughter, had left for America. My parents were also supposed to leave with them, but Ma wasn’t interested in giving birth on the high seas. Then, when I was three months old, Pop, Ma and I followed them to America.
Our first American home was a two bedroom apartment we shared with Pop’s brother, Uncle Tony, Aunt Kate and their two daughters. Pop worked in Des’ deli with his brothers. For two years I shared my cousin Linda’s crib. Aunt Kate wasn’t thrilled with sharing her home with in-laws she had never met. Ma wasn’t happy being there, either. A year after we arrived, Uncle Charlie, Ma’s younger brother, joined us. A year later, Aunt Kate gave birth to cousin Stevie. It was getting a little crowded. The crowding, along with receiving a quarter of the deli’s weekly net income and unsold cold cuts, inspired Pop to move to College Point.
Pop bought a duplex with a storefront. He thought he could run a business at night and work at a factory in the daytime. Pop, Ma and Uncle Charlie went to work at Lily Tulip, a paper cup manufacturer. I was left in the care of our German tenant, Mrs. Kekelia. After we left for College Point, Aunt Rita was furious when she saw Aunt Kate wearing a fur coat. Uncle Spiro accused Uncle Tony of taking more than his fair share of the profits. At the time, Uncle Tony was the only uncle who knew how to drive a car. He started a small taxi business and moved his family upstate. He and his family were only mentioned in whispers.
Nadia didn’t say anything further about our living arrangements. My curls and temper were cooling. Wanting to make peace, I lay my head on the ironing board, like a dog assuming an inferior position, and asked, “Can you iron some more?”
Nadia smiled. “Sure. Ya wanna look right when ya meet George. Ya know, ya really need stuff.” She ironed in silence a few minutes, then said, “I’d justa soon not leave Corona. I’d justa soon stay with what I know. Ya know? Everybody in Corona’s Italian.”
“Everybody except half our relatives . . . and you. We don’t belong here, either.” Nadia kept ironing, but she was quiet. The silence got to me. “Can we stop? My neck’s sore again.”