THE TONY SHOW
March 20, 1966
Well, I met Roberto’s family today, and let’s just say that the Tony show was full of drama.
His older sister refused to attend the Tony reveal, so as soon as we arrived, Roberto made a huge stink about Babs not showing up — loudly yelling at his mother and father and making quite a scene.
Mom was trying to calm him down, and I was awkwardly standing in the hallway with Mem and Mere Germaine, not knowing what to do. Mem had her hand on my shoulder, and Mere Germaine held me tightly at my waist so I felt safe and protected.
Roberto’s mom was nothing like I had imagined. Bella was a tiny little thing, her mouth perfectly lined with bright red lipstick, wearing way too much caked-on makeup, overly high heels, and white hair dramatically piled high on her head in an elaborate braided updo.
Between her hair and her sky-high shoes, she added at least four to five inches to her height. I was still way taller than her, although I made sure to pull my shoulders back and stand as straight as possible to loom over her even higher. I wanted her to have to look up at me.
After Roberto’s hysterical fit, Bella walked over to us and, without introducing herself, went into an uncomfortable speech about how the Russo family was against divorce, which is why Babs would not be coming.
Then, to make matters worse — while still in the hallway — Bella went on to say that the Russo family never knew any other Catholic whom the church excommunicated and that it would take quite some time for them to come to terms with all the associated issues.
I assumed that one of the “associated issues” was me. I also assumed Roberto told Bella that Mom was excommunicated but not Mem — another lie.
Once Bella finally led us away from the front door, things got better — for Mem and Mere Germaine, anyway. The three of them had cooking in common, so, thank God, they had something to talk about besides me, divorce, and Mom’s excommunication.
I also met Roberto’s sister, Gia, who lives next door to Bella. She was loud and boisterous but hilarious and went out of her way to make me feel comfortable and accepted. Her daughter Patrice, who was incredibly beautiful, with her long, silky, straight chestnut brown hair and tiny nose, helped to relieve some of my anxiety with her kindness.
While Patrice and Gia helped to reduce my uneasiness, I couldn’t help but feel highly self-conscious because everyone kept staring at me.
Roberto’s father, Carlo, who was short and fat, barely spoke English, so he didn’t have much to say, although I thought his leering at me was creepy and uncalled for. When I mentioned it to Patrice, she told me not to take it personally, that “Poppy” leers at all the family girls. Ew.
At the end of the dinner, I was feeling a lot better about the Tony Show until Bella walked up to me and told me that whatever happens between Mom and her “only son,” I was to call her “Aunt Bella” and not Nonna like her grandchildren because our relationship would not be like that.
I’m not going to lie; even though I have no intention of calling her anything at this point, her words stung.
Before dessert, Patrice took me to the house next door to show me her room. She opened her bedroom window, pulled out a pack of cigarettes, and offered me one.
I shook my head no, but she convinced me to take a few drags. The first two times I inhaled, I choked like crazy, but then I got used to it.
As we shared our second Marlboro, Patrice told me not to be bothered by anything Nonna had to say because “She’s always sticking her spiked-heel foot into her big red lipstick mouth.”
The two of us laughed, but I was thinking that in a million years, I would never say anything mean like that about Mem.
Then Patrice gave me some mouthwash to gargle with, followed by a long hug. I got a little misty-eyed and broke the awkward silence by saying, “I hope we can be good friends. I need someone in this family to like me.”
Patrice tenderly wiped the tear slipping down my left cheek. “Friends? Oh, Tony, we will be so much more than that, you’ll see.”
Then she lovingly wrapped her arm through my arm, laid her head on my shoulder, and together we walked back to “Aunt Bella’s” house.
Click here for Chapter 27: A Gift From Heaven