Room with a View: Pony-Tailed among the Mafia


(The story continued below begins in the previous post.  If you’d like to read what will make this second installment clearer, click here.)

It wasn’t the first time, and it certainly wasn’t the last.  The FBI “visited” our house on Dewey Avenue a number of times while I was growing up.  And when they didn’t, we, at least, lived with the constant expectation that they might.

So much so that my father posted us kids regularly at windows on our third floor during times when raids seemed most likely, especially on weekends during football season, always on Super Bowl Sunday.  My sisters and I acted as look-outs.  Braided and skinned knee-ed, I was expected to spot government cars approaching and notify my dad. 

(image by pink sherbet photography)

The FBI always knocked down the door, but this advanced warning would have afforded him the time to flush offending documents down the drain before agents actually entered the house—had they ever chosen to come when we were actually watching.  Ironically, we were always caught off guard.

Don’t ask me how my dad ended up in organized crime.  Quite frankly, I don’t know.  My father was Irish, not a single strand of Italian DNA wound its way through the twists and turns of his crime-inclined double helix.  But it’s what Daddy “did for a living” for as far back as I can remember.  I don’t recall ever knowing any other life.  I don’t know what he may or may not have done besides “book-making,” but he was indicted by a number of Grand Juries while I was a kid and convicted of conspiracy by a federal court a year or two before he died.  I frankly can’t imagine what Daddy might have done that threatened our government so seriously, but maybe it’s best that way—a whole new Mafia spin on ignorance being bliss.

But blissfully unaware is what I was.  To me this man was simply my dad, and it was my daddy-adoring duty to do as I was told.  Sometimes this meant watching for the FBI on weekends—other times, retrieving a metal money-box he kept hidden in the basement.  To reach the latter, I had to climb on boxes of Christmas decorations—ornaments, tinsel, and special stars to top the tree.  There in a cob-webbed corner above some heating ducts were tens of thousands of dollars, rubber-banded in dime-sized (thousand dollar) stacks.

(image via www2.pslweb.org)

This stash of cash Daddy earned “working” for a man who is currently the under-boss of the Pittsburgh crime family.  That man and his brothers functioned as uncles in my life.  Daddy didn’t have a father he ever really knew, so it seemed he found a family to belong to.  That family just happened to be linked to the Gambinos.  It always seemed to me that Daddy was one of those brothers—as Irish as they come.  But it’s only the “I” in Irish that seemed to matter.

I, myself, only wanted to please my dad—do as he expected and what I could to help.  I was an on-guard-girl—well-trained in the duties Daddy needed done.  If watching from an upstairs window was what mattered, then window-watching was what I did.

It was a room with a view, at least, a view of the Pittsburgh underworld, as seen by one girl, pony-tailed among the Mafia.

37 thoughts on “Room with a View: Pony-Tailed among the Mafia

  1. Wow, Kathy. The stark contrast of your innocence and the underworld you were watching is quite something. I have to agree, can’t wait to buy this book! (no pressure) 🙂

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    • Thanks so much, Rose. Yes, that contrast created a lot of cognative dissonance for me–made my head spin, at times. But I didn’t know any different. It was sometimes so surreal–or seems it sould have been as I look back on it.

      Glad you’ll buy the book! Hooray!

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  2. I am blown away by your story. As if the mental health aspect of your past wasn’t intriguing enough, adding the Mafia to the mix – and a little girl charged with protecting tens of thousands of dollars – and it’s just surreally incredible. You have to tell this story!

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    • Mark, I love your enthusiasm. I know deep down inside that this is an incredible story. I know I could probably get some kind of book contact based solely on the intensity of the story, if nothing else. However, I don’t know how to do that exactly. This is something for me to work on.

      Also, I think it is this childhood that ultimately brought on the mental illness that followed me into my early adulthood. It’s not easy to recover from this kind of childhood. I understand that there’s a bilogical component to mental illness, but the kinds of experiences I had with my father surely must have triggered it.

      Sometimes, I fear that the story is too intense to be believable–especially when you add to it the crazy, disaster-responding life Sara and I live today. It’s been one hell of a life, and that life translates into a whopper of story.

      I can’t thank you enough for this comment, Mark!

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    • I’d say mostly I am working on it every day. I had to break through the fear of posting the piece before this, as, of course, it includes my mother. That seems to have helped loosen me up a bit.

      I also say “mostly,” as my uncle will be coming to visit from Brussels, so we are busy preparing for that. We don’t get to see him often.

      But, generally, to be honest, it’s an agonizingly slow process–sooooooooooo muuuuuuuuch slllllllloooooooowwwwer than I’d liiiiiiiiike.

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    • Dear, dear Dana, thank you. I don’t know why it helps to hear this over and over, but strangely it helps enormously. This work is draining, exhausting, so the affirmation refuels me somehow–makes me want to keep going. Your comments are always such a gift—————–

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  3. I think you should continue to write it at the pace that suits you. I don’t have the impression that you have a deadline hanging over your head like the sword of Damocles. As a borderline illiterate, I don’t know if this turf — the Mafia and mental illness — have ever been covered in the same tome before, but if it hasn’t, this strikes me a very fresh look at two subjects with wide audience appeal since so many are fascinated with the mob and most of us are more than a little crazy … Even though films and TV shows about the mob might make you recoil, the audience seemed to enjoy mob boss Tony Soprano’s therapy sessions with Dr. Melfi very much. Or, at least I did.

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  4. I think you should continue to write it at the pace that suits you. I don’t have the impression that you have a deadline hanging over your head like the sword of Damocles. As a borderline illiterate, I don’t know if this turf — the Mafia and mental illness — have ever been covered in the same tome before, but if it hasn’t, this strikes me a very fresh look at two subjects with wide audience appeal since so many are fascinated with the mob and most of us are more than a little crazy … Even though films and TV shows about the mob might make you recoil, the audience seemed to enjoy mob boss Tony Soprano’s therapy sessions with Dr. Melfi very much. Or, at least I did.

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    • Gosh, I hadn’t thought about there being so little written about the Mafia and mental illness. Actually, I know of nothing, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been done. This is especially interesting, as the daughter of the current Pittsburgh family underboss was nearly dying of an eating disorder the last I knew.

      My sense of urgency about writing this involves our current need for income–as neither Sara nor I have jobs at the moment. If I could make even a VERY MINIMAL income it would help enormously.

      But your thought about the Mafia/mental illness connection is fascinating. Thanks so much for mentioning this!

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  5. This is so brilliant and honest and sweet and loving. I wonder when disillusionment settled into your life or if you ever began to question this relationship and this man. By the way, is your mother still alive? Can she fill in some of the blanks?

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    • Actually, my mom is still alive, and I do get her to fill in details, when I’m able to get her talking. In fact, I had great success this morning. Don’t know if I ever became disillusioned exactly. I did with my mom, but not my dad so much. Sounds strange, I know.

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  6. Pingback: The Mafia Verses the Big Bad Wolf | reinventing the event horizon

  7. Pingback: We Interrupt your Regularly Scheduled Program to Bring you—another Kathy? « Lake Superior Spirit

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