If you’re new to my blog, you might like to know that I’m writing a memoir about growing up in an organized crime family. Below is an effort to draft a chapter about my parents’ wedding day.
Even my mother remember’s few details about that afternoon in 1961, so I’ve been forced to reconstruct what might have been, given what I know about the characters involved and other family stories I’ve heard. I’ve also realized, as I’ve drafted this, that I have very little, if any, experience writing narrative–that it’s harder than I’d ever imagined.
Chapter 3—–On Marrying a Mafia Man
“Judy, you need to eat,” my grandmother yelled up the steep steps of the Homer City home my mom had grown up in. It was the morning of my mother’s wedding, a sunny Saturday in June of 1961, a small coal mining town 60 miles east of Pittsburgh.
“Judy!” Nana wiped wet hands on a floral apron.
My grandmother returned to her kitchen of knotty pine cabinets, the one my grandfather had remodeled well over a decade earlier, not long before his sudden death in a car crash on the road from Brush Valley to Homer City, when my mother was eleven.
“Becky,” Nana turned to her youngest of five daughters, seated at the round table topped with a plastic cloth, “Run up there and get her to come down. She should have some breakfast, at least a cup of coffee and piece of pie.” Nana was known for her baking, famous for angel food cakes—not to mention attitude and spunk.
One Memorial Day on the annual pilgrimage to their summer home, when my grandfather teased that her caramel pies hadn’t properly set, when he said Nana should be careful not to spill the liquid custard sloshing in her lap, my grandmother tossed the pies purposefully out the open car window, “How’s that for spillage?”
Now, however, Nana tossed nothing. She’d been working for weeks—wanting my mother’s wedding—the first of her girls to wed without a father to walk her down the aisle—to be, not only special, but also an event Ralph would have been proud of. My mother had been his favorite after all—the one who climbed on roof with him—helped him finish their second house at “camp,” as they called it—their summer place 7 miles from Homer City on the banks of Yellow Creek.
“She says she doesn’t want anything,” Becky reappeared, reassuringly kissing her mother on the cheek, before returning to her bowl of Cheerios. Already at fifteen, she towered over my grandmother. Nana was only 4’ 11”.
My mother never did eat breakfast that morning, or lunch for that matter. She had read it was best to marry on an empty stomach.
Nana’s screen door slammed incessantly throughout the morning, as a near steady stream of marriage eligible young women tunneled through the house on errands, to and from the Methodist Church around the corner—dresses to be transported, corsages carried, jars of iced tea and lemonade lugged along the alley.
“Mama, do you have more jars I can pour this punch into?” my mom’s older sister Pat asked.
“In the basement, bottom of the stairs.”
“John, run down and grab them for me,” Aunt Pat instructed her husband, who was busy fanning himself with the June issue of the Upper Room.
And when Uncle John reemerged from the cool cellar, arms loaded, his chin no longer bleeding from that morning’s shaving debacle, he asked, “Mum, watcha doin’ with all them jars? There’s gotta be at least 70 of ‘em down there.”
“Keepin’ ‘em so all the hoarders don’t get them,” and without skipping a beat—“This punch ain’t gonna be worth a hill of beans, if you don’t get it in the ice box over at the church. Where’s Peg, anyway?”
No one commented on Nana’s quick come back until later that afternoon just before the service started. As the organ played and the bridal party was gathered in the church vestibule, my mother began drilling her bride’s maids about the details.
In an exaggerated whisper to her maid of honor, “Becky, are you sure you have the ring?”
“You just asked me that ten minutes ago—and ten minutes before that. And my answer’s still the same. I HAVE the ring.”
To deflate the tension, calm my mother, and maybe make her laugh, Uncle Dan, my mother’s oldest brother-in-law, set to walk her down the aisle, leaned in toward my mother, “So, guess what John told me.”
“I have NO idea.”
“He said Mum has at least 70 unused mason jars and a good 80 empty milk bottles in the basement.”
“So?” My mom was used to Nana’s eccentric excesses.
“Well, when he asked Mum what she was doing with so many, she said she was ‘keeping them so all the hoarders don’t get them.’”
At this my mother merely rolled her eyes and wrung damp hands. But, her bride’s maids, lined up and sweating in shocking pink, struggled to restrain themselves—even as the sanctuary doors opened and the bridal march exploded into the sweltering space, the girls gulped giggles behind white gloves. They swallowed nervous laughter, as on this day, my parents, opposite as serious and silly, joined one another at an altar, where a member of the Pittsburgh crime family was among the men who stood with Daddy.
That June afternoon, as the congregation fanned themselves with bulletins against the suffocating swelter, humidity intensified the heat.
And at the altar, my mother’s stomach grumbled.
(To see more of my parents’ wedding photos, click here.)
What narrative techniques do I need to work on–dialog, character development, showing rather than telling what happened? Which character from this chapter interests you the most?