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The Godfather Part Four: My Italian Family

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The Godfather Part Four

My family is Italian. Not so much as geographically Italian, but like culturally Italian. We’re Italian in that we are unquestionably Catholic. My family believes in a slowly cooked pot of tomato sauce on a Sunday as much as the Holy Spirit. Every Christmas Eve for dinner my mother fries anything that could be skimmed from the world’s oceans. I don’t know how to speak Italian, but I know that “mangia, mangia!” means “eat, eat!” and “capisce?” means “you understand?” That’s about all the Italian vocabulary I ever needed. As a child, you’re alright if you eat up and listen up.

Ancestry.com isn’t as convinced of my Italian heritage, with their data driven analytics suggesting my Italian heritage to be just over a third, but their tests aren’t sensitive to other key details, like the amount of garlic I consume on a weekly basis, my full dark hair, my voice that tends to defy volume control, and my skin that tans easily. And really, if you look at the family photos it can’t be denied.

My father had two brothers. They weren’t that close growing up, because they were much older and had a different mother, from my Grandfather’s earlier marriage. I always considered Uncle Louie and Uncle Billy to be my full uncles though. Family goes beyond halves and steps. My uncles reminded me that I was a hundred percent Coppola.

Uncle Louie had great stories about my father and grandfather. And Uncle Billy, Babe, was handsome. He was so handsome it was practically neighborhood folklore. Dark features, prominent nose. He had five kids, a loving marriage, and usually two or three jobs and a couple other side hustles. The kids, my cousins, were always getting envious Christmas gifts that fell off the back of the truck. No such luck at my house. They were real New Haven Italians. Hardy pizza snobs who were sometimes rough around the edges. I knew where I could go if I needed to get rid of a body.

Leading up to my baptism, when I was about two months old, Uncle Lou was chosen as my Godfather. That’s a pretty important role in Catholicism, and with Italians. For the ceremony, he showed up on the altar sporting a high end leisure suit, hair slicked back, cross around his neck, a refined smile. It was now his duty to take care of me like a father, but without having to instill any rules or values. I think he was proud of his role, and of how I turned out. He enjoyed introducing me as his Goddaughter.

The stories Uncle Lou told picked up on people’s essence. Like my Grandfather. Grandpa put them to work early on, and one of his sayings, encouraging a hard day’s work was “if it ain’t shit, pick it up.” It didn’t have to be pretty to get the job done, and you didn’t have to be kind to be respected. My cousin Matthew was behind the wheel of a tow truck before he was in highschool. I think it was probably the best, or only, way for him to spend much time with his dad and grandfather.

The classic stories were never really meant to portray anyone in a particularly good light, and I think that made them better. There was the time my dad blew out the motor on his Mustang drag racing and Uncle Lou had to get him out of trouble and tow the car. Another good one was the time Grandpa put a dead bear in his friend’s driver’s seat after detailing the car. It was the remains of an earlier hunting trip, and I guess he didn’t know what to do with it. I guess it was worth its weight in shock value. I would have enjoyed watching them move it.

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Uncle Louie passed away about ten years ago. He was well into his eighties. He had three sons, six grandchildren, one great granddaughter, and a goddaughter, me. I feel lucky to have heard his stories, and I’m proud he is my Godfather.


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Karen Michelle C

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