Here’s my latest essay for a book I’m working on for Blue Heron Book Works. The title is ‘Man Has Premonition of Own Death,’ which was the actual headline on a 1920s newspaper article about the tragic death of young mill worker Thomas Crooks, 23, who was my great-uncle.
My father’s cousin Carlo and his wife Marie, it seemed to me, would have fit perfectly in a movie made by one of those great Italian movie directors.
Carlo, who came to America from his small mountain village in Chieti province when he was in his late teens or early 20s and was the nephew of my Italian grandmother, was dark and handsome, his hair nearly black and always slicked back with Vitalis or Brylcreem, his cheeks well-splashed with witch hazel, his smile friendly, his voice smooth but foreign. As for Marie, I remember her with a big smile, lighter complexion, heavy but alluring Italian accent, a mischievous twinkle in her eye, and a luxurious mane of long red hair.
It saddens me a bit, even now, to think that they’re both long gone, both passed on to that great Fellini set in the sky. They’re splashing in the Tivoli fountain. They’re cheek-to-cheek in a gondola gliding through the canals of Venice. They’re running arm-in-arm through the Piazza San Marco as flocks of pigeons flap skyward.
Or they’re where I remember them still – in their tiny apartment in south Yonkers, hosting some kind of party – maybe a child’s birthday. I’m seven or eight years old, there with my parents, and I’m sitting in a chair watching the adults dance.
Carlo puts on a record, takes Marie by the hand, and they swirl and laugh as Dean Martin sings “Volare, oh oh/Cantare, oh oh oh oh/Let’s fly way up to the clouds / Away from the maddening crowds…
Some people die but also don’t die. They live on in someone’s memory, the way Carlo and Marie abide on in mine, young and vibrant and beautiful, dancing happily to the music of a hard-drinking Hollywood paisan, dancing to the music of time.