From the Sky - Part III

And that great falling out between brothers? The whole damned thing was over a woman, of course. What else do Italian men fight over? Dad says Grandfather and Uncle Gio had a volatile relationship, one made worse when they started running the bakery together after Great Grandfather died. Aunt Rae says they were both strong-headed and uncompromising. They clashed over everything. They spent long baker's days together seven days a week, each and every day of the year except Christmas. They were never able to decompress …there was no escaping each other, you see, no breathing room. "They were two cats tied together and tossed over a clothesline," says Aunt Sal, "Each doing their best to claw the other to death."

Grandfather was nearly a decade older, and never stopped treating Uncle Gio like a child. Aunt Sal says at one time they were very, very close. She says that when Uncle Gio was a child, he worshiped his older brother. But Gio grew up, like all little boys do. Grandfather never seemed to realize it. Uncle resented it when his opinions were summarily rejected or when his older brother uttered thoughtless slights in front of others. They would argue violently, sometimes in front of customers, and at some point one or the other of them would storm off to the back of the bakery. It happened at least twice a day, sometimes more, and my Aunts say people in the neighborhood called their curious dances the Bakery Tarentella.

Aunt Rae told me that the whole family lived above the bakery. She says that when you were old enough to reach the counter, you were put to work. It was the family's lifeblood, and everyone did something to keep it going. She was bagging rolls even before she started grade school. It was the same with all of my aunts, and my Dad as well.

There's a picture of the bakery on my father's mantle. The family is standing in front of the entrance, Grandfather on the left, Uncle Gio on the right, and everyone else mooshed together in between. My aunts are all smiles, my Dad too. Grandfather and Uncle both appear sullen. Bread and cakes are on display behind the plate glass window to the left of the picture. Aunt Rae says their wedding cakes were considered the best in the area. There's a large, hand-painted sign fixed to the wall on the front of the building, just under Great-Grandfathers's bedroom window: Tarentella's - Fresh Baked Bread and Rolls Daily. Cakes and Pastries!

The bakery was gone by the time I was born, sold to an Irishman who ripped out the ovens and tried to turn it into a bar. It went belly up. Next someone tried making it a shoe store. Bankrupt. A family grocery opened on the heels of that…and failed utterly. Finally a Jewish family bought it, put in new ovens, and it's a bakery again. Holstein's, I think it's called now. It does a very good business. Perhaps some buildings, like some people, are suited for a certain destiny and the Fates intervene when things start to veer off the track.

Grandfather… his name was Ernesto, I don't think I mentioned that, did I? …well, Grandfather and Uncle were both widowers. My grandmother died shortly after Dad was born; an infection took her. Uncle's wife died during childbirth, and his only child, a son, was stillborn. Both men rebuffed the advances of many women and seemed certain to remain widowers until each cast their eye on the same prize.

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