From the Sky - Part X

It still sounds so odd to say that! Until the night Joe and I announced our engagement Dad's opinions were generally not heard by his sisters, and if heard simply dismissed. He was the baby, their "little Paulie," even as a grown man. I'm told it's one of the peculiar tics of my family: the youngest of a generation have no voice. I've escaped that fate, I suppose, because I am an only child and we've not had many of those over the generations. My family isn't quite sure what to make of me. As for Dad, until the night of my engagement my father was strictly second string on the family team. Then, for the first time, he stood up to his sisters. He faced them down and never wavered. A page had been turned, a chapter closed. Little Paulie was gone forever.

I make this sound worse than it is, I suppose. It's really just family dynamics. No matter whom you may be while you're out in the world, in your family you have a spot in a hierarchy defined by a lifetime of familial politics. You tend to slip into your assigned place and stay there. There's usually no escaping it. In fact, I'm sure First Ladies tell Presidents to pick up their socks, to screw the cap back on the toothpaste, or to put the toilet lid down. It takes enormous will to rebel successfully in a family, especially when you're up against the likes of my aunts. Well, my Dad did it. He broke free. My aunts never again spoke out against my engagement. I'm sure they grumbled amongst themselves for a while, but never to my father. Never to me. Never to Joe.

And as time passed, my beloved won them over day by day in little bits. He does that, my Joe. He has this way of slipping quietly into your heart. Perhaps my aunts didn't even realize it was happening; that they were growing to love him. I certainly worked deftly to assure they did. I was in the catbird seat. My father, my Joe, my aunts: I was the focus of their love, and I suppose that gave me a degree of power. I never wielded that power bluntly. I managed my opportunities carefully, exploiting them to slowly warm my aunts up to Joe. For instance: Zia was visiting one hot afternoon and I asked her to sit on the front steps with me. We drank fresh-brewed iced tea while Joe and my father spread lawnmower guts across the yard in a successful effort to resuscitate a dying machine. She watched as they worked side by side, the two men who loved me to death, and she softened; I could see it in her eyes, in the way she let her lips relax into the barest hint of a smile.

A different approach with Rae: she was in Dad's kitchen one Sunday evening cooking dinner (I realize looking back that our big Sunday dinners began during my engagement. That says something, doesn't it?). I made a phone call, and Joe arrived soon after with a box of cannolis. Rae loves cannolis, and these were her favorite: ricotta filling flavored with orange water and cinnamon. Joe handed Rae the box and joined me in the dining room to help me set the table. Rae's eyes followed him as I taught him the proper way to place the silverware, and she nodded almost imperceptibly.

And Sal? She casually mentioned that same evening that a tree in her yard was in need of trimming; that she was calling a service for an estimate. The next morning she woke to see Joe in her yard with one of his brothers cutting back the branches. That was how I guided events. I was there, always, but off to the side a bit. I nurtured. I watered. And something wonderful began to grow. Did my aunts know what I was doing? Maybe. Probably. Not much gets by my aunts. But if they knew they never let on, and I think that also says something, don't you?

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