From the Sky - Part XVIII

We were asked to leave, of course, and Tessa cried about that, too. She only uses their drive-thru now, but they know who she is. She always orders curly fries and they always give her shoestring fries instead.

I am not the only Tarentella woman who doesn't like to cry. Except for a few tears of joy here and there, I've never seen my aunts turn on their waterworks. Aunt Rae told me she hasn't cried since Grandfather Ernesto's funeral. Ditto Aunt Sal. And Zia? I can't imagine her crying about anything. But at Sunday dinner one winter evening last year, I told the story about Tessa and her purse. Everyone laughed except Zia. "Tessa cries too much. Crying is a waste of time. It's a sign of weakness," she said, her eyes fixed on no one in particular, and then she excused herself to get a glass of bourbon. I don't know that tears are a sign of weakness. Perhaps they're the only way we can be sure we're alive. Perhaps people who never cry are already dead, they're just waiting for the formality of a funeral and pine box.

My aunts certainly had plenty of reasons to cry in the months after my grandfather's death. After all, their lives were turned upside-down!

Let me tell you what happened.

First Uncle Gio, convinced he was cursed, put himself immediately into exile. For a while he made perfunctory business decisions over the phone, delegating things to Aunt Rae which she in turn delegated elsewhere as necessary. Then Uncle Gio stopped answering phone calls. At the very least, tears of frustration were called for but my aunts kept their chins up, even when Gio disconnected his phone.

The bakery soon began to founder. My aunts struggled mightily to keep it going, but there was so much more to running a bakery than they realized. Grandfather and Uncle Gio knew every aspect of their business. They knew how to keep the boys in the back happy. They knew their competition. They knew everything about purchasing, sales, accounting, maintenance: every intimate piece of the business was stored in their heads. My dad was heir apparent, despite being last-born, because only a man could run the bakery, so said the Tarentella men. Ernesto and Gio waited impatiently for my dad to grow up enough to start learning the ropes. They shared none of the nuts and bolts of the business with my aunts. The family women were merely counter help, as the Tarentella brothers saw it. Whenever one of my aunts asked to learn more about the business, they were told: "Why bother? A woman's destiny is marriage and babies. There is no room in your lives for running a bakery. This is a man's realm!" The brothers Tarentella were not cut from progressive, liberal cloth.

So they tried, my aunts, but as I said the business began to fail. They visited Gio one day and begged him to do something. He did. He put the bakery up for sale.