I grew up the only girl in the family, in the middle, in the same position as my daughter Pia, above with her little brother Brian. Eight years between my eldest brother and me, and twelve between my youngest and me. Naturally, I looked up to my eldest brother Toni'.
Though he left us to search his fortune at the young age of sixteen, he returned often, at holidays, during the coldest months of the year when work was scarce, and during summer vacations when everything in the city shut down. I looked forward to each return, always rewarded with small gifts and regaled with stories of the world beyond my reach. He and I never had an argument, never spoke an ugly word toward the other.
With my youngest brother, Luigi, I assumed the role of an extra Mom. as my mother fell ill right after he was born, and I was yanked out of school to help around the house. I remember resenting him for making mom ill; but, I also resented him for taking my place as the baby of the house. I knew resentment and jealousy were sins, and having such feelings would send me surely to hell, so I worked really hard to compensate, made him my responsibility all the time, spoiled him whenever I could. Even after I left home and moved to America, I made sure to send him gifts and remembrances, constantly reassuring him that there were strong ties between us.
Decades later, I still feel ashamed of my pre-adolescent selfishness, but I'm happy that he grew up to be a very happy man, full of joy, the same zest for life that my father had. Luigi looks exactly as my father did, the same green eyes, the same reddish hair, the same friendly ways around everyone.
When my two brothers (who still live in Italy) received news of the death of my son, (it took me months to put a note in the mail to each of them) each did what each had done throughout their lives. My eldest brother wrote me a very long letter, scholarly and humanistic, pragmatic and fatalistic. He reminded me of what a strong woman I have been all my life.
Luigi, instead, called, and his first words were, "You are not alone!", the most serious words I ever heard from him. He reminded me that I still have family; that family is there whether you see them or not; that family will last beyond words; beyond deeds; beyond today.
You carry them all in your heart for eternity.
My two brothers: always a presence in my life. Even though we don't see, nor write to each other often, our ties are as strong as they were when we all gathered at the family table. When one needs the other, we know just what it is we must do.