I grew up in an Italian-American family in Brooklyn, NY. We were ten dysfunctional people all squeezed into three tiny apartments under one roof.
This was fertile ground for family feuds to develop and fester.
THE LAY OF THE LAND
My grandmother, Rose, bought the house I lived in when my mother was 16. She purchased it with her hard-earned savings working as a seamstress in the garment center in New York City.
This home was her pride and joy; and it was security for her family.
She put everything she had into it. So much so that the house had a personality all its own. It was never referred to as home. It was lovingly called by the address - 2118 (twenty-one eighteen).
Even family and friends said they were visiting 2118.
When my mother and father married, they moved into the tiny basement apartment. My grandmother lived in the first-floor apartment with my grandfather and Aunt Dolores. The top floor apartment was used for rental income.
When my Aunt Dolores and Uncle Teddy married, they moved into the basement apartment, my mother and father moved into the apartment designated for rental. My grandmother divorced my grandfather; and she moved into the basement apartment.
These were the lean years and the gratitude was high for my grandmother’s generosity to provide a home for the newlywed couples.
How quickly things change!
My grandmother ruled the roost. It was her home; and she wanted things done her way, especially keeping the house in tip top shape.
Being Italian, all repairs needed on the house were done by family members. It wasn’t even a thought to hire outside help.
My Uncle Teddy was the working man, a butcher.
He was Mr. Fix-It. My grandmother often asked him to do be the handyman around the house. This was one of the major thorns in his side concerning my father.
Even though he was highly charged and often spoke at a deafening decibel level, he would keep the peace and do the work.
My father, Ralph, on the other hand, was an architect.
He laid out the grand plans and designs for major changes to the house. He couldn’t be bothered with doing the handyman stuff.
The biggest reason, though, was my father wanted his own home. He dreamed of the day of leaving 2118 and settling in with his family in the suburbs.
So, doing fix-it chores in a house that wasn’t his poured salt into the wound of not owning his own home.
There was one day, my grandmother asked my Uncle Teddy to do some repairs. His temper was on a short fuse that day; and this was the straw that broke the camel’s back. As my father approached, my uncle bluntly told my father he needed to step up and help with the chores.
I remember this as if it were yesterday. My father just looked at my uncle and coldly said, “I pay rent.”
I gasped as I looked at my Uncle Teddy. It was like a volcanic eruption was happening before my very eyes.
I used to be afraid of him because of his booming voice. This now went to a whole new level.
I thought he was going to burst a blood vessel.
It was like thunder, lightening and volcanic lava all converging at that one moment.
My father was no shrinking violet. He had a temper. We called him Mt. Vesuvius.
My mother and my aunt came tearing out of their apartments and had to pull them apart.
Tensions were high; and they didn’t talk for weeks.
The odd thing is that my father had this uncanny ability to let things go. He would erupt and then it was over. He was able to move on.
Not so with my Uncle Teddy. He let things fester.
Things were never the same after that. Other altercations happened over the years; but for the sake of the family, they tolerated each other.
They went to their separate corners. The family came first.
My father was always there for my Aunt Dolores and her family. My Uncle Teddy was always there for my mother and her family. They were both there for my grandmother.
LAYING FAMILY FEUDS TO REST
The thought of selling 2118 was never an option; but at the age of 90, my grandmother needed full-time care for Alzheimer’s.
At that time, my mother and aunt were approached by someone interested in buying the house. It was a difficult decision; but it made sense.
My father seized on the opportunity and started searching out places to live. He found a senior community in New Jersey.
They loved the location and the condos were just the perfect style for each of them. They were so used to being together that they purchased condos directly across the street from each other.
My father was beside himself happy. This was a big year. Not only was my father’s dream of owning his own home happening; it was also the year he and my mother were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary.
My mother felt like a bride decorating her new home. All was good.
My uncle would have preferred to live closer to his sons. The big issue was that my mother and aunt lived in the same house together for over 70 years. It was unthinkable to separate them.
It wasn’t until my mother passed away at Thanksgiving in 2009 that we started to see the ramifications of the long-held feud between my uncle and my father.
Soon after her death, it became painfully obvious to my sister and myself that it would be best for my father to relocate to Connecticut to be near my sister and her family. He adored his granddaughter and he would be able to enjoy his great grandchildren.
It took almost a year for him to decide to move because my father felt so close to my mother in the house they finally bought together.
After moving, he said to my sister, “This was the best decision I ever made. You gave me a piece of heaven here on earth.”
The father/daughter connection with my sister grew even stronger. The family involved him in everything and he got to hold his new great granddaughter a half an hour after she was born.
As good as it was, it was unfortunate that my father and my uncle never spoke to each other again.
I would call to speak to my uncle; but the conversations were difficult.
I prayed for reconciliation in my family.
My sister, my cousins and I have always gotten along so well together. It bothered all of us that there was such a rift between our fathers.
Then, amazingly, my prayers were answered in a very unexpected way.
My father passed away at Thanksgiving in 2016. We had the service in Connecticut; but he needed to be transported to New Jersey to be buried alongside my mother.
My cousin Mark lived in New Jersey and generously offered to represent us at the burial.
My Aunt Dolores had passed away and my uncle was dealing with health issues. My cousin told my uncle that my father had died.
Surprisingly, my uncle asked if he could attend the burial service. The answer was a resounding YES!
We were told that my Uncle Teddy was quietly reflective during the service. He was praying quietly and even signed the visitors log book.
We were all overjoyed that he was there and made that overture.
A few months later, my uncle was failing. He asked if he could speak with myself and my sister.
YES! YES! and YES!
When my uncle and I spoke, he was a little out of it. He had to ask again who he was talking to. I told him it was me.
He said, “Oh, my little Claudia.”
It was a short conversation. He asked me to forgive him. I did that a long time ago. I told him I loved him. I always loved him. He said he loved me and I started to cry.
A few weeks later, my Uncle Teddy passed away.
LIFE IS TOO SHORT
Life is too short to let squabbles and disagreements sever relationships. Family is too important!
I’m grateful my uncle reached out to my sister and me. I’m grateful there was family reconciliation in the end. Better late than never; but why wait to the end!
Family feuds only cause strife and bitterness. We need grow up and realize…
One of the things that I’m grateful for is that, even though a rift existed between my father and uncle, it didn’t stop my father from achieving his lifelong dream of owning his own home so late in life and reinforcing…it’s never too late to go after your dreams!