Saturday, November 22, 2014

Mr. Could Be Mafia

My Daddy's family had Chicago Mafia ties, my Mother had told me. I believed it, she was a connoisseur of all things mafia as well as our little family's fount of knowledge.

In 1972 when the blockbuster, 'The Godfather,' hit movie screens, suddenly and for the first
Marlon Brando starred as the aging patriarch
of the Corleone family.
and only time, my Mother and Father went to a drive-in movie. An avid reader, my Mother, had pored over the book, night after night in our living room. Quietly engrossed, ambivalent to the world around her. The
 novel she was holding tight to, "The Godfather," had first introduced the world and my Mother to the Corleones, the fictional, New York crime family.

My Mother relished Marlon Brando as aging patriarch Vito Corleone and Al Pacino as his youngest son, Michael Corleone.

For me, the movie was god-awful gory as well as hard to follow.

Not being familiar with aging mafia bosses, I was annoyed by Brando's exhausted-sounding, hard-to-understand voice (created on the set by putting cotton-in-his cheeks). For sure, though, he delivered to us a decrepit and powerful Godfather, which the entertainment industry rewarded him for, he was given the Oscar for Best Actor in a Leading Role.

Being a typical girl who loved horses; the movie's infamous, atrocious 'let's put a cut-up-horse-head in our enemy's bed,' scene, an actual horse head, left me stunned and horrified.

Less ghastly memories though include in the 1960's on Wednesday evenings driving with my Mother and Father to the La Mirada Public Library. When my stack of books needed replenishing in between those trips, I'd walk, or ride my bicycle, from our Courser Avenue home, to the library, at La Mirada Boulevard and Leffingwell Road, a trek of slightly less than one mile. Anything for books.

So it was a treat when I one day discovered books on the bookshelves of our own home. Oddly, I didn't see this treasure, within a finger's reach, for a long time.

Maybe these books lay dormant to me because I'd grown up to a world where books lived in stated confines, like, 'this building is committed to books, it's called a library'. Thus, perhaps a 'library' had tall rows of vertical bookshelves, placed back to back, row upon row. They were presented traditionally, books only, with easy signage for category and organization. Systems held books. 

Or perhaps it was the idiom, you can't see the trees because of the forest.

The books on the bookshelves in my family's home were possibly, in my young girl eyes, seen as secondary to the overall presentation of the room. In interior design 'speak,' the books and bookshelves were not the centerpiece or the focal point of the room.

Summer days were
rich with books.

Function and beauty had equal value as my Mother established our home. I kinna' noticed we had bookshelves, but I more saw a room that was decorated with books. They were mixed, interspersed with objects d' arte. A bookshelf might hold a small, framed oil painting propped on a small easel, then books, then a vase or two, then more books, and other lovelies.

In that room, my Mother had positioned my Daddy's chair exactly opposite the television set, for best viewing. The chair had a small, round, marble-top table next to it, which in the evenings often held a beer. Next to my Daddy's chair, along the back wall, sat a three-cushion, orange tweed sofa. A pool table with traditional green cloth filled the center of the large room. And books. Books were abundant. On the walls, books of all sorts were on the wall bookshelves.



These books, right next to each other, were of varied subjects, had no particular organization, were disparate styles of writing, old, new, hardback, paperback, comical, detailed writings of history and were stocked via the 'family route.' They seemed to
My Mother's copy of Louisa May Alcott's
"Little Women"
have come from my Mother's family, had been passed around by that extended family, and some, somehow found a home, in our home. And I'd not noticed them for a long time.


There were also some literary treasures.

Summers found me enjoying random, pleasant writings and also random classics. My brain hopscotched from Louisa May Alcott's classic novel about four women coming about of age, "Little Women," to the thoroughly uncontrollable, "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest," by Ken Kesey.

'Cuckoo's Nest' challenged society's treatment of mental patients via a romp in a mental  hospital with Randle Patrick McMurphy and his nemesis, Nurse Ratched. Many years later I would painfully appreciate the well done movie version (starring Jack Nicholson) with its affect on and reflection of society's treatment of the mentally ill.


My summer reading even included my Mother and Father's wedding book. Sitting in my 'Daddy's chair,' a drab olive green, Lazy-Boy recliner, I found myself mesmerized by names. Signatures of people who attended my parents wedding. Just names written in a book. To me these unknown (for the most part) names were not unimportant. These handwritten signatures were pretty recordings of a celebration of my Mommy and Daddy.

I studied them. Some of the more fun letters, B's, G's, X's, were written larger than the others. Some letters had exaggerated loops, curves, some letters were elongated a bit for emphasis. Bits of my family's history, right there, in cursive writing.

Then some more fun. The wedding book also listed wedding gifts received, and to my surprise, there were MANY $500 cash gifts. Hell-o!

Joseph A. And Phyllis J. Cardella
For a wedding that occurred in 1952, the size of these cash money gifts seemed enormous, outrageous. But they were right there, listed in my Mother's handwriting, one after another. My surprised hand runs over the listings, my fingers touching the dollar signs and the numbers.

Could be true, Southern California family has Chicago mafia ties.

How else in 1959 did we drive from Chicago, Illinois to Southern California, open up two barber shops, build a beautiful swimming pool with a nice house, next to a mansion. I don't know. I don't think it was from my Mother's Worrell family side. They were not destitute, but they weren't well off either. 

Sitting on the floor, next to my Daddy, my favorite location, I reveled in life and stories and an often discussed issue
 regarded my Italian Grandfather, Carmen Cardella, lamenting that he'd invented the machinery for Malted Milk Balls but that he'd been ripped off by the company, that the company had stolen the rights from him. 

I'm just reporting what I heard. A Google search shows the following for invention of malted milk balls.

In 1939, the Overland Candy Company introduced the predecessor
to Whoppers, a malted milk candy called Giants. Overland merged
with Chicago Biscuit Company, Leaf Gum, and Leaf Machinery,
in 1947. Two years later, Leaf Brands reintroduced malted milk balls
under the name of Whoppers.”


I don't know about all that. I do know that my Italian Grandfather Carmen Cardella took us on a grand tour of that 'Chicago candy factory,' from where he'd retired. He proudly presented us as his Californian grandchildren. I think to my Grandfather it seemed as though California was millions of miles away, across many oceans. He was so very pleased to present us, we were 'his' Joseph's children, his only son's family. 

Standing inside the candy factory, in its rooms of order and function my Italian Grandfather beamed with pride. I worried the buttons on his vest might burst. It was almost silly, and if you were a kid, it was a prestigious place to be. This was our Italian Grandfather's world and he allowed and encouraged his Joseph's children to eat, grab and fill every pocket with candy. It was a kid heaven. 

Later, when the Chicago Cardellas traveled to visit us on the West Coast, my Italian grandfather and my Daddy would sit under our walnut tree, eating fresh walnuts. Always underfoot, my Daddy would crack open one walnut for him, one for me, one for him, one for me.

As I write about this, typing on my laptop, I'm trying to envision my Grandfather, trying to put him sitting before me, next to me, so I can adequately share what my Italian grandfather looks like, how large was his ethnic presence, (indulge me here, readers, please), what he sounded like. Ummmmm... how to adequately do that here.

This voice was the voice my Daddy heard growing up.

This voice I'm sure made my Daddy quieter, more reserved.

If you're not Italian, or if you're not accustomed to being around robust Italians, having this voice as your Daddy would make one less likely to riot, in any form. I believe that.

My Daddy was a quiet man, but he was more so, I have no doubt, because of what I observed of what my Daddy heard. Of my Daddy's Daddy. I don't know, there's so much conjecture one could have and stereotypes land easily here.

Italians are uber full of passion, jam-packed sentences that fall like fireworks out of their mouths. Italians are like a people who have heavy decades of experience, full of sorrow, joy and noteworthiness. They cannot be abated, they're so sure, so present.

I saw my Daddy, a quiet strong man, with his much-stronger-in-presence Italian father. My Italian Grandfather's passion was loud, and, sometimes landed like spit. This was my Grandfather, whom I tried to call my Grampa. He was heavy in my heart and bigger than life in my life, in my little girl life.

I experienced him and am trying to write about him, and all these years later, it's still big and difficult.

My Italian Grandfather, Carmen Geoseppe Cardella was HUGE in front of me, a 6 year old, an 8 year old.

Italian people show their life experiences on their sleeves, in their gestures, thriving to get across what they want to share.

They use their hands and pound their chests to show their hearts. They offer up a morsel of their feelings in hand movements that reveal emotions in strumming fingers.




But the Italian force that was my Grandfather eventually occurred with my German Mother; the scenes in this following story, my story, are of a large man, very hardcore, "old world," Italian man. He was faced off with a strong German woman, his only son's wife and proprietor of her kitchen. Wink*.


Me a young girl, with my Daddy and my Italian Grampa - it was a sweet shady spot in lovely Southern California, made even more special by the resonating sound of the nut cracker at work and familiar male conversation. Predominantly my Grandfather's deep, hearty Italian voice. I liked this Italian man's voice. It was sumptuous to me. It was hearty. Sitting next to my Daddy, I enjoyed its strength.

We were definitely Californians now. Nevertheless on cooler Southern California Sunday nights, my Daddy would make us roasted chestnuts. Forever glued to his side, in the kitchen, he explained to me 'before you put them in the oven, cut the shell open or they'll explode. Then you can roast them.'

Uuummm . . I could barely contain my excitement. 

But he was frustrated doing so in California. I surmise. I don't know. 


Perhaps the crop of chestnuts available on the West Coast wasn't as good. We wanted them, but it stopped happening. Similarly with hockey. Although ice hockey was big in Chicago, it wasn't in the 60's in Southern California. Neither his love of hockey or roasted chestnuts traveled well to his newly adopted, Pacific Ocean, beach-side state.

They were confusing times, I believe for my Father, looking back, all these many years later. 

My Italian grandparents visited us again in Southern California but unfortunately, they were much aging and it wasn't as pretty and fun, like way back visiting them in Chicago.

My forever independent, German heritage Mother found herself care-taking for two kinna' out of control family members.


A not so pleasant memory is my very independent and proud Grampa Cardella going for a  walk and going missing for hours and my Mother finally finding him in a large dirt field. He was all alone and not really too far from our house. My Grandpa was sitting atop a dirt mound, his handsome walking cane by his side. He was wearing only dirt covered, black leather, Italian shoes, black socks with elastic sock straps and a white pair of boxer shorts.

He'd gotten lost. My Mother had finally found him and quietly together they walked home.

Possibly, I don't know, an even worse-case scenario caused my Mother and Grandfather to come to battles. A turf war.


The Italian force that was my Grandfather eventually occurred with my German Mother; the scenes in this following story, my story, are of a large man, very hardcore, "old world," Italian man. He was faced off with a strong German woman, his only son's wife and proprietor of her kitchen. Wink*.

My Italian Grandfather had proudly collected hundreds of snails and they were now sliming away on the counters, appliances and walls of my Mother's usually sanitized kitchen. These creatures and my Grandfather's loud voice led to hostility between them. It found me, super alert, cowering in the hallway, listening to my proud, resplendent Italian Grandfather vehemently telling my Mother the methods with which these snails were being 'prepared' for escargot.

My German Mother didn't turn over ownership of her kitchen; not even Mr. 'could be mafia,' Carmen Cardella, was going to bring snails into her kitchen.

We never ate escargot.

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