Chapter 6 – in progress

Chapter 6

The sound of the telephone ringing stirred Carina out of her memories.  “Oh dear, Caruso, I’m never going to get off this floor in time to answer that.”  The cat gave her an annoyed look as Carina pushed him off her lap.  She slowly pulled herself up using the chair she was leaning against.  Her letters still were littering the floor where she had been sitting.  Before she was able to sit in the chair, the answering machine clicked on and Carina could hear her great-niece Beth’s voice.

“Hi Aunt Carrie, its Beth,  I was able to get two tickets to see Romeo and Juliet at Lincoln Center this Saturday and would love it if you would come with me.  It’s a matinee so you’ll be home before dark.  I talked to Uncle Joe and he said he would meet us afterwards for dinner.  How about I come into Brooklyn around 10:30 and pick you up.  You can come back to the apartment with me for lunch with the roomies and then we’ll all head over to the ballet.  Please, please, say yes.  Okay, I’ll call you back this afternoon when my classes are finished.  Love you!”

“Oh why would that girl want to spend the day with an old woman?”  Carina mumbled to the cat.  It was true that Carina used to love going to the opera but would four young women really want her along?   She would hold them back.  She couldn’t walk very quickly.  How far was Beth’s apartment from the theater?  Could she even make it that far?  It was silly to even consider saying yes.  Beth did sound like she really wanted her old aunt to go.   Joe was even in on the plans.  She’d never been to a full ballet.  Lincoln Center was so beautiful and elegant.

“Lord, is this a blessing you are giving me or am I going to be a problem for those young ladies?  Please let me know.  I would so like to get into the city again but I don’t want to be selfish.”  Carina breathed a quick prayer and decided to let God work all the details.

Carina began tidying up the living room while she wondered and prayed about what to do.  The letters that littered the floor were organized into neat piles and placed back in the appropriate shoe box.  Jack’s letters she tied with a pink ribbon and set on the table.  It was time Carina would read through them slowly when she didn’t have other things on her mind.

Carina’s thoughts wandered to how exciting and fun it was to go to shows and concerts in Manhattan with the members of the choir of Our Lady of Victory.  Carina began to hum while she worked and before she knew it she was singing Ave Maria.   She surprised herself that she remembered the complicated piece.   Her voice wasn’t quite what it used to be but then she hadn’t really sung in a few years.   She was so grateful for music.   It had the power to change her mood and therefore her circumstances.  It seemed as if music helped her find her way through difficult times.  If she were honest music always reached out to her and God seemed to send her a melody during each season of her life.  Mama’s folk songs and the player piano helped her through her childhood.  When she was a teen Mrs. Cavalieri influenced her and opened up an entirely new harmony in her heart.

It was Carina’s turn to clean the bathrooms and the upstairs hall this week and she was not happy about it.  She was feeling so irritable.  Her siblings all had more important things to occupy them so she got stuck with the sweeping, mopping and polishing.  Everyone else in the family had something they loved and were good at. It made Carina feel like there was nothing special about her.

Carina picked up the braided rug that ran down the length of the hall.  Lorenza had worked long and hard preparing the material, braiding and sewing it together.  It was beautiful but it made Carina made.  Lorenza could make the most beautiful things out of a little bit of cloth and thread.  Her sister was praised for the dresses, curtains, quilts, even those rugs that she seemed to create without effort.  The beautiful curtains that hung in the front windows came from Lorenza’s hard work.  The room Carina shared with her older sister had so many beautiful things because of her imagination and needlework.  Carina was grateful for the pillows and doll clothes that Lorenza fashioned out of Mama’s ragbag.  It was truly a gift to be able to make such lovely things but every time something new appeared it only seemed to point out Carina’s lack of skill.

Marco was always studying for his next test or helping Mama and Papa prepare for their citizenship tests.  He also worked with Papa on the books for the family business.  He had such a sharp mind and incredible memory.  Marco would read something once and completely understand it.  Carina had to read it over and over and study for days.  Marco was also a gifted teacher and was always willing to help Carina with her schoolwork so it was hard to be jealous of his ability, but sometimes it did frustrate her that he got out of work so he could study.

Carina carried the rug outside to hang on the clothesline that ran from the house to the garage.  She would use a broom later to beat the dust out of it.  She could hear Carmine in the garage working on the toaster.  He was always in the garage tinkering with a motor or an appliance.  Carina was sure he could get anything working again.  He saved the family so much money by repairing their things.  Mama was still singing his praises for fixing her sewing machine.  Mama’s machine was a treadle machine.  She would have to pump the pedal to make the machine work.  It was tiring her legs out and she wished they could afford a new motorized machine.  One day Carmine came home with a machine he traded work for.  He said it didn’t work yet but when he was finished with it Mama would have a new, modern machine to make their clothes with.  In less than a week, Mama was happily working on Christmas gifts.

Grabbing the dust mop, a rag and some lemon oil she passed through the kitchen on her way upstairs.  Vinnie was sitting at the kitchen table hunched over a piece of paper drawing.  He was a naturally gifted artist.  There wasn’t anything he couldn’t sketch.  Carina called his drawings his little scribbles.  He would get so upset when she would say that.  A flash of guilt crept into Carina’s heart because she knew she did that just because she envied his talent.  Her little brother often gave his family portraits he had worked on for gifts.  They were cherished by the family because the likenesses were so lifelike and reflected the heart of Vinnie’s subjects.  Carina dearly longed to be able to offer something so stunning to her loved ones.

Carina thought she would start at the top of the house and work her way down.  The top floor of their house was a separate apartment that Mama and Papa rented out to an elderly widow and her daughter.  They had just moved in the week before.  Early in the morning, Roma, the daughter left for her job at the bakery.  She was a sweet young woman who worked long hours to take care of her and her mother.  Her father passed away a year ago in a street car accident.  She and her mother were forced to sell their home and move.  Mr. Cavalieri and Papa were friends back in Italy so when he found out what had happened Papa offered to have them move in at a reduced rent.  Mrs. Cavalieri took in sewing to help meet their bills.  Carina had met them the day they moved in but hadn’t much opportunity to really get to know their new tenants.

Carina climbed the second flight of stairs and the most beautiful singing she had ever heard filled the air.  She stopped still and listened.  The soprano voice was strong and clear as a bell.  Carina had never heard singing like that.  She wondered where it was coming from?  No one in her family could sing like that.  Certainly it couldn’t be coming from the apartment, could it?  It was the only explanation.  Maybe Mrs. Cavalieri had the radio on.  Carina knew that couldn’t be it because when Roma and Mrs. Cavalieri moved in they had so few things.  What a lovely mystery.  Carina sat on the steps afraid to make any noise that would break the lovely musical spell.  The flexibility and lightness of the singing set her heart soaring.  Oh, to be able to make music like that!

“Carrie, how long have you been sitting here?’  Vinnie was coming up the stairs.  “We’ve been looking for you everywhere.”  The singing stopped much to Carina’s disappointment.  She had no idea how long she’d been listening to the beautiful music.  She just knew it touched her like nothing else ever did.

“Did you finish cleaning the hall?  Do you need some help?  When we’re done maybe we can play Chinese checkers, okay?  Uh, Carrie, are you listening to me?”  Vinnie was chattering away trying to get Carina’s attention.

“Oh, I’m sorry Vinnie.  I was listening to the most beautiful singing I have ever heard.   Did you hear it?  I don’t know where it came from so I just sat here quietly.  Oh, I wish it hadn’t stopped.”

“That’s Mrs. Cavalieri.  She sings all the time.  Mama said she used to sing with at a Cathedral in Italy when she was a young girl.  That was before she moved to America.  I’ve heard her and well, I guess it’s nice but I prefer singing with the player piano myself.  I’m saving up for a guitar.  Now that would be cool.”  Vinnie had heard the singing and was unaffected by it.  Carina couldn’t believe it.

“Um, Vinnie, why don’t you go back downstairs and I’ll get to my chores here.  I don’t want to disturb Mrs. Cavalieri any more than we probably already have.  I’ll be done in a little bit.”

“Okay, Carrie, I want to do a little more work on the portrait of Mama I’m drawing.  I hope I can finish it for her birthday.”

Carina smiled at the lanky boy galloping back down the stairs.  She was hoping if she was quiet enough the beautiful singing would begin again.   The long hall outside of the apartment had a beautiful hardwood parquet floor.  Each square was a lovely pattern of dark and light and Carina swept the dust mop over it as she polished it to a shine.  The staircase had white risers with dark oak treads.  The treads and bannister matched the dark oak in the parquet floors that were in every room of the house except the kitchen and baths.  There was a lot of oak trim in that house that Mama wanted polished every weekend.  All the door frames and woodwork needed to free of smudges.  Carina didn’t mind so much.  The lemon oil smelled wonderful and if she was quiet and Mrs. Cavalieri would sing her chores would be something she could look forward to.

Over the next few weeks Carina gladly volunteered to clean the stairs and hallways.  She would work quietly so she could listen to the music that seemed to set her imagination soaring.  The words and melodies became familiar friends and Carina found herself humming along.  One Saturday she began to softly sing along.

While Carina sang and polished she noticed the apartment door had opened.  She slowly moved toward the open door.  Mrs. Cavalieri peeked out.

“You like to sing?”  She shyly asked.

Carina smiled at the elderly woman and felt just as shy.  “Oh, yes.  I wish I knew how to sing like you do.”

“Come in, come in.  Let’s see if I can teach you.”  The door opened wider.  Carina hesitated.  Should she go in the apartment?  She wasn’t sure what Mama and Papa would think.  Mrs. Cavalieri saw the hesitation on the young girl’s face.

“Why don’t I talk to your Mama and see if maybe you could help me with a few little chores and I will teach you a few things about singing in return?  Would you like that?

Without even thinking Carina nodded her head yes and gave Mrs. Cavalieri a quick hug before racing down the stairs.

Mama and Papa both agreed to the plan Mrs. Cavalieri proposed and voice lessons for Carina began.  She loved being upstairs learning notes and techniques.  Carina found her voice and her passion.  Years later it would bring her friendship and comfort when she thought she would never be happy again.

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Carina – Chapter 5

Chapter 5

Dear Aunt Carrie,

Thanks so much for the letter and care package.  The Italian cookies were amazing.  Made me feel like I was back in Brooklyn if I closed my eyes.   I’m doing well so far.  Boot camp was not easy but it’s over now and I’m almost a pilot.  I wish I could come home on leave and visit but that’s not an option right now.  Too bad you and the rest of the family couldn’t come visit me.  Guess that’s not realistic either.  I really miss you all and am will be thinking of you gathering at Thanksgiving.  Maybe I can set up a time to Skype the family.  It won’t be the same because I’ll be eating Air Force food while you all enjoy antipasto, stuffed shells, turkey, stuffing, cannoli and pie.  I’m getting hungry just thinking about it.  What I wouldn’t do for some salami and New York Italian bread.

Well, I’ve got to get back to homework.

Love you,

Pete

Carina carefully folded the letter from her great nephew.  It was so like Peter to send a letter thanking her for the little package she sent him.  She knew he missed home and family but he was pursuing his dream of becoming a pilot.  Having had three brothers do their time in the military she was well aware of what young men longed for when they were away from home.

Marco was the first to be drafted.  He wasn’t happy about going because he knew he would have to get through basic training before they would let him use his mind.  Marco was smart.  He would read constantly.  If there was a problem to noodle through, he was your guy.  He also liked his privacy.  The army wasn’t easy for him but it was good for him.  It was ironic that he was the brother that served the longest.  Marco wound up stationed in Korea and then Japan.  He really found his nitch when he was assigned to the army newspaper.  It’s interesting that he didn’t pursue that career when he came back to civilian life.  He used his investigative skills as a lawyer instead.

Carmine was the next brother to go into the army.  He was thrilled to get the chance to travel even if it meant long hours training and eating bad food.  Carmine made some lifelong friends during his service.  Everyone liked Carmine and he was always ready to include a new guy in the fun.

Carmine also loved driving all the military vehicles.  Cars, trucks, even motorcycles were always his passion.  When they were all kids during the great depression Papa needed to find a new way to supplement the family’s income.  Carmine suggested they pave the backyard and park cars there.  Zio Vincent didn’t think the idea was worth considering.  Papa was always able to recognize a good idea when he heard one and acted on Carmines suggestion.   A hospital had been built a block away and there just wasn’t enough room to park all the staff cars.  A parking lot attached to the hospital was for visitors and patients only. Together Papa, Carmine, and Marco took down part of the fence.  Uncle Vincent saw that Papa was serious about going into the parking lot business and decided to help out.  Together they leveled the dirt in the backyard and poured the cement.  When they were finished a new business venture had begun.  Carmine was thrilled to help park all the doctors’ cars.  He would even offer to clean their windows or polish the chrome for a small additional fee.   On a busy night they would have 70 vehicles parked in what was the backyard.  All that practice, in addition to driving first the ice truck and later the oil truck, made all of Carina’s brothers excellent at driving and parking any kind of vehicle.  The army loved Carmine’s skill and he wound up driving a general all around Germany during his time there.

“Hmmmm, now where did I put that box of letters?”  Carina asked the cat. Caruso just meowed like he always did.  She had found a shoe box full of her brother’s letters from when he was serving.  Lorenza had taught Carina to keep everything organize.  There was a box from each of the brothers carefully labeled with their names and the years they served.

The cat followed Carina as she walked from the living room to the dining room.  The closet under the stairs is where she stored all her precious photo albums and letters.  There were letters written by family in Italy and years and years of correspondence.     All the greeting cards and thank you letters she had received over the years were treasures to her that she enjoyed reading over.  She knew that someday someone might just throw them away but they were precious to her and she would guard them for as long as she could.  Many of the letters and envelopes were yellowed with age.  “Bernadette would love reading through those.  She’s our very own family historian.  I’ll have to show them to her next time she comes.”  Caruso rubbed against Carina’s legs in order to show he agreed with her.

There was the box she was looking for.  It was marked Carmine.  She took it into the living room and set it on the end table that sat beside her favorite chair.  She walked back through the dining room to the kitchen and turned on the gas burner under the coffee pot.

“Well, this will be a cozy afternoon with just the two of us, Caruso.  Instead of watching those ridiculous television shows we’ll read through some old letters”

Carina got out a cup and saucer and made herself a hot cup of coffee which she took back into the living room with her.  She lit the lamp, sat down and covered her lap with one of the many quilts Mama and Lorenza had made of the years.  She was going to enjoy her reading and she wanted to be comfortable.    Carina had not read these letters in decades.  When everything was just right she untied the thin string on the box.  Even that string made her smile.  Every time a visitor came they brought a bakery box filled with something delicious.  The box was always tied with blue and white string.  Papa always carefully saved the string to be used for something else.  Everything around her brought a memory.  At times she just wanted to get lost in those memories and never find her way to the present.   Other moments she longed to find a way out of her past so that she could fully enjoy the time she still had on this earth.

The letters from Carmine were carefully organized in the box.  She carefully took one out of its thin airmail envelope and unfolded it.

Dear Carina,

Well, I’m doing my best here at Fort Dix.  It’s not easy but the guys here are great and we help each other out.  At first it was rough.  Some of the recruits are really young and they miss their family’s something awful.  The rougher guys were picking on them which made things worse.  When the real hard training kicked in everyone seemed to pull together though and now I think we’re a pretty tight unit.  Tell Mama I’m fine.  Lugging 50 lb. bags of coal since I was a kid made these packs we have to carry no problem.  The worst part is the mess they call sauce.  I keep telling the guys about Mama’s gravy.  I think they all want to come home to Brooklyn with me just to eat.

I hope you are doing okay.  I’m keeping you, Lorenza and Vinnie in my prayers along with Mama and Papa.  It must be hard on Papa to have Marco and me gone at the same time.  Have you heard from the news reporter recently?  He has time to write stories for the Army but not write me.  Tell him his brother in Jersey wants to hear from him.

Give my love to everyone,

Carmine

Dear Carina,

Thanks for sending me the newspapers and some of Lorenza’s cookies.  I didn’t get to eat many because all the guys wanted to have one but the ones I did get were great.  At first they were teasing me for getting so many letters and packages from home until they tasted those cookies.  Now they ask if another package came for me. 

You wouldn’t believe the vehicles I’m getting to drive here.  What a blast.  They let me drive them off road so I am ready for anything.  It’s great.  I can’t wait until they let me drive a tank.  Don’t tell Mama I said that, it will make her worry.

Hope work is going well.  Don’t worry about being late, if you are good at your job the right boss will overlook it because you get everything done.

Love,

Carmine

Dear Carina,

Wow, what news you’ve sent me.  Lorenza has a boyfriend???  Sure, some guy tries to steal our sister when both her brothers are away.  Vinnie is too little and too skinny to scare some guy off.  Well, I need to know all about his guy so fill me in when you write your next letter.  How did she meet him?  Where is he from?  Where does he work?  I know you said he’s a nice guy but you think everyone is nice.  That’s what’s so good about you.  You see the best in everyone.  It’s also why you need Marco and me around.  The real question is what does Papa think of him? 

I got a one day leave so I went into town with two other guys.  Jack and Louie.  What a great time we had.  We found an Italian restaurant that made pretty good pasta.  Jack’s never had meatballs and pasta before.  Can you believe it?  He’s an Irish kid from Boston.    Well he’s hooked on the stuff now.  Lou is a little crazy but Jack is swell. 

Okay, gotta run.  Give Mama a hug for me.

Carmine.

Dear Carina,

This last week has been awful.  I’ve never been so sore and tired.  We don’t get up any earlier here than Papa used to get us up to work on the truck before school but, what we do between the time we get up and the time we get to go back to bed is totally different.  Most of what we do is totally pointless.  At least that’s what it seems like.  We run in big circles carrying a rifle and heavy pack.  We clean stuff that doesn’t need cleaning.  It feels like we only get 10 minutes to eat before they are rushing us out the door to march around again.  I can’t wait until they start teaching us something, like how to shoot this gun I’m always carrying around.

Okay, enough complaining.  I am meeting some interesting people here.  The guys come from all over the country.  You should hear their accents.  This guy from Alabama is named Buford.  He got a lot of ribbing and now we just call him Alabama and he doesn’t get teased any more. 

Well, I’m gonna hit the hay now.  I heard a rumor that tomorrow we start the obstacle course.

Hugs to the family,

Carmine

“Well, Caruso, my brother’s letters weren’t long but I was so happy to read them.  I still enjoy them.”  The cat seemed to nod at her in agreement.  “I guess I need to start a box for Peter.  I hope he keeps writing me.”

As she stood up the boxes fell on the rug.  “Oh, dear I wonder if I’ll be able to put them all back in the right order again.”  Carina bent down and looked at the writing on the envelope.  She stopped still.  It was from Jack.  She had pushed Jack into the back of her heart and mind years ago.  It was safe if he stayed there but she was so tempted to reread his letters.  No one but Carina had ever read these very special and painful letters.

Dear Carina,

It was so nice to meet you when you came to visit Carmine on Family Day.  Your brother had told me so much about you.  You turned out to be so much more than he described and he said all great things about you.  Thank you for sharing your picnic with me.  It really helped to be able to spend the day with you and your family.  My family is just too far away and couldn’t make it to visit me.  I can’t tell you how much your kindness means to me.

Thank you for agreeing to write to a lonely soldier.  I’m not sure where the army is going to send me but it helps to know that a pretty and nice young woman will keep in touch.

Sincerely,

Jack

Carina sat on the rug on the floor and let the memories of that day flood her mind.  If Joe decided to stop by he would think she had fallen but she didn’t want to get up.  Caruso crawled into her lap and made he made himself comfortable.  Absent-mindedly she stroked the cat while she remembered how she sat on the picnic blanket at Fort Dix and shared her picnic lunch with a handsome young solider from Massachusetts.

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“Papa, are you sure this is the way to find Carmine?”  Lorenza, Carina and Papa were strolling across a huge lawn carrying two picnic baskets, blanket and another box of provisions for Carmine.  When they found out when Family Day at the base was Papa was determined to visit.  Mama was determined that they would bring enough food to feed an army, except she intended it all to be for her son.    Since the only vehicle they owned as a family was the fuel oil truck they took the train from Brooklyn to New Jersey.  It was a long trip, especially when you were carrying a gallon of homemade wine, two bottles of cream soda, several loaves of Italian bread, two salamis, a wheel of Romano cheese, antipasto made with mozzarella, tomatoes, ham slices, roast beef, sliced turkey and rice balls along with several containers of Mama’s cream puffs and cookies.  Mama and Vinnie followed them carrying the plates, cups, utensils and napkins needed to enjoy their meal.

Uncle Zio and his two sons were doing the oil and coal deliveries with the help of old Mr. Percy.  Papa had hired the elderly man across the street to stay at the garage and help with walk-up coal sales and be there to be a kind of security guard.  He was a funny but kind man who admired Papa.  Vinnie had worked hard the past few days making sure all the coal bags were filled and labeled with the names of customers.  He had been taking over more and more of the work.   He was only 14 but he was a diligent and hard worker.  Papa wanted to reward Vinnie for his dependability and getting Zio to take over for the day was a perfect compensation.  Vinnie was so excited to be visiting his soldier brother on a real army base.  He couldn’t wait until it was his turn to serve.  Mama made no secret of the fact that she could delay her last son’s service as long as possible.

Carina couldn’t believe this was the way to get to the parade field where they would join Carmine.  Shouldn’t there be a road?  Papa kept walking so the family kept following him.  She was sure they were lost but would never tell Papa he was wrong.    Even when they passed huge climbing walls Papa just took as a sign that they were going in the right direction.

“Papa, I’m not sure this where we are supposed to be.”  Lorenza tried to persuade Papa to go in another direction.  “Look there are no people at all here.  I’m sure there would be other families arriving.”

“Lorenza, we are early.  That’s why there are no people now.”  Papa smiled and kept walking.  He was so proud of Carmine and couldn’t wait to see him.

Suddenly an army jeep came across the field to meet them.  A young soldier was driving and Carina suddenly felt very shy.  Vinnie stood closer to Mama when the vehicle stopped.

“Hello folks, do you have authorization to be on this property?”  The soldier asked politely but firmly.

Papa gave the young man a big smile.  “Do we have what?  We are here to see my son the soldier graduate.”  Papa was so proud.  “You must know my son Carmine because you are a soldier here, yes?”

“Sorry, sir.  You have to leave, this is a restricted area.”

Carina wondered how Papa was going to react.  “No, no, we are supposed to be here.  Just tell us where Carmine’s barracks are.”

The soldier took a deep breath but before he could reply to Papa, Lorenza jumped into the conversation.

“Excuse me sir, we are here for Family Day and have seemed to have gotten lost on the base.  If you would kindly direct us to the correct field we would be so grateful.”  She gave him a shy smile and batted her big brown eyes.  Carina wondered how Lorenza learned to do that.  Immediately the soldier’s attitude softened.

“I’m sorry Miss you are very lost.  Why don’t you all climb into the jeep and I’ll take you to where you need to be.”

“Oh thank you so very much,” Lorenza gushed, “You are so very kind.”

Papa, Mama and Vinnie stood there with their mouths open.  Obviously Carina wasn’t the only one to be surprised by Lorenza.  “Come on everyone, this nice soldier is going to take us to Carmine.  Get in the jeep.”  Lorenza sat in the front while Papa, Mama, and Carina climbed in the back.  Vinnie jumped up front with Lorenza.  Carina was glad her little brother had enough sense to squeeze himself between the soldier and Lorenza.

“I’m sure you know the entire base so very well.  Could you drive us past the barracks just so my parents could see where Carmine has been living?  We promise not to cause any problems.”  Lorenza requested.  The soldier didn’t seem to be able to say no to her.  He quickly pulled up beside a long low building.

“Want a quick tour?  I’m sure it will be okay and there is plenty of time before the ceremonies begin.”  The soldier obviously didn’t want to leave Carina’s big sister yet.

“Oh please Papa that would be super!” Vinnie blurted out.

“Oh, my family would love that.  How sweet.”  Lorenza gave the solidier a beautiful smile.  Mama and Papa decided to stay at the jeep with their packages and let Lorenza and Carina accompany Vinnie on the tour.

As the soldier began leading the family around the barracks building heads started popping out the windows.

“Hey Sweetheart, want to make a suffering soldier happy?”

“Give me a smile beautiful.  It’s been a long time since I saw a gorgeous smile.”

Cat calls and whistles followed them as they walked.  Carina walked close to Vinnie but Lorenza smiled and waved at the men as if she were a movie start.    “Oh Carrie, give them a little smile.  They are just lonely boys far away from home.”  Lorenza was thoroughly enjoying herself.  Vinnie was looking at their big sister with new respect in his eyes.  This was not the Lorenza they were used to.

A commotion at the door of the barracks caught Carina’s eye.  Before she knew it Carmine was running toward her.  He gave a  start as he picked her up and swung her around.  Laughing and hugging she was so very happy to see her big brother.

“When the guys were getting all excited about two glamorous gals out here I never dreamed they were talking about my sisters.  I’m going to be the most popular guy on the base.  Everyone wants to meet you.”  He was laughing and completely relishing the moment.

Carina looked at her brother.  What a handsome young man he was and his uniform only accented his good looks.  He looked leaner and stronger than he did when he left for basic training but he still had that good natured twinkle in his eyes.

“Soldier, since you are breaking the rules by being out here with these lovely ladies, I think you’d better introduce me.”

Carmine stood still and saluted the man who had come up behind them.  “Yes sir, Sargent Lance, sir.  These are my sisters, Lorenza and Carina and my brother Vinnie.”

“Please to meet you all.  Carmine has told me much about you and your mother’s cooking.”  The officer smiled.

“Our mother and father are in the jeep waiting for us.” Lorenza offered.

“Well then, how about we go over and greet them Private, then I’ll make sure your family gets to their seats for the ceremonies and you can return to your company.”  It was obviously not a request but an order given in such a way as to show respect to Carmine’s family.  “Oh and, Corporeal, “the Sargent directed his attention to the soldier who had been their driver and tour guide, “we’ll discuss how all of this came to be a bit later.”

“Yes, sir.” Carmine and the other soldier were quick to reply.

Lorenza made sure she waved to all the soldiers watching as they walked back to the jeep.  It seemed they all appreciated her gesture.

Before long the entire family was seated for the ceremony.  It was wonderfully exciting to see all the soldiers parade across the field.  Carmine received special recognition for his leadership skills.  Finally it was time to relax and picnic.

Carmine and another soldier met the family.  “This is my buddy Jack.  His family couldn’t make Family Day so I invited him to join us.”  The shy soldier nodded his head in Carina’s direction as he shook Papa’s hand.

“Well, then you must be part of our family today, Jack.” Papa patted the young man on the back.  “Carina, make sure Jack gets enough to eat.”

Carina felt shy but happy that Papa was obviously consenting to her getting to know Carmine’s friend better.

Lorenza spread a blanket on the grass and Mama put a tablecloth on a picnic table.  Carina was helping Vinnie unpack the food they had brought when Jack came up to her with a bunch of wildflowers in his hand.

“Um, since I didn’t have anything to contribute to the meal, I thought maybe I’d pick some flowers for you, uh, I mean the table.”

Carina felt the blush rising on her cheeks.  Her little brother elbowed her and whispered, “For the table huh?”  He was smiling at her with goofy grin.  “Well, I think I’ll go chat with Carmine for a bit.”  Vinnie said out loud as he walked away.

“Oh, Jack, uh, that’s very thoughtful.  We can put them in a paper cup.”  Carina found her voice.  She’d never had a boy bring her flowers before.  This was nice.  “Want to help me unpack the food?”

“Sure, at home my mom always made us set the table.”  Carina started handing Jack bowls to put on the table.  “Wow, this smells great but nothing like what we eat in Boston.  You’re going to have to teach me what’s what.”

“Well, Mama and Lorenza are the real cooks in the family but I put together the antipasto.”

“Young man, where is your family?”  Mama was suddenly right beside Carina.  “What sort of foods do you eat in Boston?”  Carina giggled to herself, poor Jack was going to be questioned by Mama.

“Um, well Mam we’re sortah  a meat and potatoes family.  My family lives outside of Boston with my two sisters.   They are both youngah than I am and I miss them terribly.  Eileen is 12 and Sharon is 14.  If I have the time and money I want to take the train up to see them before I’m sent overseas   My Pop passed away a few years ago so I send most of my paycheck home so Mom can get the little extras the girls like so much.  You know pretty dresses and such.”

“That’s a good boy, you go see your family before you travel.”  Mama smiled at Jack.  Carina was happy to have Mama talk to him so she could study his handsome face.  His twinkling blue eyes and sandy colored hair appealed to Carina.  He had a good, kind look about him.  It was no wonder he and Carmine had become close friends.  They shared a love of family.

The afternoon flew by all too quickly.  It was a wonderful day picnicking, watching the boys play ball and laughing with Carmine.  Most of all she got to know Jack.  He fit into their family so naturally.  Vinnie loved playing in a pick-up baseball game with his big brother and the other soldiers.  Now it was time to pack up and head back to Brooklyn.  Carmine still didn’t know where he was going next but he was pretty sure he would have a few days to come home before the stage of his military service.

“So Carrie, what do you think of Jack?”  Carmine looked at his little sister.  “He asked both Papa and I if he could write to you.  He’s a great guy.”

“He did?  What did Papa say?”  Carina couldn’t believe this handsome, sweet soldier was interested in her.

“Papa said yes, what else could he say?  Just make sure I don’t get less letters, okay?”

Carina gave Carmine a big hug.  “Oh Carmine, how can I be so happy and so sad all at the same time?   How can my whole world change in one afternoon?”

“Good, you deserve a good man and Jack is a good man.  Now can I tell him he can walk with you as you leave?”

Carina smiled while tears filled her eyes.  “I love you big brother.”

“Hey, Jack, can you help Carrie with her bag?”  Carmine called to his friend.  Jack hurried over and picked up the bag that sat on the picnic table.

“It’s my pleasure.”  Jack smiled at Carina and her heart did a little flip.  “It would also be so wonderful if you would write to me while I’m away. “

“I would love to write to you Jack.” Carina smiled at him.  Could she fall for this man in one day?  Well, she would see if their letter writing would draw them closer.

Dear Carina,

Thanks so much for the care package.  The cookies and paperback books were great.  I would love to be able to tell you about where I am and what’s going on here but I think the censors would probably black it out and this letter wouldn’t be much to read.

 I can tell you that it gets awfully lonely even with a whole platoon of men around me.  I miss home so much and can’t wait until I finish serving my time.  When this war is over I’m coming home to get you.  My mom and sisters can’t wait to meet you, Carrie.  I have written them all about how wonderful you are.  I promise I will talk to all your brothers and your parents to get their permission to court you properly.

Keep sending me your lovely letters.  I read them over and over and they help me deal with all the mess this war is.  You are always in my heart and my prayers.

Fondly,

Jack

Carina put the note back into it’s envelope carefully.  She didn’t know if she had the strength to read through all 22 letters.  She knew there were only 22.  The memories came flooding back to her.  Why did life have to be so painful sometimes?  How different everything would have been if there had been more letters.

She looked at the next one in her hand.  There letters weren’t in order any more.  This was the last letter Jack had sent her.  As she slowly and carefully removed the airmail paper from the envelope she felt like someone who had no control.  Carina realized she has never gotten over Jack.

Dearest Carina,

Only three more weeks my love.  Three weeks and I will leave this wretched war and come home to you.  Your Papa has given his blessing for us to be married.  Carmine has agreed to be my best man.  You my dear will be the loveliest bride there ever was and ever will be.  We will be married at your church in Brooklyn and then move to Boston to be near my Mom and sisters.  I know that will be hard for you.  Thank you for agreeing to live near my family.  They will need our help a little more than your family.  I promise we will visit Brooklyn as often as possible.  I will spend my life making you feel loved and cared for.  

Every night I kiss the picture you sent me.  I can’t wait to hold you close and be with you every day.  Please keep me in your prayers.  I know that God has plans for us  and He will keep us safe while we are apart.   Be well my dear.  Soon we will be together.

Your Jack always.

Carina looked around at the other envelopes scattered on the floor.  There under the chair was the envelope that changed everything.  Jack never made it to Brooklyn or Boston.  His mother was the one to write to Carina and break the dreadful news.

Dear Carina,

I’m so sorry that one of the first times I write to you I have to give you the most dreadful news I’ve ever had to deal with.  The Army Casualty Affairs Office sent me a telegram that my dear boy was killed in the line of duty.  I do not know how to go on.  I do know that he loved you so very much and was eager to build a life and a family with you my girl.  

Please keep in touch with me.  Know that you are always welcome in our family.  You were my son’s heart and will always have a place in mine.

Lovingly,

Mom Brennan

Carina lovingly put the letters back in their box as tears quietly slide down her cheeks.  No, she’d never gotten over Jack Brennan and she was sure she never would.

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Stalls and stories.

My tale of Carina has been stalled for just a bit.  It seems it needs some reworking.  I had a few chapters critiqued and I keep being told that I need a bigger conflict.  Apparently there is not enough danger, suspense and drama in Carina’s life.  Hmmm, I’m going to have to think about this. How can I spice up this 80 year old’s life.  Well, since she’s from Brooklyn there has to be something.

Anyway, isn’t it amazing how little things in life can inspire a story?  Someone I know just sold a house and part of the purchase price was paid in cash under the table.  After my husband and I created a hilarious improv of an old woman getting paid off for her house I had to jot down a little story.  It doesn’t have an ending.  I will share part of it with you all.  Perhaps you have some ending ideas.

Enjoy!

Barb

THE DEAL    Image

Why am I sitting alone on a folding chair in my empty childhood home? I keep refolding the tissue in my hand and smoothing it out again on the card table. I am doing the right thing. I need to make sure I have enough money to live comfortable. My family taught me that. Now I was alone and needed to make sure the sale of the family home benefitted me because it would be the last chance I had to stuff my nest egg. The realtor was my life-long friend Beatrice so I knew she would work with me. I just let her have first choice of the furniture that was left to divvy up as her “payment.”
The doorbell chimed and I took my time answering the door. No sense rushing things. When I opened the door there stood Beatrice with a huge smile on her face and the two men who were buying the old house.
“Come in.” I invited and gestured toward the living room. The a few chairs and a small table to do our business on made the room look bleak.
“Well, I’m so happy to be able to settle this deal.” Beatrice gushed. “I know you gentlemen will love living here.”
“Mrs. Minetta, you are okay with the arrangements that we have proposed?” The older of the two men asked? His beaded eyes peering out from bushy eyebrows seemed to bore through her.
“It will be fine. I think we will both benefit from this agreement.” I gave him a half smile. No one needed to know exactly how much I was getting for the house. This was going to be very fine.
“Okay, I will need you all to sign some documents and then a check can be written.” Beatrice took over. She was experienced at these kinds of deals and it profited her as well.
All three of us got our pens out ready to be finished with this business. As I put ink to paper my hand began to shake. Was this entirely honest? Yes, yes it was. Beatrice wouldn’t help me do something that was unsavory.
“Very good, Mrs. Minetta. Now, here is your check for $200,000.” Beatrice handed me a check.
“Thank you.” I put the check in my purse. I waited quietly for the next part.
No one said anything for a few minutes. Beatrice coughed to let the gentlemen know they needed to complete the transaction on their own.
“Oh, of course.” The young man said and opened his brief case. “Thank you for agreeing to this rather unorthodox way of doing business.” I nodded my head. I could see a light sheen of moisture above his lip. I wondered if I could finish this entire business without saying another word.
The younger man cleared his thought and loosened his collar. “By agreeing to take part of the price in cash you have really helped us out. No need for any of us to pay extra taxes right?” He cleared his throat again. “ So glad this worked out,” he added. The older man glared at him and he stopped talking.
Slowly the younger man began to count out one hundred dollar bills on the small table. It took a while to count out the $200,000 cash that they had agreed upon. The entire little table was covered in money. I was glad I brought my largest pocketbook. I took my time packing all those bills away. It felt so wonderful to actually have cash and not just a silly piece of paper. Checks never felt like real money.
Once all the money was off the table I shook hands with both the men and handed them a set of keys. Our relationship was over and what a pleasant, albeit short one it was. Beatrice packed up her paperwork and we both got up to leave. The gentlemen rose and saw us out.
Once out on the street I realized just what I was carrying. Panic hit. I had to carry all this money several blocks to the bank. I was going to deposit the check and hide half the cash in my apartment in case of an emergency. I must admit the Great Depression had left a huge mark on me and I never completely trusted banks. I liked having a stash at home. Security came at a price.
“Did we really just pull that off, Lilly?” Beatrice whispered as if the men inside would hear her.
A giggle burst out of my lips unexpectedly. “I guess we did. Now, I to have to safely get this money to the bank.”
I tucked my bag under my arm and Beatrice locked elbows with me. Together we began to walk as quickly as two 80-something-year-old women could walk. Our heads kept swiveling around making sure no one was following us. As much as we tried to act natural, we found it impossible. Would anyone be able to tell that we had a fortune between our bodies in an old black purse?
Sweat began to drip down my back. Beatrice was puffing like a locomotive.
“We could have called a cab.” Beatrice panted.
“What and waste the money when it’s only a short walk?” I sounded ridiculous even to my own ears but there was no turning back now. I was a stubborn woman and not about to admit I’d made a foolish decision.
“Just keep walking, we’ll be at my house soon. We’ll stop there for a rest.” I pulled Beatrice along. She was visibly shaking. I hoped I wouldn’t kill my oldest friend.
We finally got to the corner of the long block but the traffic was against us. A beat up looking car pulled up to us.
“Excuse me, ladies.” A big man behind the wheel called to us. I thought I would jump out of my skin. I actually heard Beatrice’s teeth chattering in fear.
“Just ignore him.” I whispered. “Walk, walk away.”
“B..b.. but the bank is not in that direction.” Beatrice stuttered.
The car followed us. “I just need to know how to get to Coney Island,” the man called out.
“We’re from Jersey!” I shouted as I pulled Beatrice into an alley behind the Catholic Church.
“This is an alley…is this safe?” Beatrice wasn’t turning out to be the best side-kick.
“It goes past the rectory’s back yard and ends across from my new apartment. Just keep walking.” My legs were getting sore. My knee high stockings were pooling around my ankles but I knew if I stopped I’d never get Beatrice going again. I’d pay for this escapade tomorrow but today it was all worth it.
Just as we were passing the rectory gate Father Rizzo came out. “Ahhh, Mrs. Minetta, what are you doing walking through the alley? It’s not the easiest ground to navigate. Why don’t you come in and I’ll take you home? I just have to grab a few things. I’m visiting some parishioners in order to take up the collection for the African Orphans Society and I’d love to discuss it with you.”
“Um, well you see Father, I have to get my friend Beatrice home right away. Perhaps we can talk some other time.” I tried to think quickly. I didn’t want to stop for anything. I couldn’t lie to a priest and if I didn’t have to talk to him I’d have no reason to.
“Well, any friend of yours is a friend of mine.” He gave me that pastorial smile.
“Mrs. Levine is Jewish and I don’t think she can ride in a car with a Catholic priest.” I couldn’t believe I just said that. Maybe it was true. I’d once heard that Jewish people couldn’t enter a Catholic Church. Was that just an old wives tale? Beatrice wasn’t denying it but then I don’t think she can speak the way she’s panting for air.
“Ahh, I see. No offense meant.” The priest looked skeptical but turned to go back in the house.
I kept pulling my shaking, stumbling friend along the alley. Only a few hundred yards more and we’d be safely behind the locked door of my new little apartment. I could see the door from here.
The alley was dusty and our shuffling feet seemed to kick up more dirt. Beatrice began to wheeze and the let out a huge sneeze. Without thinking I reached into my bag for a tissue and pulled out a one hundred dollar bill. Oh my, how could I be so silly. I shoved the money back and firmly closed my purse again.
I was glad I thought to put my keys in my coat pocket instead of my purse. Usually I had to dig to find my keys in the bottom of this bag before I could unlock the door. After the tissue incident that would be a disaster.
Traffic was whizzing by and it seemed like everyone in Brooklyn was walking by my house as I fumbled with the locks. Come on, come on. Get the key in the lock, turn and click!
Beatrice and I practically fell inside the front hall. I rushed into my bedroom in the back while my poor overwrought friend collapsed in a kitchen chair. I should get her a cool drink of water but I was too eager to hide my fortune. Now, where would I hide it?
“Lilly? What are we going to do now? I need some water or coffee or something.” Beatrice called from the kitchen. “Do you have cookies? That would be nice too.”
I shoved my bag into a hatbox and slipped the hatbox to the back of my closet before I went back to check on my reluctant side-kick. She was talking and wanted something to eat so I knew she hadn’t fainted or expired. That was a relief. The idea of $200,000 in my closet was enough to worry about.

Okay friends, what happens next?  I may have to do some more improv in the kitchen with my family to come up with something.

©BVogelgesang2013

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The secretarial pool

Inspiration for Carina's experience in the secretarial pool.

Inspiration for Carina’s experience in the secretarial pool.

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Carina – Chapter 4

Chapter 4

“Bernadette, come help me get these portraits off the wall.”  Carina and her nieces were working on packing up some of the family treasures.  It was a dusty job.  Up in the attic the old family portraits were in heavy frames on the wall.

“Now, were these Grandma’s parents or Grandpa’s?”  Bernadette asked.

“Sit down, Zia, it sounds like Bernie needs a story while we work.” Lorrie teased.  Bernadette was fascinated by family history and there was so much she had never heard.  Carina loved sharing these stories, it made her feel closer to the brothers and sister that were gone and helped her get through all the changes that were going on in her life.

Bernadette placed a cushion on a folding chair so her aunt would be comfortable.  The cat quickly jumped onto the seat.  “Oh no you don’t Kitty, that’s for Zia Carrie.”

Carina took a seat and her cat curled up around her feet.  “That one, with the man with the bushy mustache was Grandma’s parents,” Carina pointed out.  “The other couple, who are dressed in dark clothing, was Grandpa’s.”

“Wow, look at this picture with all of you when you were young.”  Lorrie handed Carina another framed photo.  “I recognize Uncle Marco, Uncle Carmine and my dad, but who is that other boy?  He looks a lot like my dad.”

“That was our brother Domenic.  He and your dad were pretty close.  Weren’t my brothers so handsome?”

“Let me see.  Dad had told us about his brother Domenic but we’ve never seen a picture of him.  He looks a lot like my dad.”  Bernadette looked over her sister’s shoulder.  “What happened to him, Zia, if it doesn’t hurt too much to talk about it?”

“Well, you know he was one of twins but my poor little sister died at birth.  That was the first sad day I remember in my life but the day Domenic died was really hard.”

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“Aw, come on Carrie.  Why don’t you let me go outside?”  Domenic begged.  He wanted to get the boys down the block who had been bullying the little kids.  Domenic was a tough guy.  The older brothers said he was a little Jimmy Cagney.  They were proud of the way he stood up to bullies. Domenic never went looking for a fight but he never backed down from one.  Injustice was something he just couldn’t tolerate.

“Domenic, you know Mama said you need to stay inside now.” Carina tried to explain.

“There’s nothing going on now.  It’s okay to go outside.” Domenic gave her a big smile.

Papa was right, Carina thought, this boy could sell snowballs in winter.  She couldn’t give in.  Mama said that there were gangs roaming around and they were looking for kids to beat up.    Vinnie just sat on the floor staring up at her.  He looked scared.  Vinnie’s big eyes had tears pooled in them and he shook his head no behind his big brother’s back.  Grace was charged by Lorenza to occupy the boys while she helped their mother get dinner.  Most Saturdays the family spent doing chores.  The girls helped Mama in the house and the boys worked with Papa on the oil truck, filled bags of coal to be delivered to customers in the tenements or had outside chores to do.  If they finished things up quickly they would take the shoe shine box and try to make enough money to go to the movies.  They were a team, Domenic and Vinnie.  Domenic was the talker and Vinnie did most of the shoe shining.  The goal was to make two dollars before lunch so they could go to the matinee.  Those boys loved the movies especially.   Vinnie loved Roy Rodgers and Gene Autry while Domenic’s favorites were the RKO Zane Grey series.  It really didn’t matter what they saw as long as they got to see something on the big screen.  They were also working on getting enough movie theater plates to give Mama a new set of dishes for Christmas.

Carina knew that Domenic wanted to go out.  He was thirteen years old and figured he was too old to be bossed around by a big sister.  He also was sure he could take care of himself no matter what.  Domenic would never be mean or disrespectful to his sisters but he could be charming.  Maybe that was worse.  Carina knew that Domenic could wrap her around his little finger and she was determined to not give in.

“Domenic, if you want to go out, you need to talk to talk to Papa when he gets back from his Saturday deliveries.”

“Okay Carrie, I’m sorry for giving you a hard time.  How about we play a game of Chinese checkers?”

“I’ll get the board set up.”  Vinnie volunteered and ran down the stairs.

Domenic and Carina laughed at their brother’s sudden enthusiasm.  They both knew he’d been frightened by the kids who were bullying him earlier.  Ten year old Vinnie was a lover, not a fighter.  He was slight for his age and often mistaken for younger than he was.  When four high school kids from two blocks away started roughing him up he had no choice but to give them his money.  They’d stolen the fifty cents he’d made shining shoes and pushed him around.  Domenic had been filling the last coal bags and wasn’t with his brother when it started but he had heard the commotion and ran to help.  Mama heard what was going on too and quickly chased her boys in the house while she told the bullies to be on their way or she would call the police.  They just laughed at her but seemed to move on.  Domenic knew better.  Unless someone really put those guys in their place, they would be back to torment more of the younger kids on the block.

Carina and Domenic headed downstairs to the parlor to meet Vinnie.  “Um, Carrie, I think Papa is back.  I’m going ask Mama if I can go to talk to him.  Will you keep Vinnie occupied for a few minutes?”

“Okay, but make sure you ask Mama first.”  Carina reminded him.

“I’m going right now into the kitchen.  See.”  Domenic went through the kitchen door.  Carina relaxed.  The only way for Domenic to get outside now was to pass through the kitchen into the backyard or through the parlor to the front door.

Their house was sent up with three rooms railroad style on each floor.  The kitchen was in the back of the house, then the dining room with the parlor on the street side.  Above these rooms were Mama and Papa’s bedroom in the back, the girls in the middle and the boys over the parlor.  It was a neat and tidy house.  Big enough for all of them but still cozy.

Mama popped her head into the parlor.  “Carina, Domenic è con papa.  Its okay, they are outside together.  Vincenz, you want some cookies?”

“Sure Mama!” Vinnie quickly forgot the Chinese checkers and went into the kitchen with Mama.

Carina decided to go up to finish tidying her bedroom.  She gotten almost to the top of the stairs when she a loud crash and people screaming from outside.  She ran down the stairs just as Mama and Lorenza were getting to the front door.

“What happened?” Mama asked.   Zia Ella was on our stoop already and a crowd had formed by the curb.  People were crying and yelling.  Mama couldn’t understand what was going on.  Zia Ella was yelling and gesturing trying to get information.

Suddenly the neighbors on the sidewalk quieted and turned toward Mama.  Mr. Zito from across the street came to the stoop with tears in his eyes.  The sound of a siren screamed in the distance.

“”Mi dispiace tanto.”  Mr. Zito choked out.  “So very sorry.”

“What are you sorry about?” Lorenza nervously asked.

“Lorenza, Per il Papa.”  Mama slowly and deliberately spoke.  “Get Papa now.”  She turned to Carina.  “Keep Domenic and Vinnie upstairs.”

Carina saw fear and sorrow in her Mama’s face.  “What’s happening Mama?”  Carina started to cry.

“Now, you go.”

Papa and Carmine came around the house as Carina was heading up the stairs.  “Papa, where is Domenic?”

“Domenic, he’s not in with you?”  Papa seemed confused.

“No Papa, he was supposed to be outside with you.”

They heard the siren’s loud warning stop outside the house.  Then Mama started to wail in sorrow and pain and Papa ran outside.  Carmine quickly followed.  Carina was terrified and she didn’t even know why.  She ran up the stairs looking for her brothers.  She found Vinnie sobbing by the window in the boy’s room.

“Oh Carrie, it’s horrible.  One of the kids was hit by a truck outside.  I can’t tell who it is but they are hurt really, really bad.  He was being chased by those bad guys.” He spoke really quickly and sobbed.  Vinnie was friends with every kid he met and didn’t take friendships lightly.  He was badly shaken.

Carina sat next to him and held him in her arms while she rocked him.  Her heart was seizing with fear.  She knew that wasn’t a neighbor lying out in the street.  It was Domenic.  Silently she prayed.  “Lord, please make my brother okay.  Please don’t take him from us.  Oh Lord, help us.”  She was rocking back and forth with Vinnie in her arms when Lorenza came into the room.  Without even looking up Carina whispered, “It was Domenic.”

“Yes.” Lorenza confirmed as she broke down.  They heard the ambulance leaving as Carmine came in and hugged Lorenza.

“Oh Carrie, it’s all my fault.” Vinnie sobbed.  Carina held her brother tightly and tried to calm him.  “How could it be your fault?  You were inside, you had nothing to do with it.”

“It was the bullies, the bullies who stole my money today.  Domenic told them he would get them and they laughed and said he’d only get the money back over his dead body.”  Vinnie was gasping for air as he cried.  Carina hugged him tighter.

“Vinnie, no matter what happens, it’s not your fault.” Carmine softly spoke.  “Domenic made his choice.   Mama and Papa went to the hospital.  We’ll wait here and pray.”  It reminded Carina of when she was five years old and prayed for her new born brother.  The four siblings placed their brother in God’s hands as they bowed their heads and clasped each other’s hands.

St. John’s hospital was only down the block but it seemed as if Mama, Papa and Domenic were a million miles away and completely unreachable.  The afternoon turned to dusk as Carina and her siblings waited for their parents to come home and tell them what was going on.  Eventually Lorenza encouraged a very worn out Vinnie to lay down in his bed and rest.  The boy cried himself to sleep long before Mama and Papa came home.  The three older kids heard the door open downstairs and crept down without waking their younger brother.

Mama was sitting in the parlor with her rosary beads.  “Come,” was all Papa had to say to get them to sit in the dining room.

“Domenic didn’t make it.  He is gone to be with the angels.”

“What happened?” Carmen asked in a tone that was both angry and distraught.

“It seems he was chased into the street by those bad ones.  The police are taking care of them so it won’t happen to any more children.”  Papa spoke in a broken voice, very deliberately.  His sorrow made him hoarse so Carina had to listen carefully.  Tears were streaming down all their faces.

“But I don’t understand,” it was Lorenza’s turn to ask questions.  “How did this happen?  He was supposed to be inside or in the yard.”

“He was helping me in the yard.  We finished and as far as I knew he went in the house to get cookies.  Instead he snuck out front.”  Papa explained.  “I cannot understand why this happened but I know God will help us deal with it.  I must get your Mama to bed now, I’m worried for her.”  Papa went into the parlor and helped Mama up from her chair and they disappeared holding each other.

“What do we do now?”  Carina wondered aloud.

“We have to contact Marco and take care of Mama, Papa and Vinnie.   Vinnie’s going to need us.”  Lorenza always seemed to know what to do.

Carmine grabbed both his sisters.  “And we need to take care of each other.”

Bernadette and Lorrie sat at their aunt’s feet with tears streaming down their cheeks while she gazed at the portrait in her hands.

“Family is so very important girls.  Don’t every take each other for granted, you don’t know how long you will have each other.”  Carina told her nieces.  “There is nothing like the bond of family.  I don’t think any of us ever got over losing our brother.”

“Mom, Aunt Lorrie, Zia Carrie, are you up there?”  Bernadette’s nineteen year old daughter called up the stairs.  “My classes were canceled for this afternoon so I brought some cupcakes to share.  Come down, I’m putting the coffee on.”

“Well, it sounds like the future is calling us out of the past, let’s go down and help Beth make the coffee.”  Lorrie and Bernadette were happy for the break in the mood.  Neither one had expected to get so emotional.  Beth’s energy would do them all good.

Carina followed the women down to the kitchen.  Beth’s excited chatter about what went on in her classes that week was a sign to her that she needed to focus on the family she had now surrounding her.  It was important to pass on the family history but there was still time to create future memories that were happy.

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Carina – Chapter 3

“Aunt Carrie, I’ll be there to pick you up for dinner in 15 minutes.  Is that okay?”  Carina’s nephew Joe texted her on the new cellphone he had bought her.  He was trying to drag her into the modern times.  Carina tried to learn how to use a computer while Marco was still alive.  He set up an email account for her so her nieces and nephews could keep in touch but she was never comfortable using it.  What was wrong with writing letters?  Letters were wonderful.  You could keep them forever.  You could curl up with the cat and read them over and over.  It was so wonderful to get a letter in the mail.

Joe was an attentive nephew and he was trying to be helpful.  He had told her that “snail mail” as he put it was rarely used anymore.  Everyone used the internet now.  Carina was doing her best to get used to new technology, but only one device at time.  This cellphone texting was enough for now.  Joe was okay with that.  He wanted her to have a phone with her all the time in case she needed him.   He was nervous about her being alone and the only thing he could do was equip her with more modern technology so he could get in touch with her at any time.

Slowly, laboriously Carina typed out her reply.  “Okay, see you then. Love Aunt Carina.”    Why didn’t they make these little screens and little buttons bigger?  Hitting send she felt so accomplished.  It had taken her so long to type out her little reply she wondered if her nephew would be here before he received it.  Carina decided she would stop resisting new ways because she needed to learn how to communicate with her nieces and nephews.   Her life was different now and she no longer wanted to be left behind.   It reminded her of when she started her first job.  Learning to deal with executives, work quickly and learn all the banking terms really stretched her.  She felt the same way now.

*****************************************************************************

“Carina, I’m so proud of you. You’re going to do great at your new job.”  Carmine smiled at her over their breakfast of coffee and toasted bread.  He knew she was nervous about going into the city alone and he had been building her up for the last week.  He had accompanied her when she went into the city for the interview.  Knowing he was sitting outside waiting for her gave her the courage she needed that day.  Today would be different.  Carmine had to go with Papa to work on the oil truck.

Carina was surprised that Mama hadn’t come down yet.  She was sure her mother would want to see her off.  It was still pretty early but Carrie wanted to have breakfast with her older brother on her first day.  Things were changing so quickly in their family.  It was exciting but scary.  Lorenza had been working at a dressmaker for almost a year now and Marco was in the army.  Carina didn’t like the fact that her family was slowly moving on to their own lives.  Even Vinnie seemed to be growing up too fast.

“Ahhh, Carina, you are up early.  I guess you are excited to start your new job in the city.”  Papa looked so proud of her.  She didn’t want to let Papa down so she tried to hide her nervousness and her fear.

Mama and Lorenza followed Papa into the small kitchen.  They were smiling and giggling together.  Carina wondered what was going on.

“Oh Carina, you can’t go to your first day of work dressed like that.” Lorenza appraised her sister’s outfit.

“It’s my best skirt and blouse.”

Her mother was shaking her head no behind Lorenza but she was smiling.  “No, no Carrie.  You need to change.  Go on upstairs and see if you find something else.”

Carina didn’t know how she could obey her mother.  She had spent the last two days going through all her clothes trying to figure out what she would wear to work this week.  She made sure she picked what she thought was her best for her first day in the secretarial pool.  She was wearing her nicest grey skirt with a cream colored blouse.  The blouse had a peter pan collar that fit just perfectly folded over her black button down sweater.  She had put her favorite little pin on the collar.

“Go, hurry, you’ll be late Carina if you don’t get moving.”  Mama urged her up the stairs.  When Carina entered the room she and Lorenza shared she saw a beautiful new blue suit lying on the bed she shared with her sister.  She couldn’t believe her eyes. She whirled around to see Mama and Lorenza smiling at her.

“Well, change and come downstairs quickly so we can see how you look.” Papa called from downstairs.

Carina quickly changed into the beautiful skirt and jacket.  Her cream colored blouse matched perfectly.  She couldn’t understand how her family could afford such a wonderful outfit.  When she came down to the kitchen everyone was lined up with big smiles on their faces.

“Surprise!”  Vinnie shouted.  “We all helped to get you new clothes.  I gave a whole dollar and fifty cents from helping Domenic fill coal bags and he let me shine some shoes.”  Her littlest brother was so proud that he finally got to help.  His crooked little smile absolutely glowed.  The thought of her family working together to provide for her brought tears to her eyes.  It also gave her courage.  She knew they believed in her and she wouldn’t let them down.

“Oh gosh, look at the time.” Carmine pointed out.  Everyone started gathering things kissing Carina goodbye and rushing out the door to work or school.  “Good luck Carrie, I know you’ll be great.”  Vinnie called as he rushed out the door with his books. “You’ll be fantastic Toots,” Domenic gave her a little peck on the cheek.  He was always trying out new slang words and making Carina laugh.   In a few moments it was only Carina and Mama in the kitchen.

“Carina, ho molto da vantarmi di voi.”  Mama gave her a hug. “I am so proud of you.”  She repeated in English before being reminded.  “Now, go or you’ll be late.”

Carina grabbed her bag and ran down the street to the subway.  She had her change for the fair tucked in the front pocket so it was easy to find.  She was grateful that Lorenza helped her get organized last night.  The ride into Manhattan did not take long. The trains made traveling into the city easy.  It could be that Carina’s nerves made it seem even shorter.  She walked into the room where the secretarial pool was and introduced herself to supervisor, Miss Kent.  The room looked very much like the classroom she spent her high school years in learning to type and take dictation.  There were at least 15 desks set up in rows facing the supervisor’s desk at the front of the room.  The majority of the desks were occupied by young women who were busy typing.  The room seemed noisy with the clacking of the keys but was pretty devoid of talking.

“Your desk will be over here.  I will call you when you are needed by one of our executives.  We expect our girls to be on time, diligent in their work and not get caught up in gossip.”

“Thank you.” Carina knew she was being appraised by the other girls in the pool.  She had never been in a situation like this before.  Growing up her siblings had always been around to shield her.  “Well, Carina you’re a big girl now.” she thought to herself.  “No one to hide behind.”

“Hi, I’m Maria.” The girl in the desk next to her introduced herself.  She was a plump brunette with adorable cheeks when she smiled.   “What’s your name?”

“Carrie, nice to meet you.”  Carina thought it would be better to use the Americanized version of her name.

“If you need any help, just ask and welcome to the pool.”  Maria smiled at her and went back to her typing after a look from Miss Kent.

The morning went well.  Carina wasn’t called to any offices but she had been assigned some filing.  Maria invited her to go to the lunchroom and have lunch with some of the other girls.  Outside the secretarial pool the girls were a friendlier bunch.  They talked about their families, their boyfriends, or lack of one, fashion and movie stars.  Carina was feeling pretty good about this new life.

When she got back from lunch Miss Kent handed Carina a slip.  “Mr. Burns on the second floor needs you to take some dictation and then come back and transcribe it.  He’ll need it done by the end of the day.”

At first Carina was excited to finally get called but when Miss Kent wished her good luck she couldn’t help thinking that was an omen.  Finding Mr. Burn’ office was easy.  He was yelling at someone on the phone and motioned to Carina to sit down.  She took one of the chairs in front of his desk and sat patiently with her steno pad and pencil in hand.  Her first impression of Mr. Burns was that he was a rather unfriendly, brusque man.  The way he was talking to the other person on the phone intimidated her a bit.

“So you’re the new girl.  You look kind of young but let’s see how you do.  Did Kent tell you I needed these done by the end of the day?”

Mr. Burns spoke quickly with a thick New York accent.  He was a no nonsense man.  He began dictating to Carina, speaking so quickly she had a hard time keeping up.  Many of the terms he used she had never heard of so she hoped her notes would make sense after she typed them up.  After a half hour of dictation she was dismissed when the telephone rang and Mr. Burns went back to his loud, animated conversation.

Carina spent all afternoon trying to decipher her notes.  She had no idea what she was writing about.  Working in the financial district wasn’t going to be easy until she could master this new language.  At the end of the day she handed in her file to Miss Kent.  She was mentally spent and couldn’t’ wait to get home.

“Um, Carrie, could you wait a few minutes before you leave.  I need to speak with you.”  Miss Kent was holding the letters Carrie had spent all afternoon on.

“Mr. Burns was not happy with these.  I guess you were never taught financial terms in school, were you?”  Miss Kent gently inquired.

“No, I’m sorry Miss Kent.  I tried my best. I can type quickly and take dictation pretty well but I had no idea what Mr. Burns was talking about and he spoke so quickly I was afraid to ask questions.”  Carrie found herself speaking quickly.

“Okay, here’s what we are going to do.  I’m not going to send you upstairs at all for the next week but I am going to work with you.  Take this book home and start learning the terms on the first few pages.  Tomorrow I’ll explain what you don’t understand and teach how to make notations for them.  You’ll get it and will be fine.”

Carina was so embarrassed.  She wished a hole would open in the floor and swallow her up.  Miss Kent noticed her distress.

“Don’t worry.  Now go home, get some rest and I’ll see you in the morning.”

“Thank you,” Carina whispered before she left the office.

The train ride home was very crowded and long.  Carina was so weary when she got off at her stop but there was the cheery faces of her smiley little brothers Domenic and Vinnie waiting to walk her home.  She hugged both of them.  They were a wonderful sight.

“How was your day Carrie?  I bet everyone thought you were just swell.”  Domenic chattered on as they walked home.  At twelve years old he prided himself on using all the latest American slang.   “Mama’s really putting on the Ritz for dinner to celebrate your first day.”

Vinnie just held onto Carrie’s hand tightly as they walked home and kept giving her really big smiles.  She loved how special her brothers made her feel, even if she felt exhausted and unsure of herself.

The next week and a half went quickly.  Carina studied her little book every chance she got and Miss Kent kept her word.  It was a long time before Carina was called up to Mr. Burns’ office but she became a favorite of some of the other executives because she worked quickly.  It was the beginning of a career that would introduce her to interesting people and places.  It would also stretch Carina and push her to learn things that were foreign to the rest of the family.

“Where was that music coming from?”  Carina asked the kitty who was meowing at her.  There was definitely some music playing somewhere in the house.  “Oh! It’s the cellphone.”  The cat seemed to nod at her as if to say, “I knew that.”

She checked the steno pad where she had written down some notes on how to use the phone.  Then she pushed the button and held the phone up to her ear.

“Hello?”

“Aunt Carrie, I’m outside but I don’t think you heard me knocking.”  It was Joe ready to take her to lunch.  They were going to her favorite coffee shop on the avenue.  Tony, the owner, still greeted every customer and the waiters there still wore black vests and white shirts.  It was one of the few places that brought you cold water with your having to ask.  Carina liked that kind of service.

“Oh, Joe, I was in the kitchen.  I’ll be right there.”  She carefully hung up the phone and rushed to open the door and let her nephew in.

“Come in, I just need to grab my coat and my purse.”

“I hope you’re hungry Aunt Carrie, I’m in the mood for a nice big bacon lettuce and tomato sandwich and lots of fries.”

Carina hugged her nephew and smiled.  “I’m getting some of Tony’s special soup and I’m going to eat some of your fries.”

They both laughed as they left the house.

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Carina – Chapter 2

Chapter 2
Carina finished her breakfast of coffee and a bagel. She sat in the small, sunny kitchen and gazed out the back door. The fig tree in the back yard still had fruit on it. She needed to pick it before it went bad. Another thing to add to her to do list. It was an endless list but it wasn’t like she had anywhere to go. She sighed as she pushed herself up using the Formica table. She used to have lots of things to do. Singing in the choir at church, painting in the basement studio with her brother, visiting with her nephew, big family dinners, planting flowers and vegetables in the garden, working on the church bazaar were just some of the things that filled up her life. When did she stop doing those things? When did she lose who she was?
Today she had to start sorting through Lorenza’s things. Carina had to decide what to keep, what to give away and what to sell. She wondered who would really want these things. None of the things that Carina treasured seemed to have any value anymore.
“Well, Carsuso, I’d better get this breakfast cleared and get started. The house won’t clean itself.” The grey cat looked at Carina like she understood what was being said. Taking the dishes with her, Carina moved to the porcelain sink and turned on the hot water. She squirted detergent on her sponge and the smell of Ivory soap filled the kitchen. It was a good clean smell, one that reminded her of her mother. Mama didn’t use any other soap but ivory. She always taught her girls to keep a clean and tidy kitchen. Mama had always looked forward to the day when her daughters would have homes and families of their own. She loved passing on her skills to all the women in her family. Unfortunately homemaking skills were never Carina’s forte but she made due.
“I think Mama was always a little disappointed that I didn’t get married and have a family.” Carina sadly poured her heart out to Caruso. “Now Mama would say I was going crazy, talking to a cat all the time.” Caruso meowed loudly and turned with his tail held high and left the room. “Sorry my pet, you are good to listen to me.”
A knock on the back door brought Carina out of her thoughts. It was her niece who had come to lend a hand with all the sorting and cleaning that needed to be done to prepare the house for sale.
“Zia Carina, how are you?” Lorrie’s ever ready smile was on her face as she hugged Carina. “What do you want to work on today?” Lorrie always had a lot of energy and reminded Carina of her brother Carmine. She laughed easily and like Carmine she saw the joy in life no matter what was going on. She was Vinnie’s daughter and had his sweet chocolate eyes. Those eyes didn’t miss a thing and mirrored compassion and love.
“Oh I don’t know. Why don’t you sit down and have a cup of coffee first.” Carina reached into the cabinet to get a cup and saucer.
“Oh, I had a big cup of coffee on my way over here. Let’s get to work.”
“Lorrie, this is so hard. I don’t even know where to begin. Maybe we should work on Aunt Lorenza’s closet.”
The two women moved into the bedroom and Lorrie began removing things from the top shelf in the closet. There were so many things there, all carefully packed and labeled. Lorenza had taken such care to save everything. Lorrie pulled out box after box and gave them to Carina to open. Carina knew her niece felt a little awkward going through these precious and private places.
Seated on a chair next to the bed, Carina opened the packages that contained many gifts that her many nieces and nephews had given Lorenza in the past few years. Sweaters, nightgowns, robes, blouses that were never worn piled up. Many of them still had the tags on them.
“What am I going to do with all of this?” Carina sighed.
“We’ll make different piles. Keep, give away, throw away and sell.” Lorrie gently took charge when she saw her aunt’s distress. “There are some beautiful vintage items in the back of the closet. We can share those with the younger ladies in the family. I know some of your great-nieces would love them.”
“Yes, I so want Lorenza’s things to go to people who will appreciate and love them.” Carina tried to perk up. Carina was sure no one would understand the value of her sister’s belongings. She was afraid most of them would be thrown away or given to the Salvation Army.
“There is a really old box on the floor of the closet. See it in the back. It seems pretty heavy. I know Joe is coming over at lunchtime to help. We may need him to pull it out.”
Carina peered into the closet at the box her niece pointed out. “Can you open it and see what’s inside without moving it? I’m not sure when your cousin is going to show up and I’m curious.”
“Let’s see.” Lorrie got on her knees and crawled into the closet. She found the box was securely taped but the tape had yellowed over time and lost its effectiveness. She carefully opened the carton. It was filled with long thin boxes. They had labels that were stamped with the letters QRS and song titles.
“What are these?” Lorrie pulled one out and handed it to Carina.
“Oh my gosh! These are the rolls from our player piano. I didn’t know Lorenza still had them.”
“Whoa, wait, no one ever told me the family had a player piano. I think I need to hear about this. You can tell me while we work.” Lorrie encouraged.
“Well, I wish Lorenza was here. She was the story-teller of the family.”
“Aunt Carrie, I’m sure you can reveal the secrets behind all these music rolls. I’m all ears.”
Carina hugged one of the long thin boxes and let her mind go back in time.
“Do you remember how much our family loved music?” Carina and Lorrie smiled at each other while they remembered all the fun the family had gathered around a piano or the stereo singing heartily. “Remember how we used to sing in Uncle Marco’s car when we would go to Staten Island to visit your cousins?” Lorrie reminisced. “Oh and the shows we cousins used to put on for all of the aunt and uncles?”
“Well,” Carina said, “ I think it all started with these rolls. Your grandfather and grandmother loved music and they instilled in all their children. They passed on all the folk songs they knew from Italy but the day your grandfather brought home these rolls was so exciting.“
*****************************
Mama was sitting at her sewing machine working on repairing some of the clothes the boys were always wearing out. She hummed as she worked. Carina loved to sit at the table and listen to her mother’s folk songs. Sewing was a mystery to Carina but the music spoke to her heart. She bowed her head over her school work and joined her voice with Mama’s song.
Suddenly there was a commotion coming from the parlor. Five year old Vinnie ran into the kitchen yelling, “Mama, Carrie, come quick Papa has a great surprise!” His smile was huge and the boy was dancing with glee.
Mama looked at Carrie. “Ah, Papa ha sempre sorprese per noi.” Her eyes twinkled with anticipation.
“Yes Mama, Papa always has surprises but you need to say it in English.” Carrie reminded her mother.
The entire family was helping Mama and Papa to pass their citizenship tests and speaking English was a big part of it. Mama nodded but she was so excited there was no way she would remember how to say things in English right now.
“Come on!” Carrie’s skinny little brother with the big brown eyes was so impatient for them to follow him. “Papa told me he wouldn’t tell us what the surprise was until you came.” He was usually so soft spoken and calm, the true peacemaker of the family, but right now he was a bundle of energy.
“Okay, Vinnie. Stiamo arrivando, calmarsi.” Mama affectionately took her son’s hand and walked with him to the front of the house.
“Say, we’re coming, calm down.” Vinnie reminded Mama of the English way to say what she wanted. Mama just chuckled and hugged him. “You are a good boy Vincenz.”
In the parlor the entire family had gathered. Papa looked at his four boys, two girls and Mama with a big grin on his face. The same grin that his little boy had.
“I bring a present.” Papa said in his broken English, “but everyone ha per aiutare. Ahhh, come si dice? Everyone has to help to bring it in.”
What could it be Carina wondered? They all followed Papa out the front door to see what he had. There strapped securely in Papa’s ice truck was a player piano. Papa proudly told them how he traded with one of his customers so that his family could have the musical instrument. The kids cheered and thanked their father for this unbelievable gift.
“Domenic, go get those long boards by the garage. Vinnie help your sisters get the boxes in the cab. Carmine, Marco you will need to help untie the piano.” Papa directed everyone.
Carina loved times like this when the family was operating like a team. Everyone had a job to do and it helped the entire family. It was a wonderful feeling to know everyone, even little Vinnie, made a contribution.
“E che cosa circa me?” Mama wanted to know what her job was.
Papa let out a laugh and told her to pray that they could get the piano in the house without destroying it. “The piano or the house?” she replied with a twinkle in her eye.
While Papa took some planks he had in the truck and made a ramp from the truck to the street, the older boys took the straps off the piano. Domenic carefully placed the boards on the stairs in front of the house that led down to the parlor. Unlike most houses on the street their first floor was just below the street level. It would make getting the piano in easier because gravity would work with them but it was also a little more dangerous if they couldn’t control it on the way down.
Zio Vincent and his two sons came out of the house next door to help. That was good. It wasn’t going to be easy to get the heavy player piano moved. The older boys, Papa and Zio Vincent were in front of the piano and the three younger boys were behind it. Slowly they began to slide it on its casters down the makeshift ramp. Carina stood still watching and praying. She worried that her father and brothers would be crushed.
Lorenza noticed Carrie’s worried expression and didn’t want Vinnie to catch on. “Don’t worry Carrie, our brothers and Papa are so strong. Working on the ice truck has made them have muscles so this will be easy for them.”
Vinnie grabbed Carina’s hand and squeezed it. Whether he was scared or trying to comfort his sister Carina didn’t know but it felt good to have his little hand in hers. They both seemed to be holding their breath and were able to let it out when the piano safely reached the sidewalk.
Now a crowd of spectators was beginning to form outside Carina’s house. The neighbors all wanted to see what was going on.
“Well, let’s not just stand here. Come on men, let’s help out.” Mr. Rainonie encouraged a few of the neighbors. Getting the piano down the steps and into the house would be without a problem with all their help.
Mama and a few of the women had gone around the house and in through the backdoor. They were moving furniture around to provide a place for the piano in the parlor. Unexpectedly, the entire day turned into a party. Lorenza ran in to put on the coffee pot so they could offer their friends some as a way to thank them for their help. Zia Ella came in with some freshly baked cookies.
Carina and Vinnie started rooting through the boxes of piano rolls. There were so many. Titles such as Alexander’s Ragtime Band, I’ve Only Got Eyes for You and I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm. One carton was filled with rolls that had Christmas carols on them.
“What is this one?” Vinnie kept asking Carina to tell him the titles he had trouble reading.
“That one is Happy Days are Here Again. Oh, look, this one is Ole Man River and here is Side by Side.” Carina tried reading titles as quickly as possible.
It didn’t take long for Papa to get everything set up. By the time the coffee was ready Vinnie was happily pumping the pedals on the player piano and everyone was gathered around singing. It was just the beginning of many happy hours spent enjoying company and music.

“Wow, Aunt Carrie. Whatever happened to the piano?” Lorrie loved hearing stories of when her father was young. She knew they weren’t getting much work done but she’d never heard about the piano before.
“Oh we left it in the old house. Papa said we couldn’t move it again when we moved here. I was always sad that we left it behind.”
“Now I know why the family knew all those old songs. That must have been so much fun. I miss getting together with everyone to sing. Remember how we would meet on Saturdays to practice Christmas carols? We need to restart that tradition.”
“Do you think anyone would come? It seems everyone is so busy now.” Carina was sure no one would have time for family sing-alongs anymore. “Oh, and we don’t have a piano anymore.”
“You’ll just have to set it up and see who comes. I think you will be surprised. Everyone still comes whenever we have a family gathering like Thanksgiving and Easter. I know my sister and I would come. We loved those sing-alongs . You’ll have to teach the next generation some of these great old songs Beth has a roommate at college who is a musician, maybe she’d come along and play for us on her guitar..”
Carina looked at the piano rolls and let some hope creep into her heart that the family would be brought together by music again.

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