Thursday, October 21, 2010

happy birthday uncle john

John Massimo, c. 1932

My Uncle John was my dad's older brother. He was the oldest child of four and the family star, trouble maker, and story teller. He's about eleven years old in this photo, which was taken on the roof of the 14th Street and First Avenue apartment building in New York City where the family lived.

One of our family stories about John Massimo from about this time, highlighting his trouble-making skills, was actually a staple of his repertoire. I really miss Uncle John.

John Massimo was always a great jokester and a smart-aleck. When he was ten (c. 1931) and his family was still living with his Don Peppino [his grandfather], he used to attend summer school across the street from where they lived on 1st Avenue and 14th Street. One of the older girls (16 or so) would pick on him, getting him to do her “pig work,” always making him clean the blackboards, erasers, etc. She probably had a crush on him, but John resented always having to do the dirty work.

One time when she asked him, “Johnnie, go clean the blackboard,” He responded, “ No, I won’t!” She said, “Why not?” He answered by calling her a dirty name in Sicilian (by making reference to her mother’s reproductive organs.) She, unfortunately for him, understood, and slapped him hard across the face, first one side, then the other.

Dove vive (Where do you live)?” she shouted angrily.

He answered, “Avenue D.” She didn’t know that he actually lived right across the street.

“I’m going to tell your mother. I’m going right now to tell her—wait until you get home!”

And she set off for Avenue D.

John Massimo crossed the street, went inside the building and upstairs to their apartment. Gertrude [his mother] saw him enter, with one bright red cheek. When she asked him why his cheek was so red he answered, “Because a girl hit me.”

“Why did she hit you?”

“Because I called her a name.”

“What name did you call her?” He whispered the word to her and she slapped him hard across the other cheek.

“Don’t you ever use those words!”

“But I hear you use them all the time!”

Gertrude was taken aback. “Never mind what I say. You don’t say them!”

At this point, Don Peppino and John Angelo [his father] couldn’t stop laughing and told Gertrude to leave the boy alone!
Happy birthday Uncle John.
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