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It's a Small World.



6:17 am
Montauk, New York
 
The sun was rising over the ocean, pouring through the undressed windows in the living room where Aurel and I were sleeping on the pull-out coach, and feeling the early morning breeze coming in from the beach. I heard footsteps, the same footsteps that I had been hearing for the past hour but chose to ignore, as I was trying to squeeze in at least another hour to sleep off my wine hangover. The footsteps that had been pacing the living room finally stopped next to the arm rest of the couch that was inches away from my face. Having no choice but to wake up, I pried open my glued-shut eyes to find a little elderly man who resembled a miniature version of my grandfather looking at me. The little man in question was my 91 year old Uncle Leo. 

Uncle Leo is Ginger's grandfather as well as my grandfather's brother, who hate each other and only speak at funerals and weddings. At funerals, thankfully they are pleasant, and at weddings they ignore each other but as the night progresses, a drunken relative forces one to come over to the other to say hello, snaps a photo of them and everyone thinks the vendetta is over. It will never be over, but like the most of the junior members of our family, we've chosen to not take sides hence why I was welcomed at Uncle Leo's beach house. At least I thought I was...

Uncle Leo had been padding in and out of the living room since 5 am, waiting for someone to wake up to entertain him. I know this because my grandfather does the exact same thing, except our version of Uncle Leo makes up songs about coffee and dancing cakes in a Sinatra-esque falsetto, attempting to lure everyone to wake up at ungodly hours.

Out of respect of the fact that he is my great-uncle and I was sleeping in his home, I forced myself awake. "Good Morning, Uncle Leo," I said in a haze, closing one eye in order to focus my double vision. I touched my face and could feel the dried up zit cream flaking off my face, my dehydrated mouth telling me that my lips were tinted that familiar shade of dark red from last night's wine, and my hair tangled up in a knot that had flopped to the side of my head. I was quite a vision. While looking at Uncle Leo, I went to grab Aurel to nudge him awake by smashing my fist on to the edge of his pillow that fell flat. No Aurel. I looked to my right which confirmed the fact that he was not there, and then looked back at Uncle Leo. 

"Cutie Pie flew the coup, eh?" Uncle Leo said with wide eyes as I sat up in the empty bed. "No more cutie pie!" he declared louder in his thick Italian accent that is similar to my grandfather's, only his has an essence of sandpaper from the three extra years he has on him. Knowing well that Aurel or rather, "cutie pie" didn't choose his birthday week in Montauk to end things with me, or worse, that Uncle Leo had killed him, I played along with his six am suspicions, and I feigned shock that I had been dumped by dramatically throwing the covers of my head. "If he leaves, I'm always here," Uncle Leo offered. Before I could remind him that we were related, a smiling Aurel walked in from the beach with his camera around his neck. "Cutie pie return," Uncle Leo said looking at Aurel, and then in slow motion turning to look at me, "You must do something right."

Aurel walked over to Uncle Leo and shyly greeted him, addressing him as sir, and offered to make him coffee. While the two fumbled around in the kitchen, preparing breakfast, I sneaked off to the bathroom to brush my embarrassing Barolo stained teeth, comb out my knotted beach hair, and to moisturize my dry, red skin. Emerging from the bathroom, a less horrifying version of myself, I found Uncle Leo and Aurel pouring espresso in three large mugs filled with steamed milk. We put out some cookies and sat at his big oak dining room table with the hot sun bleeding through the skylights on to the left side of my face. He looked at Aurel with his cloudy blue eyes, the same color as my grandfather's, and informed him that coffee is very important in Europe. Out of politeness, Aurel didn't respond in his own thick European accent that he was well aware of this, and just nodded as if this was a new fact. Uncle Leo then leaned over and began to sing a song about coffee in Italian, only looking at Aurel. This lasted a good minute and a half.

Uncle Leo entertained us with stories about how he sent Michelle Obama a handwritten letter, telling her she can come over anytime to his garden and pick his wild radicchio. Michelle responded with a warm letter declining his offer, explaining that her busy schedule wouldn't allow her to make a pilgrimage to his garden in Queens to pick his wild radicchio. Uncle Leo also sent a letter to Michelle's husband, and made it clear that it was a "different kind of letter" packed with suggestions on how to lower America's debt by simply eradicating life support for patients relying on ventilators for more than a year in the hospital. It wasn't so much his suggestion that made it shocking, but rather his wording. "You pull plug, you walk away, you say I no do it, problem solved!" 

He did not receive a response from President Obama. 

He then launched into stories of his childhood in Italy, which led to him telling us the history of the family. I assumed it was for the benefit of Aurel that he was explaining who each member of the family was, but it wasn't until he mentioned unkind words about my grandfather, and remembering from the night before that he kept wanting me to give him a kiss him was when it occurred to me...

...Uncle Leo had no idea that I was his niece. In French, Aurel pleaded with me not to tell him in fear that we would get kicked out, but how could I not? It was bound to come up at some point this week, and I didn't want to deepen the vendetta by withholding information, and that his estranged brother's granddaughter and French boyfriend were squatting at his beach house.

"Uncle Leo!" I said, making sure he could hear me. In shock from my raised voice he swiftly turned to me, "Hey!" he responded. "I'm related to you," I said slowly and clearly. "You are?" Uncle Leo, who now had my attention and set down his coffee mug. "What's the connection?" he asked. I felt Aurel's fear about what would happen next. I forget how Italian families can come across as scary beasts to the rest of the world. "I'm Antonio's granddaughter," I informed him. Uncle Leo perked up at the sound of his name. "Antonio? My brother?" he asked, looking at me in confusion, "You know my brother?" I then gently leaned over, and placed my hand on the table to express that I meant no harm, and informed him that Antonio is my grandfather. He looked at me, looked straight ahead through the sliding doors out onto the beach, looked at Aurel, and then back at me, "What a small world!" he announced with his hands up in the air. Uncle Leo let the information come and then go, and continued on to a story about how he bought the beach house because of the large kitchen, and when he once drove through a mound of hay on his Vespa in Italy.

It's a small world? Okay, we can accept that, moving on, problem solved. We later learned that before I revealed my "secret" identity, Uncle Leo thought that Aurel and I were friends of Ginger that we had just met on the beach, and by coincidence, we all happened to be related. Small world!

Aurel and I absolutely I adored our morning with Uncle Leo, regardless of the fact that he had no idea who we were, and expressed his distaste for my grandfather. Perhaps I should feel more passionate about the vendetta, but it's not my fight to fight, and know better to offer my opinion, especially when it comes to siblings where feuds can date as far back to the sandbox. Uncle Leo is someone that I see about once a year, this year with the weddings and unfortunate tragedies, it's been more than usual, and I truly appreciate every encounter. I'm glad that Aurel experienced how special, crazy and quirky he is. Little by little we are collecting and creating these memories, and creating our own small world. 

What was going on a year ago today? This

8 comments:

  1. Ha I'm imagining an Italian version of Uncle Leo on Seinfeld! I loved his letters to the Obamas, I guess keep a close eye on him in the hospital!

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    1. I'm glad you weren't offended by his Obama letters. He's old, and he won't be near a hospital anytime soon! not to worry! : )

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  2. Kudos to Uncle Leo for letting Ginger's new friends crash at his place!

    My grandmother and her sister also have a feud and haven't seen each other in years and Mr.O's grandfather was the same way. I don't know if it's a generational thing, but it sure makes it harder on the younger family members (especially because in the south you takes sides, and your momma and grandmomma are Always right).

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    1. That makes me feel so much better! I feel like we are a crazy family for having the feud but more and more, I hear how common it is and I don't feel like such a freak!

      I'm sorry you are put in a position to take sides. For some reason, my family didn't press that upon us, which is fair...so out of character for my family!

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  3. I love that Uncle Leo happened to be shuffling around when you "woke up" and he called Seb "cutie pie."

    But as we all know, families will be families and sometimes grudges last forever. Our big fights usually happen around Thanksgiving when my eldest Uncle decides to have one too many drinks and then all hell breaks lose; someone starts to cry, then another gets upset because my uncle started it, then another gets upset because that person is crying, then the baby (there's always a baby) starts crying because it's scared. Ohhhhhhh family. I love them.

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    1. He was so shuffling around!!! And when I opened my eyes, he was looking at me with such wide-eyed concern! It was very entertaining.

      Oh so you have the crazy Uncle who is the catalyst! Good Lord! There's always that one in the family...we have one too, who I never write about because it pisses me off too much! And yes, there is ALWAYS a baby. : )

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