Saturday, January 14, 2006

The Mightiest Oak

While opening my fortune cookie after I had Chinese take out, Confucius say, “The mightiest oak in the forest is just a little nut that held its ground.”

A little nut? That’s an understatement. Piles of bottles of wine and a ton of empty beer bottles thrown into the recycling bin had one garbage man asking if we were holding a bar & grill out of our home. I don’t blame him. Who could believe we drank that much? Especially when my relatives come over from Brooklyn—empty bottles of Dewar’s are thrown into that pile as well.

Memories of events held at my home always included alcohol. Uncle Tony pacing around with a tumbler full of scotch on the rocks in his hand, telling detailed stories of Brooklyn in 1952. It would always be followed with the street location. In fact, all of his stories revolved around the year of 1952. He never told a story without his ‘personal beginning’--the date, then the location. It’s like Norton on the Honeymooner’s playing Swany River on the piano before starting each song. Uncle Tony would pace back and forth, swirling his feet to twist him around, so he could pace the other way. He never sat while telling his tales.

“Nineteen fifty-two, Brooklyn, 45 West 23rd St---(swirl…pace)---My fatha’ drank dat’sh*t.” He says, as he points to my wine. He was always against wine. Scotch was his medicine.
“That stuff’ill kill ya! My fatha’ went blind from drinkin’ dat’ stuff---(swirl…pace)---One day, while sitting in his kitchenette, a stray bullet went right troo’ his windis’. The loud noise it made gave him his eyesight back. He never touched the stuff again!”--(swirl…pace)

Uncle Tony is always high-strung and constantly pacing around. He would always make these abrupt decisions.

“Let’s take a ride into town and pick up a few things!”
“Whaddya’ want Tony?”
My aunt would shout at him.
“C’mon Deb! You and me—let’s go.” He says, while still holding the glass of scotch in his hand.
“You mind your business and get drunk witchya’ sista’.” He replied to his wife, as he made his way out the door before I could get my shoes on. We both jumped into his Lincoln Continental.

Being that Uncle Tony lives in Brooklyn, and is unfamiliar with the roads upstate had me a little concerned. Having his tumbler full of scotch on the rocks still in hand, had me even more nervous. He drank it as if it were legal to do while driving down the roads of my small town.

We always came home with a pile of things we didn’t need. A new coffee maker, a martini set, and tons of food from loaves of bread to a truckload of different cheeses. He would spend close to $500.00 each shot. He went to specialty delis and basically wiped them out of stock. Of course he then headed for the Italian bakery and wiped them out as well. He needed his nutritious breakfast in the morning if he was staying over.

We never ate dinner at my house when my aunt and uncle were over, unless it was Thanksgiving or Easter. He always made that abrupt decision and brought us to our favorite Italian restaurant. The owner’s eyes used to light up when he saw my Uncle Tony and my father walk in. As soon as that door opened, and the both of them stepped inside, Vinny, the owner automatically heard his cash register sing with glee.

Uncle Tony wasn’t only a big tipper, but he was respected everywhere we went. The wait staff always had a faint look on their face after they saw how much he left them. I always wondered ‘how much’ money he gave them. He never told any of us—but I knew it was huge. He lived in Brooklyn—yet everyone knows him for some strange reason. I never put two and two together. I just enjoyed the red carpet treatment while stepping into a restaurant with my father and Uncle Tony.

We had to put four tables together in order to fit the whole family. Busboys come running in faster than lightening to make things nice and to place water and bread on the table. There was always complimentary appetizers that were thrown our way—courtesy of Vinny the owner. The drinks were always flowing. The more Uncle Tony would drink, the louder he got.

“Whassa’madda wit’ choo? You can’t present yourself nicely?” He said to the busboy who placed the last set of silverware on the table. His apron had a spot of sauce on it. I’m not exaggerating—a “spot”.
“Get outa’ here and put sumptin’ else on for cryin’ out loud!” He shouted, as the boy scrambled as fast as he could to perform a dress rehearsal for Uncle Tony. I felt bad for this kid, because I saw the look of fear in his eyes. Little did the boy know, Uncle Tony always tipped well for putting up with him. I knew this boy was in for a treat after we were gone. He probably got more from Uncle Tony than his weekly paycheck.

Uncle Tony was the star of the show. Now the funny thing is, he would always call out his wife’s name, “Madeline!!!” And my girlfriend would pop her head up at the same time my aunt did. They both have the same names---different spelling though. Madelene (my girlfriend) always answered to him—even if he was referring to his wife. Uncle Tony always wanted to sit next to ‘my Madelene’. He would put her in a headlock-type hug and tell her a story from when I was younger---just to embarrass me. After his long-winded story, he let her loose from his grip.

“What da’hell is dis? I ordered a scotch on da’rocks! Dis’ is a God damn vodka on da’rocks! Is your job dat’ hard?” Uncle Tony screamed at the waitress, as her face clearly showed she was upset. She looked flushed and her eyes looked like they were going to spring a leak. I felt like crying for her.
“Y-y-y-yes sir. Right away!” She said, shaking, as she grabbed his drink that he didn’t want.

“Why you eatin’ peasant food?” Uncle Tony would yell at me for getting a pasta dish, instead of some veal or lobster.
“Your ancestors went troo’ a lot in orda’to get you a decent meal—and you disgrace dem’by eating what they ate when they were poor?”
“But I like it.”
I said, as I almost put my fork down to stop eating. I wasn’t sure if he was going to keep on with this lecture.
“Ah-ha-ha-ha! Enjoy! Bon apatit!” He said, trying to insinuate that he was joking around. It always made me guzzle the rest of my wine down.

Dinner always followed with a huge display of dessert—that always looked too ‘foo-foo’ to eat. I didn’t like any of it. I just went with a cappuccino. After we were all through, Uncle Tony would put on his reading glasses and examine the bill. With his head still pointing down, his eyes glanced up at each one of us, hoping that we wouldn’t look at him. He then pulled out of his pocket this huge wad of money. The amount he left in there made the bill folder fat. Then he would motion with his finger for the waitress to come over. She would walk up to him like a deer in headlights, and he would take her hand, and place a huge wad of cash in it. Her face lit up like a Christmas tree. He then grabbed the busboy who wore the stained apron and handed him a wad of cash as well. I think he quit his job after that. He was set for life.

Going out with the entire family was always an adventure. The conversations were funny. We were always the loudest table in the place, but I think we were also the entertainment.

I went back to that restaurant a few days later to have dinner with Madelene. I apologized to the waitress for my uncle possibly upsetting her. I explained he likes to joke around and make a scene. She understood and was grateful for my uncle’s generosity. I still wonder how much cash he shelled out in that place.

I guess the big tip was an apology in a round-about way for his behavior, but I always had fun when we all went out to dinner. It was unlike any family event you’d ever seen. Thank you God for not placing me in a waspy family! I don’t think I’d have it any other way.

“The mightiest oak in the forest is just a little nut that held its ground.” This sure makes a lot of sense now.

36 comments:

Fred said...

I grew up on Long Island where where most of my friend's names ended in an "i." I was the waspy friend.

I was introduced to things like gravy. Up until then, gravy went on my mashed potatoes. At their houses, it went on pasta. So my education began.

And, many dinners had three generations at the table. They were all waving their arms, and having three converations at once. It was marvelous.

And, my friend had an Uncle Tony. In fact, so did my friend Rich. And my friend Steve...

SignGurl said...

I love the way you are able to give your reader dialects. Your uncle's is dead on!

My last name ends in an I and my husband's family sounds suspiciously a lot like yours.

kathi said...

I'm always so jealous of your family stories. You're so blessed to have such a family. I see a lot of your family in YOU, so I know I'd love them too.

yrautca said...

Perhaps you can tell me the name of the restaurant so I can get a job there and when your uncle visits next he sets me up for life as well?

Your uncle does sound like a fun guy.

I am also pretty amazed that your family accepts your lifestyle so well. Maybe it is not unusual but I wouldnt know.

Deadly Female said...

You tell this so well, Deb, its almost like I was there with you xx

mal said...

my family is so mongrelized that we really have no ethnic roots. When I have been around friends with deep ethnic roots (mostly german, latino and japanese) it has always made me wonder what the sibs and I may have missed.

Bon Apetit *S*

Casually Me said...

Deb, masterful storytelling, once again.

Shannon said...

LOL your family reminds me of the movie "Goodfellas"..I love that movie!! I made it so that my wedding cake was the exact cake they had in that movie.. (the bridge cake)..

I love your stories.. your writing is so detailed.. amazing.

Can I join the family? =)

DSMars said...

Uncle Tony sounds like a lot of fun. Makes me miss my late Uncle Smitty. Not the same but memorable just as well.

The Stevo in H-Town said...

Ifya ain't gotta good solid drunken Uncle inda family, I say ya gotta dysfunctional family....He's usually the one everybody waits forta enter the door...better'n TV...

Tanisha said...

Deb I have got to meet your family, They sound hilarious. So ucle TO-ny is a mobster eh? Tell To-nee I am coming to see him. I need a loan.. LOL. OY vey. I have missed reading your page. Beeen so busy I have neglected everyone. Once school starts again, I will have free time to read again. Yeah.. Have great New Year Boobala. Love you bunches..
T

Chloe' Gardner said...

What a great story! Your Uncle Tony sounds like one of those relatives that you've gotta love- even though they'll get on your last nerve! I'm glad that he is very generous- especially after treating the waiters and waitresses like he did! ;0)

Justin Kreutzmann said...

cool story, just wanted to say "hello" it's been a while.

joey♥ said...

sometimes family's all you've got. thankfully you have an awesome family that doesn't care if they make a scene.

i luv your posts. i always learn something/gain new insight from them :).

Mike said...

Entertaining story....I felt like I was in the restaurant with you....lol

~Deb said...

Yeah, Uncle Tony is a trip--my family's been nudging me to blog about him.

And to tell you the truth, I'm not sure if he totally accepts my lifestyle, but he makes my girlfriend feel loved. Now, if I was his "daughter", I think it would be a different story. I'm just happy my father loves my girlfriend like his own daughter---he's the only one who counts as far as accepting me.

I'm sure all of us have our own 'family story' to tell. Sometimes dysfunctional isn't a bad thing.

Thanks for stopping by guys!

LisaBinDaCity said...

Interesting to realize that every family is dysfunctional in it's own way. In my family, it was all about food and dessert, (and you had to look REALLY hard for a glass of anything remotely alcoholic!)

~Deb said...

Lisa, there was probably rum in the desserts they served...look harder. ;)

Leesa said...

Love this story, ~deb. I could practically hear the klinking of the ice cubes in Uncle Tony's tumbler.

Natalia said...

I have an uncle Tony..hehe.

I loved the way you told this. Just lovely.

-N

~Deb said...

Leesa: I can still here it now...oh wait...no...that's my glass. Hmm... Alcoholism runs in the family I guess. *sigh*

Natalia: It's like everyone has an Uncle Tony. (hehe) I hear that a lot. :)

Crassius Maximus said...

As Ito-Americans, we try to be sure that no one around us is inconvienced in any way, without some sort of compensation or recognition. I think that's why we react in such a violent way when someone disregards our rights. We're hotheads wif great manners!

Crassius Maximus said...

I can also say that as an Irish American as well,I have a tatoo, have been in a few fights and like to drink.

~Deb said...

Then I guess we're a great team Crassius----an Italian b*tch who loves her alcohol way too much, with a tattoo on her back--- and an Irish hothead who loves to throw a few back now and then. Ah, gotta love the Irish! We're not that different after all!

F.Cali said...

Oh my. Your uncle Tony sounds like SO much fun! I wish I could've been there.

Bhakti said...

Confucius say-- man who walk through airport turnstile sideways going to Bangkok.

Confucius said...

I say--man who fart in church sit in his own pew.

Hamburgler said...

Confucius full of sh*t!!

Jon said...

That is a helluva story! Loved it

blackops said...

Hmmmmm....."I knew it was you Deb, I knew it was you".

Leesa said...

I want to know how Confucius and Hamburgler hacked their comments into the blog.

Confucius said...

Ancient Chinese secret!

~Deb said...

I'm so ~confusious~ ...

~Deb said...

Hahahaha!!!!!!!! I just saw their pictures! That was hysterical! That just made my morning! Whoever you are (and I have a hunch) THANK YOU for making me laugh!

Haha!!! Once again, I'm laughing alone here like an idiot!

Cookie Monster said...

Whoever left those silly messages about Confuctionitis should be told they are silly!!!

COOKIE!!!!

Guide to Bangkok Hotels said...

Thank you so much for sharing your story. It's very informative. I love to read it and do hope to read your next story.