You look back at that small handful of years when you were a kid and one thing often stands out: everything seemed bigger, in your mind's eye anyway. The school you went to was huge. It was a loooong walk there. The teachers were taller, or at least more scary (I went to Catholic school… I pick scary). Your front porch was enormous, as were the thunderstorms it protected you from.
The truth is that that long view holds up some sort of mental magnifying glass. If you go back and visit your home town, you'll find that things are much smaller and closer together than you remember. Walk from your old house to your school's front steps and you'll be amazed to discover just how small your universe was back then.
This idea works for personalities as well.
When I was a little kid, me and my folks lived in the second floor apartment of my godfather Sal's house. My godfather, his wife, and a slew of my cousins. (Okay, it wasn't really a slew, but they made enough noise for a slew… so there it is.) The slew consisted of Larry the musical/rock starish guy, Cathy the lone girl – who put up with all of us idiot guys – Tommy the quiet fishing enthusiast, and Jeff, my partner in crime. It was a fun house. Excepting the occasional fish dinner (did fish ever smell good in the 1960s?), it always smelled great, too: it seemed that Sal's wife Dolores always had a pot of sauce on. To this day, when I start a batch of marinara, I think of 16 Akron Street.
Sal had a larger than life personality. Very Italian. Very authoritative. He had that "You kids keep quiet and stay off the lawn!" sort of persona. I have to say, I was a little afraid of him… even if he did occasionally try to embarrass all of us by busting out into his rendition of "That's Amore." (I've gone back and forth about this. Did that really happen? It must have, because I don't know anybody else who would have sung it!)
The one house activity that was almost as common as sauce creation was card playing. The four parents played thousands of hands over the years. Boy, Sal got really mad at any advice coming from the kids… "Hey!!! No kibitzing!!!" That's vintage Salvatore Mazza, right there.
We ended up moving away to Maine when I entered high school and I kind of lost track of the family. I hadn't seen Sal for many years until the family put on a party/reunion for family matriarch Anna. Maybe, because I'd grown up and experienced a few things, I realized that there was a lot of warmth underneath that gruff exterior. The big personality had been replaced by a big heart.
Sal passed away this week at the age of 78. While I know that the buildings and geography of my childhood are only grand in memory, I choose to remember Sal as that loud, boisterous, spirit who scared the crap outta me when I was eight years old.
"Hey!! No kibitzing!!!!!!!"