My great grandfather was fifteen when he came over from Country Shaped Like a Boot. By 1896, he had married and settled down in Snowstorm Region. He and my great grandmother had a bunch of kids, seven of whom lived to adulthood. One of those kids was my grandfather. When the seven kids grew up, they didn’t move very far away. They pretty much all lived near their parents in an Italian neighborhood on the north side of Snowstorm City, even after they started their own families. That’s where my father lived when he was a child.
The youngest of the seven kids was Great Uncle Artist. A quiet man who kept to himself, he never married. One of his oil paintings hung in the staircase of my parents’ house all while I was growing up, and my father always talks admiringly about what an amazing artist he was. Great Uncle Artist made a living as a commercial artist: in those days, department stores and furniture stores would hire artists to draw ads that would run in the newspapers. Except the time he spent in Iceland as a soldier during World War II, he lived his whole adult life in the same house, next door to the house he’d been born in.
He died this week, at the age of ninety. He was the last of his generation in my father’s family, the last of the seven kids.
The group who gathered at the wake yesterday afternoon were mostly my father’s cousins. My father’s generation, most of whom lived in that same neighborhood as children, have since spread out across Snowstorm Region, and even across the country.
I drove with my parents to the wake in a snowstorm, which meant we were moving very slowly. My father always points out places he remembers as I drive along. “There used to be a dance place on that corner.” As we passed a big brick building, he said to me, “That used to be Saint Mary’s Maternity Hospital. That’s where you were born.”
Today, as we gathered at the cemetery, I brushed the snow off the tombstone I was standing next to and realized that it was the grave of my great grandparents. I use my great grandfather's last name, although it’s an Americanized version of it.
At lunch after the funeral, one of my cousins told us the story of how he flew to Europe and went back to the little town where my great grandfather was from originally, the first family member to return in over 100 years. Another cousin said to me, “Hey, let’s find each other on facebook. The younger generation is congregating there.”
Note: It didn't seem right to take photos at a funeral, but then I noticed that there was a stained glass window inside the bathroom at the church, so I quietly took a photo where no one could see me.