(Photo from WikiMedia Commons)
The distance between then and now isn’t very far at all.
It’s about the same as it is between here and there, exactly the width of Grand Avenue. Despite its grandiose name, Grand Avenue is nothing special, just another pot-holed street crisscrossed with trolley tracks. But this morning, as organ notes drift through the cold air, people sitting at their breakfast tables on both sides of Grand Avenue are reminded just how far away the other side is.
This was supposed to be a better place. That’s what Mama and Pa always told us. We weren’t born yet, me and Eddie, when Mama and Pa came to America. When they left Ireland, they’d been married just a few months and Mama was pregnant with Eddie. She was bound her son wasn’t going to be born over there. Her pa died in the street from an IRA bullet, and no child of hers was going to suffer that fate.
First chance they had, Mama and Pa left Belfast and came to America, anxious to put an ocean between them and the fighting. After growing up with a war that seemed like it would never end, Mama was certain that life in America would bring a grand new beginning.
I guess she never expected to find another war in America.
My name is Rose, but Eddie always calls me Rosie. Eddie’s my big brother. That’s him, up there at the front.
I don’t understand how this can be, what happened to bring him to this place. I asked Mama, and she tried to explain it to me, but I don’t think she really understands it either.
And when I asked Pa, his face got all red and he muttered low, hoping nobody would hear him, “Damn fool boy, got us all messed up over cheap dago tail.” Mama heard it, though, and whacked him a good one. After that, Pa wouldn’t talk to me about it all.
It all started when Eddie met Anna. Anna Monteleone, along with all the other Italians in our neighborhood, lived on the wrong side of Grand Avenue. 'Course, nobody on our side of Grand calls them that. They’re dagos or maybe wops. Most of all, they’re the enemy.
Maybe it isn’t the same as the fighting back in Belfast, but to me, it seems like a war just the same. Men from both sides, Irish and Italian, band together and strut around like little tin soldiers, more bravado than brains. I don’t know what started it all, but eventually it got to be all about crime and money. Bookmaking, drugs, hijacking, robbery... They’re all fighting for control: control of the mob and control of illegal ways to make an easy buck. Pa said one time that Joe Kennedy was the master. He made a fortune as a bootlegger during Prohibition and ended up as the President’s father.
Far as I know, Eddie stayed out of it. My brother wasn’t dumb. He knew if he messed with the mob, Mama would turn him over to Father Flanagan. And when Father Flanagan was done with him, he’d probably turn Eddie over to his brother Jimmy, who was a cop.
Then Eddie met Anna. When he first saw her at the Woolworth’s lunch counter, where she worked weekends, he didn’t know where she lived or that she was one of them. I think all he knew was that she was real pretty.
Like I said before, he wasn’t dumb. I’m sure Eddie realized soon enough that he had wandered into a minefield. But I’m also sure he didn’t care because, soon enough, he was in love with her. He told me that he was going to marry Anna Monteleone someday.
Before long, like it or not, he was in it up to his eyeballs. Anna had brothers. And her brothers had friends. One of them caught Anna and Eddie in the back seat of his car, parked out behind one of the warehouses on Fort Point Channel.
That night, late, Eddie came home all beat up. I was already asleep upstairs, but not for long. I awoke to the sound of Pa’s angry voice. Mama quieted him down pretty quick, but not before I heard him yell, “I warned you, Eddie, didn’t I? That’s what you get for thinking with yer Mickey.”
The next day, when he'd calmed down a bit, I heard Pa tell Eddie that he’d see to it that those goombahs were taught a lesson.
After that, Pa started spending more time up at O’Malley’s and Mama’s lips got tighter.
Early one Saturday morning a few weeks later, just after the Feast of San Gennaro, Michael Pino’s body was found in the dumpster behind Mariano’s Liquor Store. Eddie never said, but I think that was one of the guys who beat him up over at Fort Point Channel.
Jimmy Flanagan and another cop came to our house after they found the body and questioned Eddie. I was pretty scared, but when Eddie told them he was working at O’Malley’s the night before, it was okay. Jimmy Flanagan kissed Mama’s cheek and shook Pa’s hand, just like he always did, and then they left.
Even though it wasn’t even lunch time yet, Pa had a drink. And Mama started crying.
Eddie started to change that day. He got kind of cold and hard, somehow. I guess war will do that to you. And it will also kill you, like it killed Eddie.
It wasn’t just Eddie who died that day. He and Anna were going to run away, and when the car blew up, they were both in it. There’ll be another funeral soon, down in the Flats on the other side of Grand Avenue.
The distance between here and there isn’t very far at all. It’s about the same as it is between dead and alive, exactly the width of Grand Avenue. As the organ at St. Francis falls silent, those on both sides of Grand Avenue know the journey to the other side is one that’s just too far to make.
My name is Rose, but Eddie always called me Rosie. Eddie is my big brother. Was. Was my big brother. That’s him, up there at the front. The one in the casket.
Written for The Tenth Daughter of Memory.