We write. We revise.
I have a photo of my father with his family when he was a boy; the only one I’ve ever seen of them together, or nearly all of them anyway. A few people are noticeably absent. First, there is no father. My grandfather was already dead, leaving his wife Filomena a widow with eight children. The two oldest sisters, who were born in Italy and already married with families of their own, are also absent.
The Marganella family is posed outdoors, in the country, standing in a flat, bare field, no houses, just the horizon in the distance. I think they are in Connecticut because standing with them are two of our Connecticut relatives. The tall heavy–set woman in a dowager–style dress is Aunt Theresa, Filomena’s sister. Theresa’s daughter Antoinette is next to her mother on the far left of the group. She’s a tall girl, approaching a teenager, wearing a fancy dress with ruffles at the collar and around the hem in four rows. She’s holding a small dog that looks like a Jack Russell. Antoinette is noticeably better dressed than her cousins: my father, his two brothers and two of his five sisters.
The Marganella kids could be described in one word: scruffy. The older boys are wearing ties—an attempt at looking Sunday best—but the ties are askew and their button–down shirts are pulled open in front at the bottom, giving them a sloppy, rakish air of kids who have been busy running around. My father, center of the group, in front of his mother, looks to be too young for a tie. I imagine he is only three or four, certainly not yet five.
So how did the scruffy Marganella kids end up in Rocky Hill, CT that day, posing for that photo? Are they, the newly orphaned children from Yonkers, being treated to a day or a weekend in the country visiting their wealthier Connecticut relatives? Were they invited out of kindness or pity? In any case they all wear grins of city kids let loose in the country for a day of sweaty freedom and barely controlled mayhem.
I had never seen this photo until recently, didn’t know it existed until I was nearly fifty. But even without any of my aunts and uncles alive now to tell me who’s who, I can identify everyone on sight. They are—as young children—already so much the people who I will come to know and love as adults. It’s as if they’re already imprinted as their full selves; idiosyncrasies clear and defined based on personality and birth order.
Back row from left to right: Cousin Antoinette (Theresa’s daughter), Aunt Theresa (Filomena’s sister), Aunt Anna, my grandmother Filomena, Uncle Dick, Uncle Charlie (with black eye). Front row, left to right: Aunt Louise (the baby), my father, John Joseph Marganella (born in 1919 as Giovanni Giuseppe Marganelli, according to his birth certificate).