APRIL 2009 – NO. 32
Where do family friends fit on the tree?
He always sat solemnly on a wooden chair in the hallway near the kitchen, his sad blue eyes punctuating his grim face. He was never clean-shaven, and his clothes were old and well-worn. Each morning he traveled by subway from Brooklyn to our apartment in Manhattan to sit there zombie-like hour after hour. His position only changed when my grandmother would send him on an errand, or when she beckoned him into the kitchen for something to eat. She would join him, and they would converse in Italian over a homemade meal such as spaghetti with olive oil and garlic. His name was Bastiano, but he acquired the nickname, Graveyard, because of his depressing and forlorn demeanor.
I never saw him get paid, but she must have given him some money for his efforts. When my great Uncles, Tony and Joe, would come home from overseas (they were in the Merchant Marine) they would give him five or 10 dollars.
Graveyard only spoke Italian, and my grandmother had to give him written notes when he went on errands, except when he went on special missions to my Aunt Grace in Brooklyn. She had four young daughters, and my Uncle Henry was a poor provider. My grandmother would fill large glass jars with spaghetti, meatballs, and tomato sauce, and send them to Aunt Grace via Bastiano.
In 1942, my great Uncle Tony organized the family purchase of a farm in Spring Valley, New York, and Bastiano became the caretaker. The farm didn't work out, and Bastiano returned to his wooden chair in the hallway of the Manhattan apartment.
He was usually always sitting there when I came home from school, but one day when I returned he was not there; he was never seen again. No one knew exactly where he lived, so he could not be located. Bastiano had most likely passed away, and was occupying an area he was once called.
Bsstiano remains a mystery to me and others in my family. I was too young to ask questions about him when he was alive, and it never occurred to me to ask about him years later. No one is presently alive that would have any knowledge about him, and unfortunately Bastiano will have to remain an enigma.
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