Nostalgic. Sometimes, we long for the past: for moments we want to remember or recapture. The good times. The golden years. This week’s challenge is to share a picture that makes you feel nostalgic. Here’s mine…no vintage filter needed. And a memory of Zio and Zia.
Zia Upstairs, Zio Downstairs
Zia Maria pours the dark stream into tiny cups, floats a sliver of lemon rind, and stirs in zucchero. Between sips, she knits fine wool strands into intricate patterns. Zia is frail, back from taking the cure. We sip espresso and wait.
Her husband, Zio Domenico, is on the police force. He works hard to rise through the ranks, be the right kind of Italian and bring honor, omertà, to the family. He is proud of his brick house and the strip of land in back where he lumbers around on bandy legs.
Zio arrives and takes off his boots. A wide-faced Sicilian, Zio’s hands are like ham hocks, dense tufts of hair cross his knuckles, tattoos cover his forearms. Christ on the cross hangs from his neck on a gold chain. He nods and smiles at Zia and me, then heads straight to the cellar.
The cellar is a warren of light and shadow, where swarthy night visitors come and go through the door with a daunting lock. Behind the bar, a mirror flanked by deer heads dominates the wall. A faded likeness of Joltin’ Joe and an electric Schlitz sign hang near the back room. Kegs of wine rest on wooden beams, a three-legged stool handy to put a man at tap level. Sacks of nuts, pots of dried figs and crocks of olives crowd shelves under window slits that allow only thin traces of light.
I hear the talk buzzing louder as I listen and peek from the top step. Vito is talking, telling the men about Louie from Wall Street who got lucky and escaped the loan shark with everything but the fourth finger of his left hand. Always, there is the endless shuffling of the cards.
Under the green cast of the hanging lamp, the poker players huddle, cards palmed, joking and cursing and smoking cigars. Zio is a smooth hand at the game. A glass of grappa in one hand, a full house in the other, his gaze is steady as he bets the pot. Shrewd men wave IOUs like small banners, their tight collars loosened, thick necks free. Down cards and dead money litter the jigsaw of the tabletop. The floor is a jumble of burnt matches, cigar wrappers, and discarded chits. Vito gestures, facciamo la corna, the devil’s horns, to ward off bad luck, spittle flying from his mouth. His eyes squint at the jammed pot. Curses thunder through the cellar, the fiery rivals just short of coming to blows.
I don’t recall how many evenings Zia and I spent upstairs. She taught me how to fry a pepper and pick up a loose stitch. But I can still see two black boots at the top of the stairs. They say, Zio is in the cellar, where the cards are lucky, the whiskey is strong and all is forgiven.