By Robert J. DeFeo
Having read cousin Tom’s (Cardella) article (“Ripple,” June 1), a man who has not only entertained us, but those who religiously follow his column, and who in no way should feel threatened by my ability to outwrite him despite my lack of education and intellect, I felt it incumbent upon me to smooth over the ‘ripple,’ if you will, concerning a few of the facts my delightful relative and his brood weren’t privy to, prior to their ascension into the ranks of the Sonestown, Pa., guest registry.
It’s true that for years reason and nostalgia usually gave way to the needs of the moment. Therefore, this little reunion of ours kept getting put on hold by whoever in the group that vehemently entertained the notion. The move to Sonestown made it a relatively easy feat, however, as its geographic location, country charm and simplistic environs make it a natural choice to house the family shindig.
As a single father of two, with little to do other than raise his children the best he knows how (I pay little attention to Amy and Alex, by the way; my continued participation in their lives can only hurt their chances for success), I was logically entrenched to tackle the chore of gathering us all together, if only for a brief, shining moment in time.
Summarily, though I did the lion’s share of the work, I couldn’t have accomplished that feat without the assistance of those in our village who worked tirelessly to help me, attempting as best they could to entertain the notions of one whose mind can change as easily as the tides of the ocean; serene and inviting one minute, tumultuous and foreboding the next.
From the menu selection people could choose from at the Sonestown Country Inn Restaurant (shameless plug), to Aunt Michelle’s spicy potato salad, to the new pulled pork recipe I pulled from a recent tome of the Pioneer Woman, I was bug eyed and red of face until the moment the first guest arrived.
As my children and I welcomed them into our little slice of heaven here in the land of endless mountains, I was immediately struck by a resonance and awe and the ease upon which they coagulated into a single nesting ground for no other reason than to catch up with those who have always carried a special place in their hearts. Regardless of where we were in life’s journey, dangling about the tethered and aging limbs of the family tree with gratitude that — finally, as our dessert cake intimated — we could actually be together.
I have ridden the waves of my ancestors, fortuitous men and women who thought nothing of attempting fame and fortune through the advent of professional gambling, which I acquired a distinct taste for early on in life. Thirty years later, twice divorced and with three kids, I arrived at the villa all gamblers eventually retire to — a quiet, out-of-the-way place that’s clean and cheap and where no one knows you.
Every year, whether I was counting cards at the Biloxi blackjack tables or grinding out a wage in the poker rooms of Albuquerque, or whatever shore the wave washed me upon, I was thinking of them.
Whether dining in the restaurants of the finest resorts, gorging on steak and lobster before retiring to my sumptuous suite on the penthouse floor, or taking out my pocketknife to open a can of Chef Boyardee by the fire next to my sleeping bag, I would think of them.
In fact, at certain points of my precipitous journey, fueled by a combination of liquid courage and wide-eyed optimism, as I tried in vain to procure the busts in the family museum of those who were my youth’s heroes, exorcising the demons of their illustrious and eventful past, and proving beyond all doubt these attachments were sacrosanct and untouchable, I thought of them.
They were great boosters of mine, this South Philly family. Though I was born to parents recusing themselves from the mindset of the sixties which welcomed my arrival, choosing sanity and substance over my vision of retribution and charisma, I stood firm in the belief that — despite their insistence my path deserves more than a mere relegation to the choices of those in la Familia who didn’t have the choice they’d provide me — I took to the lineage like a shade tree mechanic, waking up at the crack of noon, working a solid three to four hours, paying two months of bills in advance to the bemusement of creditors, then doing as I pleased for the remainder of each day.
I would think, on occasion, as the waves rolled to shore and beckoned me to rest, that an impromptu phone call was in order, perhaps even an arranged visit when we could find the time. I’d remind myself to become available during the holiday seasons that trickled in and out like the sterile mules which lather up a draft horse preparing for impregnation, such as I’ve witnessed during my time down south. And I did this periodically for most of my adult life until one day, I looked up, and 20 years had gone by.
And I was broke, unable to draw a sober breath, and living on the corner of 94th and Avalon — which is to say I drove a 1994 Toyota Avalon, and wherever I parked that sucker at night, that’s where I was living.
Four years into sobriety, all past debts were paid. God granted peaceful amenity to family and friends. A year later, I competed for millions at the 2010 World Series of Poker Main Event in Las Vegas. Illness and a failed marriage forced my early retirement. Yet still, throughout it all, I thought of cousin Tom, Fran, John and Lorraine — and every one of you who attended or couldn’t attend our family reunion.
My dutiful attention to your pleasures and comfort wasn’t born from my character or integrity, nor from an egotistical desire to lay claim to being the first of us to house our little gathering. And though I’ve wished for your companionship for decades, and was humbly gratified by your eager participation in this event, the debt I owe you all — for your understanding, generosity, hard work and faithfulness to that which I hold sacred and dear, for the love you’ve given me both then and now, and for the memories and joys you’ve provided throughout my short tenure, was the real reason I, in the words of cousin Tom, ‘saw to every detail,’ and is a debt I could never fully repay.
That you allowed me the privilege of this amend, this sincere outpouring of my emotion to which I hold true, has given me a new wave to ride on, one I’ll be sharing with my children, and all who widen my circle in the months and years that lie ahead. And for that, I can’t thank you enough.