Great-Grandfather Assuntino Luigi Cevola in Palermo - 1890's
I never knew my Great-Grandfather, Assuntino, but I met him, thirteen years after he died in Palermo, in 1971. I was feeling sick and was in his bed, in the house on Via Roma, 97. It was August and sweltering. I had eaten something, I think it was an omelet, and it didn’t set well with me. I was going in and out of sleep, sweating, the heat and fumes from the busy street, floors below; it was a confluence of moments. And then, in a dream, I think, he appeared. “What are you doing in my bed?” he asked. “I am sick and resting in it,” I answered. “Who are you?” he questioned again. “I am Alfonso.” He looked at me, “You are not my son.” I returned the look. “No, I am your great-grandson.” He gave that sideways stare he was known for and replied, “Va bene, you can stay.” And he disappeared.
I often have conversations with family members who are no longer alive. In fact, some of the best conversations I have had were with family member who have passed away. They are easier, less stressed, less busy. They understand the concept of eternal reconciliation.
Grandfather Alfonso Cevola in America - 1910's
My grandfather, he was such an enigma. He looked to me more Japanese than Italian. But then his father could have just come from Genghis Khan’s campfire. My grandfather really had the charmed life. A woman to look after his every need, cleaning, great cook, raising the kids. And he would go about his business and be home in time for dinner. She would make him breakfast, and lunch. I often wonder how my grandfather thought of my grandmother. I often wonder about women, too, who treat their husbands like little boys, seeing after their every need. I wouldn’t know about that, save for the brief time when I was young and cute and my mom and sisters would look after me.
Father Louis and Grandfather Alfonso Cevola in California - late 1920's
For the last half of my life, I have raised a son and buried a wife. Today my son had to work. We got together Friday night and made a great dinner. Bistecca Fiorentina, baked potatoes, roasted corn and a sumptuous green salad. With bottles of Soave, Sangiovese and Syrah. So we had our moment.
Father Louis Cevola in California - 1932
I loved being a dad when my son was young. I loved doing all the things that I thought a son would want. I pulled it from the pages of my childhood. My dad was a salesman, and always working. We never took a vacation. The few days we took off, we’d end up looking at real estate and going to restaurants where the bacon wouldn’t be cooked well enough and the hash browns weren’t brown enough. I guess he had his demons. But I vowed I’d be there for my son. I remember coaching the soccer team, though to this day I have no idea how soccer really works. When I was in little league baseball, my mom would be there in the stands, and in other times throwing the ball with me. My dad was making deals. My dad, the deal maker. Big deal. He missed out on his son’s life. He missed out on his life. He was so busy running around that before he knew it, kaplooey, he was dead at 69. My grandfather lived seven years past the death of his son. He died when he was 97. Great grandfather Assuntino made it one month shy of 86.
Grandfather Alfonso, author Alfonso, son Rafael and father Louis Cevola in California - late 1970's
So I really never knew any of the fathers in my life. Except for the dream, my great grandfather and I were separated by the ocean and time. My grandfather really didn’t have any contact with me other than basic ones. No advice, no talks, no intellectual connection. My dad, he was a philosopher after the testosterone died down and he mellowed. But until then he was an emotional whirlwind. He was always warning me about women. Too bad he didn’t slow down a little, like his dad, and stick around for me and his grandson.
Son Rafael and author Alfonso Cevola in Texas - early 1980's
My son, who knows if he’ll carry the name forward? It doesn’t look like my life will be one that will be populated with adoring (or otherwise) grandchildren. So it goes.
Son Rafael Cevola in his clan kilt - early 2000's
When it is all said and done, what have any of the fathers before me left for the future family members? There are pictures, tons and tons of pictures. And films. My father wrote a book about world history, when he was a young boy. He did leave us that. But what is it that they would have wanted to leave for their future sons? I really cannot say. I don’t know. I look at the pictures and stare at them, and try to ascertain their dreams. But I really don’t know what they were looking for.
Son Rafael Cevola the fire-breather - early 2000's
Maybe they were just looking to get through the day with enough food and money and safety. Basic needs. But I really cannot say. I wish life would have worked out where I had been able to really dig into their minds, and they into mine. But they are gone now. Only me and my son remain standing in the New World.
Son Rafael and author Alfonso Cevola in Ireland - 2006
However passionate, however rebellious the heart that rests in a tomb, the flowers that have sprung up over it look peacefully at us with their innocent eyes; they speak to us not only of eternal repose, of that perfect repose of "indifferent" nature ; they speak to us also of eternal reconciliation, and of a life which cannot end.
-Ivan Sergeevich Turgenev ~ Fathers and Sons