“MONUMENTAL LOSS”

Column Post 22

This isn’t intended to be a funny story, so let me start out with a joke. A kid doesn’t say a single word from the day he’s born. His parents are disturbed by this. They take him to all kinds of specialists, but no one can figure out what’s wrong. Eventually they give up and just accept the boy’s silence, which goes on for 18 years. Then, one day at dinner, the boy suddenly blurts out, “These peas stink!”

“My God,” the dad says, “you spoke! Why haven’t you said anything for 18 years.” And the boy answers, “Well, up ‘til now everything was okay.”

This joke completely reflects my relationship with my dad. For 18 years of my life, he barely said two words. Then, on my 19th birthday he said three words, “These peas stink!” Only kidding. He still didn’t converse.

This was most noticeable at dinner time when we talked at him, not with him. We were encouraged to “try hard to communicate” with my father by my mom who tried her best to cover up the fact that the man was depressed and extremely withdrawn. How withdrawn was he? His table was in the other room.

Over the years, I’ve flip-flopped about his being the ultimate “clam man.” By the way, he did love clams on the half shelf and linguini with clams so the metaphor fits in more ways than one. My mom knew the sauce, I mean source of his clamminess, but she didn’t share that with me or my siblings until later on. Too bad. We might been more accepting if we had known how deeply affected he was by events of his youth.

As a kid, I used to wonder why we always had holidays with my mom’s family, but we never visited any of my dad’s relatives, with the exclusion of his brother Charlie, who was in the cemetery monument business. “How’s business, Uncle Charlie?” “Dead!” “How about a stiff drink, Uncle Charlie?” “Sure, make it a Zombie.” Okay, enough of that. We never visited my dad’s family because he had a huge falling out with his brothers and sister or maybe he had two sisters; the rift was so bad I don’t even know. We never visited with them once.

This feud lasted all their lives and through their deaths too. My father never attended any of their funerals, or got to see them laid to rest in graves marked by huge Uncle Charlie monuments. According to my mom, here’s what happened…

My father was the youngest son in the family. He loved school and was the only one in his family to graduate from high school. In many Italian families back then, you got a job when you turned 16 and brought money home. My dad didn’t buy that plan and not only finished high school; he went on to college. COLLEGE?? “Santa Maria!” His brothers, except for Charlie, had an interesting response. They burned my father’s college books—while they were in his hands—nah, only kidding—but they did burn his books, which was something my dad never forgot or forgave.

My father also remained in school through the “Great Depression”—a preview of his own not-so-great depression later on. Uncle Charlie helped (the business of death was booming), but the fact that my father didn’t quit and help out the family during these extra lean years fueled the family feud even more. BTW, my father studied accounting in college and did well. He told me once that he got 100% on his final accounting exam. Sense a little pride in me, here? Sure. My dad may have been mute, but I loved him plenty.

So my father graduated, got a job as an accountant and lived a life separate from the rest of his family—except, of course, for Charlie who tried to unite everyone, but the issue was really dead and grave, so to speak. And speaking of speaking, my father never spoke to his family again, which drove his life-long depression and silence.

I told my son, Sam this whole story at my mother’s funeral. We were at the

cemetery and the first thing Sam noticed at the family plot was the size of the Ardito stone. “Wow!” Sam said, “I didn’t know the Ardito’s were so rich, Dad.”

I explained that it was because Charlie Ardito, my dad’s brother, owned a monument business and donated the stone for free. No Ardito would ever pop for a memorial stone that size otherwise.

When we got back in the limo I relayed the story of my father and his feud and I think Sam found it interesting, but that didn’t matter. What did matter was the fact that I wasn’t being a clam. I was opening up, talking to my son without a sealed lip in sight.

My grandfather, Tomasino Ardito is buried in that plot along with his wife, Nina Vita. My dad and mom (Flora and Carl) lie next to them where the ARDITO stone rises proud and high into the Connecticut sky. Charlie Ardito and his wife, Nancy lie there, too. It’s a family reunion without the rest of the family present. What a monumental shame.

Frutti di Mare Con Linquini

(Luscious Linguini with Clams & Shellfish)

After that story, how about a recipe that’s full of life? This one is also full of clams, which, unlike my father, open up when steamed. Plus you’re adding mussels, shrimp and calamari all simmering together lusciously in a white wine sauce. What a yummy thing to serve to your friends and family—if they’re talking to one another.

Right Off the Bait, Youza Need

½ cup olive oil

4 garlic cloves, diced nice

3/4th cup red onions diced

1 small bottle clam juice

½ fresh lemon

Salt, pepper, red pepper flakes (to taste)

1 ½ cups chopped parsley

Clams (15(?) whole clams (hopefully dollar size, not Cherry Stone (huge) or Manillas (mini)

1 ½ lbs not skimpy shrimp (peeled, cleaned and deveined)

1/3 lb squid (calamari) (tubes only) cleaned and cut into thin rings

1 ½ cups dry white wine

1 ½ lbs linguini

Don’t Be a Schnook, Here’s How To Cook

Put salted pasta water on to boil. In a large saute’ pan, get the oil pretty darn hot. Add onions and cook until translucent. Add garlic to onions and cook for 15 seconds only. Add the clam juice and clams, cover the pan and cook on fairly high heat for about 6 minutes (they shouldn’t be open yet). Now, add the wine, other shellfish, spices, parsley and squeeze lemon over all. Replace lid and cook about 5-6 minutes more until clams are open and shellfish are done.

Meanwhile, you’ve hopefully starting the pasta. Cook until firm to Al Dente’s tooth. Drain, then pour into a mega-serving platte; add the fruitti de mare and a lot of its juice. Garnish with more parsley and serve .

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