I'm Not Tony

Chapter one

Everyone in the church was crying, everyone but me. I looked over at my dad and even saw a tear rolling down his cheek. Maybe he never got Pops’ memo. “Cryings for pussies. Suck it up, breathe deep, and never give in to emotions, kid. That’s what will keep you strong.”

My mom and my younger sister Katie were puddles.  My mom was trying to keep her sobs quiet, but Katie liked to put on a show. She looked a lot like Pops, big, brown eyes, that olive skin, a total Italian. She was his princess, and she knew it. But she didn’t really know Pops, not like I did anyway.

Then there’s the whole issue with Dad. Pops was my dad’s father. You couldn’t have met two more different people. Dad never really understood Pops. I guess Pops never really understood Dad, either.  Pops loved sports, and Dad, well, Dad never really cared much for them. He would try, but he would say the wrong thing.

My Pops was a huge Boston Bruins fan. He would always talk about his favorite player, Phil Esposito. “That’s when the Bruins were great,” he would say. When they had a real Italian on their team. Sure, sure, Tuuka is a great goalie, but you shoulda seen, Jerry Cheevers. Orr and Esposito, no one will ever replace ‘em.”

One time, Pops, Dad, and I watched the Bruins play the Rangers. Dad was sipping his wine and yelled, “Come on, get a score, get a score.”

Pops just sighs and says, “It’s goal, Joe; you want them to get a goal, just go back with the girls and talk about the latest episode of General Hospital. Anthony and I will keep you up to date on the score.”

My dad just got up and happily went into the kitchen. It was always awkward when Dad and Pops were together.

Pops was Italian. His name was Anthony Joseph Delgado. My dad's name is Joseph Anthony Delgado. His grandfather, my pop’s dad, was also named Joseph Anthony.  Guess what my name is? Anthony Joseph, just like Pops. I think I have to name my kid Joseph Anthony. It's a weird family thing.

Pops was always Tony, and I was always Anthony. I hate it when someone calls me Tony. Usually, a coach will try calling me Tony until I correct them.

Teachers never make that mistake, except for this awful Science teacher I had in seventh grade. His name was Mr. Davenport. He was one of those “try to be your friend” teachers. I hate that kind of teacher. I don't want to be friends with my teachers.

He gave everyone an annoying nickname. Even when I told him I preferred to be called Anthony, he continued with Tony. He didn’t just call me Tony he would use this weird accent like, “’ Ey Tohny”, he would try to sound like an Italian guy, I guess, spreading out the o sound. It was so annoying. Soon some kids I didn't really know well started calling me Tony. I pretended it didn't really bother me. I didn't want to come off as a jerk, but Pops is Tony.

Pops laughed when I told him about it. “What's wrong with being Tony? It's better than Dorothy,” he said, putting me in a headlock and rubbing my head with his knuckles. He then mimicked me in this whiny voice, “Oh, it’s horrible my teacher called me Tony. It’s the worst thing in the world.” He finally would stop with the headlock and give me a hug, laughing, making me realize it was a pretty stupid thing to be upset about.

For weeks anytime I would complain about anything, he would say, “Must suck to be you, Dorothy.”

I started laughing at the memory before remembering we were still in the church at Pops’ funeral. One of dad's chorus kids was singing Ave Maria. My mom kind of punched my shoulder and mouthed, “What is wrong with you?”

I straightened myself out, adjusted my tie, and tried to imagine my life without Pops. I guess that's what everyone else was doing. That's why there were tears. Life without Pops is going to suck.

stupid thing to be upset about.

For weeks anytime I would complain about anything, he would say, “Must suck to be you, Dorothy.”

After the Mass, the priest told everyone to go to Rinaldi's to have lunch and probably cry some more. I wasn't really in the mood for this. My guess is nobody really wanted to eat pasta and be sad. Pops really would’ve hated people crying. I guess it's an Italian thing to do, though, cry, yell, eat pasta.

Italians are emotional. Well, the Delgado’s are anyway. My mom's family’s the opposite of my dad’s. Mom’s maiden name is Swanson; her family all lives in Wisconsin. They’re nice and everything, but not as loud or emotional, I guess you would say. I don't know that family as well as I do the Delgado side.

I got my height and my looks from my mom's dad. My grandpa’s six foot five and my grandma’s six feet. My mom’s pretty tall, too. She is a little taller than my dad.  I am already six foot two and only fourteen. All of us are blond and blue-eyed. It doesn’t look like there’s an ounce of Italian in me, but I got “the attitude”  and the love for all food Italian.

I have always been tall. I think that’s why my passion’s basketball. It's a pretty easy game for me. Pops pushed me to play hockey, but my parents didn't have the time or money for all the equipment and ice time. That was fine with me. I didn't really like too many of the hockey guys. It was like they were better than everyone.

I like to watch hockey, especially with Pops. He would set up his TV tray with a bottle of red wine and a juice glass.  He always drank his wine out of a juice glass. Red wine was a staple at Pops and Nonnie’s house. Some people have soda or seltzer. Pops and Nonnie have red wine.  Pops explained that red wine was water for your soul.

When I was 10, he gave me my own juice glass of wine.

It was really just a little glass of water with like a tablespoon of wine mixed in. My mom freaked. My dad tried to explain it was part of Italian culture. Still, it was one of those things, my mom never got used to. She would often lecture me on how horrible alcoholism was. “Anthony, you do realize that drinking’s not something we condone in this house. I understand your Pops gives you a little wine now and then, but don’t you think that you can have alcohol in this house. I will not have one of those teenage alcoholics living in my house. It will ruin your sports career, never mind your education. You’ll probably end up as a homeless bum.”

Mom always went a little overboard. Her family didn’t drink at all. In Pops’ house, you were given a glass of wine as soon as you were as tall as Nonnie. I guess that’s why I got my first glass of wine when I was ten, My Nonnie is only five feet tall.

Nonnie and Pops live in a big old house in Kittery, Maine. Their house isn’t too far from the ocean. My Nonnie would share stories about living in Maine when she was a girl. Nonnie’s parents left Sardinia for a better life right after they got married in 1922. They had lots of kids, like 15 or something like that. I guess that was a thing you did back then. Nonnie was the youngest kid. Two of her brothers were killed in World War II. She doesn’t really remember them because she was only three when they died, but her mother died shortly after that. Maybe she died from having all those kids, but my Nonnie said she thinks it was from a broken heart. Nonnie’s oldest sister, Fran, raised her and acted more like a mother. Nonnie ended up moving in with her and her family when she was twelve.

Fran’s husband, John, was a fisherman in Kittery.  Pops worked for John after Pops came home from Viet Nam. That’s how Nonnie met Pops. Pops was having a hard time when he returned from the war, so John introduced Pops to Nonnie.

Pops was born in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. I’m not sure how his family came to America. I never asked. John died before I was born, so Pops took over the fishing business. Aunt Fran died when I was four. I remember going to her house for Sunday dinner. Fran and John had two daughters, Paula, and Linda. They both moved to Massachusetts after they got married. They’re more like Nonnie’s sisters. We see them on holidays and things like that, a big old Italian family.

Pops always promised to take Nonnie to Italy to see Sardinia, where her family’s from, and Sicily, where his family’s from, but he never got the chance. I hope Nonnie will get to Italy someday. I know she talks about it all the time. Maybe she can go with Paula and Linda.

My Uncle Paul, my dad’s younger brother, worked with Pops. Pops retired a while ago. Uncle Paul turned the fishing business into mainly catching lobsters. There’s a lot of money to be made catching lobsters in Maine, at least, that’s what Pops would say.

I can’t really imagine going to Nonnie and Pops’ house now without Pops in it. The place will be so quiet. I wonder how Nonnie is going to survive this. I look over at her, and she just looks so tiny and sad. She’s sitting with my Aunt Angie and her family. I wonder if Nonnie will move in with them.

My dad has two brothers, Paul and Mark, and one sister, Angie. My dad’s the oldest. It was always clear to me as a kid that Pops liked Paul and Mark better than my dad. Dad seemed okay with this because he had Nonnie. It was almost like Dad and Angie were Nonnie’s kids, and Paul and Mark were Pops’ kids.

I always felt like I was Pops’ kid, too. I mean, sure, I loved Mom and Dad, and they loved me, but I knew that Pops understood me. He seemed genuinely happy to hang out with me. I think it was because I like sports. That was big with Pops, sports. My dad isn’t a sports guy. I know Pops was disappointed by this. Uncle Paul and Uncle Mark would come over and watch sports, but Dad never really did.

We pull into the parking lot at Rinaldi's. I look at all the cars, not really wanting to go inside. Katie continues crying as she gets out of the car. She runs over to my sobbing cousin Anna.  They hug each other and continue the hysterics; Anna and Katie are the same age. They do everything together. I’m a little jealous of their relationship.

I don’t have any cousins my age. I’m the oldest cousin. Katie and Anna are a month apart. Anna is Aunt Angie’s oldest daughter. She has a three-year-old brother, Lucas. Maybe someday we will be close, but not yet.

Uncle Paul has twin six-year-old girls, Lucy and Ella. They are pretty cute, but you can tell they annoy Anna and Katie. My Uncle Mark doesn’t have any kids. He has lots of girlfriends, but no one special or worth marrying, I guess.  He claims to be a confirmed bachelor, so he may never have any kids.

It seems unreal to be in this restaurant, grieving Pops or celebrating Pops. I don’t feel like doing either. There’s a big buffet set up with all kinds of food. There are two types of salad, Caesar and tossed. There are lots of pasta dishes, lasagna, ravioli, linguini with clams, spaghetti with meatballs, sausages, and manicotti. After the pasta, there are lots of vegetables, green beans, potatoes, broccoli, and two carving stations, one with roast beef and one with ham.

There’s another table filled with all kinds of Italian pastries. It reminds me of Nonnie and Pops’ house on Christmas Eve. The only thing missing was the fish.

Suddenly, I start thinking of Christmas Eve without Pops. I look at the pastries and remember going to Nonnie’s and Pops a few days before Christmas Eve. Pops would sneak into Nonnie’s kitchen and bring out a pastry to share. We would have to sneak down to the basement and pretend we were looking at something.

Nonnie would yell, “Tony, I know you’ve been stealing those pastries again. They’re for Christmas. What are you going to say to the kids when there are no pastries for Christmas?”

“Relax, Maria; I will buy a few on Christmas Eve. The kids won’t know the difference; they’ll be so busy unwrapping gifts. Right, Anthony?”

“Is Anthony with you?!” Nonnie would yell.

“I’m here, Nonnie,” I would say.

“Don’t you be listening to your grandfather. He’s a bad influence.”

He was a great influence if you ask me. I learned so much from Pops, like everything there is to know about the Boston Bruins, how to grow the biggest best tomatoes (get good horse poop, mixed with a little, not a lot, of sugar), how to sing like Sinatra, but probably most importantly where the secret fishing spots are along the York, Kittery coastline. I don’t know if my dad knows about this stuff. He doesn’t really like to fish.

I look up from the pasta table and see my dad hugging Nonnie. I go over and join him. Nonnie’s crying; she starts hugging me, whispering in my ear, “You’re so much like Pops Anthony. He loved you so, so much. I hope you remember everything he taught you, so you can share his thoughts with your kids. We need his legacy to continue.”Now I start crying. It’s the first time for me. So, maybe I am a pussy, Pops, I think. Why did you have to go and leave us?

Chapter 2