My Love Affair with Soccer

Over the years I’ve watched a lot of sports: baseball, not my favorite; softball, a different version of baseball; football, too slow; hockey, too fast; basketball, Yes. And soccer, you bet! Love, love, love me some soccer. Make that fútbol to everyone outside the U.S. Ah, yes, soccer has replaced basketball as my favorite watchable sport. I’m not sure why because a last minute fluke can prevent the best team from winning. And those sudden death tie breakers have caused many a painful night reliving what might’ve/could’ve been.

I must confess that sometimes during those long hours of sitting on unforgiving bleachers I’d give my mind a change of pace and allow it to wander into the Land of Make Believe. Create my own team, teenage boys in this instance. Make that a select travel team, the kind every teenage soccer player aspires to play on, the kind every player’s parents aspire for their son to be Numero Uno. Parents, you gotta admire or fear them, those over-the-top super ambitious parents who will do whatever it takes to help their son achieve his fullest potential. To eventually earn an athletic scholarship to a major university.

Dream on, which I did. And wound up with a group of talented soccer players on a St. Louis team called Pegasi United, coached by a power-hungry guy who learned how to work the system to his advantage. Add to that a recently widowed soccer mom who feels obligated to take over where her late husband left off, all for the sake of their son coping with grief while trying to honor the memory of his dad. It all came together in a mystery entitled Lethal Play.

For a limited time Lethal Play is on sale for the bargain price of $.99 at Amazon.

Interested in this crime mystery? I’ve included Chapter 2 below to help you decide …

Five weeks earlier on the twenty-ninth of January a single runner jogged through the pre-dawn streets of a sleepy St. Louis suburb. Ben Canelli didn’t believe in short-changing himself, especially when it came to maintaining a physique that celebrated its forty-two years with few apologies. He adhered to a strict discipline of running every morning at five-thirty, rain or shine, as long as the temperature registered above twenty degrees and snowshoes were not a prerequisite for navigating through his Richmond Heights neighborhood.
Before leaving home on this overcast but unseasonably warm day, he’d considered waking Matt but then decided against inviting him along on such a routine run. Fifteen-year-old boys need plenty of rest because they grow while they sleep; at least that’s what Ben’s dad used to tell him. And Ben always relied on those pearls of wisdom which would eventually define his dad’s legacy.
The late Al Canelli had been a respected athlete—a soccer standout into his thirties and later the coach of a topflight St. Louis mens team. To Ben’s regret, he hadn’t lived up to Al’s athletic abilities, not that the old man ever complained. He’d been too much of a gentleman to show any disappointment, one of many admirable traits Ben strived but often failed to emulate.
The light drizzle peppering Ben’s face reminded him to pick up the pace since he hadn’t thought to bring along his windbreaker. Still, the navy sweat suit and turtleneck underneath should keep him warm until he returned to the brick Tudor on Windsor Lane. He’d left Francesca there, still in bed and purring in the aftermath of wake-up sex. One thing he could count on when he got back was the smell of freshly ground coffee brewing, a pricey gourmet blend she preferred and he tolerated. Sweet Francesca, she loved him almost as much as he loved himself. Besides Matt, she’d given him Ria.
What father wouldn’t be crazy about an eleven-year-old showering him with kisses and then executing an enthusiastic though less than perfect string of back flips. Matt could turn back flips too, from a crouched position and as smooth as any seasoned gymnast. Those flips made a great show on the soccer pitch, as long as the kid didn’t overdo it. No coach likes a grandstander.
Ben nodded to a passing runner he encountered once or twice a week. He wiped a patch of chilling droplets from his brow and pulled up the hood to cover his damp hair. Using long strides, he skimmed over the wet pavement and turned westward, away from the muted rays of the rising sun. Where was he? Oh yeah, about Matt. Fortunately, the kid had inherited his grandfather’s genes, those microscopic gems blessing him with the ability to run faster and jump higher than the average teenage athlete. Of course, for Matt to reach his full potential, it would require unlimited nurturing, creative financing, political savvy, and just plain luck.
Too bad Thunderbolt went belly up. Ben had coached the select team and Matt had played on it since the age of nine. For Matt—and Ben—it meant having to start over, scrambling for acceptance on one of the few teams that had openings for the spring season. They’d pinned their hopes on numero uno. Pegasi United consistently ranked in the top forty of U.S. Youth Soccer and offered the most advantages, as in winning seasons, financial backing, a demanding schedule thriving on prestigious tournaments, and for the best of the best—athletic scholarships to Division 1 universities. Reaching for the moon an unreasonable goal? Hell no, not with Matt standing on his dad’s shoulders. About the Pegasi coach, Ben wasn’t sure, only because he didn’t really know Rex Meredith, although the solid grip of the cocky bastard’s handshake did seem sincere, too sincere. In fact, it bordered on unctuous, that slippery hand sliding through Ben’s.
As with most mornings, Ben had timed this run to perfection. On Clayton Road the wrought iron security gates leading to Hampton Park swung open, allowing him to enter at the precise moment a familiar green 911 Carrera drove through the exit. In keeping with their usual routine, the female driver and Ben acknowledged each other with a simple wave of the hand. More droplets fell onto his eyelids; he blinked them away.
Ahead on the asphalt lane towered the massive sanctuaries of the privileged, a state of upper class grace Ben harbored no illusions of ever achieving, unless he somehow maneuvered a takeover of the sporting goods company that recently promoted him to a divisional manager position. Not bad for a guy who struggled through five years of college before graduating. Along the winding route of homes striving to outdo each other, he stopped but once, to jog in place while admiring his favorite estate, a sprawling gray Tudor that reduced his Windsor Lane knock-off to that of a rich kid’s playhouse.
Ben checked his watch, only a few more minutes in the land of make believe before he headed home. His mouth watered at the thought of sausages and eggs for breakfast but he’d already committed himself to sensible skim milk over dry cereal, the sugarless kind with a paltry few almonds bottoming out the box. What the hell, maybe this morning he could sweet talk Francesca into making him an egg white omelet swirled with no-fat cream cheese. It couldn’t compete with her mother’s cholesterol-be-damned-version but, what the hell—he couldn’t fault Francesca for making every effort to keep him healthy.
He executed a quick U-turn and picked up his pace another notch since the drizzle was on the verge of escalating into a major downpour. When he arrived at Hampton Park’s exit, the gates into the real world were closed so he eased through a narrow opening he’d created in the tangled hedge the previous fall. Back on Clayton Road rush hour for the local overachievers had gotten a jumpstart, with headlights from late model cars beaming their reflections onto the glistening pavement and mesmerizing him into a state of euphoria.
Ben turned right and made his re-entry into the affordable middle class, now under a siege of unrelenting rain. He watched his feet kick up puddles for two blocks before moving toward the middle of the street. He rounded a corner, taking it wide to avoid a car parked where no car belonged. Looking back to check out the make and license plate, he missed seeing the Dodge Caravan approaching from the opposite direction. He didn’t hear the brakes screech as they ripped rubber from the tire treads. Nor did he feel the impact of the vehicle when it tossed him ten feet into the air. Nor the devastating damage his toned body suffered when it landed on the slick concrete, a good twenty feet from where he took the final step of his early morning run.

End of excerpt

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Who Says You Can’t Go Home Again?

I do every now and then—in my dreams.

The Forever Student …

In which I am an adult, living in my childhood home (apparently on my own) and still going to high school. On any given morning of my dreams, and a direct contrast to my then-real life, I’m running late, dealing with one problem after another. At last I get into my car (which as a real-life student I never had) and drive the five miles to school; only to circle around and around before finding a place to park.

By the time I enter the building, the final bell has rung and the halls are empty. Having no clue as to where I’m supposed to be, I find my way to the office, get my schedule, and after a few wrong turns, manage to locate the classroom. At last, I’m seated at a desk in my first period class, a class I’ve never attended before. What’s that the teacher said?! Oh, no! She’s giving us a six-week test, and until that moment I haven’t even opened my book.

Then someone asks about my dog. I have a dog? Who’s been feeding it, giving it water? Not me, that’s for sure. Should I stay or should I go? Decisions, decisions.

Yikes! From what I’ve read, the back-to-school dream is fairly common. Supposedly, it’s about anxiety and affects people who considered themselves very responsible. Possibly anal? Yup, that would be me.

Moving on to another dream …

The first house Hubby D and I bought was a charming pre-WWII fixer-upper—in other words a bottomless money pit. I never saw that house as it was but rather how it could’ve been, with a little imagination and lots of sweat equity. D saw nothing but the work. Several years and two-and-a-half babies later, we moved to a four-year-old cedar shake ranch that didn’t required much upkeep. House #2 lacked the charm of House #1 but served us well for years, especially after we hired the contractor who added a family room, fourth bedroom, and second bath.

All well and good. But in one of my recurring dreams, we’ve bought House #1 again. It’s been remodeled, the attic converted to extra bedrooms, giving us more space than I ever dreamed possible. And at the bottom of our sloping back yard, where there once was an antiquated septic system, an ice skating rink has taken its place, occupied by students from a nearby school having lots of fun. A winter wonderland if ever there was.

And back to House #2, although I dream of it occasionally, I never actually go inside. Instead, I walk from the uptown business district to this former home—about a mile and a half trek—and along the way, I pass a number of houses that never change yet only exist in my dreams.

Another feel-good dream …

After being married some years, Hubby D and I have bought the house his parents once owned which included an attached apartment we rented as newlyweds. The actual house, one block from our town’s Main Street, still stands, a 1920s four-square, two-story frame. But in my dreams the house in that same location is now a large brick Gothic, its third-floor attic a treasury of antique furniture and decorative items included in the sale. Needless to say, I am positively euphoric. All that furniture, all those rooms to fill! Too bad I always wake up before the big move.

As for my current home of many years …

House #3, a circa 1949 one-story sprawling brick, three fireplaces and a swimming pool that D maintains without grumbling. Thank you, dear. Over the years we’ve made some cosmetic changes (new doors, windows, and fencing) but that’s about it. Odd but true, I’ve never dreamed about this house on the bluffs overlooking St. Louis. Perhaps it’s because I’m still living the American Dream.

What about you? Any recurring dreams you’d like to share?

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Tit for Tat

Tit for Tat,” an excerpt from my current yet-to-be-named work in progress, otherwise known as Book 3, From the Savino Sisters Mystery Series. Mike Something from Book 2 has returned—older, wiser, and seeking redemption from Ellen Savino who erased him from her life years ago.

I saw Mike before he saw me, more like before I let him see me, having stationed myself behind a convenient shrub located near the Saint Louis Zoo’s Living World. Dressed in skin-tight faded jeans and a navy blue sweatshirt, he sat warming a park bench, one ankle crossed to the opposite knee. Instead of the man bun he’d worn at The Ritz-Carlton, a grey headband now crossed his forehead, keeping his face unobstructed but allowing the long hair to hang loose around his shoulders. Cherokee style, as if making a cultural statement. Not that I found anything wrong with that. We should all celebrate our heritage, however vague, as was the case with the recent revelations of my Italian heritage. Nor was anything at that zoo moment stopping me from walking away, except Mike’s admission to having known both Val and Horace Corrigan. And my top priority of clearing my mother of any wrongdoing in Val’s death.

My turn to bite the bullet could not be put off any longer. One deep inhale followed by a satisfying exhale propelled me forward into the morning sun. As I approached Mike, I noticed his ankle-length leather boots, similar to a pricey pair displayed in the men’s department at Nordstrom. He looked up, uncrossed his leg, and stood. Ignoring the open arms he’d curled into a potential hug, I offered my hand instead. Two polite shakes and we sat down, Mike at one end of the bench and me at the other, my purse between us, creating a physical as well as a mental barrier.

“I wasn’t sure you’d come,” he said.

“Forget about me. As you already know from eavesdropping on my conversation—”

“It wasn’t intentional, Ellie. I didn’t even recognize you at first. But then you mentioned your mom and the Corrigans.”

“Okay, I’ll buy that. What do you know that I should know?”

He showed me his palm. “Whoa, slow down, will you. Before we get into the Corrigan stuff, can we just talk for a while?”

My heart told me no way and yet I gave him an opening. “You mean play catch-up for the past fifteen years?”

“More like seventeen but who’s counting.” He leaned forward, elbows to knees, head lowered so as not to look at me. “About that day at the St. Louis Fair, I want to apologize.”

I wrinkled my brow, a lame effort to look confused. “Whatever for?”

“The shitty thing I did, dumping you with Yancy, an asshole way of letting you know it was over between us.”

“Oh that. Let’s see … I was almost fifteen. Your stinking cousin … seriously, he had an extreme case of halitosis … was nineteen, already married and a father according to the photo he showed me. You tried passing me off to him, as if … as if …”

“Jesus, Ellie, how could I have been such a jerk.” He tilted his head in my direction, showing me those blue the eyes I’d all but forgotten. “When I called to apologize, your sister read me the riot act. And told me never to call again. Then I went to your house and rang the bell. When your grandma opened the door, she seemed nice enough, even smiled. She told me to hold out one hand and show her my palm. Hell, I thought she was going to tell my fortune, her being a foreigner and all. Instead, she grabbed my hand and …he snapped two fingers … quick as that, she sliced my palm with what looked like an ordinary paring knife. Turned out, the damn thing was so sharp I didn’t feel any pain, leastways not right away. Then, bam! Holy shit. While I was trying to stop the bleeding, she threatened to cut off my dick if I ever came back.”

“Nonnie Clarita? You’ve got to be kidding.”

“Like hell, still got the scar to prove it.” He leaned back, held up his hand, and showed me a thin white line that went from the base of his thumb to above the wrist.

“I guess she figured you had it coming,” I said with a shrug.

“You got that right.”


End of excerpt

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Star Gazing


It was my choice to become a kindergarten dropout (long story) but dropping out didn’t seem to affect my ability to absorb knowledge. In first grade I learned to write cursive and with my dad’s help, I penned my first and only fan letter. How exciting many weeks later, to receive an autographed stock photo from Frank Sinatra, one I thought he’d personally signed just for me. We were connected, Old Blue Eyes and me. But only from a distance.

Up close and not under the spotlight, stars/celebs behave pretty much like the rest of us. On their own, they blend in and ask for help when needed. As did one man, years ago, who came into the office where I was working the front desk. An ordinary looking fellow, with ginger hair and freckled skin, he wanted suggestions for good places to eat in downtown St. Louis. Before I could respond, one of my co-workers hurried over to give the stranger her ideas. That’s when I recognized him as Tom Ewell who’d co-starred with Marilyn Monroe in The Seven-year Itch, one of her most famous roles. You may recall her standing over the sidewalk grate, white skirt billowing above her knees.

Stars and former stars can be found everywhere and when least expected. San Antonio, for example. One year while strolling on the Riverwalk, I passed by a man standing off to one side while chatting with a woman. Very petite with short blonde hair, the woman wore slacks and a knit top. Had it not been for her heavy make-up, I wouldn’t have taken a second look and realized she was June Allyson. The former MGM musical star was doing dinner theater in San Antonio.

Naturally, stars hang out in luxury hotels. I saw Cheryl Ladd (Charlie’s Angels) sitting in the lobby of the George V in Paris and shared an elevator with Rue McClanahan (Golden Girls) at the Ritz-Carlton in St. Louis. Stars even hang out at local eateries, such as a restaurant in Island Park, Idaho, in the middle of the day, where Michael Keaton (Mr. Mom, Batman, etc.) sat at the bar, his big white dog settled on the floor beside him. Everyone in our group of ten needed to use the restroom, anything for an excuse to walk past Michael.

And then there was the time I was visiting New Orleans with Hubby D. I’d convinced him to stroll through the Garden District with me, hoping to see the home of Anne Rice, prolific writer of Gothic horror such as Interview with a Vampire among others. Unsure of the author’s address, we stopped and asked a local woman who was walking her big white dog. She gave us exact directions to Ms. Rice’s house and after thanking her, we continued our unhurried stroll through the neighborhood. Upon reaching our destination, who do we see in the front year of the Rice house but the woman who’d given us directions. She was getting into a stretch limousine and only then did I recognize her as Anne Rice.

So, how about you. Any star sightings you’d like to share?



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Wine vs. Diet Coke: Doing the Math

(Original Blog from December, 2011)

The Euro and the Pound aren’t nearly as strong as they were five years ago when I first posted this blog but when it comes to value, table wine in Europe is still a better bargain than everyday Diet (or Regular) Coke.

In another life I was fortunate to have visited Paris several times, once as a paying guest in the fabulous  George V, hotel to the rich and famous and where I spied a celebrity hanging out in the lobby—actress Cheryl Ladd, a few years after her stint on Charlie’s Angels but still looking terrific in a pair of tight-fitting jeans and, as I recall, a Western-style suede jacket. Seeing all-American Cheryl reminded me of the good ol’ U.S. of A., by then having been away for almost two weeks, most of that time spent on business in The Netherlands and Belgium. Although I’d enjoyed a daily dose or three of fine wines, many I’d not sampled before, my taste buds had been hankering for America’s Numero Uno beverage—Coca Cola. And not just any Coke, it had to be Diet Coke, which had yet to find its ways across the Atlantic drink. Or if it had, not to the George V which did offer regular Coke, the six-ounce classic in a glass bottle that a compassionate person from the kitchen staff produced for me one evening around 9 o’clock. Not quite what I wanted but nevertheless I took the plunge, one costing me the equivalent of six dollars in American cash—the equivalent of ten dollars in today’s inflated market. So, if we’re talking Euros to Dollars that comes to thirteen dollars. Yikes! Ah-h, but worth every … pen … er … dollar.

And speaking of inflation, the George V’s continental breakfast I ate every morning—a small basket of mini muffins, orange juice, and coffee—cost twelve dollars then, which would make it twenty now, more likely twenty-six by today’s Euro equation. The George V’s American breakfast—add bacon and eggs to the continental juice, muffins, and coffee—would’ve cost the Japanese tourists sitting at the table next to me twenty-five dollars then. Forty-two dollars today—don’t ask about the Yen, I’m not that anal. But hey, it was the George V. If you can afford to stay there, you’re not supposed to quibble about a few hundred Francs here, a few hundred Francs there.

As for the French wine, I knew enough to step away from the hotel and sample what the everyday Parisian takes for granted. A carafe of dry red in an inexpensive bistro that set me back about four dollars then would cost in the neighborhood of $6.65 now, considering the Euro, more like $8.65. Still a bargain for two glasses that went down oh so smoothly, the perfect accompaniment for an inexpensive mid-day meal.

By the time I returned to Paris a few years later, I’d learned a few more things about the art of tourist frugality and located a whole six-pack of Diet Coke in a small convenience store on a street adjacent to Boulevard Saint-Germain. Six dollars then, you’ve thought I’d struck gold. I also discovered McDonald’s on the Champs Elysees—can’t beat the prices there, although I don’t recall anymore what they were, except they must’ve been affordable or I surely would’ve remembered. Not that I’m a McDonald’s aficionado, you understand, only when I’m traveling aboard and have an uncontrollable urge for Diet Coke. Confession: in addition to the McDonald’s on the Champs Elysees, I’ve indulged my thirst at the one near Rome’s Piazza di Spagna on two separate trips and once at Mont Blanc’s Chamonix. You can’t beat the fast-food giant’s air-conditioned comfort, especially where European hotels and dining establishments don’t cater to us Americans who can’t tolerate more than a single bead of perspiration.

Enough about McDonald’s, or whatever name they go by in Europe, did I mention they even serve wine? Four years ago Husband and I were returning from Italy via British Airlines, our first stopover: Gatwick Airport. We immediately headed for the nearest bar where we each ordered … you got it, Diet Coke, one for him, one for me.

“You folks must be heading back to the States,” our bartender said. “Diet Coke with plenty of ice, it’s what all the Americans order.” Not that Hubby stopped with one Diet, he just had to have another.

Forget the math on those pricey necessities—the British Pound was, and still is, valued at more than twice that of our American Dollar.






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Before the Wine

A repeat of my October 2012 Blog

I grew up during a period of time when jugs of table wine were, and still are, a part of the Italian-American culture, dry red wine that kids were allowed to sample and rarely wanted more. In fact, I was an adult before I sipped my first glass of bottled wine—white, sweet, and served over ice of all things, to which my mother raised her brow in disapproval when I described the abomination to her. As for the wine gracing my grandma’s table, it never occurred to me that the early phases of winemaking started with quality grapes, appropriate equipment, and the eventual harvest.

Of course, Hubby D knew all about the particulars, better yet his Uncle J, because they had experienced it firsthand on the family farm, its vineyards heavy with concord grapes imported from California, its basement equipped with gigantic vats for creating the home brew. And what D and Uncle J described in great detail to me became an integral part of my Italian/American saga, The Family Angel, an excerpt of which I’ve included below.

The year is 1929, the beginning of The Great Depression and the height of Prohibition, its demise still a few years away. Immigrant bootlegger Carlo Baggio and his brother Jake, whose reckless choices got both of them run out of Chicago, are now busting their butts mining coal in Southern Illinois, along with another immigrant, Mario, who with his wife Irene owns the boarding house where they all live under the same roof.

The Roselli Farm, St. Gregory, Illinois

Earlier that year Carlo and Jake had spent long hours with Mario and Irene, working side by side to plant a large vegetable garden of lettuces, spinach, zucchini, squash, eggplant, potatoes, corn, and tomatoes. By summer the resulting harvest proved so plentiful that Irene opened a vegetable stand and sold what they couldn’t eat fresh or put up for the winter. Besides the garden, a healthy vineyard that Irene’s parents had established years before stretched in long rows down one side of their five acres. Mario expected a bumper crop in September, red and white grapes he would press into fine table wines, a nice addition to the ample supply stored in his cellar.

One evening Carlo, Jake, Mario, and Irene sat around the kitchen table, playing pinochle to take their minds off the 90-degree temperature that should have let up when the sun went down.

“Well, I’m out,” said Irene as she folded her cards. “Looks like another win for Jake.”

Jake swept his hands over the coins. “Hell, with money so tight even forty cents makes me feel rich.”

“We may not have much money but we sure eat and drink well,” Mario grumbled. “I never thought it would come to this. Too many mines, too many miners: that’s what the newspapers say. There’s plenty of coal waiting to be mined and now the country don’t need it.” He poured more wine for himself and passed the jug. “So, Carlo, whadaya say, any ideas how we can make some extra dough?”

“We’re looking at it.” Carlo poured to the level of his three fingers. He took in the aroma and held up the glass to admire the wine’s color and clarity. “I say, sell your wine to Benny Drummond. What he can’t bootleg in St. Louis, he’ll sell on the Illinois side. This vino rosa beats any that Pete Venuta supplies.”

“No shit.” Jake held up the bottle Carlo had passed to him. “So that’s how Pete bought his new truck.”

Carlo took a sip, smacked his lips “Hell, Pete does more than bootleg cheap wine. He waters down whiskey and makes his own hooch.”

“Hooch?” Irene asked. “What’s hooch?”

“Christo, where you been all these years?” Mario said. “Carlo means bootleg whiskey.”

“Well I don’t like this talk about bootlegging.” She stood, walked behind Mario, and pressed her fingers into his shoulder. “And you know better. Bootlegging is against the law.”

“Well, it’s still a free country and just talking about bootlegging ain’t against the law. Besides, it’s a dumb law that nobody follows.” Mario ignored her massage as he directed his words to Jake and Carlo. “I say it’s worth a try. We already have a head start in the cellar. Jake, about the Drummond fella: how ‘bout asking Pete to put us in touch him.”

“You don’t know about Benny Drummond?” Irene applied more pressure with her fingers. “For god sake, he’s one of the biggest gangsters in all of Southern Illinois, maybe the entire state.

Mario reached over his shoulder and patted Irene’s hand. “A few inquiries can’t hurt. It makes sense; this wine as good as ours should be worth something to those less fortunate.” He opened his palms into a shrug. “So we make a little money.”

Irene threw up her hands. “You won’t make much with that dinky set-up downstairs. Just remember this: if you make wine to sell, the government says it’s illegal. And that makes the three of you bootleggers too.”

“Irene, honey, we’re talking small potatoes.”

She stomped out, banging the screen door in her wake.

Carlo leaned over his elbows. “You know, Mario, Irene’s right about one thing: your setup, it’s way too small. Jake and I could help you build a bigger one, like what our parents had back home, with vats and barrels taking up the whole cellar.”

“Sounds like more than I can handle. If you and Jake help me all the way, I’ll give each of you part of the profits.”

“No shit?” Jake said. “You’d do that for us, even though we don’t share the same blood.”

“Blood ain’t everything and so what if I don’t make a killing the first go-around. I ain’t up to messing with this by myself.”

Just the words Carlo wanted to hear. He could almost smell the ripe grapes, taste the infant wine, and revel in its maturity.


Over the next ten days the three men worked as a team, digging out two more feet of dirt from the cellar floor and then carting it in wheelbarrows to feed the gullies located at the far side of the Roselli acreage. After leveling out the floor to a smooth finish, they bitched and cussed and nearly came to blows but still managed to construct a gigantic wooden vat called the latina. It measured eight feet deep by ten feet across and occupied an entire corner. By that time Mario was calling Jake and Carlo partners; they regarded him as their older brother. Next, they installed a galvanized metal trough from the cellar window directly into the vat, which was accessible by way of a wooden ladder on the floor. In the opposite corner they built a second vat, smaller at one hundred gallons but just right for fermenting white grapes as good as the purple but not as plentiful.

Six weeks later the grapes were ready for picking, a crop so prolific Mario enlisted some trustworthy helpers, a dozen miners and for the most part, Italians. His friends readily agreed to work in exchange for all the cheap beer, good wine, and home cooking they could consume during harvest day. At six o’clock on Saturday morning he stood at the end of the driveway and greeted each man with a shot of whiskey and a slap on the back. As soon as the dew lifted in the vineyard, Mario lined up his workers on both sides of long arbors filled with firm, luscious, reddish purple grapes. Using their favorite knives honed to fine, sharp edges, the volunteers severed the fruit clusters from their vines and tossed them into bushel baskets. Mario and Carlo lugged the first of the filled baskets onto a horse-drawn sled and circled around to the outside cellar window where Jake waited with a grin on his face.

“What a sight,” he said, rolling his tongue over his lips. “Already I can taste the vino rosa.”

“And the money,” Carlo added.

Mario unloaded the remaining baskets, Jake dumped grapes into the grinder connected to the trough, and Carlo cranked the handle, rotating the four rollers inside to crush the fruit. Juice and pulp poured from the trough into the vat, its bottom lined with straw that served as a filtering agent. While Jake and Carlo were getting more grapes, Mario went down to the cellar. He wrapped string around a straw bundle, and pushed it into the spigot of the vat.

“Whatcha doing that for?” cracked a youthful voice. Sammy Falio stepped out from the shadows of the cellar.

“When the moon is full and clear, I’m gonna pull this out to check on the fermentation,” Mario said. “Now, here’s a question for you.”

“Yeah?” Sammy asked, the fat cheeks of his round face overtaking his eyes.

“What’re you doing down here when I gave you the best job up there?” Mario pointed to the stairs. “Now get a move on before my thirsty workers start griping.”

Sammy hurried up the cellar steps and into the morning sun. He had a knack for ducking work whenever he could but had begged for the coveted job of keeping the workers supplied with buckets of beer. Using Tony’s little red wagon, he started lugging buckets back and forth. By ten o’clock the beer was lagging and so was Sammy. Mario found him barfing behind a tree so he alternated the beer distributor’s job between two of the thirstier miners, and Margherita sent Sammy to bed.

While the men were busy with the grapes, Margareta helped Irene prepare lunch: fried chicken, beef stew, pork salsiccia, polenta baked with cheese, risotto, garden-fresh spinach and hard cooked eggs laced with vinegar and olive oil, firm, sweet sliced tomatoes, crusty fried eggplant, and a mix of tuna, cannellini beans, celery, and onions with more vinegar and olive oil. Margherita’s specialty was frituro dusa, creamy pudding dumped in a pan to set firm before cutting it into diamond shapes that were rolled in cracker crumbs and fried in equal parts of butter and oil.

Five hours after the harvest began, all the grapes, including the whites, had been picked, transported, heaved, and ground into the vat to begin the fermentation process. The men lined up at the outside pump, using lava soup to scrub purple stain from hands already stained with coal. Those who couldn’t wait for the outhouse hurried behind the barn to piss away their beer. When order seemed restored, Irene nodded to Tony and Frankie. Together they clanged the bell and yelled, “Mangiamo, mangiamo!”

Sitting at sawhorse tables under the shade of Linden trees, the harvest workers devoured the bountiful spread, washing mouthfuls down with jugs of wine and more buckets of beer. When they had their fill of food but not of drinks, the men remained at the table to bend their elbows and chew the fat. After the stories turned stale, Leo Gotti brought out his guitar and strummed the familiar songs of his youth. Thirty minutes of singing and little else brought Moon Sabino to his feet.

“Dammit, Leo. What you trying to do—send us back to the Old Country.”

“Hells bells, Moon. Ain’t it time you went back?” bellowed Rooster Williams. “How many years you been telling us about that little filly waiting in Italy? She’ll be too old to trot by the time you’re ready to mount her.”

“Christo, look who’s talking. I don’t see no ring attached to your nose.”

“No, and you ain’t about to either. As it says in the Old Testament, God meant for certain men to please more than one woman. And I’m one of the chosen.” Rooster paused to raid his mind for a good yarn. “I ever tell you ‘bout my Uncle Jeb?”

“Not that I recall,” Amos Carter said, setting up the story.

“Well, sir, according to Uncle Jeb, Beelzebub stuck him with the meanest, ugliest old lady this side of the Mississippi. That would be Aunt Oma. Uncle Jeb always said he couldn’t stand the sight of the bitch, although some thought he might’ve exaggerated a bit. Well, sir, one day she sent him to the drugstore for her spring tonic. On the way back Uncle Jeb poured out half the tonic. The old fart peed in the bottle to fill it up again. Lemme tell you, Aunt Oma done away with that special potion in three days time, said it were the best she ever drunk. After that, she couldn’t keep her hands off poor Uncle Jeb.”

“Come on, Rooster. That’s pure disgusting.”

“You better believe it was. Poor Uncle Jeb like to never got over that ungodly smell oozing from the pores of Aunt Oma.”

Rooster slapped his knee and spewed out a spray of beer along with his belly laugh. After that each story got raunchier than the one before. And when the beer went dry and the sun went down, the contented miners went home.

End of excerpt

To read The Family Angel in its entirety, please go to


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A Cringe-worthy Moment

We’ve all had them, right? Those moments in time you’d like to forget and often do until something triggers a non-relatable incident deep within the recesses of your brain. Such was the case recently when Hubby D and I were discussing nothing in particular that drifted into cringe-worthy experiences. Mine, since D hasn’t been cursed with that recollection gene. Nevertheless, here’s one of mine.

Some years ago in my life before that as a writer, I worked in the Central West End of St. Louis and frequented a high-end hair salon whenever the need arose. The stylist-owner who worked his magic on my hair was considered among the city’s best and never failed to send me out the door looking much better than when I came in. How well I recall the salon routine, of first going to the private area to select a protective smock before sitting down in C’s chair. On one particular day I’d skimmed through the variety of colorful smocks, my hand landing on a dark brown that appeared to be a notch above the rest. Not only did the smock match my eyes but it felt good and made me feel special as soon as I put it on over my own top.

Only one other client sat in the salon that morning, an attractive older lady who looked familiar although I couldn’t quite place her. The three of us engaged in a round of salon chitchat about family and the upcoming holidays while C applied streaks of pale blond to highlight my darker blond hair. Then the lady casually commented on the smock I was wearing, how similar it was to one of her favorite blouses; in fact, the blouse she’d worn to the salon that day. Hers had a small hole in the sleeve, near the cuff. Holy crap! So did my smock, only it wasn’t a smock but rather the lady’s blouse. My heart skipped a beat or two. I heard C gasp from where he stood behind me.

After a flurry of apologies on my part, which the lovely lady accepted on her part, I hopped out of the chair and felt my cheeks burning as I made the long walk back to the rack of smocks. My hand shook as I replaced the lady’s brown blouse with a salon smock, also brown.

Not sure who was more mortified—C the owner-stylist or me, the didn’t-have-a-clue offender. Either way, the lovely lady couldn’t have been more gracious when C introduced her as the wife of a former St. Louis mayor, both of whom still served prominent roles as movers and shakers in the city.

Did I ever return to the salon? You bet, many times. One change I did notice: the private area now contained two clothing racks—one for the salon smocks, the other for clients who chose to remove their tops before donning a smock.

So, what about you? Any cringe-worthy moments you’d like to share? Don’t be shy. Let me feel your pain.



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