Ray Vecchio answered the phone apprehensively. His sister Frannie was expecting and Ray thought every phone call would be Frannie's Ray or Ma calling with news. Ray spoke tersely into the receiver:"Vecchio."
A voice he did not recognize said: "Mr. Raymond Vecchio? Son of Arturo Vecchio".
Ray replied: "Who is this? How did you know my Father's name?"
His cops instincts had been dormant for quite a while. He had made a conscious effort to sublimate them after Stella's death. The arrest and trial of her murderer had caused Ray so much pain and anguish that he put himself into an almost catatonic state in which he felt very little and exhibited even less emotion. His cop instincts now were back in full force.
The voice on the phone hesitated and then said: "Your father probably never mentioned this, but he had an uncle, Sal and I, um, am his grandson, your second cousin. My name is Artie. I was named after your father sort of...."
Ray snorted into the phone: "My father had two uncles neither of which were called Sal."
Artie replied: "Well his
family stayed in
Ray said: "Are you calling my family strange?"
"No, no, I only meant that the rest of the family would have nothing to do with Sal and his family."
Ray: "So why am I learning about him now?"
Artie’s voice lowered:
"Well Grandad is seriously ill and he wanted to
see you and get to know Arturo's son before it is too late. We live in
Ray's voice sputtered:
"Are you telling me you expect me to come to
Artie said: "Yes. It would mean a lot to him. He was just a child when the family was separated and he has always regretted not knowing his American relatives"
Ray was stunned. He did not answer. Artie finally said: "Ray, are you still there?”
Ray replied: "Yes, I am still here. I don't know what to say, I think I'll call Ma and see if she knows anything about this and then I will get back to you."
Artie left his number. As
soon as he disconnected, Ray dialed his mother's number. The phone rang
several times and finally a breathless Ma Vecchio answered the phone.
When she heard Ray's voice she immediately asked what was wrong because Ray
always called on Sunday and this wasn't Sunday. Ray spent several minutes
reassuring his mother that nothing was wrong before he could ask her if she
knew anything about the mysterious Great Uncle Sal. Ma took some time
to think and then told Ray: "All that I know is that one of Arturo's
uncles' stayed in
Ray assured his Ma that he
would call Uncle Lorenzo and get back to her. Then he hung up the phone
again. He decided to wait a while to call Lorenzo He did call Frannie because she had taken an interest in geneology and she might know something. Frannie waddled to the phone and was delighted to hear from
her brother. She told him all the latest gossip.
Finally she had to take a breath and Ray was able to ask her to look up the
Family tree and see if an uncle Sal was mentioned on their Dad's side of the
family. Frannie knew it was important when Ray
said he would stay on the phone while she got the stuff. Frannie laughed and told him it was all on the
computer. She called up the information and told him that there was
a Salvatore Vecchio but that there was only a notation that his family stayed
Since Uncle Lorenzo was older than dirt, Ray was not looking forward to talking to him, so he was relieved when Frannie offered to visit him at the Nursing home and call Ray with any information he might have, but Lorenzo was an erratic source and Ray doubted that he would be able to remember anything. Ray thanked Frannie for her help and asked about her Ray. Then he once again hung up the phone.
Later that evening he called
his cousin to tell him that he had checked with his family and there did seem
to be a Salvatore Vecchio who had remained in
When he finally went to bed he had decided to go, He had sold the Bowling Alley after Stella's murder and his partner, Vinnie and Bambi, their secretary, could handle Vecchio Investigations while he was gone. Ray slept better that night than he for a long time. Maybe this trip would help him think about something other than Stella.
In the morning he was
surprised to find he still wanted to go and he called Artie and told him he had
made arrangements to fly into
take him to meet his great uncle.
Bambi dropped Ray at the
airport Friday morning and the flight got into
Ray replied: “Yes, I am. You must be Artie. I cannot wait to hear this story. I have family I never knew existed, Why did...."
Artie said: "I know you have lots of questions and hopefully
they will all be answered. Just meeting my family will help answer several of them. Let's get out of here."
They made their way to the
parking area and found Artie's car. They drove toward downtown
Except that prominently displayed on the credenza was a menorah, Ray looked around the room. There were no statues or crucifixes. Behind the menorah was a framed needle-point picture.
He looked at Ira. He was wearing a yamulkah. Ray looked at Artie. "You are Jewish?" He asked incredulously.
Eva said: "Of course. What else would we be?"
ay said: "Well aren't most Italians Catholic?"
"Yes, but we are only Italian on Sal's side. My side is Jewish.
Before the War there were about 40,000 Jews in
Artie broke in and said: " Grandad fell in love with Eva and
married her and the rest of the family did not approve and ostracized
hin and his
family. During the War he and Eva remained in
My father was a member of the Resistance Movement. On Sunday you will meet Grandad and he can tell you his story better than we can. You are welcome to stay here or if you would be more comfortable in a hotel, I can take you to one."
Ray replied: "I would be honored to stay in your home."
THat was enough for the Bethel Park Vecchios and they welcomed Ray into their home. That evening he was an active celebrant in their Sabbath meal. The next day he attended synagogue with them.
On Sunday he and Artie drove out to the Beth Shalom Nursing Home. Ray was not surprised when he met Salvatore Vecchio. Sal was undoubtedly a Vecchio. He looked like Arturo, only older. Sal hugged Ray, held him at arm's length and said: "A true Vecchio." And hugged him again.
Then he led Artie and Ray to
a conversation area. He told Ray that he had wanted to contact the
Chicago Vecchios for a long time, but he was afraid they would be
hostile. Then he proceeded to tell Ray his life story. How he had
fallen in love with Eva and he had converted. When the Nazis invaded
saved most of the Italian Jews from the Concentration Camps. Sal's eyes were filled with tears as he l told his tale. Artie never
tired of hearing his Grandad's war stories and Ray was mesmerized by
the story. Sal fumbled in his pockets and came out with a much folded piece of paper and handed it to Ray. Ray unfolded it and found a copy of the Prayer of St. Francis and realized that was what was worked into the needlepoint wall hanging in the Vecchio home.
Ray began to read:
"Lord make me an instrument of Your Peace
Where there is hatred let me sow love....."
Ray looked up at Sal and then at Artie. He knew that the Catholic Church had been criticized for its inaction against Hitler. He had not known that the Italian Monasteries had organized to try to save as many of the Italian Jews as they could. He was proud of his roots , but he was even more proud of this family that had struggled to survive a horrific time and still honored the brave men and women who had helped them. Ray felt badly that his relatives had chosen to condemn this man who was now reaching out to Ray for acceptance. Ray hugged his Great Uncle Sal and wished with all his heart that his father could have been there to participate.
Ray and Artie returned to the Vecchio household where Ray made them
all promise to keep in touch and he left with pictures of them all and a promise to send pictures of his family and especially the new baby.
At the airport Ray changed
his ticket to one to
Well, Happy Birthday I got goy Ray as close to the Jewish faith as I could. The movie that inspired is this is a Ben Cross flick called the Assissi Underground and it is the story of how the Catholic monasteries and churches worked together to save the Italian Jews. 80 per cent of whom were saved. Hope you are not offended.
First title Oy Vey Ray