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 Italy when the rest of the brothers moved to America.  He was estranged from them and stayed behind in Italy.


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 Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and since Grandad is too weak to travel, we were hoping that you could come see him. It would mean a lot to him."


Ray's voice sputtered: "Are you telling me you expect me to come to Pittsburgh and meet some old guy I never heard of?"


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 Italy and was treated as if he never existed and they severed all contact with him and his family.  I don't know any details, just that he was a disgrace to the Vecchio name.  I only remember your father mentioning him once when the family was gathered for Christmas. Maybe your Uncle Lorenzo can tell you more."


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 in Italy when the rest of the Vecchios emigrated to America in the   early 1930s. Frannie said: "Dad must have been very young when they came over from Italy"


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 Italy.  While he was trying to relax on his patio, Frannie called back and told him about her interview with Uncle Lorenzo. She had made it very clear that Sal was persona non grated in Frannie's words, but Ray knew what she meant so he did not bother to correct her.  Apparently whatever Sal had done, he had really upset the rest of the family.  Maybe he was a Black Shirt, a follower of Mussolini?  He spent the rest of the evening trying to decide if he really wanted to go to Pittsburgh and meet his Great Uncle and his second cousins.


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 Pittsburgh on Friday. Artie offered to meet him at the airport and

take him to meet his great uncle.


Bambi dropped Ray at the airport Friday morning and the flight got into Pittsburgh at 11:30 in the morning on Friday.  Since Ray was not familiar with the Pittsburgh Airport, Artie had told him to go to the front of the airport and he would meet him by the escalators.  Ray followed the signs to the Airport Entrance and saw the escalators.  Sure enough standing beside them was a man a little younger than Ray, but his olive complexion and distinctive nose led Ray to believe he had found his cousin. The man must have had the same thought, because he began walking toward Ray. They met and Artie heeld out his hand:"You have got to be Ray Vecchio."


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 Pittsburgh and into an area known as Bethel Park.  They pulled into a driveway and beside a lovely stone house.  As they entered the door Ray noticed that Artie touched a little something set into the wall beside the door. After they entered they were surrounded by several people. Artie introduced Ray to his mother Miriam and his Grandmother Eva. Then he introduced him to his brother Ira and his family. Ray felt right at home.  This was like his family at home.


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?"


Eva replied:   "Yes, but we are only Italian on Sal's side. My side is Jewish. Before the War there were about 40,000 Jews in Italy."


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 Italy.  

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 Italy, he and his family found refuge in a Franciscan Monastery in Assisi.  The nuns and Friars hid the Jews and protected them in their hospital rooms.  When the Nazis came around they hid in the tunnels under the buildings.  They provided false id's and

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 Chicago and all through the flight he thought of how precious family was and how he needed to reconnect with his. And how even though there are many things wrong with the world, there are many things right with it too and he for one was going to try his best to make a difference and make his family proud.


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




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