Searching for Silvio
Two months after my father dies, his older brother Silvio—who my father cherished and promised to take care of after their father died, who looks like my father, and laughs like him—gets married at age 86.
On a frigid Saturday in December, at a church that looks like a theater-in-the-round, I witness what looks like my father marrying a strange stooped red-headed woman. I can’t look. And I can’t look away.
At his wedding dinner, I snicker with Silvio’s daughter Carol, who lives 200 miles west, on the edge of Pennsylvania Amish farmland. “Imagine, marrying at that age! Why not just move in together, collect more Social Security?”
Carol shrugs. “He can’t be alone. Anyway, she’s a good woman.”
What I hear, what I think I hear is, she’s too good for a man who openly “dated” another woman for nearly 30 years while married to Carol’s mother. Silvio lives five miles from me in New Jersey, and used to drop in unannounced for an espresso on occasion. But I don’t see Silvio much after he remarries. Once he and his new wife, Helen, pull into my driveway on a Spring morning while I am planting flowers, but only say hello, that they were in the neighborhood, then drive off in his old blue Chrysler.
A month after that, Carol calls on the telephone. Though we are chummy on Facebook,
we never call.
“I know it’s a long shot, but have you seen my father?”
Helen had reported that morning that Silvio packed some boxes, put them in his old car and said he was moving to Florida, where his two sisters live. He called Carol from a phone booth to say don’t try to stop me. Driving in the dark is not his best skill.
Carol is worried. Where will he stay? He might not have any money. I put her on hold and call my husband, whose small business is another place Silvio occasionally drops in. But he hasn’t seen him. I volunteer to drive around Clifton, check Silvio’s usual hangouts – a throwback luncheonette, a certain Dunkin Donuts, The Hot Grill.
First, I recruit Lenore, my best friend of 45 years, who loved my father, knows all about his dippy relatives. We canvass the hangouts, asking counter clerks and old geezers if they know my uncle, and some do, but no one has seen him in days. They call us doll and honey and give us buttered rolls and donuts. At the Hot Grill, I order a frankie-all-the-way-one. But we don’t find Silvio.
For two more days, Carol and I swap calls and texts, strategize. I drive around once more, ask the same people the same questions. I know this is not my problem. I know that I am doing this for my cousin, who is far away, has a job, kids, an ill husband. I am doing this for my father. I am looking for Silvio. I am looking for my father. I tell Carol her father is a resourceful guy. Maybe he’s staying on a buddy’s couch. What I don’t say, what my father often said is, he’s crafty, cunning. He’s probably squirreled away cash. He knows where to find a hot meal, sympathy.
But Carol knows this, and eventually, slowly, maybe a bit ashamedly, explains that there may be, can I believe it—another other woman, improbably named Helene, a widow living a half-mile from Silvio and Helen’s apartment.
I’m amused, not really surprised. I can’t wait to tell my dead father when next we talk. I picture him shaking his head, smiling a little, muttering, “that clown.” Until he was no longer trusted with money, my father sent Silvio cash in white envelopes, much of it destined for the horse racing track. There was something, from long ago, something like this: when Silvio had worked in my father’s scrap metal business, and something was off in the weights and measures, Silvio had told the government inspectors it was his fault.
“Well,” I tell Carol, “then he has a place to go.” Finally, Silvio calls his daughter, claims he’s not happy with Helen, and at 87, he deserves to be happy…with Helene.
“That’s when I lost it,” says Carol, who has been married, mostly happily I think, for 26 years and has four children, the oldest born four months after her wedding, which the family was not invited to attend.
“I told him, he made his bed—it’s his turn to lie in it.” And he did. He went home to Helen, until she tossed him out, and Helene told him she didn’t want a roommate. Before he moved in with Carol, while he was still in New Jersey, I often thought of inviting him for espresso, to listen to him complain, listen for my father’s laugh.
So I could look. And not look away.