Say Hello To The Chirichellas: When Jews and Italians Marry

Dear Michael and Caroline,

It’s a long time ago, probably 1976, before my adult life got going, and Elvira and I are taking a stroll around her neighborhood in Williamsburg. It’s drizzling out, but neither of us seem to mind much – it’s as if being together keeps us dry.

And then I hear Elvira call out, “Grandpa.” And I look over to where she called and there he is, her grandfather, Nicholas, or Nick, skinny as a stick, his face gaunt and shriveled, standing in a doorway in the rain.

He looks old, really old (I was only 24 then, so half the world came across as old), and as he says hello, I see he’s missing most of his teeth.

Elvira introduces us, we shake hands, and he seems pleasant enough. It’s my first time meeting anyone in Elvira’s family other than her mother, and it’s jarring. All I can think is that her grandfather is nothing like either of mine – nothing, even, that squares with my concept of a grandfather.

It had a lot to do with the teeth. Everyone in my family had a full mouth of teeth. I’d never before met anyone missing so many teeth. It also had to do with him standing in the doorway in the rain. I tried to imagine anyone in my family standing in a doorway in the rain, but no such image would come forth.

Oh, make no mistake: Nicholas Chirichella turned out to be a decent guy, and always treated me well. He was quiet, though with a colorful tongue, and a good grandfather and father as far as I knew.

It’s just that he was . . . different.

Different from my family – and different from my family as everyone in Elvira’s family was different from my family.

P.S. – See Part 2 tomorrow.

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