The wad of money bulged in my pocket. It was a modest sum, but in this time, it was a fortune. I knew it wouldn’t last long, but at least it would help carry them through the years my father would be away at war. Between my contribution and my father’s regular installments from Europe’s front lines, my grandmother could breathe a bit easier, pay her rent, feed her children, and perhaps save some for the future, at least until my father returned home.
Rose Rizzo sat across the table from me now, my father by her side. It was just the three of us for the moment, so I took the opportunity to tend to the business of my visit. “I have something for you, an inheritance of sorts.” Their blank faces watched me with nothing more than cautious anticipation for whatever it was I would next say. I pulled the wad of $500 from my pocket. It wasn’t much to me, but to them, it was the equivalent of about $8500, a fortune to a poor Italian family struggling through The Depression. I figured it was as much as I could do without causing a ripple in reality. They must still struggle, there must still be strain, but I knew that this would give, at least, temporary relief; giving them hope for the future.
I put the sum on the table, all bills were printed in 1940 and purchased at auction. The look on their faces was pure shock. I knew further explanation would be requested, but it was my duty to avoid too many questions. I broke the silence with, “It’s what my father asked me to give to you. He was a fortunate man, and asked that his wealth be sent to his family. This is your portion.” Rose slowly reached to touch the stack of paper, as though she was checking to see if it was real. Her eyes met mine and tears tumbled down her plump cheeks. Her features were weathered for a woman in late forties, only a few years older than myself, a stark representation of what hard times can do to the body. She slid her hand to mine and touched my gently, words of thanks were on her lips, although they were unintelligible. I smiled, tears now running down my own face. My father, a man of little emotion, was smiling like I had never seen. “It’s a miracle,” he said, “a true miracle.”
I smiled and sniffled, “There are a few conditions, though.” Their look of shocked joy turned to concern and skepticism. I heard my father say what he always said, “There’s always a catch.”
“Nothing too restricting,” I assured him, “All my father asked was that you not tell your husband – your father,” I gestured to Sonny, “nor anyone else. This money is for you, Rose, to use as you need it. It would be in your best interest if you pretended like it didn’t exist and carry on as usual. It’s for your peace of mind. When your husband doesn’t bring home enough to pay the bills, you can rest assured that you can make up the difference. Save it, buy a house one day, and live life.”
I looked at my dad, whose smile had returned, “You are her angel. It’s life as usual for you. Pretend as though this doesn’t exist and continue to do what you are doing. You’ll know what to do with this in the years to come,” my words sounded almost cryptic, even to myself, but how else was I to say it? Nothing could change, he would still go to war, he would still return, he would tend to her, and she would still die long before my birth, but at least the years would be a bit easier and the abuse she endured from her husband would, perhaps, be a bit more tolerable knowing that she didn’t need him.
After a time, it seemed that Rose began to accept that this was, in fact, her money, and I would not reach to take it back. She put the money in the pocket of her housecoat and folded her hands in front of her. Her original polite countenance had returned and we picked up our idle conversation. She was exactly the woman my father had told me, kind, considerate, loving, and full of laughter. We talked for about an hour or so about life and I took the liberty of telling them a bit about myself, as an introduction of sorts. Impressed as they were with the education I was afforded and the experiences I had, they couldn’t remotely comprehend how different life was for me…in my time. To them, all the things I shared were a fairy tale, and honestly, looking around at the paltry apartment, it seemed as far-fetched to me as it was to them.
I made my way down the stoop, it was dark now, and the lighting was poor. The Brooklyn street was so old, but yet newer than I knew it to be. My heart was torn between breaking and overwhelming love and satisfaction. I knew that I had done the right thing and although leaving my father again tore me apart in a way worse than the day he died, I knew what was to come for him, and at least he could rest a little easier knowing that his family was safe.
I walked along the street, I had only a few blocks before I reached my destination, but before I made it too far, I heard someone yell, “Hey!” I stopped as I heard the approaching footsteps and turned to address them. My dad was running after me, a sight I had never seen, since he was already a severe asthmatic and 51 when I was born. Before I had a chance to say a word, he said, a little breathlessly, “I don’t know who you are, or how this all came to be, but I wanted to say ‘Thank you.'” I smiled at him and before I even knew what I was doing, I reached out and hugged him. “It’s the least I could do,” I said.
“You don’t know what you have done for us. You’ve changed our lives,” he said, catching his breath, and I think I detected a little flutter of emotion in his voice.
“Yes, I do,” I replied simply. “Don’t let this change you, Sonny. You still have work to do and a life to lead. You’re a strong, loyal, and good man. Continue to be those things. Just know that you have a guardian angel watching over you and you will live a long life, with children of your own. If you go forward as things are right now, although perhaps a little easier, you will become a wise man. Don’t change a thing.” He nodded as he absorbed my words. I smiled as I turned to continue my journey home, even though it ripped my heart away from him for a third time.
I turned to continue my journey, but then I paused. With one last glance over my shoulder I saw his handsome face and said, looking at the moon overhead, “Oh, and we will land on the moon one day, you’ll see.” I smiled at him, knowing that only a few short years ago, he told his friend during a street stick-ball game, that a moon landing would never happen.