The Gathering Storm

Okay, I should not be that cynical, but have you ever been to a Italian Catholic funeral before? Basically I have 32 first cousins on my father’s side and most of them have children (and some even grandchildren!). At my Granmother Toscano’s wake and funeral we expect over 300 relatives.

As I sit in the stronghold (my parents’ and grandmother’s home), it feels like a scene from the Lord of the Rings. You see my grandmother has a very nice ring encrusted with a score of diamonds (I’m not kidding), and already a “discussion” has emerged as to who gets the ring.

Growing up I heard all the petty gossip around Italian Catholic weddings (Aunt Stella’s family only gave $25 then took a doggie bag!!) to vicious gossip at Italian Catholic funerals (Uncle Lenny went into my mother’s bedroom and stole her dentures!)

In the midst of the funeral of my well loved 97 year old grandmother, I already see rising greed, grudges and family grime. Included our own issues of white male power and privilege.

You see we are a rainbow family. My aunts and uncles married outside of the mainland Italian gene pool.

First it was my Uncle Joey who married (shudder) a Sicilian. Then my Uncle Rocky married “an Irish girl”. Uncle Louie married a Puerto Rican woman. Aunt Mary married a WASP from Cape Cod, had three children, divorced (a huge no-no) and married a Black man in Hartford. Uncle Frankie, the youngest married a woman from the Philippines. My dad (known as Petey) married my mom, whose family comes from Naples, a Southern but still mainland Italian city.

(My father and his siblings in order: Joey, Petey, Mary, Rocky, Louie, Frankie-I ain’t jokin’)

As a result, out of all his daughter-in-laws my grandfather favored my mother most and let it show. Depending on how dark you were, the more disowned you became. My mother tells me that she and my father had to sneak my grandmother away to see my Aunt Mary since Grandpa had forbidden contact with her after her marriage to my Uncle Tom (Yes, we could not go to my Uncle Tom’s cabin–actually a cute house in the North End. Hartford was also the home of Harriet Beecher Stowe.)

Racism became encoded in me just by observing the attitudes and actions of my own family. The divide was clear. We had the “good” cousins and the “bad” cousins. If you were dark or poor (and espeically dark and poor) you were automatically a “bad” cousin.

This week I struggle to apply the same sort of grace and generosity to my own family as I seek to extend to my “ex-gay” opponents. As a Quaker, do I believe that each family member has a little of God in them? Do I look for and expect the best from them while still accepting their shortcomings (and my own)? Do I dare post the picture of my ancient second cousin who looks like she mothered the race of Orcs?

Stay tuned (and if you are so inclined, hold us in the Light during this time).

This post has 10 Comments

  1. Christine on January 1, 2006 at 5:50 pm

    Definitely holding you all in the light. May you all see a little of God in each other.

  2. Anonymous on January 1, 2006 at 6:53 pm

    Coming from an Italian Catholic family I know exactly what you are talking about. When my brother got married in an Episcopal church, my grandmother wouldn’t set foot in the church. She kept asking when they were really going to get married. A couple of years after she passed away, my cousin married a Jewish girl. Oh the tongues wagged at that marriage.
    Heaven knows what they would say if they every found out that I was Trans.


  3. Peterson Toscano on January 1, 2006 at 8:03 pm

    Diana, coming out trans in an Italian Catholic family–yikes! Especially M-F. With all the male privilege in my family, it would befuddle them beyond belief. They can barely wrap their mind around my gayness.

  4. Anonymous on January 1, 2006 at 10:08 pm

    Hey Peterson have been thinking of you today holding you in the light and praying all goes well….may greed etc not raise it’s ugly head and may you all remember your grandma for the amazing woman she was…… julesxoxoxoox

  5. Diana_CT on January 2, 2006 at 2:47 am

    No I haven’t come out to them yet and I don’t think I will. I only see them at weddings and funerals. Since my father, all my aunts and uncles ( six total ) passed away, there is no need to stay in touch with that side of the family. My father was the oldest and was the only one to go to college and his sisters and brother never really for gave him for that. So we are the black sheep of the family, they are down in Bridgeport and we are up here in center Connecticut. So if I never see them again it no loss.

    P.S. I saw your play at the Charter Oak Culture Center last year and enjoyed it

  6. Peterson Toscano on January 2, 2006 at 3:44 am

    Diana, I totally remember you from that show!

  7. Contemplative Activist on January 2, 2006 at 4:54 pm

    Eeek – you guys are making my family seem almost functional by comparison ;O! There’s nothing like extended family coming together to arouse every ugly tendancy we have.

    I will be thinking about you Peterson & hoping your grandmother’s kindness and good humour are remembered more than her ring.


  8. Changeling on January 3, 2006 at 5:00 am

    Peterson, definitely holding you in the light; your family has so much more diversity than most American families do today, and it HAS HAD it for decades. The privilege issues are bound to be more complicated and overt. At least you are all there, in the mix, many many people who cared about your grandmother enough to want what sounds like an important token of her. I’d much rather know that sixty years from now there will be a large, colorful multitude of my anscestors gossiping and squabbling over who gets my most prized posession than to think about my passing going unnoticed, or being dipassionately marked by a group of polite strangers.

    Looks like there’s quite a storm a-brewing for tomorrow; drive carefully and get home safe.


  9. Jennifer on January 3, 2006 at 6:16 am

    Your family sounds too much like the Brady bunch, but Italian style of course. I have about onlly 9 first cousins, being the oldest on my father’s side and second oldest on my mother’s side. On my mother’s side, there is only ten years between the oldest and youngest grandchildren. I couldn’t imagine having that much family. Sort of like Toula in My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Uggh!

  10. Valorie Zimmerman on January 3, 2006 at 6:54 am

    Peterson, I’m so sorry for your loss. Your family sounds GREAT if you are a novelist looking for material! But when the death of the matriarch happens, everyone has to jostle around until the new pecking order is established. A painful time for everyone. At least everyone *cares.*

    Holding you all in the Light,


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