It’s Friday Morning and when I got up I find my Dad at the Breakfast table. I still can’t get use to the idea of having Breakfast with my Dad. He cannot find any work; most of the time he tries not to show it, but I know this makes him very unhappy. I noticed that this morning he seems to feel a little bit better. When I was about to leave our apartment to find my friends, my Dad stopped me, to remind me, that we have to get dressed this afternoon. We will then go to Saint Stephen’s Church to assemble together with other Italian Americans from my father’s village of Mola De Bari.
There are many different villages in Italy where people left for a new life in America. My Dad’s village is only one among many who celebrate their village traditions with a street festival and patron Saint, in their Brooklyn neighborhoods. My Dad, his cousins and friends are members of the Molesi Social Club; they will all assemble to form a parade outside the Church. The Priest and many other religious people from his congregation, who are originally from the Italian Village of Mola De Bari, will gather, pick up the statue of the Blessed Mother, and carry her through the streets of our neighborhood.
This is a big day for our family and friends. This parade also includes prayers, music and fireworks, as we march through the streets with a police escort. When the parade gets back to the Church, this will signal the beginning of a three day festival, with more Italian music, food, games and carnival rides. I told my Dad that I will be back in time to meet him this afternoon and walk with him to Saint Stephen’s Church.
I ran down the steps of our building and I found Pecker and Jimmy pizza waiting for me on my door step. I say “Hey what are you guys doing here so early in the morning?” Pecker looks up at me and says. “Well, we haven’t seen you for a couple of days and we thought the only way we could hook up with you was sit and wait for you on your door step.” Wow, I didn’t realize that they missed me so much; I replied “Sorry guys, I’ve been doing all kinds of stuff the last couple of days. I rode my new bike, I Helped Roger, make a wagon for his little sister, I am learning how to play a stupid Chess game and I helped my mother with stuff around the house. The time really flew by so fast, but I’m happy that you came over to find me this morning.”
After my little speech Jimmy Pizza says. “Wa, wa, wa, mister big shot. You’re so busy that you forget all about your friends.” “No, no, I didn’t forget about you. I was thinking about you guys the past couple of days. I wanted to play Handball with you. But you’re right, I was running around all over the place and I didn’t think that we could play Handball in the rain. So here I am, ready for action.” They got up from sitting on the steps of my building and we all walked over to find Nunzio and Mike Tomato. We found them and they were happy to join us for a game of handball. When we got to the school yard we see Reno the Greek and hid brother Henry were there slapping a ball against the brick wall. It was like they were reading our minds. Now we have more than enough guys to play this game. Handball is a great game; all you need is a good pair of sneakers, some chalk and a ball. Looks like we will have to play doubles and some of us will have to sit out of the game and challenge the winners when the first game is over.
We’re lucky that the wall at the school yard is a nice flat wall to play against. But sometimes we have to settle to play against a wall that has cracks and is all uneven; when you hit the ball against the uneven wall it makes the ball bounce like a Mexican jumping bean moving all over the place.
We take a piece of chalk and draw a short line about four feet from the wall and a long line about twenty feet from the wall. Once you set the boundaries, short, long and side to side you choose sides and the server starts the game by slapping the ball within the boundaries to the other players who have to hit the ball back at the wall on a fly. After the ball is in play there is no restriction on the short line. If any player hits the ball out of bounds, over the long line or the side to side boundaries they lose a point and the right to hit the ball first if you are the server. Handball is a fast game. Points are made when anyone makes an error by not hitting the wall on a fly, or missing a shot completely, or hitting a ball out of bounds and so on. The winners are the team that reaches fifteen points first. If both teams manage to reach a fourteen point tie, the winning team now has to reach sixteen points first. If the teams tie again at fifteen the winning score changes to seventeen and so on. We played Handball for three hours. Me and Nunzio won most of the games. Good thing Superman was on my side.
It was getting late so I rushed home to meet my father. When I got to our apartment my father was already dressed and waiting for me. I was dressed in no time and we started our walk to Saint Stephens Church. When we got there it seemed like there are a couple of hundred men and boys, all dressed up and ready to march. I realize now that this festival tradition is mostly a man thing. My father has a ribbon with the image of the Madonna pinned on his suit and he calls me over to pin the same ribbon on me. A group of eight men go into the Church and pick up the statue of the Madonna for the march through the neighborhood. The Band starts to play music to march to and we all walk in the street behind the statue of the Madonna. There are lots of people on the sidewalk watching the procession and praying to the Madonna. After a short walk the parade stops in front of a building that has a special cross in front of it. The men turn the statue to face the building. The music stops and then you hear loud sounds of fireworks going off right in front of the building.
My Dad tells me that the people who live in that building make a large donation to the Church for this special honor and Blessing from the Madonna. After the fireworks the Band starts to play again and we continue to walk with a police escort to the next house with a special cross displayed in front of it. We stop again and more fireworks go off. This honor and Blessing must have been given twenty times during our march through the neighborhood. Each time the parade stops to turn the statue of the Blessed Mother many people standing on the sidewalk come up to the statue and pin dollar donations on to the clothing of the Blessed Mother statue. Before you know it the statue looks like it has clothing made of money all over it. The parade continues for miles, we march for six hours or more. We then come full circle back to Saint Stephens Church for a special Blessing and more fireworks. Wow, I feel like such a big deal marching with my father and our Italian countrymen.