As a young man, Uncle Mike liked living large, even when his income didn't support it. He always dressed impeccably and carried himself like an Italian Count. He drove nice cars and went to nice places despite a less than stable financial foundation. I remember overhearing the family discussing his lavish (to them) lifestyle and his reluctance to put his nose to the grindstone and settle down with a nice Italian girl. Once he borrowed my mother's movie projector to show some films at a bachelor party. In with the projector was a reel of old film of my parents wedding, a gift from Negri's Furniture, a neighborhood store that filmed your nuptials if you bought furniture there. Sadly the film was lost and Uncle Mike was in my mom's doghouse for a long time. I can't blame her; I'd give a lot to still have that rare film of my folks.
In his 30's Uncle Mike was seriously dating a girl named Ella. She was pretty, vivacious and got on famously with the family. We thought for sure that this was "the one". The next thing we knew there was an engagement announcement, but Ella was not the lucky girl. Uncle Mike had met an attorney named Lola (whatever Lola wants, Lola gets) and decided to marry her. Her family was well off and apparently happy to have Mike in the fold. I remember going to their wedding. It was probably the first "catered affair" I had ever attended (photo left) where dinner was served by waiters instead of the football weddings we were used to. It was nothing like the elaborate weddings of today, but for poor Brooklyn Italians, it was "tre elegante".
The marriage turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to Mike. Aunt Lola was a smart, ambitious woman who would never tolerate a lay-about husband. With her prodding and connections, Uncle Mike crashed the business world and became a purchasing agent for a trucking company. From these humble beginnings he rose steadily in the company, apparently having a natural gift for schmoozing and a good business sense. He worked for many years until finally retiring when he was around 80! Grandma and Grandpa would have been proud to see their son, over whose future they had so needlessly fretted, become a real force in the business community. Uncle Mike also adopted a son, Michael, from Lola's previous marriage, who turned out to be a successful doctor with a practice in Virginia.
A few years ago I was compiling a family history, and Uncle Mike was kind enough to share his written recollections of the old days on Hull Street. There were some lovely details about my grandparents' early lives and Mike's sisters including my mother that I was able to share with my children. There will be a small service this Thursday in Roslyn Heights where Uncle Mike lived. Most of our remaining family members are no longer living in New York, so my sister and I will go to represent the family. I will celebrate Mike's life and remember him as he would wish to be remembered...a guy who loved life and squeezed all he could out of it.
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