Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Talliaferro Family Reunion

            The Talliaferro Steak house was nicely appointed in a ‘Vegas slick’ sort of way; all chrome, dark wood furniture and black leather, crystal chandeliers and red velvet drapery.

            Alfred and Mother had arrived a little early, but not too early. The Maître d’ was looking over the guest list, “I don’t see your name,” he said, and then with the sound of surprise in his voice, “Oh, Colonel and Mrs. Montrose, you’re at the head table.” He looked at Mother and Alfred and asked, “Immediate family?”

            Alfred gave him a steely-eyed look that said, “Mind your own business.”

            The Maître d’ took the hint and said, “Let me show you to your table.”

            Mother’s brother Calo was already standing there by the table scanning the crowd. He turned to them saying, “Rosabella, Alfred, glad you could make it.”

            There was the customary round of hand shaking, then Alfred held out a chair for Mother, saying, “Rose, let me help you.”

            Calo raised an eyebrow, “Rose, not Rosabella?”

            Alfred replied, “Rose Montrose is a beautiful name.” Alfred remained standing beside Calo as Mother was seated and looked around the room. Finally he said, “there’s a lot more than immediate family and relatives here.’

            Calo said with a snarky grin, “There’s family and there is famiglia.”

            Alfred, responded, “I can see from the bulges in jackets that some of them mean business.”

             “Forewarned is forearmed,” laughed Calo.

            All this while Mother was fidgeting nervously.  Finally, she burst out, “Is the Vizzini family here? Whatever happened to Paolo?”

            Calo turned serious, “Look, Sis, I told you that you wouldn’t see Paolo no more.”

            “I know you did, Calo,” said Mother, but what actually happened to him?”

            “We’re not animals,” said Calo, “and there were other considerations. Paolo was the grandson of Don Vizzini back in Sicily. It was important for the Talliaferro family to keep the peace with Don Vizzini, so we came to an agreement with him and sent Paolo back to Palermo. Don Vizzini was very unhappy with Paolo. Part of our agreement was that the Don take back Paolo’s family along with Paolo.”

            “What if he comes back?” asked Alfred.

            “That’s not going to happen,” said Calo. “Paolo was stupid and didn’t learn from his mistakes.  He pulled the same stunt with somebody else’s sister and that kicked off a family vendetta. Paolo is dead. Many of the male members of his family are dead. There are many graves in Sicily. Finis!” said Calo.

            Later in the evening Mother and Alfred were back in their room at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel.  Mother heaved a great sigh, and said, “Alfred. All these years I have lived with the fear of the Vizzinis. I should have asked earlier, but I just couldn’t face it.”

            “Mother,” said Alfred, “it’s over.” Then he asked, “Do you want to drive up to Cape Ann on the North Shore tomorrow?”

            “You know, Alfred, I don’t think so,” said Mother. “Now that I don’t have to worry anymore, I think that I would like to spend a little time with my family before going to Cape Ann. It’s been such a very long time.”

“The LORD knows the days of the blameless, and their heritage will remain forever; they are not put to shame in evil times; in the days of famine they have abundance. But the wicked will perish; the enemies of the LORD are like the glory of the pastures; they vanish- like smoke they vanish away.” [Psalm 37:18].

Thursday, February 20, 2014

There Are No Secrets

            Alfred put down the phone on his mahogany 19th Century Partner's Library Desk and said, “Well, Mother that is a surprise.”

            “What is it, Alfred?” asked Mother.

            “That was Sergeant Petrovski. He served under my command in Vietnam in 1964. Good man, but a bloody awful war,” said Alfred. “I met him at the Dallas Gun show two years ago, and I said that if he ever needed a job he should look me up.”

            “You’ve never said much about your experiences in Vietnam,” said Mother.

            Alfred reflected for a moment before replying, “I was in the Military Assistance Command, Studies and Observations Group, usually referred to as SOG. Our task was black ops and for a long time we were told not to saying anything about them. Not only that but there are some things that happened that are very difficult to talk about.”

            “I should know, Alfred,” said Mother. “After all I have not been exactly forthcoming about that terrible experience with Paolo Vizzini years ago.” Mother paused then added, “What did happen when you served in Vietnam?”

            Alfred frowned, then picked up his Old Church Bent Billiard pipe, reamed it out, tamped in some Captain Black tobacco, and lit it while he pondered how to answer Mother’s question.

            Mother knew Alfred very well and she sat down on the Chesterfield wing chair in Alfred’s study and picked up a copy of the American Art Review Magazine and thumbed through it looking at some of the pictures.

            Alfred eyed Mother and perceived that she was just going to wait it out for an answer. “You know, Mother,” said Alfred, “I was brought up to believe in the Ten Commandments, particularly in the 6th Commandment, ‘Thou shalt not kill,’ yet I have, not only once,” he paused, “but many times. It was a tough tour of duty. Not only that I have sent the men under my command to kill and sometimes to be killed. It’s not something I like to think about.”

“Isn’t that why you received the Distinguished Service Cross?” asked Mother.

“Mother, I was good at it,” said Alfred, “and that is a terrible thing to be good at.”

Mother and Alfred sat quietly together for a few minutes. Eventually Mother said, “You were defending our country, Alfred.”

“I’m not so sure,” said Alfred. “It was Vietnam and many people, even some of our soldiers, thought we shouldn’t be there at all. In many ways it was an unpopular war, and the moral issues seem so very complicated.”

“I know, Alfred, I know,” said Mother. “Years ago when my brother Calo said, ‘Don’t worry about it.  You won’t ever have to see Paolo again,’ I was relieved and I felt guilty at the same time.”

“You are right Mother,” said Alfred, “But there are times when we get into difficult situations that are beyond our control.  Then we’re left with our feelings.  I have asked God to forgive me for the things I’ve done, but still sometimes the guilt just comes back.”

“Alfred,” asked Mother, “Isn’t that what the Church Year is about?”

“How so?” asked Alfred.

“Soon it will be Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. That’s a time of Penitence and Forgiveness.  As for me, I could use a little bit of both,” said Mother.

“If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.  If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness”[1 John 1:7-9].   

Wednesday, February 12, 2014


            Alfred was taking his time cleaning his favourite Old Church Bent Billiard pipe with his Rodgers Rosewood Chancet pipe knife. He ran one of his chenille pipe cleaners through the stem of the pipe; then picked up a fresh pipe cleaner, and dipped it in a little Louis XIII de Rémy Martin cognac in the crystal goblet on the table, before running it through the stem of his pipe.

            He filled the bowl of his pipe with Captain Black tobacco, lit it and lovingly drew a little smoke, and blew a lovely smoke ring which drifted toward the ceiling before saying, “Well, Mother, March 1st and the Talliaferro Family Reunion is almost upon us.”

            Mother put down her Atlantic Monthly magazine on the Sheraton table and looked hesitantly at Alfred.  “I know, Alfred, I know,” said she.  “I’m not sure just how much exposure to the family I can endure without saying something thoroughly inappropriate.”

            Alfred continued, “Attending the dinner is fine Mother, but I thought that it would be wise for us to limit the amount of time we have to spend with your family. In particular I am eager to avoid having to respond to an invitation to stay with your brother Calo and his wife Marilena. Calo is too busy playing the Underboss and all kinds of people are trooping through their home; and Marilena is sure to pressure you to attend daily Mass with her.  You don’t need to be explaining why you are not still a Roman Catholic.  Accordingly I have made a reservation for us at the Mandarin Oriental in Boston.  It’s on Boylston Street and a decent distance away from the North End."

            Mother nodded vigorously, “Oh, Alfred, thank you! What a good idea. I love my brother Calo, but I don’t love what the family does for a living. Marilena is sweet, but I don’t want to feel trapped by staying with them and not being able to take a break.”

            “Mother,” said Alfred, “Marilena always says that fish and relatives spoil after three days, but three Talliaferro days only last about twelve hours. Not only do we have reservations at the Mandarin Oriental, but I have also reserved a Bentley Continental GT for the entire time we are in Boston.  That will enable us to drive up the North Shore and visit Gloucester and Rockport.  Maybe we can spend a night at the Peg Leg Inn in Rockport as a late Valentine’s Day celebration."

            “That would be lovely Alfred. My family can be very difficult, but what I’m really afraid of, is seeing Paolo Vizzini’s family. That was such a painful episode in my life. By the way cousin Angelo called the other evening to ask if we were coming. He said it’s a big deal and that Don Giovanni is coming up from Dade County in Florida, and that all of the button men and bagmen are going be there.  How can I love my family when they are involved in such terrible things?"

            “In little doses, Mother.  In little doses,” said Alfred.  “Even Jesus spent most of his time with the people who were responsive to him, and very little time with difficult people like the Pharisees, even though he loved them.”

“Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me” [Matthew 10:40].

Thursday, February 6, 2014

The Mezzo Soprano

            Alfred shook his head in wonder. He could hear Mother in the kitchen singing a Franz Schubert song, “Great is Jehovah the Lord, The heav’ns and the earth proclaim His pow’r and His might.” Mother’s mezzo soprano voice was a little hesitant, but the sound of her voice warmed his heart.

            Mother came bustling into Alfred’s study saying, “Do you remember that time we heard Mary Ann McCormick at the Boston Lyric Opera singing the title role of La Cenerentola? I have discovered the most amazing thing. I knew that she has been singing at the Metropolitan Opera now for some years, but what I didn’t know was that she has become a Christian.”

            “I’m telling you Mother,” said Alfred, “We Christians are everywhere. Even though the Super Bowl wasn’t really super I was very interested to hear the Seattle Seahawks quarterback say, ‘I believe that God has given me a right arm and for some reason, even though I'm 5'11", to be able to make the throws and make great decisions on the field.”’

            “I never thought very much about it Alfred,” said Mother, “but it seems to me that there are Christians all around us. You know that our Scottish housekeeper Agnes Findlay used to annoy me when she talked about her Christian faith, but there is no denying that she has had an impact on my life. Sometimes Alfred, I just have to separate style from substance.”

            “And further, Alfred,” said Mother, “one of my very favorite actors, David Suchet, who plays Hercule Poirot in the Agatha Christie mystery series, became a Christian after reading a bible that he found in his hotel room.”

            “Last year, Mother,” answered Alfred, “when I was wrestling with faith I discovered that Norm Miller, the Chairman of Interstate Batteries was a Christian. I found it very encouraging to hear that another business leader had made a decision for Christ.  That helped me not to feel so alone.”

            “Telling others about your Christian faith could be costly,” said Mother. “I was reading about Mary Ann McCormick yesterday. She says that becoming a Christian has limited the kinds of roles she is willing to sing, and that she has even been mocked by others for her decision.”

            “It came home to me last spring. As you may remember, Mother, that one of my suppliers had informed me that a whole load of cashmere sweaters was about to drop off the back of one of his trucks. He asked if I would be interested in a bargain price on those sweaters? Of course, unspoken, was that fact that his insurance would pay for the purloined shipment.  Years ago I wouldn’t have hesitated. After all, business is business. But when I thought things through I realized that a momentous decision was staring me in the face. If I was to become a Christian, I’d have to decide to do things the right way.”

            “Just so, Alfred. Just so,” said Mother. “It may cost a little from time to time, but in the end run it will make one feel better about oneself.”

“I will ponder the way that is blameless. Oh when will you come to me? I will walk with integrity of heart within my house” [Psalm 101:2].