Roberta Pacino Chapter 1

California Here We Come

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California Here We Come

My mother, father, sisters and I crowded together in the observation car of a spanking new passenger train. It was spring of ‘56 and with a heart of steel the shimmering locomotive blasted out of New York City and hurtled us across the country to our new home in Southern California.

My big sister, Josette, a chubby beauty, was seven. I was three and a half and a perfect cherub as was my twin sister, Paula. Just little girls—but still, I remember the trip. Not of course playing in our roomette, which I’m sure we did, or gaping at the usual tumbleweeds floating by the windows, one after another like a procession of hungry ghosts headed for the afterlife. No, none of this comes to mind, none of the usual train ride stuff, only an isolated yet vivid memory of my sisters and me dressed in our usual girly smocks and pink satin hair bows trying to gulp down the raw egg shots Daddy ordered out of the dining car. I swear I can still remember the sweet dank flavor, the slimy texture too. But they tasted okay to a naive child, besides swallowing these shots held an element of prestige. It made me feel so grown up to chug one down.

Eating, giggling and sleeping undoubtedly kept us girls busy, oblivious as we were to the change coming down in our lives. It was a big move away from security into the vast unknown and I can only imagine what my parents were thinking.

***

Daddy aka Sal, with his Latin good looks, lover’s mustache and showman persona, took center stage on our journey. A solo act, he compulsively told jokes and sang jingles and a train ride meant a captive audience. We loved it of course for he remained just as trapped as we were. “Sing to us Daddy, sing, sing,” my sisters and I commanded. And although his heart pumped one hundred percent Sicilian and not a drop of Irish blood, he sang our favorite tune with a perfect lilt of brogue:

McCarthy was dead and McGinthy didn’t know.
McGinthy was dead and McCarthy didn’t know.
They both were dead in the very same bed,
And neither one knew the other was dead.

We begged in unison, “Sing the fishie one now Daddy. The fishie one! The fishie one!”

Down in the meadow in a little bitty pool
Swam three little fishies and a mama fishie too.
Swim said the mama fishie, swim if you can
And they swam and they swam all over the dam.

Boop boop dit-tem dat-tem what-tem Chu!
Boop boop dit-tem dat-tem what-tem Chu!
Boop boop dit-tem dat-tem what-tem Chu!
And they swam and they swam all over the dam.
(Saxie Dowell 1939)

Daddy dished out the attention and my sisters and I ate it up.

Jovial as he was my father was leaving behind a lot, a career for one. Daddy sold insurance for Metropolitan Life. It’s true he had been approved for transfer to a new office in a Los Angeles suburb, but he had to build a new client base and who knew how it would all work out? And family—he left his parents and five siblings in Jersey. But the one he pined for the most as he belted out yet another verse of “McGinthy Was Dead” was the one closest to his heart, his son. Still living at home with his maternal grandparents, Al, or Sonny as we called him, wasn’t making the trip to the Golden State. Sonny’s mother, Rose, and Sal had been divorced for over a decade.

We knew a lot about Daddy’s younger days because when he took a pause from singing and telling jokes, he relished telling us stories about his childhood and how he met Rose.

***

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