Uncle Dom married Aunt Cecilia soon after the end of the war. Within weeks of him returning from the Pacific theater, they walked down the aisle at their small Catholic parish, Santa Lucia.
The bloom was off the rose within weeks of their whirlwind wedding. He expected his meals on the table as soon as he walked in the door from work. That was how his mother cooked for his father, his grandmother had cooked for his grandfather, and all the aunts cooked for the uncles. He complained about her cooking because it wasn’t like his mother’s food. “Why can’t you get your meatballs like my mama’s?”
She didn’t clean the house like his mother. Her red sauce was too spicy. “You put too much pepper in your spaghetti sauce,” he said.
She couldn’t do anything right in his eyes. Cecilia was frustrated with his criticisms but bit her tongue. Good Italian wives didn’t talk back to their husbands. Not anyone living on the south side of Chicago.
Her dad had never laid a hand on her mother, and her father-in-law had also respected his wife, but they seemed to be the exceptions in the neighborhood. And they never talked about their relationships with their families. Cecilia didn’t know who she could talk to about her husband.
Dom liked to go out with his buddies to have a few beers even after the wedding. Cecilia didn’t question him about those late nights out. Often he would get home drunk. He wasn’t physically abusive to her but he would start complaining as soon as he walked in the door.
“Why can’t you ever cook up a decent pot of spaghetti?” he said.
One winter evening after work, Dom had gotten home even later than usual. He staggered into the living room, sloshing melted snow and mud over her clean rug. “Where’s my supper?” he roared. “I’m hungry.”
Cecilia folded her arms across her chest and looked at him with fire in her eyes. By this time in the evening Cecilia was beyond angry. She had made a special dinner for Dom and even asked her mother-in-law how she made her meatballs so she could shut him up about her cooking.
“It’s cold!” she roared back at him. “I got tired of waiting for you. Heat it up yourself.”
He stared at her in disbelief. She’d never talked to him with that tone of voice.
“Are you talking back to me?” he said. “I don’t fucking believe it. I bring home the bacon and you make it. Capiche?” He grabbed her arm.
She snatched her arm out of his hand, yelling back, “Don’t you ever talk to me like that! I’ve never seen my father use that kind of language with my mother. And your father doesn’t ever talk to your mother like that.”
She looked Dom straight in the eye, “You call me when you’re getting home late, otherwise I’ll just pitch your dinner into the trash.”
Dom grabbed her right arm and spun her around as he slapped her across the face. It wasn’t a hard slap, but Dom was more six inches taller than his diminutive wife, and outweighed her by at least 60 pounds. She staggered backward against the sofa, tears streaming down her face.
Angry and hurt, she fled into the kitchen.
Dom sat down on the sofa. Fuming. Confused. He had never struck his wife. He didn’t remember his father ever hitting his mother. Yet she had yelled back at him. She pushed him. What would his buddies think if they found out that his wife talked back to him?
After a few minutes, he called back to Cecilia, “When are you going to get me my supper?”
“Come in here and get it yourself,” she replied.
“Are you kidding me?” he yelled back.
Furious, he got up from the sofa and strode through the narrow doorway that separated the kitchenette from the living room.
He didn’t see the cast iron skillet coming.
Dom was knocked flat on his ass. Cecilia got down from the small step ladder and put down the skillet. She didn’t hit him that hard, but it was still enough to knock Dom out. She called her mother-in-law on the telephone. “Come over and take care of your son.”
“What happened?” asked Mary. “How’s Dom?”
“Mom, he slapped me and pushed me around after getting home from drinking with his buddies,” she said. “So I hit him over the head with the cast iron skillet you gave us as a wedding present.”
Cecilia thought she heard her mother-in-law laugh. “Is he ok?”
“I didn’t hit him that hard.”
“I understand.” Mary said. “I did the same thing with Tony, early in our marriage. He never laid hands on me again, and we’ve been together for over 30 years. I gave you the same skillet as a wedding present.
I’ll be right over with Tony. We’ll take Dom over to the doctor’s office.”
Her in-laws lived less than two blocks away, so they showed up at the door within 5 minutes.
Dom was sitting up on the kitchen floor, holding a bloody handkerchief on his head and looking a bit disoriented.
Tony looked at his son. “I guess I never told you what happened when your mom and I were first married.”
“Huh?” Dom said. He shook his head as his mother and father stood at opposite sides and pulled him up by his forearms. Cecilia followed close behind.
They drove over to Dr Knapp’s office. Since the office wasn’t too busy, the doctor saw them right away. He had been the family doctor for over 30 years.
“Seems like I’ve seen this kind of injury before,” Dr Knapp said, as he stitched up Dom.