At the ripe old age of 20 my sister, Lana, fell in love with Vito. I’ll never forget the April evening she brought him home to introduce him to Mama, who was in the kitchen preparing dinner. Mama was always in the kitchen preparing one meal or another so everything was, pretty much, as it should be.
“Mama, this is Vito. My beau, my fiancée, my one true love and we’re going to get married in June. It’s only going to be a small wedding with you and TN. Vito’s cousin Anna Marie will be there too and of course me and Vito.”
“Oh, my,” Mama said, “this is unexpected. I think I need to sit down.” She put her hand to her face. Vito pulled a chair from the kitchen table for Mama to sit down and held her elbow as she lowered herself to the vinyl seat. He sat with her and tried to comfort her, he brought her a damp cloth, he made cooing noises and the like until she finally had to get up to keep the sauce from boiling over.
Vito was, of course, invited to stay for dinner. Anyone in the vicinity of our house was invited to stay for dinner when it was dinner time. There was always enough. He and Lana left shortly after helping to clear the table. Mama never let anyone wash her dishes except me. I was allowed, only sometimes, but really it was Mama’s job. It was hard for her to let go. We did the dishes together that night and then sat at the kitchen table with cups of coffee and snifters of brandy. I could tell she was upset.
“TN, will you be a good boy and bring me the cookie jar? Not the one on the counter, the one in the pantry.” she asked and I complied.
She lifted the lid and reached in; removing a baggie with about 20 hand rolled cigarettes. She reached in again and pulled out a package of camels, without the filters. Reaching behind her she grabbed a blue tipped match and struck it with her thumbnail lighting a camel. I was amazed, I had never seen Mama smoke before. Three quick puffs on the cigarette ensured that it was hot boxed and she set it in her saucer, freeing her hands to pull out one of the hand rolled ones.
Another blue tip flared and she touched it to the end of the hand rolled. I immediately knew it wasn’t tobacco Mama was smoking now. She drew deep and held the smoke in her lungs offering me the joint. I took it and inhaled as she exhaled the smoke from her lungs, coughing slightly. She took it back from me and hit it again then set it next to the camel in her saucer.
“What am I going to do, TN?” she asked as she held the precious smoke deep in her lungs. “Your sister wants to marry some guy named Vito! What kind of a name is Vito? Is that Scandinavian? Italian? Japanese? We know nothing about this boy. I mean I like him and all. He took seconds at dinner. You noticed that didn’t you?”
I nodded my head and wondered what was happening here. I was smoking dope at the kitchen table with my mother. Who does that?
“Tomorrow,” Mama continued, “I have to call Jim St. Claire at St. Claire Investigations. I’ve known Jim for years. He goes to my church. I’ll ask him to do a background investigation on this Vito fellow. I mean, Lana has to know what she’s getting herself into, right. He might check out but… who really knows if we don’t do our due diligence.”
I nodded because I knew that was what she expected me to do.
Mama grabbed a handful of matches and her pack of Camels. She slipped them into her apron pocket and relit the joint before she offered it to me again.
“I’m going upstairs for a soak before retiring. Lock up when you go to bed will you TN? That’s a good boy.” She took back the joint and tottered off towards the stairs, snagging a bottle of cheap Pinot Noir on her way.
I sat at the table and thought about all the things I had learned that evening. I wondered if I should call Lana and warn her about what Mama was planning, but decided against it. I figured things were about to get interesting and, it was all about the entertainment from this point on.