My Grandfather’s Garage

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More than a half century ago, at the dead end of a not quite rural road, a garage was built. It was a plain but sturdy garage. Made of concrete block. With a solid concrete floor. And a peaked roof high enough to form a spacious second floor. Perfect for storing planks, loose building materials, and a few other odds and ends that existed in that limbo somewhere between trash and treasure.

It was my grandfather’s garage. My father and his father built it the way you’d expect bricklayers to build something. More masonry, less wood. They used concrete block because it was less expensive than brick. It also took less time and work to build with block rather than brick. In addition, block has greater structural integrity than brick.

Still, being bricklayers, they couldn’t go without using some brick. After they built the four concrete block walls of the detached garage, they covered the front wall with a brick façade to match the house.

It was yellow brick. At the time, yellow brick was considered more fancy than red brick. Their house originally had red brick. When the Thruway was built, the right-of-way went right through my grandparents’ home.

New York State took the property it needed, but graciously moved their dream home onto another part of their land. They had to strip off all the old red brick from the house before it was moved. I guess they used that extra New York State money to buy that fancy yellow brick.

This is the brick I remember. It was on my grandparent’s house. It was on the front of the garage.

The garage was built before I was born, before my parents got married, soon after my father graduated from high school.

But this is what I remember.

I remember watching from the raised porch outside our kitchen as they reroofed the garage. My brother Kenny and I sat in rickety chaise-lounge chairs, stretching to sit high enough so we could see the workers above the brick (what else?) enclosing the slate floor of the patio. Yes, those bricks were yellow, too.

We were probably four and five years old (or less), far too young to venture anywhere near the construction. So we watched from afar (our backyard abutted our grandparents’ backyard). This probably calmed my mother, since she could easily keep an eye on us through the large sliding glass door.

I also remember her bringing us a refreshing glass of ice-cold Kool-Aid, poured from the plastic Tupperware pitcher we used to mix this delicious drink. Perfect for a relaxing activity.

Once built, we were permitted to venture into the cavernous two-car garage. I remember it being slightly wider, maybe two-and-a-half cars wide. My grandfather had to have room to store his scaffolding and other equipment.

There was a rear window through which you could see our house (and the patio my brother and I had sat on). Although facing north, the oversized window still let in a lot of bright blinding daylight. It was so bright, everything else in the garage looked black.

Here’s what made it worse.

Between the interior sills of that brilliantly lit window lived a spider. A big spider. A big black spider. An enormously big black spider.

It never moved.

And it scared the H-E-Double Toothpicks out of me and my brother. We made sure we never veered too close to that window or the spider residing within its environs.

Every so often, my grandfather would ask us to fetch a tool by the window. My brother and I would eye each other and play a stealthy game of rock-paper-scissors to see which of us would be sacrificed.

It turned out the spider scared others, too. My father didn’t like it. My uncle, who was a teenager, was also frightened by it. And my grandfather said he’d kill it, but he was too afraid of breaking the window in the process.

Did I mention it never moved away from the window?

And that it was big? Enormously big?

So we made our way in and out of the garage. We rode shotgun, watching our grandfather work. We’d follow him into the garage as he refitted himself with the proper tools to take on each new task.

We watch as our uncle and as his friends worked their gas-powered model planes and their gas-powered model cars. Indeed, the garage served as the staging area for all their incendiary activities.

One day, all of the men in the family were there working on something – me, my brother, my uncle, my father, and my grandfather. We were all focused on the project at hand when we noticed Kenny frozen in place. We looked at him, wondering what had gotten into him.

“The spider,” he raised a trembling arm to point towards the window, “it’s gone.”

Immediately, everyone went on high alert. Eyes darted in all directions, anxiously searching the darkness in hopes of discovering the enormously big black spider before it discovered us.

Suddenly, my uncle shouted out to my father, “Pat! On the floor, by your feet!”

My father threw an oily rag on the spider to trap and proceed to pound the clump with his shoe.

“Is it dead?” I asked.

Nobody knew for sure and nobody wanted to get close enough to take the rag off.

“I know what to do,” said my uncle, who quickly doused gasoline on the rag and threw a match on it.

“Hey! What are you doing?!” my grandfather hollered.

But it was too late. In a few moments of fiery flame and deep black smoke, the rag – and presumably the spider – were reduced to ashes.

You can get away with this when you have a concrete floor.

For all that excitement, though, the real excitement in the garage happened almost every summer Sunday. At least it seemed like it was every Sunday. My grandfather’s garage was “party central” for the Carosa clan.

For no reason I can remember, except for the joy of friends and family gathering together, each and every compare and comare would come to my grandfather’s garage for a big feast. (Except in our Italian dialect, we would call them “coombas” and “coomas.”)

Imagine, a garage party every Sunday. My grandfather would often purchase live lambs, goats, chickens and prepare them for cooking. My brother and I would watch as he and his friends bragged about their butcher skill. Ironically, my grandfather’s paternal grandfather was a butcher. Most of the other males in the family were masons. They built their homes out of brick, stone, and concrete.

The entire day was like a picnic without the need to go to the park. Outside, some of the younger boys (who were older than me and my brother) would throw around a baseball or a football. Elsewhere, everyone would take their turn playing bocce where the entire yard represented the legal field of play.

Inside, the garage was jam-packed with tables and chairs. I remember food constantly being served. The normally black garage had a little more light, as the white table chairs and lightly colored summer clothes stood their ground against the still shadowy nooks and crannies along the walls of the garage.

Towards the evening, after the dessert had been served and consumed, as twilight and eventually darkness descended upon the night sky, the interior would begin to glow. An incandescent aura bathed all the inside. Even those previously hidden nooks and crannies popped out in vividly clear three dimensions.

Around the tables, the women would talk. What they said, I cannot tell you. It was all in Italian. Sometime in several dialects. But, judging by their smiles and ever buoyant laughter, they all understood each other.

Of all the voices and all the laughs, Cooma Tetazine’s stood out most distinctly. She and her husband Coomba Roush were Carosa party regulars. They, like most of the attendees, came from the same small town in Italy. And, if they weren’t from Fontecchio proper, at least that came from the province of Abruzzi.

The men would gather around in the now-cleared car bay to play a game they called “Tutta Morre.” In proper Italian, it’s called “Morra” and it dates back to ancient Rome. It’s sort of like Rock-Paper-Scissors, except it involved number and, apparently, drinking shots of my grandfather’s wine. Keep in mind, as a winemaker, my grandfather was best remembered for his remarkably tasty (my mouth waters just thinking of it) vinegar.

Like his wife, Coomba Rousch was the loudest. I swear I learned how to count in Italian simply by listening to him play Tutta Morre. Incidentally, in proper Italian, he would be called my “Compare Rossa,” or, literally, my “main man Red.” When he was younger, he had red hair. So did I. His face was also very red. Mine wasn’t. Then again, I never consumed my grandfather’s wine like he did (except when making salad dressing).

It’s not as simple as the odds/evens game of Morra. I never understood how the game was played, although Coomba Rousch repeatedly tried to teach me. Somehow, his algorithm for victory seemed to change every time he explained the rules to me.

Still, it was fun to watch the men play.

Late at night, after the teenagers went on their own way, it was only me and Kenny at the party. Bored, sometimes we would stroll out into the night towards the end of the driveway.

When we got to the street, we’d stop and turn around and look at my grandfather’s garage. Yellow bricks notwithstanding, it was a dark silhouette against dark sky.

But inside, through the garage doors, came the happy songs of engaged conversation, boisterous laughter, and, every so often when my grandfather pulled out his accordion, song.

That’s how I remember my grandfather’s garage. That’s how I will always remember it. Thanks, grandpa.

Hopefully, one day, my own grandchildren will have the opportunity to thank me in the same way.

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