A debut memoir chronicles the strength of the relationships formed among a collection of unrelated siblings who forged a remarkable, separate, and permanent family within a foster home.
Grotticelli’s life began in Queens in 1960, the second oldest of four kids born to “a heavy-drinking, underemployed piano player” named Cosmo and his equally incompetent wife, Concetta. When she contracted breast cancer and was hospitalized, Cosmo placed his three older children (the author, his sister Rose Ann, and his brother, Charles) in St. Michael’s Home, an orphanage on Staten Island. (Grotticelli was 7.) Salvation appeared to arrive in 1968, when all three children were placed in the same foster home in Huntington, Long Island. Nina and Charles Nelson, the Grotticellis’ new Mom and Dad, were the go-to stars of the foster care system. They would take in multiple siblings. The Grotticelli kids increased the Nelsons’ foster brood to eight, plus they had their own two biological sons (Gil Jr. and Gerry) living at home. Mrs. Nelson’s motive, however, was more financial than altruistic, according to the author: “The Nelsons received $218 per month for each child...from the child welfare agency.” The foster children were cared for, but had to work for their keep, performing endless rounds of grueling chores (for example, cleaning the floor with a toothbrush). What was most lacking, and most needed, was love. When they aged out of the system, they were pushed out the door. In his moving and detailed book about his striking foster family, Grotticelli, a self-described optimist by nature, tries to focus on the good times. But his anger and sadness come through on almost every page: “In reality, most of us agree that it was a work farm disguised as a foster home. And the workers didn’t get paid; the landowners did.” The disturbing narrative—part catharsis and part tribute—is articulate, despite a tendency toward repetition. The author works hard to balance his gratitude for the opportunities he was given against the sense of loss that has followed him through the decades: “The collective emotional scars have stayed with us.”
A poignant, infuriating, informative, and ultimately triumphant account of an unusual clan.