Actor Romeo’s piquant memoir of growing up as an Italian-American boy in pre- and postwar Cleveland, Ohio—a time, place and culture that threw him many ups and downs.
Romeo’s memoir is a warm one—not because of the circumstances, but because that’s the type of man he’s become. He didn’t suffer many undo tribulations—having a much-loved uncle die at war was hardly a blessing, of course—and that allows an easy charm to escape these pages in the everydayness of it all. It’s not surprising that he’s comfortable with words; he’s an actor, after all. The little things he remembers can be like sparks that ignite the reader’s memory tinderbox —like, darn it, having to go ask the neighbors to move their car, again, the same neighbor who would come at Romeo’s father with a gun one drunken night. OK, maybe they’re not all little things. As in many houses, life revolved around the kitchen table, with its enchantments and rituals. The table featured Romeo’s father, an impatient man with anger management issues: “Pop could backhand me in a split second, his arm striking out so quickly—it seemed to work on some mysterious quick-spring mechanism—that I could never see it coming.” The food was solace, and his mother was there to serve it like a balm. Yet the “real lesson I had learned was more fear of my father,” he says. “And that led to our conflicted, tug-of-war relationship”—a relationship that can be painful to read about. There are other scenes, though, that will stick with readers: his learning about sex, the lives of his grandparents, his finding out that there are people called Jehovah’s Witnesses, etc. Cleveland suffered through an erratic economy, WWII turned lives on their heads, and school became Romeo’s sanctuary. Still, home supplied the most indelible incidents, as when Father Gallagher asked Romeo’s dad if he practiced birth control: “The church allows only one method of birth control, Mr. Romeo, the rhythm method….Do you know what that is?” “Of course,” his father shot back. “I’m a musician….Don’t worry! I keep the beat!”
Artful and honest, with a voice so genuine it transports.