Johnny, who would be known as the baby of the family for the rest of his life, was born the day before Christ and perhaps one of the biggest mistakes his forty-one year old father made was to present the baby Johnny to his siblings as the greatest gift they would receive in the last years of the Great Republican Depression that would soon be put to rest by an event called World War Two which was to make all men free - unless the military-industrial-corporation complex lurking in the future won.
"This is our gift to you!" the father said in the most loving way he could muster after years of defeats when the slogan was: "government's business was to take care of big business and up the masses asses" which did get many of God's poor to be killed and or maimed from starvation.
After several deep giggles of disbelief and many pinches and punches among the two girls, ages sixteen and ten, and the two boys, eight and seven - to ward off this terrible possibility - just as quickly they all calmed down to a nervous quietness, seeing their father's expression that had in it the promise that: if peace did not happen soon, the Eighteen forty-eight European uprisings were going to fall all over them, and when he began giving himself four savage closed-fisted hits to the head, so he would not hit the children, instilled in them an old time fearful burst of religious belief - seeing the hereafter dangling in their brains.
Beneath the scrawny tree the father had gleaned from a lawn from someone's mansion in Pelham Bay (built during the glorious days of conspicuous consumption) that he overloaded with ornaments given to him by the police at the Fordham Road precinct, making it almost look beautiful and the manger with sundry figurines that Black Jack, their building janitor, had given him for treating him always like a human being, he placed the baby; saying words that would haunt the child, the creator of the man he would become, for the rest of his life: "Times are bad, we all know, but God in His giving ways has provided for us! He has given us the greatest of gifts that no amount of toys or money could ever equal!" Years in the future they would not help Johnny pay for their father's funeral; instead, they would spend their share of the insurance check that had been sent to them by mistake.
The children hung on the father's every word, hoping it was the extra homemade wine he had for the supper of three fishes (not able to afford the traditional feast of seven fishes) that was making him talk like a crazy man.
"Here is a baby born of old parents who were told no more babies would ever come from them again by a Doctor McKenna at Fordham Hospital but here he is - my children - a baby Doctor Grasso's hand brought to you! He will grow up to be as strong as iron because he was born of old parents!"
The father ignored sixteen-year-old Tina's comment about how iron rusted but seven-year-old Tommy Tom Tom's constant asking if they could sell the baby made the father cry.
This spectacle made Tom scramble, polio-leg and all, to a safety zone called the fire escape but just before he knocked down the manger - making all the pieces resemble a fierce battle scene fought in the name of God.
This made the father hit himself even more savagely, which made him stagger about reeling to and fro and only for his mother-in-law's, "Mamasu's" (a name he invented which when loosely translated meant "her witch of a bastard mother") hand made him regain his balance, preventing his falling into the tree.
"Hey daughter - he's gone over the fucking edge this time!" the seventy-year-old lady screamed gleefully. She was born in a place called Malevento, due to all its "evil eyes" and "witches"; only for the Romans who came into their region did the name change from "Badwelcome" to "Goodwelcome" giving the area a surface of benignancy.
The father made a mental note to take a long bath with the sand-like soap to rid himself of the many germs he knew she carried since he believed she never washed; swearing to his God she was still wearing the same dress she had worn at their wedding - years before.
The mother groaned from her bedroom that everyone should have a merry Christmas or go to hell! She told herself she should never have allowed for the first time a tree to make a home in their parlor.
"Let me hold him!" ten-year-old Alice screamed. The baby would become the doll she would not get.
"Hold him by his fucking ears!" Tina said.
"Put him down, Papa. Go ahead lay him on his stomach!" eight-year-old Leny One N challenged; seeing a sled shaped from the baby's bottom.
"Here let me take the little shit!" Mamasu said, spitting into her hands to gather together a better grip, but the father retreated from her Fordham-Ram-Vince-Lombardi-tackling lunge as he shouted that he was taking the baby to his mother for a feeding.
This made Alice begin a grating cry that was only stopped by her grandmother's strangling her to a choking whimper.
The baby became Alice's little doll - whom she tried to drag about the apartment, Leny's sled, the pedals on Tina's sewing machine and Tom's hobby horse.
A new year was just on the horizon; just above the eyes.
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