What’s interesting about the descendents of Emidio DiLucchio – born Rionero, Vulture, Potenza, Basilicata in 1883; died Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1954 – is that we all love to lie, cheat, deceive, seduce, and abandon.
Some of us like to rob, commit mayhem, and inject chemicals into our arms, too.
Others of us channeled our innate tendencies in socially acceptable ways.
There couldn’t possibly be a gene for this kind of stuff, could there?
Nonetheless, the familial genius for deviant behavior isn’t the result of nurture. Emidio’s 12 children got the hell out of Pittsburgh just as soon as they could. Scattered. Retained little or no connection with one another throughout their (mostly long) lives.
The women stayed put, but the men tended to slip in and out of marriages, retaining little or no connection to their own children.
This is certainly not the Godfather stereotype of the clannish Southern Italian famiglia for whom blood was everything.
My own fantasy? Emidio’s father was a member of Carmine Crocco’s brigand army. (Think Mexican narco warrior in the brutish and ugly south of Italy.) Emidio himself ran away when he emigrated. The ability to form bonds of affection was beaten out of him as a child. Organic brain damage was involved. The first generation grew up in a violent, chaotic home, and since chaos was what was modeled, they modeled chaos in turn.
I like to lie, too, but as you see, I’m one of the descendents of Emidio DiLucchio who channels in socially acceptable ways.
Pearl and Sybil are not huggers. Not even hand-shakers.
We met outside the Eveready Diner. They’re tall like me, but they don’t look anything like me. They speak a syncopated sisterly shorthand. The next best thing to mental telepathy. It’s really interesting to watch.
As soon as we were seated, Pearl took her four-year-old son Odin to the bathroom.
“These are my daughters,” Sybil said, handing me her phone.
The photos were of two breathtakingly beautiful little girls, showing off their Princess finery.
Still. It’s a little unusual to be handed photos of the offspring before the small talk has even commenced. I had the distinct impression I was being tested: The beautiful little girls are biracial, and Sybil, who has trained her face to give absolutely nothing away, was studying me.
“And this is my oldest,” Sybil said. “She’s dead.”
Another amazingly beautiful child.
“I’m sorry,” I said. I was stunned. I had no idea what to say.
“It’s okay,” Sybil said. It was clear she wanted to be spared any outpourings of sympathy. “She was falling down a lot; I took her to a doctor. She had a brain tumor. Six months later, she was dead.”
Pearl and Odin returned to the table.
“So how exactly are we related anyway?” I asked. “I’ve never been able to figure it out exactly –“
“Our fathers are cousins,” Pearl said.
“Really? But your father and I are the same age – “
“Twelve children in that first generation,” Sybil said. “And they all married multiple times. So! Your father was an early marriage; our Dad was a late marriage.”
“Making us second cousins?” I asked.
“I believe you are correct,” Pearl said.
Their father, Larry, has a pretty interesting narrative. Both Sibyl and Pearl dislike him heartily.
“Oh, I haven’t seen him since 2004,” Sybil said.
Pearl shrugged. “We’re Facebook friends,” she said. “Whatever that means. We don’t go out of our way to keep in touch.”
“I don’t do social media,” Sybil said disdainfully. I liked Sybil’s implacable quality!
Sybil and Pearl grew up on a Navajo reservation where Larry was working as a computer instructor at the community college in Window Rock. It was from there that Larry first got in touch with me: I was working for People Magazine at the time, so I was eminently get-in-touchable-with.
Are you related to Jeanna? he emailed me.
She’s my half-sister, I emailed back.
Turned out that Larry’s eldest daughter, Pearl, was going to college in Las Vegas, New Mexico – that otherworldly, magical Brigadoon place where Jeanna ran a drive-in movie theater.
One day, one of Pearl’s instructors had asked her: Are you related to Jeanna?
And thus the two descendants of Emidio DiLucchio discovered one another.
“Can you imagine finding another person with your last name in Vegas?” Pearl asked. “Population – what? Five thousand?”
“Actually, I can,” I said. “Vegas is a very strange place.”
I hadn’t seen Jeanna at that point for more than 30 years, but Larry’s emails emboldened me to get in touch when I was flown out to Santa Fe a few months later to interview Shirley MacLaine.
Jeanna did her usual I don’t know about this thing, which as I came to know her better in the years subsequent, I came to understand is very typical of Jeanna’s way of dealing with the world. She has a kind of functional agoraphobia. She panics whenever she has to leave Vegas.
In the end, though, she drove to Santa Fe. And we spent the day together.
We hit it off and have remained close ever since.
You’d have to been raised an only child to understand how absolutely weird it is to be suddenly connected to sisters and brothers.
Larry, scion of Lawrence Anthony – the ninth child of Emidio – had been deserted by his father when he was three months old.
Which was exactly the same age I was when I deserted by my father.
He was raised by his mother, sent away to a series of boarding schools.
When he was 17 or so, he denounced his father in a letter, which led to his father cutting him out of the will.
“His father had a company that was making money, too,” said Pearl. "In Pennsylvania."
"In Michigan," Sybil corrected.
“The DiLucchio inheritance!” I said.
“But Dad had written the old man this nasty letter: You never came to visit me when I was in boarding school… When the old man died, the old man’s current wife sent Dad a photo: him and the old man at Dad’s boarding school. Dad was lying.”
"As usual," Sybil said.
I shrugged. “So the old man visited him one time.”
But it was clear that the sisters were determined not to cut their father any slack.
“He lied to us about his older half-brother, too –“ said Sybil.
“He said his brother committed suicide,” said Pearl.
“But really his brother was duck-taped to the hood of a car. And driven off a cliff!”
“Ah, yes,” I said. “A mob execution.”
I knew about the DiLucchio mob connection from many sources. I guess we were concentrated in upstate – that would have been the Dutch Schultz gang, right? My second cousin Desiree’s father – a descendent of Rocco, the seventh of Emidio’s offspring – covered the Syracuse territory, and she spent her childhood hiding in the dark swamplands around that area. (Today she lives in sunny Arizona and has accepted Jesus Christ as her personal savior!) And when I visited Dan – my half-uncle – a couple of years ago, he told me a lot about my grandfather’s activities in the Buffalo region –
“But my mother made him stop,” Dan said. “Plus by then he only had one arm –“
“One arm?” I said.
“Yeah, he only had one arm,” Dan said. “You didn’t know that?”
“No!” I said. “How did he lose the arm?”
Dan got very quiet for a couple of seconds. “I don’t know,” he said. And changed the subject.
Joining the Latter Day Saints presumably keeps one on the straight and narrow. And disqualifies one from mob membership. I imagine that’s why Larry did it. And why he submerged himself in saintly service to the Native American subculture.
“Oh, you’d like him,” Sybil said disdainfully. I couldn’t tell whether this was a dis at me or a general observation on Larry's personal magnetism. “He’s incredibly charismatic. And tall!”
"Very tall," Pearl said.
“Six feet nine,” said Sibyl.
Eventually, though, the DiLucchio proclivity for snarling in the face of authority began to shine through, and Larry got himself excommunicated. Not before he became interested in polygamy, though. And hit up Pearl and Sybil’s mother with that idea.
“He had a specific woman in mind, too,” Sybil said. “First she was in her 20s. Then it turned out she was in her 30s. When we finally met her, she was in her 50s.”
Sybil looked as though she wanted to spit.
"So-o-o-o... Did your Mom go for it?" I asked.
"Oh, God, no," said Pearl.
Larry’s polygamist yearnings precipitated a divorce.
Today, Pearl and Sybil’s mother lives a reclusive life – I forget exactly where. Sibyl and Pearl don't seem to like her very much either.
“She didn’t remarry?” I asked.
“Oh, no, she’s done with all that,” said Sybil.
A memoir about Emidio DiLucchio’s descendents would be kinda fun to read, no? The Italian answer to Hillbilly Elegy!