It’s a Long Way from Staten Island to Seville

 

I love this clip, and I miss my brother.

John lives in Seville, Spain with his wife and two small boys, ages two and one. He works as an English teacher and newspaper columnist, writing in Spanish. We have long, intense phone conversations every few months during which we share stories about writing, teaching, and children. The conversations flow effortlessly, despite joyful interruptions to concur, and we laugh.

When I put the phone down, there’s a second or two of sadness, of really missing him, and then it’s back to the life we both share, thousands of miles apart, of diapers, discipline, and praying for patience and sleep.

In a different time, perhaps, all the cousins would be together. Holidays would be rowdy family gatherings. A grandparent would be living with one of us. Childcare would be shared among family members. I miss my brother, for more reasons than our shared common interests. We share a history of place and experience that cannot be dimmed or overtaken, even with the daily presence of a dearly loved spouse.

I have two older brothers, John and Joe. John is slightly closer to me in age, four years my senior. John and I communicated almost entirely via insult for the first 13 years of my life. Joe was less of an instigator. He wasn’t a peacemaker, mind you. He just dodged the drama. (This might explain why every Christmas my list started with the following three requests: 1. Sister 2. Horse 3. Dog. Never got any of ‘em.)

What kinds of things would John do to me? Oh, the usual big brother stuff. He’d tell me he was ordering those X-ray glasses from the back of the comics to see through my clothes. He said he’d share them with his friends at the town pool. He’d throw fuzzies from under the couch at me and scream, “SPIDER!” He’d get me so angry that I’d punch him, and then I’d get in trouble for hitting.

When he was in high school, we barely spoke. Every time he looked at me, he puffed out his cheeks to represent how fat he thought I was. I responded by pressing my fingers all over my face to represent how pimply I thought he was. We were a fun pair to parent, I’m sure.

That all changed after he took a trip to Paris his senior year in high school. He came back with two presents for me: small heart earrings and a really cool George Michael-type T-shirt with big letters and loud colors. I was speechless but filled with joy. No words ever acknowledged the seismic shift in our relationship. We just began speaking civilly, and then became very close. We attended the same college, but he’d graduated three months before I arrived. His many friends who were still at the college – he was always very popular – adopted me. Through early adulthood, I would call him crying about every dopey boy I fell for. My poor brother; this job took a ton of patience. Good practice for his two rambunctious toddlers.

So why Tony Manero, above? There are few people in the world who will love this clip as much as John and I do. We both grew up on Staten Island, which serves as a punchline for many jokes about low-class, uneducated people or the mountains of trash shipped over from Manhattan (both literal and figurative). But this is also where people like Tony Manero are born. The families are close, ethnic, and complicated. Religion, especially Catholicism, has deep roots. Dancing is a common social thread. (My brother arrived on the campus of our southern college wearing pointy, white “cockroach killers” which quickly got the heave.) Blue collar life is the norm, but the dream to escape rumbles deep. One of our grandfathers was a postal worker. The other was a bartender. Even though my brother is an international man with sophisticated tastes, and I live in a tony Connecticut town, our roots connect us.

There are 9 comments.

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  1. Profile Photo Inactive
    @MelFoil

    I always thought the original Verrazzano was probably some influential Borough President that managed to get his name on a bridge, but I guess not. He was just another New York City tourist.

    • #1
  2. Profile Photo Member
    @AaronMiller

    Nothing humbles a person so much as family. If you win a Pulitzer one day, I’m sure Brugly Other will be there to remind your famous pals about teenage hysterics and discos gone wrong. :)

    • #2
  3. Profile Photo Editor
    @Claire

    I think all Americans are united by our love for Tony Manero.

    • #3
  4. Profile Photo Inactive
    @StickerShock

    Loved your story, Ursula. Make some minor substitutions (Bruce for Tony Manero) & it’s my own.

    • #4
  5. Profile Photo Contributor
    @UrsulaHennessey

    StickerShock! My husband relates more to Bruce, too. He’s a Jersey guy. Thanks for your comment.

    • #5
  6. Profile Photo Member
    @

    Once again Ursula. Nothing meaningful to add other than to express my appreciation for your talent. The work of child-rearing won’t diminish (ever?), but the exhaustion stage will end and when it does, I hope we will have a chance to read your writing in long form.

    • #6
  7. Profile Photo Inactive
    @KennedySmith

    Well, sure. Hardly requires any alteration in the lyrics whatsoever, Still waiting for you to arise from the foam like Venus, with your white bikini and girded with a dangerous knife at the hip.

    K-Lo also has an unhelthy obsession with transient 80’s bands.

    • #7
  8. Profile Photo Inactive
    @KennedySmith

    You should be dancin, yeah! Just be thankful commenters don’t post videos. I was sort of expecting “Figaro up, Figaro down. Figaro here, Figaro there:” sort of a thing. I also have a sort of paternal adulation for Little Sis. Possibly somewhat biased…

    There is no cool George Michael tee. That’s just impossible.

    • #8
  9. Profile Photo Contributor
    @UrsulaHennessey
    Kennedy Smith: There is no cool George Michael tee. That’s just impossible. · Jul 27 at 3:23pm

    Okay, perhaps I should have said it was more of a “Wham”-style T-shirt. I suspect you’d still have the same comment, however, Kennedy ….

    • #9
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