Conversations with a Black Sheep

Below are some conversations that took place with my 85 year old Uncle Charlie (aka ‘ziu Lillu, Calogero, Mr. Lee-who-lived-in-England-for-40-years running a fish and chip shop with his wife and family, dog lover, cook extraordinaire, raiser of chickens, collector of hats, fast driver, self proclaimed black sheep of the family, farmer of an olive-walnut-almond-fruit orchard, fellow with trucker’s mouth, song and dance man, retired practical joker, maker of vino, grappa, sausage, and ma’s beloved brother.

Man of many hats!

Barefoot!  Get your shoes on right now!  My God, Mother Mary, Jesus, and all the saints that be, ti vennano li DULURI!! You’ll get ARTHRITIS. Just wait and see.  Get your shoes on now!

No, don’t take your sweater off!  Now that you’re all sweaty, you will have to keep it on.  You take it off and you’ll catch a pneumonia for sure!  What?  Do you want to die?

Where are you going?  Outside?  For a walk?  Alone?  Wait, wait!  I’ll just put on a nicer shirt and accompany you….(Uncle reappears wearing freshly pressed shirt)  Now, where did you want to go?

Stop!  It’s really bad for you to drink water with your meal.  Before is ok, but not during!  Didn’t your mother teach you anything? Here, have some wine.

It’s nearly 95 degrees in the car on the way to Canicatti.   I open the window. Zio practically jumps out of his seat.  “Where’d that draft come from?  You OPENED the window?  What do you want?  To kill us all?  Close that window now.”

1983 Uncle Charlie and my mom

While walking in the piazza, where all the village men sit and socialize,  my uncle says, “See that old guy there?  That’s Totuzzu!  He’s my cousin!  Well, of course, he’s your cousin, too.  I mean, if he’s my cousin, then he’s your cousin, too, right?  Come quickly!  Let me introduce you to him!”  No one walks as fast as my uncle when he is on a mission!  Nora and I break into a trot to keep up with his pace.   My uncle shouts out to his cousin, “Totu, gli Americani ca sunu!  The Americans are here!  These are my sister Pina’s kids!”  After introductions, Uncle Charlie gives us the run down on how we are related to our new acquaintance, “Totuzzu’s mother’s grandfather was my mother’s brother.”   As if I have been given a difficult mathematical equation to solve, my brain is working fast to work this one out.  I am constructing the family tree in my mind, when he adds another layer to the complexity, “And, Totuzzu’s grandfather, whose name was Taniddru Piedicotti (allow me to translate…the guy’s name was “Taniddru Cooked Feet”), was married to my father’s sister.”  At this point, Old Man Totuzzu comes up with the mathematical solution before I do, “Cu to ‘ziu, semmu cushini di terzo grado.  Your uncle and I are third cousins removed.  Since Pina’s your mother, I’m your 4th  cousin removed.”  Phew!  Got that?  It dawns on me again that, in one way or another,  I am related to nearly everyone in Grotte.

Zio and I at his orchard, “lu damusu”


7 Responses to “Conversations with a Black Sheep”

  1. bethfishman Says:

    Fran!!! awesome post – and that picture of the two of you in cowboy hats – who took it? it looks totally professional – could see that in a national geographic article – the title would be – “Man of Many Hats”
    of course!!!!


    • frangallo Says:

      Hi Beth! Thank you!! My sister grabbed my camera and took it! What a character! Stay tuned for more posts about food and other Sicilian topics and yoga at the retreat!


  2. Nora Brown Says:

    This is great Fran, it’s like reliving our time with Uncle Charlie, the man of many hats!


  3. kay Says:

    hilarious and dear!! okay Fran, i am thinking it’s nearing time for that novel.


    • frangallo Says:

      Oh, I had fun writing this one! My uncle is such a character! My nephew John is in love with him and goes to see him at least twice a year! The novel will come in due time. It is so much fun to have a full weekend to just write…I mean, it’s raining here at the coast. What else am I supposed to do after my yoga practice?


  4. Paul Calbone Says:

    Fran, my Grandmother Carmella’s Mother is from Grotte. She was a Carbone. Her parents are registered married there as well, with the last name of Iacono. I am interested in the music artist and soundtrac of your blog. My email is . Also you can find me and my food that I cook on facebook under, Paul Calbone . Sincerely yours,


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