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Twice Blessed

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It’s the night of my sister Maria’s wedding reception. We’re at the Sheraton Society Hill, and the priest—one of the seven newly ordained in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia—can’t make it. In his place, I’m delivering the blessing.

It’s as close to a priest’s work—or to the pulpit or altar—as I’ll ever get. I ask our 244 guests to play and pray along.

“In the name of the father, the son and the holy spirit,” I say with rote recognizance. “Today is proof that good things come to those who wait (Maria is 38). Rather than myself, the oldest, it was always more important to me that my twin sisters, Maria and Monica, would find lifetime soulmates—and that our proud parents would both witness and cherish their marriages. Today, gratefully, that aspiration has been fulfilled.”

I go on—obviously providing more than a blessing, and much more than anyone anticipates. At three or four different intervals, I poetically (maybe politically) pause, and the guests applaud. When I finish, and throughout the night, literally dozens of them (even wait staff) commend me for delivering such a personal and poignant tribute.

Appreciative, I explain it away. I’m simply a driven, hard-headed Italian expressing what I always knew in my heart but could never—and would never—say face-to-face to anyone in my family.

Superstitious? I am. That’s also my cultural heritage. But it was the influence of another culture that sealed my decision to bare my soul at the wedding reception. Two weeks prior, I’d cracked open two fortune cookies after a Saturday lunch with my parents at Yangming. We were celebrating my mom’s birthday. The first read, “Your emotional nature is strong and sensitive.” It’s true. The second? “You look happy and proud.” I was. I am.

My last sister’s wedding (sounds like a good movie title) was Sept. 14, 2007, at the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul. Her twin, Monica, was married there 11 years before.

As for me, I’ll never get married. And because of that, I’m somewhat the black sheep in the family. Hell, I couldn’t even get a date for the reception, though I tried. I’m an incurably independent and stubborn contrarian. I’ve chosen my lifestyle. I’m content.

Though she’s stopped asking me directly about getting married, my mother still occasionally sends a flyer or suggests I attend a religious event. The last was for the Ave Maria Singles retreat at St. Joseph’s-In-the-Hills in Malvern. In a note at the bottom of the brochure, she wrote, “I will pay if you’re interested!”

I wasn’t. I’m not. Nor am I interested in her routine role call of the names of former girlfriends who have remained single.

Again, I’m satisfied that my sisters are married, and that my old-school Italian father married them his way. The last of a breed of European immigrants who helped shape this region, and an unheralded down-to-two-days-a-week South Philadelphia custom tailor, there was no way his daughters were getting married anywhere but in the midst of the glitter and gold of the Basilica. At 16, he came to America on a boat with nothing, yet he labored a lifetime to give his children so much. When he walked Monica down the aisle in 1996, he’d just recovered from a heart attack—that Valentine’s Day. If we’d lost him, he wouldn’t have seen either of his daughters married.

As for my mother, I’ve now walked her down the aisle twice. It’s a long walk when the pride inside you makes you want to cry, but you know you can’t because all those people are watching you, you’re on videotape—and you’re Italian.

When the footage of my blessing becomes available, I won’t be able to watch it. I know what I said. Others know, too. Plus, it only needs to be said once—just like the words “I do.” Though it’ll be a real blessing if I ever utter them.

When he’s not fending off marriage proposals, J.F. Pirro is a frequent Main Line Today contributor.

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