by Joe Eliseon
My mother’s father was something of a local legend. He’d been an Italian commando in the Great War and, while short, was powerfully built. I once saw him climb a rope moving only his forearms. People told me that, when he was young, he could do it by just flexing his wrists.
He had a reputation for never backing down from a fight, for always standing up to and facing down men much larger than he was. My mother frequently held him up to me as an example of grit and courage, always concluding her rather Spartan exhortations by saying, “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.”
I was close to my grandfather and tried to live up to his reputation throughout my youth. I stood up to wise guys, mean guys, tough guys and the bigger the better. But somehow, my results failed to reflect the legend. I got walloped regularly. After each beating, I’d be mortified and go and lick my wounds, always telling my mother she should have seen the other guy and never saying anything about it to my grandfather.
Years later, as he lay dying, I finally broke down and told my grandfather. I told him how important he’d been to me and how I’d tried to imitate him. I told him how I’d failed to live up to the picture my mother had painted of him. “But, Papa, how did you do it?” I asked. “How did you beat all these guys who were so much bigger than you?”
The old man chuckled weakly, put his hand on my cheek, patted it twice, and said, “I always carried a matteddu (a small club).”
That was the key detail that my mother had somehow omitted.
(c) 2016 by the Author. All rights reserved.