St. Nick's Outlaws
By Jim Colombo
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Copyright 2001 Jim Colombo
A week had passed since Jim had meet Mr. Anconi and he had completed the
application for the scholarship. Jim was on the 14 Mission bus going to see him. The
bus arrived at the corner of Cortland and Mission Streets and he got off and walked across
the street. When he entered the studio he saw the same little boy from the previous
week trying to master rhythm. “One a, two a, three a, and a one a , two a, three a,”
Hey kid, you a listen?” asked a frustrated Mr. Anconi. “Esso no capisce, I don’t think you a
gonna learn the accordion, kid,” said Mr. Anconi.
“I ain’t a kid. Ma, I don’t like it here. Let’s go.”
“Now, now, Ralphie, you have to try harder. Mr. Anconi is trying to teach you
how to play the accordion,” said little Ralphie’s mother.
“I don’t want to play the accordion, Ma. I hate it,“ said master Ralphie.
“I no charge for today. You go. Call me next a week. Goo-bye,” said Mr. Anconi.
Master Ralphie left with his mother who was trying to lecture him to not be so rude,
when he interrupted his mom and said, “The accordion is a dumb instrument to play. He
makes me feel dumb. I hate the accordion, Ma. I ain’t going back.” Master Ralphie said it
loud enough so Mr. Anconi could hear his farewell.
Mr. Anconi waved and smiled, as if he didn’t hear a word, and said, “We no see him
Master Ralphie got in his mother’s car, and slammed the door for emphasis. They
drove off and faded into the traffic that swarmed in both directions of Mission Street.
“Ciesto qua. Have a seat here.” Mr. Anconi sat by his desk and Jim faced him.
“Thank you, Mr. Anconi.” Jim gave Mr. Anconi the application for the scholarship.
Mr. Anconi reviewed it. “That’s good.” He set the application on his desk. ”You
know how you grandpa came to America?”
“No, Mr. Anconi.”
“I’ll tell you.” Mr. Anconi sat back in his chair and began the story.
“In 1910 when he was nineteen your grandpa, his older cousin Tilio, and me left
Torbigo, a small town near Lake Como. We went by train to Genoa, then sailed to London
before go America. It took one month from Genoa to New York City. Tilio had a cousin,
Paulo. He was working in an Italian grocery store in New York City. We stayed at his
place for a week.
“We found jobs unloading ships and worked two or three days a week for a month.
We saved money and went to Bush, Illinois and worked in the coal mines for ten years,
and we saved our money. Then, Tilio went to Petaluma, California, and bought a ten-acre
ranch and got married. He raised chickens and rabbits. Luigi and me stayed in Bush.
Luigi wrote a letter to his uncle in Torbigo asking how much it would cost to send a wife.
His uncle said $200, the price a ticket and a wedding dress. His uncle picked a healthy,
young lady for Luigi, and sent a picture of Givona. The uncle asked for a picture of Luigi to
give to Givona. Luigi was thirty and bald, so he sent a picture when he was twenty-three
with hair. Mr. Anconi patted the top of his bald head and smiled.
He continued, “Two months pass and Luigi got a letter that his bride was in New
York City with Paulo and in one week she’ll come to Chicago. The next week Luigi was at
the train station with a picture of Givona. She would ware a red hat and a white a dress.
He wold ware his blue a suit and gray a hat, and have a bouquet flowers. The train came
at noon and a young lady wearing a red hat approached the man with the blue suit and
flowers. She looked surprised. They spoke the same Italian dialect but she was looking
for the young Italian man and Luigi was looking for Givona. He had spent $200 for a
healthy lady, not a skinny girl. She said her sister Givona changed a her mind, so she
went. Emma was seventeen, short, and slender. She asked Luigi how old he was. He
said thirty. She showed the picture he had sent and he nodded, and said that was seven
“Emma told Luigi that she wanted go America and that she would be a good wife.
Luigi had spent $200, so they were married the next day. Your dad was born nine months
later. They lived in Bush for one a year in a coal miner’s shack. The coal dust made Luigi
sick. Tilio had sent letters about the good life in California.
"Emma was three months with a baby when they go to California. Luigi worked
in construction for twenty years. They bought a house on Cortland Street. when Luigi got
a job for the city as a gardener. He rent a lot and raised rabbits, and grow vegetables. He
sold the rabbits and vegetables at the Farmer’s Market every Saturday.
“I used to go with my grandpa to the Farmer’s Market, and sell vegetables and white
rabbits as a kid,” said Jim.
“Lo sacho, I know,” said Mr. Anconi.
“I thought you said you saw my grandma first, Mr. Anconi.”
“I did, in Torbigo. I say hello, and she smile. Big surprise when I see a her with
Luigi. I like her in Torbigo, but I no show.”
“Is that why you never married?”
“No one make me feel like her.”
Mr. Anconi sat quietly for a moment recalling a time of a past love and joy.
Jim interrupted the memory, “I think I should go now, Mr. Anconi. Thank you for
telling me the story. Thank you for all of your help with the application.”
“Oh, ah….. Yeah, sure. It’s okay. You come some time. We talk. Okay?”
“Yeah, sure, Mr. Anconi. Any time.”
Jim got up and shook Mr. Anconi’s hand and thanked him again. Mr. Anconi
remained seated, still consumed with his memories of Emma.
Jim walked out, then turned to wave good-bye. Mr. Anconi had spread the
curtains with both hands, and entered the backroom to rest. Jim got on the bus and
It was Saturday night and Jim and Lupe went .to the last Mission Dolores dance
until Easter. Since the Courts had kicked ass, the Barts no longer attended the dances. It
was Court territory now. The English had invaded and the number one song was “She
Loves You” by the Beatles. They had a second song that was climbing fast on the charts,
”I Want To Hold your Hand.” Lupe liked Paul. Jim could care less. A second English
group interested him called the Rolling Stones. They sang songs that appealed to
him and they were a man’s group, whereas the Beatles sang to girls. How could a guy get
excited about some guy singing that he wants to hold your hand. The Rolling Stones said it
like it was, “This could be the Last Time.” At least Lupe didn’t turn into mush like the other
girls when the Beatles sang. Jim could see the good old days slipping away with the
Beach Boys the only remaining surfing group singing. Jim and Lupe enjoyed the songs
from Motown with the Supremes, Mary Wells, and the Shirelles.
The dance finished at eleven and Jim and Lupe walked home to her apartment for a
snack. They sat at the kitchen table and Lupe served Jim a cup of coffee with cookies.
Rosa wasn’t home and it was unusual for Rosa to visit her lady friend so late. Jim thought
he would stay with Lupe until Rosa arrived. Ten minutes later the phone rang and startled
Lupe. Jim said hello and listened for a while. Then he said, “Thank you, good night,”
“Who was that?” asked Lupe.
“Your mother’s friend Mrs. Lopez passed away tonight. Your mom is very sad and
can’t talk now. She’ll spend the night there.”
Lupe began to cry and felt sorry for the lady, but understood that she was old and
sickly. Jim hugged her. “I’m okay,” she said , and dried her eyes. She asked Jim to stay a
while, so he stayed an hour, then left Lupe alone.
Jim arrived home at 1:30 in the morning and Mary was mad. “Do you know what
time it is?”
“Yes, I do. Rosa’s lady friend died tonight. I stayed with Lupe for a while. I’m sorry
if I made you worry. I thought that it was too late to call.”
“Oh. I’m sorry to hear that a friend of Rosa’s passed away.”
“It’s okay, Mom. Good night.”
“Yes. Good night. Sorry.”
The next morning Jim went to visit Lupe and she was cooking breakfast with Scraps
keeping her company. She served Jim a cup of coffee and French toast with maple syrup.
“Very good, Angel. I like this.”
“Good. I’ll make it again for you.”
He made the comment that Scraps was early. It wasn’t dinner time.
“The first French toast I made fell apart, so I left it for Scraps. He came by and
“Does he understand Spanish?”
“Sure he does. He’s my cat, and he eats hot sauce.”
“You’re never going to forget my first time eating Mexican fire.”
“The look on your face.” They laughed. Scrapes left and enjoyed the morning.
Jim stayed with Lupe until Rosa came home at eleven that morning. Later Jim and
Lupe went to the Crystal Palace for Saturday grocery shopping while Rosa stayed home
and slept after a long night.
The following Wednesday was Ash Wednesday a holy day of obligation and all of
the students at St. Nick’s attended mass in the gym. Ashes were given to all, symbolizing
penance and atonement for the coming of Jesus Christ on Palm Sunday, his last week as
a mortal. Then the Last Supper, Judas’ betrayal, his Crucifixion and death to rise again on
Easter morning. Mass seemed to take longer than typical, or maybe the students were
hungry. Finally it ended. Religion was becoming a chore. The students went to the
cafeteria to eat hot cross buns and drink hot chocolate for breakfast. Then the day began
with Brother Michael reading announcements during homeroom followed by Religion class.
6/14/64, Graduation Day was approaching faster that Jim preferred and the few precious
days were slipping away. Jim accepted the fact that it was ending. The grind of the
exams, the drill the Brothers put the students through, and attending mass for the next
thirty-nine days until Easter were becoming tedious. Maybe Augie was right. The best
was yet to come.
More next week...