If I could go back in time and change my career and education (for the millionth time), I would become a genealogist and researcher. I’ve always been an old soul, interested in personal histories. When I was a kid, I found an old black and white picture of a dirt road that was in front of my grandparents house. Desert for miles and a an old road that looked abandoned. That old road is now Craig Road in Las Vegas. I displayed that picture on my desk, where I would think about what life was life back when the wild west was new. What made my family come out here? What struggles did they encounter? So very interesting to me.
My favorite hobby is researching family history. There are many secret, taboo, and interesting stories in my family genealogy. I have scoured newspaper articles and records, trying to confirm these secrets as true. I need to find the concrete evidence that these dark secrets are true!
Let’s start with my dad’s dad, Stanley. I could call him my grandpa, but I never met him and all the stories I heard about him were not nice. He (supposedly) was born in 1902 to polish immigrants. Legend has it (sounds like a mythical story here), he took his brother’s identity so he could join the military early. His brother was 11 years old when he died. The story goes that Stanley and his brother were out playing somewhere when his brother tragically died. Only Stanley knows the truth. Some say they were playing by the train tracks when he was hit and killed by a train. A document I found said that he drowned. Whatever the story is, I don’t think Stanley’s family ever forgave him. He left early to join the Navy. He had many marriages and divorces (so taboo in the early 1900’s!). 4 marriages and divorces from what I have found. He was known as a cheater. He had many kids from different marriages. My dad had a half brother and 2 half sisters. Stanley disowned my dad when he was older. My dad remembers the fighting between his mom and dad, and seeing his dad walk down that dirt road with a bag in hand headed for the highway. He didn’t have a dad that played catch or helped him with school. It was just my dad’s sister (who tragically died at the age of 12 after a fall while visiting Valley of Fire with their church), my grandma, and my dad’s aunt and uncle. He didn’t really have a father figure in his life. Not until my grandma met and married my grandpa Al (I am allowed to call him that, he was the grandpa I knew and loved). My dad was in his late teens and needed work on his car. My dad introduced the mechanic to my grandma and the rest is history. But there lies a secret too.
My Grandpa Al Leto was my favorite. When we lived with them for a short while, he would play tea parties with me outside. He teased me. He would listen to the baseball games on their large radio, and watch the spanish tv station. He taught me how to scrape every last drop from my ice cream bowl (pretty annoying sound to my parents I am sure). He loved spaghetti. He dressed up as Santa for Christmas. He always had a joke. He would give me stuffed animals when we later visited him in the rest home. He loved my dad as his own. He said he was Italian and was from Florida. He also said he never had kids and wasn’t married before. My research has proven that was a lie! (Insert Maury Povich voice). His name was Al Favata and Through my research, he was possibly connected with the mafia in Tampa. He was married and had 2 kids, yet later divorced. His parents were from Italy and worked in the cigar factories. He was a member of the local Italian club. Him and his brothers owned a mechanic shop. He served in WWII and worked on airplanes. The pictures I found of him and his brothers prove that it is him. There’s no denying it! But there’s no denying that he loved and respected my grandma. He loved my dad and would do anything for our family. So what made him leave Tampa in the 60’s? Was it a bitter divorce? Was he in witness protection program? He didn’t seem like he would abandon his kids. This information doesn’t change how I feel about him. I love and miss him so much!
We all have secrets and skeletons in our closets. Our ancestors had so many hardships. Hard upbringings. But they persevered. The facts paint a picture of their lives. My grandpa was still humble and loved to joke. Everyone loved him. I wonder how our family moved on and continued living. Back when no one shared their hardships or saw a therapist. They just hid their hard things and moved on. But I don’t believe that was easy at all.
My dad tried hard for years reading self help books. He had a really tough life. He served in the war, was raised by a single mother in the 1950s. Was made fun of in school, kids calling him a poor farmer boy. Tragically lost his sister. Dad disowned him. He lost friends. Story goes on. But he married a great woman (my mom!) and loved her deeply. He couldn’t respect any man who cheated. He raised my sister and I to be great, caring people.
At the end, I think he was tired. He was tired of struggling with his emotions that he would not show or talk about. He wasn’t raised like that. It’s hard and scary to do something different then what you are used to. Even though I preach going to therapy and taking time for yourself, it’s hard for ME to do it. I was raised in a family where we didn’t show any emotions or talk about sensitive issues. There weren’t hugs or pep talks. But it’s time to change and step out of our comfort zones.
I think we need to be more grateful for the people in our lives. Tell them how much we appreciate them. It goes a long way. It helps people know that they ARE good enough. Gives people confidence to keep going and trying. Let’s not just endure this life. Let’s lift each other up. And take care of ourselves while we are at it ❤️