After fighting illnesses (emphysema and COPD just to start) for many, many years, my father-in-law, Andrea LoPrete, passed away last Thursday morning, December 17. Just one week before Christmas. Yesterday was his funeral. Needless to say, this is going to be a quieter, more solemn holiday than most around here.
Most of you reading this didn’t know Andrea (it's an Italian name, pronounced on-DRAY-uh), even those few of you reading this who may have met him once or twice. But I wanted to give you a brief pictorial summary of who he was. And because I’m proud to have known him.
Andrea was born and raised in Calabria, a mountainous region in southeastern Italy; in fact, it’s that toe portion of the boot-shaped peninsula that’s perpetually kicking the island of Sicily. (Note: many non-Sicilian Italians are happy to see Sicily get kicked. Shhhh...don’t tell them.) To give you an idea where Calabria’s located, here’s a handy graphic of Italy:
Like many parts of Italy, Calabria is a complete mosaic of cultures. In addition to his dialect of “proper” Italian, Andrea grew up speaking a dialect of the Albanian language. Why? Because many Albanian refugees fled from the Ottoman Empire’s rule in the 15th century, crossing over into Italy for safe haven (and stayed for the food). Interestingly, Andrea’s last name, LoPrete, is actually a French-Italian hybrid (roughly, “the priest”). My own theory is that somewhere in his lineage a French woodsman must have gotten lost in the Alps, wandered down the mountain eastward into Italy, and stumbled on a tavern in some sleepy little town...and thereafter decided he preferred tomatoes, garlic, and pasta to the foo foo pastries and cream sauces of his homeland.
Be that as it may, when he was 14, Andrea climbed into a boat with one of his sisters and left Italy behind, in hopes of finding somewhere in the world where he could sip tea from a metal straw and find more cows and sheep than anywhere else. It took a month to do so, but then he arrived in Argentina.
Andrea settled in the outskirts of its capital city, Buenos Aires, the “Paris of South America,” a place where he’d learn to speak Spanish the way it ought to be spoken, damn it. (Apparently, even Spain doesn’t have it right.) Here he found work in a textiles factory, and a few years later in that same factory he met a nice Italian girl, Lidia: not just any Italian, but a part-time farmgirl from the suburbs of Venice! Which means she was from northern Italy, where all the stuck-up, nose-in-the-air Italians are from (according to Andrea).
But they set aside the differences that automatically come between Italians who aren’t from the same part of the Motherland, and in 1960 Andrea and Lidia entered into a long marriage (almost 50 years) of eating empanadas and drinking maté...and returned to those differences again, arguing about which part of Italy makes the best marinara sauce and whose family is more hard-headed. (The correct answer to that is: both. Lidia’s family was bull-headed, and Andrea’s family was rock-headed.) But this was oldschool Italian/Argentine love and you’re supposed to fight about things like this. Cue the Tango.
Andrea soon left the factory and went into construction and carpentry, the house-building business. In 1962, they had a boy, Javier. (Who would later take the name Sam in America.) Like any proud Argentine father, Andrea sought out a South American camelid and placed his small son on its back. A llama would do just fine.
Five years later they had another son, Eduardo (Eddie), thereby creating a second fan for the soccer-loving, non-English-speaking world. But then times got tough in Argentina, and work became hard to come by. So like many families in such times, they looked to the United States of America, where the streets were undoubtedly paved with gold and whose freedom-loving, verdigris-plated colossus would always welcome immigrants with open arms. So when their third child, Marisa (my wife!), was still just a sticky bun in the proverbial oven, Andrea got suited up to fly to America. In those days, one dressed up for aerial travel.
Now in New York, Andrea lived for a time with his eldest sister and got back to house-building. He spent 7 years apart from his family, until there would be enough for money to send for them, too. (A common pattern among working immigrants, scouting out work in another country before sending for the family.) Of course, Andrea would return from time to time, and in one such visit he would meet his infant daughter, who even then had the attitude of Buttercup.
In 1980, the rest of the family made the transition to the land of apple pie, cowboys, melting pot cities, and gun-toting patriots.
They settled into the Bronx, and the kids started to pick up the family’s third language: English (and maybe a little Spanglish). Nearly thirty years passed. A lot of things came to pass in Andrea’s life during all that time, too much to even summarize here, including a lot of patronage for the farms of America. A lot of fruit was culled from their lush acres, I can tell you, and no peach or cherry was safe from Andrea's grasp. And while Americans howled for their baseball and football, the LoPretes kept tabs on the sport the rest of the world cared about (the only team sport worth all the hoopla). They cheered and lamented over the fluctuating fortunes of Argentine soccer teams. But hey, at least Italy won the World Cup in 2006.
In time, eldest son Sam gave Andrea his first grandchild—the irrepressible Matthew. A few years later, second son Eddie would bring him two more grandchildren—the adorable twins, Alessio and Alessia. And they all knew him as “Nono.”
Somewhere in this mix, his daughter Marisa met me and eventually I married into Casa de LoPrete. This established me as the first true American mutt in the clan, even if I’m just an in-law. I’m the one who introduced this, my second family, to various geeky American locales, like Renaissance festivals and Medieval-themed restaurants—and Marisa, my wife, to gaming and to GenCon.
Andrea’s life had many difficulties, not only in economical hardship within multiple countries, but also in various illnesses. His decision to keep smoking for far too long in the face of many warnings made the last 20 years of his life harder than they needed to be. Not only for him but for his family. I myself have been frustrated by the burdens his condition brought many times, and the stresses inflicted upon Marisa are innumerable. He wasn't always easy to live with, and he could be a real grump, but he also livened up our world. He was inquisitive for a blue-collar tough guy, and would sometimes ask random science questions whenever they struck him.
Andrea’s suffering is over now, and we grieve for losing him. He leaves in his wake more things than I’ll probably ever know, but within my own experience, it's legacy of memories, children, and grandchildren. It’s becoming harder and harder for any of us who knew him to remember what we were ever mad about. In fact, all the good things come to mind easier now, along with all the funny things he said or did (whether he knew it or not). Everywhere we look is something Andrea made with his own bare hands. Who does that anymore? And every now and then we'll drive past a house that he built or had a hand in building. A legion of relatives across the ocean recall him well.
I liked him. And I know he liked me. A language barrier divided us, but we understood each other well enough. He helped give my wife and I a home (our apartment was rendered at his expertise), and I'll always try my best to take care of his daughter. He was always nice to me. I remember every now and then he would sing a line or two from some song in Spanish or Italian, signifying one of his good moods. Those always made me happier.
Andrea was many things: A husband, a brother, a father, an uncle, a father-in-law, a carpenter, a grandfather. And the best aspects of these roles live on in those who knew him.
Cue the Tango. And rest in peace, Andrea.