Hampton man shares roots in new book
By Nick B. Reid
Hampton Union, February 7, 2014
[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]
Writer Michael Bisceglia Jr. holds his latest book, “Gaelic and Garlic,”
in the office of his Hampton home. [Deb Cram photo]
HAMPTON — Hampton author Mike Bisceglia's latest tale goes back to his roots in Worcester, Mass., growing up alongside 28 aunts and uncles and 60 cousins, all confined to a few blocks in a gritty part of town.
In "Gaelic and Garlic," Bisceglia explores the nature of being Irish-Italian-American, and all the fun — and mayhem — that comes along with it.
Bisceglia, a retired teacher, said it wasn't until his adult life that he realized there was something particularly unusual about the way he came up. Even his wife, upon hearing Bisceglia's claim about the size of his family, replied, "Nobody has that many cousins."
As it happened, Bisceglia said, the couple was watching TV at the time and President Bill Clinton was about to give a speech at Mechanics Hall, a famed Worcester concert hall.
"I said, as a matter of fact, the woman that's introducing the president: that's my cousin," he said. "She thought it was — I don't know what word she used exactly, but it wasn't bullfeathers."
Hearing episode after episode from his youth, Janet Bisceglia pressured her husband to turn the whole of his second-generation American upbringing into a book. And he has, though he's jumbled the names for the sake of people's reputations.
With such a large family, Bisceglia said he was raised constantly going to wakes and funerals. So, naturally, that's where the book begins — though you might not expect a melee to break out.
Bisceglia said the Irish and Italians handle wakes differently. The Italians are very reserved and respectful at a wake, with their hushed whispers and lowered eyes and heads.
"It's a dignified event," he said. "The Irish, on the other hand, it's a big party with one less drunk," he joked. While figuring things out as a youngster, he said his cousins would sometimes have to remind him to quiet down, as he was supposed to be acting on the Italian side.
Bisceglia has since lived and traveled all over the country, teaching English as a second language then working with a highly disabled population. As a child he visited Hampton Beach and vowed that one day he'd move there, and eight years ago he did. These days, Bisceglia, a gray-bearded man who's lost the reddish hair and freckles of his formative years, enjoys smoking a pipe and reading a new book every day or two.
As one of the older children in an enormous family, Bisceglia said it was common for the older kids to line up a row of strollers containing the younger kids along the side of the road while they played a game of stickball or football in the street. As the oldest tier of the cousins, they were told by their parents, "My job was to have 'em, your job is to take care of 'em," he said.
"You'd get a triple or something, then go check to see if your brother's OK, then get back on base," he said.
Bisceglia said his father, a first-generation immigrant from Italy, didn't speak much English at all, though the only Italian accent Bisceglia shows is in his hands — he clasps his fingers together while he talks after being scolded by a teacher for waving his hands around.
Though he said having Irish soda bread and corned beef and cabbage was a "way of life," Bisceglia notes that his mother is probably the world's second worst cook. He doesn't know who is the worst, but he assumes, "There has to be someone worse than my mother."
"My first experience with flying saucers was plates of her food being thrown into the sink," he said.
Over the course of Bisceglia's childhood, some of his cousins run laughing out of a wake when they kneel down to find out they're in the wrong place, husbands and wives stand at odds across a street over a sermon on women being subservient to their men, his father nearly gets in a fistfight with him while giving him tips on how he could have better beat that other boy he just fought, and a couple of tough guys arm themselves to fight an abnormally large rat that just sprung out of a toilet.
Bisceglia said the novel is a fun read for anyone, Irish, Italian, or otherwise.
"The definition of humor is pain plus time," he said. "Anyone growing up in (the) Main South (neighborhood of Worcester), they know a little bit about pain. If you grow up not having a lot of money, you know pain. But some of the most painful stories end up being hysterical."
The book can be purchased online at amazon.com, and will be in local bookstores soon. Bisceglia will appear at the Lane Memorial Library for a book signing on March 4th.