Vinni Smith: Funny how the truth can be lost or forgotten if we hide and cover it up.
In A New Cousin Appears, Part 1, my husband and I learned of the existence of a man named Vinni Smith, who said he was the son of the late Amalio Mallozzi, my husband's uncle. No one in the family had ever heard of Vinni's existence, but we were willing to listen to his story. Well, to tell the truth, some in the family were willing and others were more suspicious.
The day after Thanksgiving, 2014, Vinni and I began a long correspondence by email. Here are some of the things that he told me. (Please note: The older people in this story--Vinni's mother, birth father, and step father--are no longer living. Vinni has given me permission to write his story, but some parts of the story remain private).
Vinni was born in Modesto, California, in 1956. He lived there with his mother, Catherine, and his older sisters. When he was two, Catherine married Walter Cleveland Smith, and when Vinni was five, Walter formally adopted him, changing his name to Walter Cleveland Smith, Jr.
Vinni doesn't remember being called anything but "Butch" before he became Walter, Jr. He says he was too young to understand any of these name changes, and thought people started calling him Walter because they just didn't want to call him Butch any more. He recalls that he had been told that "Butch was the name my grandmother [Martha] gave me to 'hide me from the Italians.'" Who knows what young Butch thought of that idea? We'll get back to the Italians in a bit.
|Vinni (Walter, Jr.) on the left|
Butch/Walter/Vinni always had a feeling that he was somehow different from his other family members, that he didn't quite belong. An aspiring musician, he resented his Walter Cleveland name. Vinni: I very much did not like growing up with that name, and it sure wasn't a name for a rock star!
|A rock star named... Walter?|
When Vinni was 20, he began to learn a new version of his life. He found out that Walter, Sr. wasn't his real father, and his mother told him that his birth father was "an Italian man named Al" who had died by his own hand. This, together with other things his mother said about his father, was very troubling for a young man to hear, and he had a lot of problems understanding this new past. Vinni: I was in a tailspin for some time.
There were more revelations to come. In 1999, his sister told him his real name. Vinni: She just came up to me out of the blue one afternoon and said, "Butchey Boy, do you know what your name is?" I really never thought of asking her.
So anyway, I pushed myself back from my desk and took a big breath. I looked down and I could see my heart beating and moving my shirt I was so anxious. I said "OK June, tell me". "Your name is Vincent. We called you Vincent when you were a baby and then that woman Martha told us to call you Butch so the Italians could not find you. Then that man Walter married Mom and he changed your name to Walter. Just thought you would want to know that."
Vinni: I had always loved that name!
Little by little, Vinni's mother's version of his story came out. His name, before the adoption, was Mario Vincenzo Mallozzi.
Vinni: Much later when she was 90 I asked her directly what my father's name was and she said Mario Vincenzo Mallozzi. "The pigeon racers called him Al." I said "Mom, that is my name, are you sure? Where does Al fit in there?"
She was confused as I was by then, I am sure. This is when she called me up out of the blue one day and said "If you ever want to find your family they are on Wilson Street in Stamford, Connecticut." I think she wanted to come clean but could not bring herself to completely do so. This was her way of spilling a bit of the truth. She was a good person. She was not a liar. But she sure told her share of whoppers to and about me! We all do what we think we need to do to get by in life, I guess. Three years later she passed and that is when I started my journey and found you.
Next: There are a LOT of Mallozzis in Stamford!