The Sinatra Story

You know that feeling when you’ve got issues and you know you’ve got issues but you figure, if you don’t acknowledge your issues, then you might not need tissues?

No, just me who’s emotionally stifled? Great.

In all seriousness though, it must be a defense mechanism, not dealing with issues that I know I have. Ones that I can feel like an itch I need to scratch but I won’t because I’m pretending it’s a new tattoo so if I scratch, I’ll ruin the art. That’s how I was dealing with (but actually not dealing) the death of my grandmother. On some level, her passing didn’t make sense. In a literal sense, it did, I understood the process of her failing in the physical but there was still a disconnect I had. Something that didn’t quite sit right in my heart. I haven’t lost any person I’ve loved before, not to death. I think I can’t quite settle because I just don’t like living in a world that she’s no longer a part of. It is grief and it will pass. I know that. I continue to remind myself of the world that she is in now, the one I’d leave this earth for in an instant; the place that’s painted in gold, the place with no pain, the Kingdom of Christ Himself. It helps to know her change of address. It’s the only thing that helps.

The holidays of 2018 were the first without my G’ma. I don’t mean it to sound sad. When I think about me not having her it is sad but when I think about what she has now, what she wanted for decades, I’m happy. Very happy. I know she is having the time of her life. Isn’t peace what we want for those we love, true contentment? A rested soul? If not, do we even love them? If the answer is no, it sounds like we love ourselves more. I’ve known love in the manner it should be done and in the manner that shouldn’t ever take place. Real love is not selfish. Real love is not; ‘I’ll love you as long as you love me.’ Real love-the God kind-is wanting the best for someone, a life not just with moments of happiness but the life Christ died to give them, a life of joy. If we do love someone, we want the best for them, even if that means we will not be a part of it.

 It helps to know her change of address.-Genevieve Rose

My G’ma sacrificially loved her entire life. To a fault really but her heart beat with supreme intentions. We didn’t have a ‘storyteller’ relationship my G’ma and I, she wasn’t one for giving life advice and I didn’t feel the need to ask. She did tell stories but they were on repeat. She was a real-life playlist. I could select a track and whatever the title: My Family, Woman in Charge, Those I Know, All I’ve Done, the same song would play just the way I heard it the first time. I didn’t mind the predictability. She seemed to enjoy telling the same stories over and over. Who would I be if I skipped her song because I’ve heard that tune before? I didn’t mind our weekly routine but this past Thanksgiving, I found out I had missed some stories from her that perhaps I could have heard if I had bothered to dig for another playlist. It’s funny that the characters in our lives, those in our family, are who they are only as we know them. It’s an escaping thought that our parents were once teenagers. Our wise, dependable aunts were once young, dumb and broke. Our uncles roared through their twenties. Our grandmothers were night owls who danced more than they walked. Those in our family have lived many more roles than the one we’re used to seeing them in.

I don’t know how it came up around the dinner table but the first and only mention that this was the premier holiday season without her surfaced and with it, a memory of her meeting someone. “Who did she meet?” I asked, not wanting to linger on the sadness of her absence.

“Sinatra.”

“I’m sorry, what?” I asked.

“Yeah, she met Sinatra.” I slapped my hand to the table a little too loudly.

“No, she didn’t.” I rejected the ridiculousness of such a statement but my curiosity prodded through, “Grandma met Sinatra? Frank Sinatra, in person?” They laughed.

“That’s usually how you meet someone.” I started to piece it together in my mind, his career and her age. It could’ve happened but no. Everybody just wants to have a story about a legend. She did love his music. She’s who introduced me to it.

“Where did she meet him?” My voice had gotten a little too serious for the holiday celebration. I couldn’t help it. My heart rate was up and I was in full detective mode dressed in my Liberace jacket.

“The seventies? It was around here. She was on a date.”

“Who was she on a date with?” I asked. When they said who took her to Sinatra’s concert I knew the story was bogus. I laughed. “Grandma did not go on a date with Al Capone’s brother.” If that were true then she was probably also friends with Quincy Jones and hung out with Marlon Brando on the weekends. Then I remembered, she did talk about how a certain member of the infamous mobster’s family would come into the restaurant she worked at. He would talk to her and flirt with her, she would say it was because she still looked good. She would laugh and say she had Betty Grable legs. I finally found out who Betty Grable was. She was a pinup model in the 1940s and arguably more attractive than Marilyn Monroe.

My grandmother constantly laughed, amusing herself if no one else, between every few sentences. Instead of a pause in a conversation, she would laugh as if delighted in her statement. I can think of an uncle and a few cousins of mine who inherited the same habit. Who was the guy from the restaurant? I couldn’t find the file in my brain marked with his name. A manila folder with ‘the man who never got grandma to the alter’ scribbled in pencil across the tab. Here are some more old photos of Betty Grable while I search. She did have nice legs.

“Ask your cousin,” my aunt said.

“Oh I will,” I said, shoving the heavy dining room chair back with determination. My coffee could wait, I had to know the whole story now. Of course, the straight shot I made for my cousin was interrupted by family photo time. When you want something the most it seems just out of reach, doesn’t it?

After placement, poses, several pictures and asking my brother in a whisper who sat beside me, if he’ll help me sneak a piano into the house that I found for free, I was prepared to get the Sinatra details from my cousin who was sitting on the wraparound espresso leather couch in front of me.

“Is that a Michael Jackson tribute hat?” My other, fairer-haired cousin asked me from across the room. I had to think about which fedora I was wearing for a second.

“Uh, yes,” I said.

“P.Y.T” is my favorite song.”

“Really?” I asked. One legend at a time, please. I have to find out about Sinatra. “That’s a good one,” I said. Thinking for half a second if it was really about Brooke Shields.

“Yeah,” he said, “that and this.” “Dirty Diana” came on through the speakers. Okay, I guess Frank can wait a few minutes. My cousin said his wife hates when he blasts it. I said it’s not a song that’s meant to be played quietly. Soon after that, I was able to put Jackson on pause and get back to Sinatra.

“So I heard that grandma went to see Sinatra and then she met him and apparently you know all about it so I’m gonna need to know every single detail right now.” It was pointless to hide the tenacity behind my inquiry. This was Frank Sinatra, a timeless musical legend, the father of many legends.

”Yeah I used to make her tell me the story all the time,” he said. “She went with that guy who was a Capone but he didn’t go by that name. He was older. She knew him for a while and finally, he came into the restaurant where she worked and asked if she wanted to go see Sinatra and she went with him. My favorite part is what he said.” The famous restaurant where my G’ma worked, a top track on her playlist of stories. After I heard his account I went on to ask other family members what they knew about it. What worth does research have without cross-checking the facts? What I gathered additionally is that she was in her forties at the time and the concert was in Hickory Hills. My grandmother, the original Rose was on the arm of Al Capone’s baby brother Bert. Apparently, the mob days in the family had ended and by that time, Al Capone himself had passed away but when Bert died, a large amount of money mysteriously showed up in my grandmother’s account. Man, all those evenings we spent talking about groceries or Insulin we could’ve been talking about how you landed a gangster and got to do a meet and greet with Swoonatra? As you would say, “mother, mother pin a rose on me.” I don’t know precisely what that means but I feel like it fits this situation.

It was most likely in early June of 1978 at the Sabre Room, a banquet hall that has since shut down, where she saw those blue eyes in the flesh. Apparently, her date knew Sinatra. Cue suspicion of the former Rat Pack crooner being a made man here. After hearing; “I’ve Got A Crush On You,” “My Funny Valentine,” “Come Fly With Me,” “I Get A Kick Out Of you,” “You Make Me Feel So Young,” and of course, “The Way You Look Tonight,” not on recording but live, Bert took her backstage. I don’t know if those were in the setlist, I was just putting a theme to their date.

Strangely enough, my mom’s mom worked at the Sabre Room as a cocktail waitress and possibly saw, talked to or even served my dad’s mom who was on the arm of Baby Capone the night of the concert. This was just a couple of years before my parents started dating.

Frank Sinatra performing at the Sabre Room.

“She bought a mink,” my cousin said, “for the concert. I wore it to a 1920’s party. She was pretty insistent that I take it.” That was my grandma, offering things to us like it was her job to get rid of every last possession.

“She did, really?” I could faintly picture mink fur in my head.

“Yeah, I’ll go get it.”

“You still have it?” She said absolutely and then disappeared from the kitchen. This evening really picked up in the second half. While I waited for the mink to arrive, I asked my aunt her account of the story. She was amused by my amusement. She confirmed what I had already been told, adding that it wasn’t just the one date with Baby Capone but he and my grandmother knew each other for quite some time. My father, then in his early teens would bring him soup. My dad brought Al Capone’s brother soup. I know he was distant from the mob by then but this stuff gives me thrillchills. Someone should write a book about doing simple favors for Capones. Oh wait, that’s been done. Just for Al though, maybe there should be more books for the other brothers. My dad should write his own historical narrative, one that is non-fiction called; Soup for Mr. Rayola. Bert Rayola was an alias that he went by until making it his legal name. He was born in 1906 and died in 1980 at the age of 76.

“Here it is,” my cousin announced, placing the heavy pelt over my shoulders. Suddenly making me feel like a warrior ready for battle in the Arctic. I ran the red tips of my fingers across the fine, beige fur. There was a clasp in the front to keep it closed at the chest.

“It’s heavy,” I said.

“Yeah, when I took it to that 20’s party I wore a little dress and just that, no coat.” My grandmother would’ve cringed at the thought of any of us not wearing a coat. Even if we had a ten-pound mink wrapped around our shoulders. What is it with grandmothers and coats? That and offering an abundance of food, sometimes while you’re still eating. “It’s pretty hot though, I kept taking it in and off.” It was starting to get hot under here. Thankfully, it didn’t go longer than mid-back.

“She paid too much for that, a thousand dollars,” my aunt said. She’s the original Rose’s only daughter. A thousand dollars would be a lot today let alone back in the seventies. “Just for a concert.” I have respect for a move like that.

“Look, she even had her name, ” my cousin said, lifting up the right flap of the mink. Her initials were embroidered diagonally in the color of a faded plum, each letter protected by the thin, black outline of a diamond.

”Whoa, ” I said, underneath the heat of the fur, staring at the sleek interior lining. My G’ma had swag. Here I thought I brought a lot to the table in a sparkling blazer complete with burgundy fedora. This Rose nothing on the original. ”I love this.”

In my research, I was unable to find a good picture of the interior of the Sabre Room. Also, I’m not sure if it’s pronounced as they told me, ‘Saber’ or ‘Sabre’ like it’s spelled. It could be ’Saber’ in spite of the spelling like that company that bought Dunder Mifflin Paper on The Office. They made a song about the merger to the tune of “Party in the USA” that did not work at all with the correct pronunciation of the name. I was overjoyed to be dressed in that mink. The mink that met Sinatra. “This may be the closest I ever get to a legend. I can’t believe she never brought this up, I would’ve never shut up about it.” Most of my relatives were more entertained by how entertained I was by the story, rather than the story itself.

“I feel like we’re going to be reading about this,” my cousin who brought the mink down said, “in something that you write.”

“Well I think I have to,” I smiled. “I do have to take this off though, I’m sweating.” I undid the clasp and she slipped off the fur, a weight lifted off my shoulders. ”Hey, ” I turned back to my dark-haired cousin, the one who heard this story the most, from Rose herself. ”What did Sinatra say to grandma when she met him?”

”Oh yeah, ” he said. Bouncing up on the couch so he could get a better view over the back of the dark brown leather. “My favorite part.” His wide palm rested on the cushion. “Bert said; ”say hello to Rose, ” as Frank walked by and then Sinatra stopped and said; ”Hello, Rose.” I love that part.” Those two words had me grinning. I wasn’t there but I could picture it. Rose on the arm of some old guy in a nice suit. Blue lights from the stage illuminating the back. Various cords laid out like snakes that could potentially strike a heel. She adjusts her mink and the way she’s standing on her Betty Grable legs. Maybe she had pearls on that summer night, too. Frank walked up, also in a suit, maybe in a fedora or maybe he took it off after the show and carried it in one hand as he greeted with the other. He sees his friend and then he stops and stares. ”Hello, Rose.”

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