Of my immediate family—not counting nieces and nephews—I’m the only one who wasn’t born in either the Bronx or overseas. No, I was raised in Easton, Pennsylvania, which is about an hour north of Philadelphia, and I lived there for the first 12 years of my life.
My mom and dad both had thick Bronx accents—our family always joked that instead of saying thirty-three and a third, they said “dirty tree and a turd.” When they were at work, my babysitters were off-the-boat Italian immigrants with accents out of central casting for a DeNiro mafia flick. My childhood friends and neighbors were Pennsylvanians who stressed the hell out of the “O” in words like phone and pillow.
Suffice it to say, my speech as a kid was pretty screwed up. (No lie, at one point I developed a thick Italian accent and when I would call my Aunt Barbara as a kid I’d ask, “Aunta Barbara, I come over you house now?”) As a result, I had to go to speech therapy classes to talk like a civilized Pennsylvanian…and then a few years later my family moved back to New York.
While my speech patterns were all over the place, one of the bright spots of moving to “upstate” New York—to Carmel, an 90 minutes north of the city—was that I was living in the town-over from my godfather, Uncle Led—I know, weird name, right?!
Living in Carmel, I got to spend so much more time with him. A few years in—I can’t remember how old I was; I was definitely younger than 18, but probably not by much—I was riding in the car with my dad and my brother Joe. They were talking about Uncle Led but, oddly, referring to him as “Eddie” and “Big Ed.” I strained my ears; clearly they weren’t saying “Leddie” or “Big Led”—even though that’s a great name.
It was at this point that I realized that the man I always thought was “Uncle Led” was actually “Uncle Ed,” and that my family had such heavy accents that the “L” and the “E” in Uncle rolled right into the “E” and “D” of Ed. Everybody broke down laughing after I fessed up. When we called up Eddie and his wonderful wife—my Aunta Barbara—they all laughed riotously. And while I then knew that his name was Ed, he would always be known to me as Uncle Led. Even my mom and dad would call him Uncle Led from time to time for a laugh. Continue reading »