The Sweet Revolting Development

by L. Virelli  

After being dealt a bad hand of cards, Nana grumbled, “This shouldn’t happen to a dog.”

Grandma used her usual phrase, “Wouldn’t that frost you?”

All four of my grandparents played a game of Continental Rummy at the table in Mom’s gold and brown kitchen. If the cards they held kept coming up bad, an eruption of Italian swear words echoed throughout the room.

They were friends and frequently hung out at our house. We all lived within a mile of each other in the suburbs of Chicago.

“Come sit by me, Lori.” Grandma patted the chair next to her. “You can be my good luck charm.”

I played this game with them before and understood what Grandma needed to do after peeking at her cards.

Vaffanculo!” Nana spouted the first cuss word of the night and tossed her cards face down in the middle of the table.

Grandma grinned.

The rest of them flicked their cards toward the dealer.

Grandpa Jim scooped them up and shuffled.

“See, you did bring me good luck.” Grandma covered my cheek with a barrage of kisses. “Come sei bella.”

I didn’t know how to speak Italian, but Grandma said those words to me many times. They meant “how beautiful you are.” Not to worry, I didn’t get a big head. Sometimes she said, “Come sei brutti,” which meant, “how ugly you are.” She liked to balance things out.

“Oh, remember how adorable she looked in the communion dress I sewed for her?” My dad’s mom, Nana, reminded us for the umpteenth time.

I took my first communion at age eight, three years earlier, and she still talked about the dress. Somehow I understood her tendency to brag came from insecurity. Humoring her helped me to get along with her better than some others in our family.

“Yeah, I remember the dress. I loved the furry collar on the coat you made for it too,” I championed.

She chuckled. “Yeah, you kept running your fingers through that fur.”

Nana standing proud next to me and the dress she sewed.

Grandma touched my shoulder, her cotton-candy-teased hair stuck in place. “You looked like Shirley Temple with your hair in those curly locks.”

Grandma and me. Isn’t she stylish?

“For crying out loud, Speck, pay attention! It’s your turn.” Papa scolded his wife. My stout but fit maternal grandfather complained often. He nicknamed Grandma “Speck” when they first started dating. Of course, many people found it strange. According to him, Grandma wore glasses back then and he shortened it from the word “spectacles.”

Lucky Luciano – Check out the resemblance to Papa below

Papa resembled the mobster Lucky Luciano and behaved like the character Archie Bunker from the TV show All in the Family. Only educated to the sixth grade, his ignorance came through in his bigotry. He even disrespected Grandma like Archie did Edith.

Turn the coin of Papa, and the other side revealed a sentimental jellyfish. On holidays or some other special family event, tears flowed out of him like a waterfall. He wrangled us in hugs and choked-out words of gratitude.

“I’m out again,” Grandpa Jim said, dropping his cards. His broad build and intense large eyes appeared intimidating, but he had the complete opposite personality from Papa. Mild-mannered and humble, he always offered a helping hand to his family. He enjoyed teasing and playing with us kids.

Grandpa Jim suffered many misfortunes, from being struck by lightening as a child, to almost losing an arm as a result of a ferocious dog attack. The German Shepherd chomped into his forearm on a hot summer day during a family barbeque. The memories of the blood stains on our driveway and my grandfather’s dog being put to sleep, stuck with me.

It seemed the gentle-giant couldn’t even win a game of cards.

Nana got a look at a freshly dealt hand. “What a revolting development.”

The comment caused Grandma to spit out and spew chewed biscotti crumbs across the table. Her large breasts jiggled from convulsions of laughter.

“Ech!” Nana gasped, then brushed off her arms.

“Eww,” I said, then giggled.

Nana’s eyes squinted as she snickered.

Grandpa Jim smiled, and Papa tapped his fingers seriously on the table.

Through a cackle, Nana asked, “Are you laughing at my revolting development?”

Grandma couldn’t speak, just nodded.

Nana’s combined husky voice, and Chicago-Italian accent, sounded to me like the old Jewish comedian, Jackie Mason. “This woman laughs at everything. Watch this …” Facing Grandma directly, Nana said, “Rice pudding.”

Grandma doubled over, holding her stomach, unable to breathe.

“See, there she goes.”

We all caught the contagious hilarity, except for Papa. He continued tapping his fingers, waiting for the buffoonery to pass.

Grandma’s chair screeched across the floor when she stood. Trying to speak through laughter, only a whisper came out. “I gotta go wee-wee.” Hunched over, she scuffled toward the bathroom.

What a blessed child, to have all four of my grandparents nearby growing up. Of course, like every family, we had our flaws, but scenes like these happened more often than not. Sometimes their strained relationships with my parents caused problems, but somehow we all made it through.

Grandpa Jim suffered the ultimate tribulation when struck with colon cancer. He fought for two years and left this earth when I was fifteen-years-old. His death was the first I experienced in my young life.

Grandma left us next, in a tragic and unexpected circumstance. Still healthy and vibrant, she died in a car accident when I was twenty-eight.

Papa and Nana lived into their nineties, after I turned forty. They died one year apart.

All of these characters existed as written, and their flaws seemed pointless once gone. The good times won out in my memories.

More stories like these can be found in my memoir anthology, Home Avenue.

Papa & Grandma after I became an adult
Grandpa Jim & Nana (pronounced like “Papa” only with “N”) just before Grandpa got sick in the 1970’s
This is all four of them at my parents wedding. They are not paired off with the correct spouses. Left to right: Grandpa Jim (married to Nana), Grandma (married to Papa), Nana, and Papa.

13 thoughts on “The Sweet Revolting Development”

  1. Great Story, Lori! I remember the day your grandfather was bitten by the dog…Toro or Tory, was it? And I remember the blood! I also remember the dog barking and your dad yelling at the dog, banished to the Mustang. The dog cowered at the sound of your dad’s voice!


    1. Wow, Nancy, and you say you have a bad memory? Those are pretty good details to remember. Yes, the dog’s name was Toro. I remember the dog in the Mustang, and I remember sobbing because they were going to put him to sleep (how did you remember it was a mustang?). I do NOT remember my dad yelling or the dog cowering, but I’m sure it happened because my dad could make a German Shepherd cower. I used to play with that dog and stick my face in his, so it was a shock what happened. Oh, and it occurred on a very hot Mother’s Day.


  2. I loved the story. My family was so completely opposite of yours, however, my daughter married a very handsome Scilian who seem to have the same characteristics as described here.

    I cannot find a place to sign up……I’ll keep looking around. Surely, it is here somewhere! (and as my family would say…don’t call me Shirley)


    1. Heh, and to think I didn’t write in their Chicago-Italian dialect. It seems like this kind of family life is foreign to people reading it, including my husband’s family. Thanks so much for taking the time to read it.


  3. For sure, my grandparents … my entire family are not afraid to show who they are, which can get us into trouble. I married into the complete opposite kind of family, and it was difficult to get used to. Thank you so much for taking the time to read the story. It means a lot to me that you got to know them too. 🙂


  4. I always love getting a glimpse into the family memories of others. This was a fun one and so different from scenes from my childhood. But still, it stirred up a lot of good memories for me. Your grandparents were clearly not afraid to be who they were. They sound like wonderful people.


  5. What a delightful exchange! Sometimes the best characters aren’t imagined, but remembered. Thanks for sharing!


  6. Heh, funny James. The exchange between your grandparents could’ve been my Nana & Grandpa Jim. I had no idea about where that term “revolting development” originated. Nana and her sister, Auntie Corrina, used to say it all the time and giggle. They never explained to me where it came from. Thanks for sharing that tidbit. I love to learn something new every day. 🙂


  7. Lori,
    I loved the excerpts of your story, Loralie, well done.
    It intrigues me how we’ve shared such similar experiences. One of them is the terminology your grandparents used to use.
    On payday, many Friday evenings after work, my maternal grandfather, “gramps,” would come home with two large pizza pies in hand, a little tipsy. When my gram-ma caught him coming in the side door, always the side-door, into the kitchen, the first thing she’d say was, “You Old Reprobate! You’re drunk again aren’t you?” Gramps’ reply was always the same, “what a revolting development this is.” He’d say, “a man works all week. . . ,” and various justifications would follow. He wasn’t much of an arguer.
    Do you know where the term “what a revolting development this is,” was originated? It was in a 1940’s sitcom called “The Life Of Riley,” starring William Bendix. I remember it very well, at least the reruns, that is; it was a very funny show.


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