I love the six degrees of separation thing, because I believe it. On the McArthur side of our family I’m one degree from O. Henry, Mark Twain and Walt Whitman — my great-grandmother went to her grave deploring Whitman’s personal hygiene. And that’s just one degree of separation!
On the Rovai side, I’m one degree from Al Capone, and he might have eaten from the old set of Limoges Troy pattern I set out on the table for holiday dinners. We inherited it from Lou’s great-aunt Lucy Ronga.
Lucy was married to the dapper and debonair Dr. Ronga, whose office at 1208 W. Lexington in Chicago was two floors down from the flat we lived in when Honor was born. My late father-in-law Joe Rovai was a staunch member of the American Italian Anti-Defamation League, and one of the most honest, clean-living men I’ve ever known. He spoke of his dapper uncle with emormous pride, and acted as his chauffeur, when he was eighteen, in that gorgeous Packard convertible to Ravinia and the Lyric Opera to treat the thoats of Caruso and Galli-Curci. Joe adored his impeccably tailored and generous uncle, and it’s taken his children awhile to get the real deal on his dude.
He was the doc to the Chicago mob. His daughter Anna married Frank Nitti, Capone’s capo.
And Joe never, ever mentioned the mob connection. Surely he knew about it? Was he just fed up with the idea that if you were Italian-American in the twenties and thirties and hailed from Chicago, you had to be mobbed up? The haughty Tuscan Rovais deplored this stuff, but Nonna’s Neapolitan relatives were pragmatic.
Joe spoke fondly and often of his across-the-alley dear friend Johnny D’Arco. They’d go to Sox games together, swim at the 12th Street Beach, and Johnny drove my mother-in-law to the hospital an hour before my husband was born. Could Joe really have been so loyal, so upright, so blind to not have known that his best boyhood buddy went to jail on crime charges? John D’Arco Sr., the immensely powerful First Ward Alderman. And Joe never, ever mentioned the mob connection. Surely he knew about it? Was he just fed up with the idea that if you were Italian-American in the twenties and thirties and hailed from Chicago, you had to be mobbed up? I found this tonight. http://www.suntimes.com/special_sections/crime/37614,cst-nws-mob23.article
I think Johnny D’Arco was one of Joe’s groomsmen, as well as the reason my husband wasn’t born at 1208 W. Lexington, but at Presbyterian-St. Lukes. It haunts me: Joe must have known, but from pride, loyalty and his own honesty he never let on.
I’ll air the McArthur/Moss laundry sometime soon.