A New Deal

Sam had drifted off to Chicago, where he changed his name from Dewey to Constantino and disappeared— totally cutting himself off from the family. Over the ensuing years, my grandparents heard vague rumors. But nothing definite. And there had never been any contact whatsoever.

I was staying with my grandparents when the call came through. However, they had me return to my mother’s flat before Sam’s arrival, two or three days later. I met him for the first and last time the following evening, when my mother and I were invited over to dinner.

No question about it, the two men were brothers. They inherited a striking resemblance. In a classy dark blue suit, Sam looked leaner than my grandfather. But both of them had the same full head of thick white hair. And both of them had deep-set eyes under bristling black eyebrows.

There was one meaningful difference, however. My mother and I sensed it right away. Sam’s deep-set gray eyes were cold and humorless. He looked at you with an icy, piercing stare. He had none of my grandfather’s robust sense of humor.

It was an awkward, uncomfortable dinner. There was little of the warmth that usually prevailed around our dinner table. Sam was surprisingly close-mouthed from beginning to end. He asked my mother and my grandparents a few pointed questions about their lives and the depression. He listened intently to their replies and to any other bits of conversation. That was about it.

He ignored me completely. That was no big deal to me. But later on, when it came time for my mother and me to say good night, I was definitely ready to go.

Sam stayed two days. My grandparents offered to show him a few of the sights around Portland, but he turned them down. He stayed inside the flat both days. Then, the following morning, he boarded a train and left town. Back to Chicago?

Later, my mother told me that he had left some money with my grandparents. How much? I don’t know.

In fact, I know nothing more about my grandfather’s enigmatic brother. Nothing. To this day, the full story of Sam Constantino remains a mystery. We never heard from him again.

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