What it means to be a Sarti


January 11, 2002


            Edmund Sarti, Jr. called last night in response to a letter I had sent announcing my mother's death. I had taken his addressed out of my mother's telephone book, although as he noted, I had addressed the letter to his mother "Nan" -- a nick name for Anna.

            "My mother's been dead since 1985," he said.

            It was part of the legacy of the Sarti clan, my mother keeping names and numbers decades out of date, such as the address for Aunt Cora -- a woman my grandmother had met while working in New York City in 1926, and whom was also likely dead for decades.

            Edmund had received my other letters since 1997, when I started writing to announce the deaths of my mother's brothers, but had decided to call me this time.

            Edmund is among the last to maintain the Sarti name, and part of the insanity of tangle of relations which my mother and grandmother often spoke about.

            Edmond, Jr. is the son of my grandfather's brother, Edmond, Sr., the youngest sibling of his trunk of the Sarti family tree.

            At 58, Edmund is old enough to remember my uncles and aunts, although he said my mother was less clear to him than my Aunt Alice -- partly because during his formative years, my mother spent most of her time in a hospital, where as Alice, her brothers and my grand parents saw much of his side of the family. We were all much closer then, frequent guests at each others houses -- with me, remembered as the wild young animal tearing around my grandfather's boat yard.

            He told me about the death of his father in 1957, and how he saw the family scatter during the subsequent years -- especially after his mother and Edmund Sr.'s brother Henry gave up the hardware store in Garfield. My grandfather's death in 1966 severed connections more. Many people moved away, some just didn't see each other frequently.

            Edmund, however, not only maintained the Sarti name, but stayed in the same house he grew up in, he and his sister, Doris, inheriting it after his mother died in 1985. It was a house his father built a year before Edmund Jr.'s birth, and expanded after his father's death in 1957.

            "I remember you're uncle, Ritchie did the work," Edmund said. "He was quite a carpenter."

            Edmund also stayed in the same neighborhood. For a while, he operated his own body shop in West Paterson called "Sarti's" until he sold it in 1993, and then he started to work at a body shop on Crooks Avenue, Clifton -- three blocks from where I grew up with my grandfather.

            "I pass that house twice a day every day," he told me over the telephone, "going to work and coming home again."

            Bill Sarti -- who is the son of another branch of the Sarti clan, the son of my grandfather's brother, stopped into Edmund's body shop before leaving for Florida in the late 1980s. Edmund also got a call from some woman who claimed he was her sister -- a girl given up for adoption as a baby.

            "But that was a distant Sarti relation," Edmund said.

            Years earlier a young pregnant girl came into Edmund and Henry's hardware store in Garfield. She had seen the sign, and wanted to find Billy Sarti (my grandfather's Uncle) -- who she claimed was father to her baby. The boys wouldn't tell her where Billy was. They were afraid berth, Billy's wife, would get upset-- Bertha didn't know. Billy joined the army to avoid the baby, before born. It is possible this was the same girl returning to seek out the family.

            "I put her in touch with the right people," Edmund told me. "The person she was looking for was a cousin of my father."

            Edmund works now at an auto body shop he quit in 1975.

            "It used to be called Randy's Auto body," he said. "Randy was a friend of your uncle, Ritchie. He was a terrible man to work for. When he came back here he was in his 60s or 70s. He changed. He's now a mellow old man. He asked about Ritchie because he knew I was a Sarti. I told him Ritchie was dead."

            Edmund Jr. is closest in age to Ted, the youngest of my uncles, (he was born in 1943, a year earlier than Ted) and for a time, came to the boat store next to the old house when Ted still operated it.

            "I'm a boater," Edmund told me. "I still keep a boat docked down at Barnegat Bay."

            Ed had three children by his first marriage, then divorced and remarried to a woman with two kids.

            "We're a regular Brady Bunch," he said, noting that he has been married to his current wife for about 16 years. "My children have no kids, but her daughter has four-year old twins. My step son has a girl."

            Although Edmund has two sons, one is not married and the other who is has a wife who is disabled and not likely to have any kids. This means the Sarti name, which has narrowed to a single sibling in our clan, will likely end completely with his son's generation -- one more sad conclusion in our family history.

            Edmund -- like most of the males in the Sarti clan has been battling his weight. His father died of a heart attach at 48. My grandfather suffered several heart attacks before one killed him at age 65.

            "Two years ago, I was 300 pounds. I got it down to 225, but now I'm back up to 240," Edmund said. "I'm back on the diet trying to lose the weight I added."


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