War stories penetrate a family gathering

The knife “broke skin” and went about an inch in to my back.

I felt the pain all the way to the emergency room, believing the knife still lodged there. I could not tell . . . I dare not turn to try to see or touch it.

My brother, Johnny Contos, threw the knife when he thought I cursed at mom. “It was a butter knife” he recalls decades later. “And it fell out before you left the house.”

Never thought of the incident as a big deal. Neither did he. I remember hearing stories about pop, Achilles Contoveros, who had a similar temper and cut a guy when he felt someone had disrespected mom. He worked as a cook and she, a waitress, had been visiting, when some guy got fresh with her, according to the story. Next thing you know, pop stabbed the guy in his hand with one of those long carving forks. Not sure if both prongs went through the hand.

Unsure if my dad lost his job over the incident. But it was no big deal. Mostly hushed up when someone tried to bring it up at dinner table later.

The knife incident occurred on a holiday when Jimmy Soss, one of my best friends growing up and two years older than me, had called and invited me to a picnic. Got excited at age 12 or 13. Jimmy was cool, in the same grade as Johnny, but he accepted me more as a peer than my brother did. Johnny had to “watch” me sometimes, and I didn’t like him exerting authority over me. (Had a dream several months ago . . . saw myself looking up from a hole . . .  my brother poked me with a long stick . . . I begged him to stop . . . he wouldn’t . . . not until I got out of the hole . . . grabbed the stick and ran after him wanting to kill him with multiple blows to the head. Woke up and finally understood our relationship as siblings.)

Mom said I couldn’t go. That I had to stay at home in our Brewerytown, North Philadelphia, row house. I took a fit, particularly, when she told me to “Read your book.”

Book Fook,” I said, rhyming as much as I could, staying a good centimeter away from crossing the line of disrespect. Never did curse mom or pop. Ever.

Johnny was eating breakfast, probably bacon and eggs along with buttered toast. “Don’t you curse at my mother,” he said with an angry voice, and threatening tone that I still fear today on recalling it from the 60s.

He threw the breakfast knife and it went into my back as I turned to ward off the throw. It penetrated, going into the lower portion where I wear the scar and I cried, not fully understanding what had happened. “I got a knife in me back,” went through my mind, as I thought of the Disney movie “Treasure Island” and young Master Hawkins dealing with the likes of Long John Silver’s scallywags.

Made no sense. Except it allowed me to escape any thoughts of death. “. . . got a knife in me back . . .” was all in play, part of an adventure, an imaginative mind over matter trick that kept me from . . . I don’t know . . . going into shock . . . or wanting to retaliate.

Was treated and released from the hospital. Johnny doesn’t like it when I bring up the story. But it’s all part of our “colorful” background. And makes for a war story of sorts to tell at family gatherings. I told you I came from a tough neighborhood. It all started at home.

9 comments on “War stories penetrate a family gathering

  1. Sarah says:

    This is very insightful to a sad family story –


  2. Helen T says:

    Hot boys!
    A similar accident happened with me when I was about 6 years old. My grandma brought me to her aunt’s grandchildren. I saw them for the first time, and they we older than me.
    There was the oldest boy Evgeny. He was about 14. I took his matches box without permission. He became so angry and began to strangle me.
    By the way, we are lucky survivors!


    • contoveros says:

      You’re lucky he didn’t “strike up” a conversation with you playing Joan of Arc for him!

      We are lucky, Helen T. Were we under the protection of the Universe to survive for some purpose later in life? I like to think so . . .

      michael j


  3. There were six kids in our family. How none of ever died is beyond me. 🙂

    Great story!


    • contoveros says:

      Never saw the Ozzie and Harriet Nelson family get into scraps like we did. The Partridge family offered nothing I could relate to while growing up.

      Wolf. When is somebody going to depict the “hard knocks” we actually faced with emotionally-charged parents and siblings?

      Maybe, in the World of Blogs?

      michael j


  4. tobeme says:

    War stories indeed. Not everyone can say they were knifed in the back by their brother at least not literally. Thanks for sharing that the streets of Philadelphia were tough, however it was the kitchen that you really needed to worry about.


    • contoveros says:

      Some of Life’s lessons are learned the hard way. Still pondering the message I should take from this kitchen instruction offered in the City of Brotherly Love.


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