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Family Circle: Accident Or Design?

Michael John Bellomo was the oldest son in a family of eight.

A Brooklyn boy who was six when the Great Depression struck, he would leave high school after 11th grade and become a decorated soldier, printer, husband, and father of seven.

Mike’s wife and mother of the seven – five girls and twin boys – was Nicolette, also from Brooklyn. Breast cancer took her life in 1983. Mike lived another 28 years and saw his offspring produce 19 grandchildren, including a grandson also taken by cancer.

When he died in 2011, Mike left a modest estate that was divided among his offspring. Later, someone discovered another small stash. Instead of splitting it, the siblings decided to invest in a week at the beach. The house, “Absolutely Stellar,” was palatial by most standards – certainly by Mike’s – 8,200 square feet on the water with a home theater, indoor and outdoor pools, and nine bedrooms. Though not his style, I know he would have liked that everyone was together.

My wife is the middle sister in this clan, which has grown considerably since we married nearly 33 years ago.

Driving toward the shore, I wondered if a week at the beach would be, well, a week at the beach. Living in the same house is different than four hours of Thanksgiving or a family barbecue.

As one of our first group activities, I proposed that we rename the house “Mike’s Place” in honor of our benefactor. Naming houses is a local tradition where we stayed, and there’s a wide range in creativity, everything from the mundane “Island Paradise” to the more provocative “Promise Kept” and “Aquadesiac.”

Other names proposed for our house included “Drop Trou,” and “Why Can’t We All Get Along?” Hmmm, would it be too bad that “Ocean Commotion” was already taken? What would beach week reveal about relatives who have known each other for decades?

Nothing too startling. Despite a range of personalities, habits and preferences, everyone fell into an easy rhythm.

Some rode waves, some walked the shore. Some played cards, some worked on puzzles, some biked, and some did yoga. There was a spike in local beer and wine sales. One uncle who fell asleep on the couch woke up with plum toenails. Most nights, someone known for a special dish took charge of dinner. Everyone helped clean. Everyone also read, everything from biographies of Malcolm X to novels set in Thailand. We compared notes on parenting, investing, and aging. One in our clan was a golfer and carted us to a driving range for free lessons.

Through it all, I thought of Mike, and the many forces that conspired to shape his life and ultimately bring us all together. Some version of this story occurs in all families, yet it is fascinating that seemingly random events occur and take root, drawing a rough outline of what will become the future. I think many of us wonder at some level if is indeed random or part of something bigger. But let’s not get too far afield.

Mike was a “floor boy” at Direct Pleating and Stitching Co. in New York City when he left high school in 1941.

He was inducted in January 1943 and spent 28 months in the European Theatre as a medical technician before separating from the military on Nov. 9, 1945.

There are faded black and white photos of him and a girlish Nicolette playing tennis with wooden rackets, canoeing, and dancing. She is lovely; he, handsome, a 5-9, 185-pounder with wavy dark hair and a look that says that says, bring it on, whatever struggles may come, things couldn’t be better. How right he was.

Read more posts by Steve Piacente, a former print journalist and correspondent. Steve is a blogger for JenningsWire.