True story: At home in Kentucky a few years ago, I accompanied my mother to pick up my nephew’s birthday cake. In its window, the bakery displayed a cake in the shape of a horse’s head. That’s funny, I thought. If I was having a Godfather-themed party, I’d just have a cake made with the logo. In fact, there was no Godfather viewing party; the cake was meant for a Kentucky Derby party.
There was a time I wanted nothing more than to leave Kentucky. Now, in the words of Albert “Happy” Chandler, Sr., I’m one of those Kentuckians who is “either thinking about going home or actually going home.” As much as I obsess about Kentucky, it wasn’t until days later that I made the connection between that cake in the window and the “greatest two minutes in sports.”
The Godfather feels like home to me because it is beloved by my father and his brothers. After years of knowing Mario Puzo‘s classic via Francis Ford Coppola, I picked up the novel for the first time last week. What a relief. I don’t know if I was always too distracted by the movie magic to fully grasp the characters and plot, but I never made it through a viewing without constant questions. Finally, thanks to words on pages, I think I’ve finally mastered the Godfather.
As a consequence of this mastery, I experienced a startling revelation: I grew up with the Godfather, no italics. My dad doesn’t just love the Godfather, he is the Godfather… you know, minus the murder and the olive oil. Puzo makes clear by telling us (see above) and by showing us, as in the opening scenes at Connie’s wedding, that, above all, Don Corleone is a listener. He never tells everything he knows, he never responds rashly. He plays the long game. I thought my dad inherited these qualities from my grandmother; maybe he did. Perhaps it’s only a coincidence that the precepts by which my dad lives happen to be those that ensured the dominance of the Godfather. Or perhaps Puzo’s first draft was called The Grandmother, and it was about a tough little lady in Kentucky. I’d celebrate that with a cake.