Finding Out That You’re Descended From a Fredo - OZY | A Modern Media Company
John Cazale as Fredo Corleone in "The Godfather: Part II"
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WHY YOU SHOULD CARE

Because all that glitters may not be good enough to buy groceries.

By Alexei Auld

You take what I give you.  

That was the Boston motto. 

Bostons weren’t joiners. Bostons had the reputation of always fighting and being territorial. Bostons never did what other people were doing.   

During Jim Crow in Virginia, my grandfather never sat in the back of the bus. It spooked my grandmother, a teenage girl in a marriage arranged by her mother, who came from one of the largest dairy farms in Virginia.

“This is the man you are going to marry. A Boston. From a good family.”

My mother would follow the family tradition of buying me Boston cream pies. Boston baked beans. Even visiting Boston Market.

“Don’t forget your name and who you are. A Boston.” 

Fredo thought he could handle things. Fredo thought he was smart, not dumb like everybody said. Fredo wanted respect. 

I knew we were whalers. But I didn’t know what that really meant until I went to where it all began: Nantucket.

Turns out that from 1770 to 1845, the Nantucket Bostons raised hell.

See, the Bostons got rich by successfully suing a White master for freedom and unpaid wages. Add to that having one of the first interracial marriages with Wampanoags, mixing indigenous whaling knowledge to lead the first all-Black whaling crew on a voyage with its entire crew intact, hosting Frederick Douglass’ first public speech against slavery and integrating public schools. 

So that Boston motto, You take what I give you, with all its resplendent arrogance, made sense with each historic stop: Our restored family home in Nantucket next to the African meeting house where they were trustees; portraits in the whaling museum; mentions of Melville and Moby-Dick; and gasps of awe from historians that a prodigal son from an island family with riches that mysteriously fled had returned. 

“Family with riches?”

The public school wasn’t integrated because of goodwill.  

“It was Boston wealth.” 

Boston wealth

When Absalom Boston’s daughter came of age, he decided to push back and integrate the public schools 100 years before Brown v. Board of Education because he had enough money to outspend the Nantucket municipal government in litigation. They knew that. They blinked.

Like the United States winning the Cold War, but with Absalom Boston as Ronald Reagan, the racist Nantucket municipal government as Mikhail Gorbachev and legal fees as the nukes. And America — I mean Absalom — beat those racist commies. With inflation being what it was, Absalom’s 19th-century legal fees could’ve bought some 20th-century nukes. And the leftovers, with inflation and compound interest, could easily pay for my kids’ college tuition, if those promises of free college from Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren don’t work out.  

Boston wealth!  

Georgia Mills Boston, Liza Boston and William Harvey Boston…The Bostons!

I liked the sound of that.  

But my Boston granddad was broke. 

My mother grew up broke. 

All I inherited was a middle name, “Boston.” Just like my brothers. And my oldest daughter is named after one of our family whaling ships. Was that all I had to show for this “Boston wealth”? 

Where was my Boston wealth? 

You take what I give you.  

How could I take what wasn’t given to me? 

I mean, I had the blood, why didn’t I have the money? If I had the money, I could do things.  

I went on another house tour. A house bigger than the last. Across the street stood three even bigger mansions for the owner’s sons. The historians asked about our interest in Nantucket. 

“My family is from here. The Bostons.” 

Their eyes lit up.  

The Bostons. Whaling. Wealth. 

They wanted to know where we went.  

I wanted to know where my money went. 

So I did what any self-respecting son would do. 

I called my mama.  

She wanted to talk about anybody but that original Boston who left Nantucket and arrived in D.C. 

“We don’t talk about him, Alexei. Nobody does.” 

I laughed. “Like Voldemort?” 

“Worse.” Then she muttered something about him being afraid of something. 

“Afraid of what, Ma?” 

“Excuse me?” 

“You said he was ‘afraid o—,’ then the line cut out.” 

“I said,” she exaggeratedly enunciated, “‘a Fredo.’ A Fredo. The Godfather?” 

“You mean he was Mafia?” 

“I mean a Fredo. As in a son who is dumb. Worthless. A son who is a ne’er-do-well, Son.” 

My laughter stopped. “A Fredo, Ma?” 

“Like I said. We don’t talk about him. Nobody does.” 

Mamma mia. 

Fredo. The older brother who was stepped over, because that’s the way Dad wanted it.  

But Fredo didn’t. Fredo thought he could handle things. Fredo thought he was smart, not dumb like everybody said. Fredo wanted respect. 

Rush Limbaugh called Chris Cuomo, brother of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and son of the famed New York political dynasty, “Fredo.” Despite Chris Cuomo making bank with his own CNN show, he lost his mind when a Rush fan trolled him: 

“Hey, Fredo, can I get a photo?” 

“My name is Chris Cuomo. I’m an anchor on CNN. Fredo is from The Godfather. He was the weak brother. And they use it as an Italian aspersion … it’s like the N-word for us.” 

I already had the N-word. What I never had before was being a broke-ass child of Fredo. 

And it hurt me to my core.  

I finally understood Chris Cuomo’s pain. With all his money, clout and celebrity, the specter of Fredo haunted him.  

I also understood why none of the Bostons, who were descended from a family of wealthy whalers — a family of excellence that overcame tremendous odds in a hostile world to make something great — ever made the three-hour pilgrimage to Nantucket.  

All this time, I thought it was fear of flying. 

In reality, it was fear of Fredo. 

Our restored family home in Nantucket next to the African meeting house where they were trustees. 

Portraits in the whaling museum.  

Mentions of Melville and Moby-Dick.  

Gasps of awe from historians that a prodigal son from a family with riches that mysteriously fled had returned. 

At the end of the day, despite all that Boston wealth. 

My Boston grandad was broke. 

My mother grew up broke. 

You take what I give you.  

All I inherited was a middle name, “Boston.” Just like my brothers. 

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