DETERMINED. CARING. LOVING
I grew up in Hollywood, North Hollywood to be specific, and I always felt as if I didn’t belong. Both my brother and I were very much on our own. Our parents a BIG part of music culture in Hollywood.
The father I knew to be my father was Art Anton. He was a drummer who played with Vic Damone and people like Johnny Mathis. My mother, Ruth Anton, had been an exotic dancer who had lived with Dennis Hopper & Lenny Bruce to name a few.
I never had a good relationship with my mother for some unknown reason. She was very glamorous and I made her angry every time she saw me. I remember trying to win her approval as a young girl. By age 14 I decided it didn’t matter anymore. The day I turned 18, I moved out. I lived with the man I married. He was about 15 years older than me. We married when I was 23 and we had two children together. I divorced him when I was 30. I went on to raise my children with a lot of love.
In early 2018 my daughter Roxanne called me and said Mom, “Why am I 17% Italian?” Her father was a Russian Ashkenazi Jew. Mind you, I had grown up thinking I was a Russian Ashkenazi Jew too with whatever my mother was—as far as we know she is of Volga German descent. I said, “I don’t know.” So she bought me one of the tests.
I had it on my night table for about a year. I just had a funny feeling. When I sent it in, they said it was inconclusive. I was fine with that.
In September of 2018. Roxanne discovered that it was impossible for Art Anton to be my biological father. Art had zero Italian in his ethnicity and we all knew my mother was not Italian. And Roxanne had 17% Italian so she had me do the test again and this time she helped me get it done right. When it came back, it showed I was 53% Italian and my father was Lou Pagani. Roxanne then traced it all the way back to Sezze, Italy and many generations of “Paganis.” She reached out to one of the cousins and the resemblance was remarkable.
I refused to believe the test results were true. In fact, I had a lot of mini meltdowns. A towel rack broke in my bathroom and I was on the floor crying because I was a “daddy’s girl.” I loved my father. He died in my arms. Now he wasn’t my father, biologically speaking. This revelation was crushing.
Eventually, I decided to reach out and meet the cousins in Cleveland, Ohio. I flew there with my significant other and we met them. For the first time, I looked like family. I was welcomed with open arms. We spent time together, cooked together. And now we bake “Aunt Tressa’s” biscotti recipe all the time.
My mother has been bedridden in a convalescent home with brain damage since 2009. I have no way to discuss this with her. I did talk to some of her oldest living friends and found out she was rather loose. I must have been conceived around her birthday in May of 1960 because I was born in February 1961. At that time, I believe my dad Art was playing with the Baja Marimba band.
Musicians were always at our house. We’d always have some sort of something to feed them and there were instruments everywhere in our house. When Art was home, there were jam sessions and parties. Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass was just coming on the scene making great music. Lou Pagani lived in Toluca Lake and Ruth lived in North Hollywood within blocks of each other. Lou was Herb Alpert’s pianist then and for years to come.
I have been welcomed by my Pagani family and I’m grateful. It seems that a lot of questions I had as a child, a young woman, and an older woman have been answered. I recently spoke with Angela, one of my newfound cousins and she said, “Oh, you’re older than me.” And I said, “Only until August.” We have a very good relationship. We facetime a bit.
Sometimes a moment will hit you and you have to follow the thought. Sometimes it all makes sense and sometimes it doesn’t. My older brother, now half-brother refuses to accept this. He has sent pictures and made post-it notes aggressively saying this is your family. Since we had never had a great relationship either, I thought he would be happy I was “less” related to him.
I can only say, from my point of view, I am grateful for my two dads. Art was there for me and always encouraged my foray into the creative world. He died peacefully in my arms in 2003 and it took quite a few years to get over that. I don’t know if he knew anything, but he never showed it. It took three people to give me this life and I am grateful.
In the meantime, my daughter has discovered so much. She found information I never knew about my parents – Art and Ruth divorced in 1975 though lived as if married until his death. She’s also found information about the Paganis too: immigration records, birth certificates, death certificates, and the research is still ongoing.
I have always been asked if I was Italian, imagine my surprise.