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The Right Cheek

September 27, 2022

The right cheek… Mine has been tweaked more than just a little.

Through the decades (Ten year intervals for you millennials), my right cheek has been grasped and shaken by numerous people. I am still here to tell the tale. Let me elaborate.

When I was just a kid, my grandmother (nonna) used to grab my cheek and say, “Buon ragazzo – you’re a gooda boy!” That’s what Tyrolean grandmothers did back in the day. It was a term of endearment. It was praise by cheek tweaking. I didn’t really know any better so I just accepted it. I was pleased to be praised, although ragazzo sounded like a spaghetti sauce to me at the time.

My other grandmother (mother’s side) used to do the same thing sans the Tyrolean-Italian accent. She liked me immensely and showed it by grasping my right cheek. My efforts in pleasing her were always rewarded in the same flesh grabbing manner. By the age of eight, I was feeling a little bruised but no worse for the wear. I knew that grandmothers were that way and I was okay with it. No harm, no foul save little finger fulls of flesh.

My parents spared me the rod and the cheek. I don’t recall either grabbing or pulling on my face. They had faith in me and believed rightly that I did not need cheek tweaking. I love them still for this simple act of restraint. They believed that der Geist ist willig, aber das Fleisch ist schwach (the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak). I have always appreciated that. My handsome face still does as well.

As I grew up, the right cheek went intermittently unscathed for many years until I was in college. Then the assault resumed. My German teacher took a special interest in me, probably because I was bilingual to start with. She was a large German frau who probably could have played professional football for the Steelers. Again with the hand! She felt that I worked too hard in my studies. (I did!) “Du solltest heiraten und dich niederlassen.” (You should get married and settle down.) She pinched that right cheek so many times with that same phrase that I finally took her advice in desperation and  went off blindly to ask a young girlfriend to marry me. On the way to her workplace, I was told by a friend that she had died of a drug overdose that same day. I pinched my own right cheek hard and cried into the night. Forty years later I learned that the story was just a ruse by a jealous friend and that my old girlfriend was just fine. I retro-filed that one under “super bummer” and moved on.

I went through a sort of cheek hiatus for many years after college. Only occasionally would a date’s mother or female co-worker grab it for dramatic effect. It usually didn’t work. I had acquired a certain amount of cheek immunity. The right cheek healed from years of abuse and I was for many years feeling cheeky. (Can’t believe I threw that in!) The whole tweaking thing was behind me or so I thought.

Married for the second time nearly four decades ago (millennials note: that’s 40 years), I was cheekless in Seattle for many years. (Again, sorry! It was actually Eugene, Oregon.) Then of course, my lovely wife began to grab my right cheek and say things like, “Oh, you poor thing!” I admit I deserved it as I was whining about some trivial transgression from one of society’s dumb masses. Besides she kind of liked the whole pound of flesh idea. It comes with marriage, right? I have now come full circle in life’s great right cheek firmament. Currently I occasionally pull my own cheek just to see if my old skin will still return to its proper place. (👍 It does!)

Now as I approach super-geezerdom, I wonder if when I am gone someone will lean into my face and grab that same cheek one last time? What will be the words? I hope they are, “Una buona vita, ragazzo!”

Note: The photo is of mini-me circa 1952 and my nonna Anna Maria Flor Rizzi.

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  1. This is really a sweet story minus the joke about the girlfriend. I got a kick out of cheek less in Seattle. Reminded me of sleepless in Seattle. Great write! Tim reblogged this. He is a really nice guy. Big hugs, Joni

    Liked by 1 person

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