The last time I slept in the house in New Jersey was the night before my grandmother's funeral. The hush that hovered throughout the house, that hush which is the sound of unknowable loss, was the first thing that struck me as I followed my cousins and my father through the back door and into the kitchen. You have to understand, this was never a silent house. In the more than twenty years that my family occupied it, it was a kaleidoscope of sound: two hard-of hearing grandparents shouting to and at each other in English and Calabrese; at least one television blaring at full volume; my two cousins' stereos in two different parts of the house, one blasting Elton John and the other deep-Mississippi blues; my aunt's oldies radio station ringing out Motown hits; a couple of years of my father and stepmother arguing before their marriage ended; me singing songs to myself upstairs in the bathtub . . . and the most pervasive sound of all, laughter. More than anything, even our common (and uncommon) blood, laughter was the thing that made us a family and literally kept the house from falling apart.