Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Joy of growing-up Italian - 4

I can still remember my Grandfather telling me how he came to America as a young man "on a boat" which took 30 days to cross the Atlantic Ocean; how the family lived in a rented tenement, and took in boarders in order to make mends meet; how he decided he didn't want his children (four sons and three daughters) to grow up in that environment. All of this, of course, in his own version of Italian/English which I soon learned to understand quite well.

So, when my Grandfather saved enough money to buy a house, and I could never figure out how he bought it, that house served as family headquarters for the next forty years. I remember how he hated to leave it. He would rather sit on the back porch and watch the garden grow. And when he did leave it for some special occasion, he had to return as quickly as possible. After all, "nobody's watching the house". I also remember the Holidays when all the relatives would gather at my Grandfather's house and there'd be tables full of food and home-made wine and music. Women in the kitchen, men in the living room, and everywhere. I must have a half-million cousins: first, second, and some not even related, but that didn't matter. And my Grandfather...his pipe in his mouth and his fine moustache trimmed....would sit in the middle of it all, grinning his mischievous smile, his dark eyes twinkling, surveying his domain, proud of his family, and how well his children had done in life: one was a cop, one a fireman, one had his own trade, and (of course) there was always the rogue. The girls...they had all married well, had fine husbands and healthy children....and, most of all, everyone knew RESPECT. Grandfather had achieved his goal in coming to America, and to New Jersey. Now his children and their children were achieving the same goals that were available to them in this great country, because they were Americans.

When my Grandfather died years ago at the age of 76, things began to change. Slowly at first. But then Uncles and Aunts eventually began to cut down on their visits. Family gatherings were fewer and something seemed to be missing, although when we did get together, usually at my Mother' house now, I always had the feeling he was there somehow. It was understandable, of course. Everyone now had families of their own and grandchildren of their own. Today, they visit once or twice a year. Today, we meet at weddings and wakes.

Lots of other things have changed, too. The old house my Grandfather bought is now covered with aluminum siding, although my Uncle still lives there....and, of course, my Grandfather'sgarden is gone. The last of the home-made wine has long been drunk and, in the Fall, nobody covers the fig tree anymore. For a while, we would make the rounds on the holidays, visiting family. Now, we occasionally visit the cemetery. A lot of them are there: grandfathers, uncles, aunts, even my own Father and Mother.

The Holidays have changed, too. The great quantity of food we once consumed without ill-effects is no good for us anymore....too much starch, too much cholesterol, too much calories. And nobody bothers to bake anymore....too busy, and it's easier to buy it now, and anyway too much is not good for you. We meet at my hose now, at least my family does; but it's not the same.

The differences between US and THEM aren't as easily defined anymore, and I guess that's good. My Grandparents were Italian-Italians, my parents were Italian-Americans, my wife and I are American -Italians, and my children are American-Americans. Oh, I'm an American alright and proud of it, just as my Grandfather would want me to be. We are all Americans now: the Irish, German, Polish, and the Jews....U.S. citizens all. But, somehow, I still feel a little bit Italian. Call it culture, call it tradition, call it roots. I'm really not sure what it is! All I know is that my children have been cheated out of a wonderful piece of heritage. They never knew my GRANDFATHER. (The end)

I hope you enjoy reading this. I'll try posting my last version (2005) soon. Goodnight.

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