My family has a very rich Italian heritage. Three of my grandparents were full blooded Italian, and one made his journey here to the States from Italy when he was nine years old. I was a very fortunate girl in many ways, one of which being that I had all four of my grandparents in my life, before losing one at age thirteen. In fact, I also had three great-grandparents, until I was seven, two of whom had also been born in Italy. Can you imagine the historical and cultural traditions I was able to embrace? Can you believe I never even tried to fling my arms around it? That's the country that's shaped like a boot, right? Is that where that almond nougat came from? Yum. I'll just have butter on my pasta, thanks. That was the extent of my geographical interest.
I had some bullet points, but never sought to develop the ideas. In my defense, the grandmother I spent a great deal of time with was the one non-Italian out of the bunch. I didn't realize until I was older that she was actually cooking authentic dishes she had learned from her mother-in-law. I didn't really see anything as ethnic per se in our world. A recent trip to a little Italian gourmet shop nearby opened my eyes to the possibility that many of "those things" I saw in various grandparents' kitchens weren't as random as I might have thought.
Buon Natale and Buon Pascale to you. There you have the extent of my Italian language skills. That really left 363 days a year that I didn't know what else to say in this beautiful language. I realize that I could go take classes, but that isn't what I long for. I regret not learning to say anything (useful) from the people in my life who actually spoke Italian.
My father and I never drove around in silence, in fact, we still don't. Back when I was too young to hold up a decent end of a conversation we sang...oh did we sing! There was rarely a radio in the car, so we built our own play lists. Here is where a little cultural flair was introduced. Now we didn't always have the correct words to whatever decade of hits we were belting out, but we sang loudly and proudly. Considering that we managed to miss the mark on a few of the English lyrics, I can only imagine how imprecise our Italian probably was. I am sure I could not separate out one single word, but ran it all together like small children do with lmno. We had a vague idea of the topic our chanting revolved around, but no actual word for word translation, and certainly nothing I could work into casual conversation. I googled a couple of my all time favorites, after having them rattle around in my head the other day. I have to admit, that I was completely overcome when I actually heard them being sung as I hit play. The crisp recording brought me right back to my passenger seat with such clarity. I grinned until my cheeks hurt, then laughed until tears ran down my face.
For your Italian lesson today, this song called is Eh Cumpari! It's basically a guy talking to his buddy about some instruments and what sounds they make, according to Wikipedia. I think we were under the impression it was a child talking to his music teacher. Anyways, we used to be so out of breath by the end!
Here is another, called Lazy Mary. I laughed so hard as I saw the actual words, with actual spaces between them. There was even a pronunciation key! Rest assured I will be printing that out for the next time my father and I are out driving around, with plenty of extra copies for whatever poor souls are with us.
My paternal grandfather's mother arrived in this country when she was thirty, and still was not speaking English on any sort of regular basis by the time she was in her eighties. Reports say that she spoke friendly English the first few times she met a person, but stopped after that. I would hear my grandfather talking to her in Italian, but do not recall ever asking him to teach me any of the words. I didn't realize that she understood English, since my child's mind did not comprehend that she had been here over fifty years, and had robably picked up a thing or two. My grandmother had decided that if my great-grandmother was going to refuse to speak English to them, that she and her children were not going to speak Italian to her. This was recent news to me. I guess thirty-five years ago I just thought that people either knew another language or they didn't, and you couldn't just learn...or ask. Although I thought I picked up a little something from my great-grandmother, as I called this woman Good-gooda Grandma...because she told me I was a gooda-gooda girl.
|My four grandparents standing, and Gooda-gooda Grandma holding me.|
|Can't leave out Ernest and Caroline, my other great-grandparents. I may be cute here, but they are adorable.|