Tell me a story
Tell me a story....
Tell me a story,
Remember what you said:
You promised me,
You said you would,
You gotta give in,
So I’ll be good,
Tell me a story...
And then I’ll go to bed!
My parents used to sing that song to me when I was a wee little ragamuffin... and I sang it to my kids when they were little... I still break into it on occasion. Moonrat’s challenge to share a story for the National Day of Listening brought this song back to mind... along with a lot of spoken stories.
My family is full of story tellers, though most of our stories become even better, and less recognizable, through re-telling. Picking just one, seemed near impossible, so get ready for a long ramble:
My grandmother was a picker. She could spot lint on the carpet from five yards away, and she’d go over and pick it up, shaking her head. When we came in for family parties and holidays, I went straight over to my grandmother first. She was the first person I had to say hello to, or she’d get offended. I’d sit next to her and she’d stick her bony little finger in my ear to make sure I’d cleaned them right – I hated that... but she was a picker. It’s what she did. Once she got Alzheimer’s, she spoke to me solely in Italian – which I didn’t understand... before that it was a mix between Italian and English, which was a little easier for me. I remember nodding my head and smiling, because I didn’t want to hurt her feelings and tell her I didn’t speak Italian.
I was named after my Grandmother, though my mother changed the spelling and gave me a different middle name. My name was supposed to be Marie Antoinette – though Mary would have been okay, as that’s what my Grandmother’s name was changed to in this country... she was born in Sicily, as was my father – she brought him over when he was an infant. Funny, I knew exactly when my aunt started making out my birthday or holiday cards – she spelled my name correctly. My grandmother never would. She spelled it like hers and said, “She’s named after me – I know how to spell my own name!” It was her way of claiming ownership, which is the highest of compliments. I hate it when people misspell my name normally, but I miss it from her – there’s very few people in this world to whom you belong.
My dad just turned forty nine when they had me. He started his family late, and all of my cousins were adults or close to it by the time my brothers and I came along. My Grandma and Papa celebrated their fiftieth wedding anniversary right around the time I was born.
So my memory of them is tainted by their age. I didn’t get the full impact of their vigor, and I feel slightly cheated because of it... I did get some of the stories.
Papa died when I was in second grade, but my dad hadn’t let me go see him for the last year or so of his life. He had lung cancer, which emaciated him and my father didn’t want me to remember him that way. After my father’s death, my uncle let me look through all of the photos they had from my grandparents’ house to make some copies and take some... it was the first time I’d seen a photo of Papa sick. I’m glad my dad didn’t let me go see him... he was right, I wouldn’t have remembered past the stark illness.
What I remember is Papa’s wide smile and broken English. I read one of those joke things once, “you know you’re a grease ball if...” one of the things was, “Your father or grandfather had a fig tree”. I’m a grease ball. Papa loved his garden. It was the big dream to have a house of your own, and he worked really hard to get there. My grandparents got their first house after all of their kids were grown. My father grew up in apartments, during the depression.
Grandma wore a house dress (remember those?) and usually a sweater, as she was always cold. I remember her plastic covered front room – every couch, chair, and lamp shade was covered. And there was a plastic runner that went from one end of the room all the way to the front door. We used to try to knock each other off the runner – knowing that whoever touched the carpet would get yelled at... is was more fun to annoy Grandma than Papa... Papa could whip off his belt while running to catch you... in his seventies.
From my grandmother, I got thick, wavy black hair (but hers was white by the time I knew her) and a penchant for ball busting. Though she really only messed with Papa, and those stories are some of my favorites.
Papa used to like to go to the track – it was a treat for him and something he looked forward to. One day, he was putting on his hat to go, when Grandma stopped him and said he had to clean the windows. Okay, he took off his hat, got out the ladder, and took all of the storm windows off the house – lining them up against the fence in the yard. He cleaned each window front and back.
Just as he was picking up the first window, to put back on the house, Grandma came outside. She walked up and down the line of windows and said, “Spot, spot, spot... streak, streak, streak... these are no good. Do it again.”
Papa took a deep breath, and swore under it repeatedly. But he cleaned the windows all over again.
Just as he put away the supplies, ready to hang the windows, out comes Grandma.
“Spot, spot, spot... No good, they filthy!” She said.
Papa went into the garage and came back out with a mallet. He busted every single window on the fence.
Out of breath and red faced, he nodded his head once and said, “There! Now can you see through them?”
Then he stuffed his hat on his head and went to the track.
This post is longer than most of mine already... so I’ll end with just the one story. Maybe we’ll revisit on another day. How about you guys? Have any good stories to share?