Sunday, November 30, 2008

Tell Me a Story

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?


Stephen Parrish said...

I love this post. That window busting scene would work great on the big screen.

Penchant, not pension.

Now that I know you're Sicilian I'll be more respectful in the future.

Merry Monteleone said...

Penchant, not pension.

Fixed. Thanks, I have a bad habit of that - I have phrases in my spoken vocabulary that I've never (or rarely) seen written... you'd think I'd stop to look them up before posting them.

That's nothing, though. You should hear the way I mangle words that I've seen written but never heard in conversation!

That one would probably look good on the big screen... some of them work better when seen...

And you're respectful enough, Stephen... you're among my favorite people to blog with, but I'm betting I could outdrink you on the homemade wine.

moonrat said...

sooooo much of this is familiar... maybe it is for all the paisan ;)

Zoe Winters said...

When I was in high school, I had this massive crush on the preacher's son at my church. He was 4 years older than me, knew I had a crush, and played that hand.

He teased me quite a bit, one of those "look what you can't have" sorts of deals. Though I'm not sure if he realized he came off that way.

Once he came into youth service late and I was sitting on the back row. He walked by me, and touched my ear. That's hard to explain without sounding insane, but it was definitely the kind of touch only done between people who are romantically familiar with one another. Anything else is just cruel teasing. (This type of behavior had been going on for awhile. Tease with no payoff.)

So he went up and took his seat. The youth minister had a book he wanted us all to read one at a time and pass around. It was a normal sized trade paperback. One of those "be a light for Jesus" types of books.

I volunteered to read it first. I went up to get the book, and as I turned to go back to my seat, the pastor's son just smirked at me. I'd had enough, so I hauled back and hit him on the side of the face with the book.

Everyone in the room went "ooooooooh" as teens do. And well, he shouldn't have teased me when he knew I liked him and he wasn't willing to go there with me.

Zoe Winters said...

oh also, if that seems out of place, you asked for a story, haha. There's one. :D

spyscribbler said...

Wow, that's hilarious, LOL!

My step-grandparents are Sicilian. Adored them and their stories, but I don't remember many. They were an arranged marriage, and she told him she thought she could have done better. Even after fifty some years of marriage, LOL. :-)

Merry Monteleone said...

Hey Moonie,

That might be the reason I love your Aunda stories... :-)

Hi Zoe,

Yep, I asked for a story alright... remind me never to tease you and then hand you a weapon.

Hi Spyscribbler,

Heh, heh... I like your step grandma... did she happen to weild a wooden spoon?

Zoe Winters said...

bwahahahaha, okay. I THINK I'm less likely to just hit people with random objects now, though.

Ann Victor said...

What a wonderful warm post, so full of love!

I loved this: "...there’s very few people in this world to whom you belong." So very true!

Mary Witzl said...

Merry, I LOVE that window-breaking story, and lucky you to have that one in your family!

Am I a greaseball? My grandparents had a fig tree and so did my mother and father! (Cool -- I'm really kind of a wasp; can I be an HONORARY greaseball?)

Our family had a lot of stories too. One of my great-great (etc) grandfathers was half Iroquois. When he traveled, he liked to put on a top hat and pretend to be very rich; he'd buy a third-class ticket but go and mix with the first-class ticket holders and flatter himself that he was one of them. Pretty embarrassing really, but there it is.

Pamala Knight said...

What an excellent recollection of your grandparents. I too, was a spoiled granddaughter, though more of the spoiling came from my granddad. I thought my grandmother had been put on the earth to be the bane of my existence. No matter what mischief I had planned and was about to execute, she seemed to be right there, ready to spoil my fun.

But I miss them both, desperately to this day and your story brought back a little bit of that sparkle when I think of them.

Thanks for sharing.

Merry Monteleone said...

Hey Zoe,

Well, until you're SURE, I might only trust you with feathers and fuzzy kittens :-)

Hi Ann,

I like that line, too - grammatically incorrect though it is... thanks for stopping in - I'll be by to read your post soon, too.

Hi Mary!!!

How are you doing? All settled in and enjoying a new adventure I hope. And yes, I claim you an honorary greaseball... or as my Papa would say, "Greasa-da-boll"... and dub you with uncooked spagghetti and a splash of olive oil.

Pretty embarrassing really, but there it is.

Not embarrassing at all... your great-great grandfather just knew that real class has nothing to do with possessions... he was a man ahead of his time, I'd say.

Hi Pamela,

I'm so glad you enjoyed it, and that it brought back your grandparents... there is a joy in that relationship, seeing where your parents began and how your link fits in the chain... it becomes more poignant, I think, as you get older and add more links to the family line.

Okay, too funny, my word verification is:


We always had ours after the meal... and on the dinner plate... saves on washing and it all goes to the same place anyway.

laughingwolf said...

excellent tale, thx merry :)

Queen of the Road said...

Wonderful to reminisce like this, especially around the holidays.

Merry Monteleone said...

Hi laughingwolf and Queen of the Road,

I'm glad you enjoyed it, and thanks for stopping in :-)