Sunday, February 6, 2011

Viva Italia

Actual photo of Bill's family in Licata, Sicily circa 1950
When I was first dating Bill I had a bit of an issue: he was Italian. I know, I know - what a bigot!  But, 25 years ago I thought it was a fairly significant factor to consider - since he was a potential spouse.  And, up until then, my dates were pretty much exclusively WASPs. Ok, there was one Catholic in there, but he was non-practicing.

I didn't go out of my way to discriminate... it was the pool within which I was dating. I  was from a small town in north-central Ontario, for crying out loud. Once I moved to Buffalo the pool waters got much deeper, so to speak.

After a few weeks with Bill, the whole Italian thing turned out to be a non-issue (obviously). And, since he hadn't been inside a church since the Johnson administration, the Catholicsm thing didn't matter either.  So, we were good... until I met his parents.

It wasn't so much the Italian part that was an issue, because they were far from the  typical Italian- Americans I had envisioned. It was the noise. And by noise, I mean the decibel level of their conversations. Put Antionette (or Billy as she was more affectionaley called), Frank and Bill in a room and the place could go supersonic.

If you weren't following the conversation, or were in another room, or down the would swear that they were arguing about an earth-shattering matter. But, if you cared to listen in (and it wasn't hard) you would find that they were talking about mundane things. This! This would be the hardest part of marrying an Italian, I thought.

The family that I came from is much more quiet. In public, we try to be unobtrusive. We do not raise our voices unless the situation calls for it. Yelling was for the barn when you couldn't hear above the tractor.

Years later, we visited Bill's relatives in Sicily. I braced myself. We went once alone and then, a few years later, we took the kids. I don't remember anyone speaking loudly.  Not even once. What I do remember is a unbelievably warm welcome with a lot of food and laughter and open arms and more food. It hit me in Agrigento just a few miles west of Licata, home of Bill's cousins.  After we had travelled all the way from Venice to Palermo and I had seen the beauty of the country, marvelled at the art, architecture, history and incredible intelligence of the Italian people I thought: How LUCKY that my kids are half Italian! 

Even a WASP can listen and learn.

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