Buongiorno, Angel. Come Stai?

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Grandma and Grandpa with their 3 sons.

My grandparent’s clung tightly to their Italian roots.  My grandfather was born in Italy, and 4 of my grandmother’s siblings were born there.  She and her youngest sister were born here.  As a matter of survival between home life and American life, they were both bilingual.

While raising their three sons, they wanted so badly to preserve their native language and pass it on to the next generation.  To support and promote this intent, no English was to be spoken at the dinner table.  Only Italian. I’m guessing that this strategy didn’t work so well because none of the boys became fluent in Italian.

Grandma continued her language lessons on the next generation by often speaking and singing songs to her grandchildren in Italian.  I have fond memories of waking up in her house while being serenaded by a beautiful woman standing in the bedroom doorway softly speaking this poetic romance language.  She’d say “Buongiorno, Angel.  Come Stai?”  And then she would translate:  “That means, Good morning, Angel.  How are you?”

I’d smile and think it was corny, but never failed to see her commitment and devotion to passing on something that was so important to her, and truly part of her soul.

In the evenings over savory Italian meals, Grandma would tell me stories about the family.  She would start off by saying “I’m going to tell you a story.  I’m first going to tell it in Italian, then in English.”  Being the restless non-Italian speaking youngster, I would roll my eyes (not outwardly, of course), and endure a whole story in Italian.  Aside from not understanding a word of it, I have to admit that I was always mesmerized by the rhythmical sing-song sounds coming from her smiling face.

One night, my brother and his friend, Brian were visiting her.  Brian speaks four languages fluently, including Italian, but Grandma didn’t know this.  During the course of the evening, chatting over the dinner table, Brian blurted out something in “proper” Italian, sending Grandma into a whirlwind.  She screamed, and lunged across the table at him, trying to kiss and hug him.  This secured Brian’s place in the family forever.  She never thought less of him than blood kin.

When visiting Grandma and Grandpa, we were often in the company of Grandpa’s cousins and friends, who were all from Italy.  The atmosphere would always be filled with gibberish that really looked like a structured visit.  Then, some of them would try to speak English to Grandpa Nap about us by saying things like “Nice-a girls-a Nap-a.”  Grandpa would smile at the compliment, and respond in Italian.

Since 2004, I’ve been to Italy 3 times.  I tried so hard to learn Italian to prepare for these trips.  I took four classes, and sadly was only ever able to speak Italian minimally.  I made it a point though, to learn some important things like “Dov e il Bagno?” (Where’s the bathroom?) which I used every time I arrived in an Italian airport.  And I recall vividly yelling: “Per l’amore di dio!” (For the love of God!) one night while 5 of us were stuffed in a tiny cab, while “Evil Knievel” sped through the narrow cobblestone streets of Rome to get us back to our hotel.  In a thick Italian accent, he replied “I am Mario Andretti!”  He seemed quite amused about our fearful reaction to the danger he exposed us to.

So now, in memory of my Grandparents, whenever I have a patient who’s Italian, I always ask: “Parli Italiano?”  (Do you speak Italian?)  The patients who do, light up like my Grandmother did that night Brian spoke “Proper Italian” to her.  I interject Italian words here and there during my visits with them, and never leave without saying “Buona Giornata” and “Arrivederci”– Have a good day.  Good Bye.

Ti amo, Nona.  Grazie per essere così grande che.

(I love you, Grandma.  Thank you for being so Great!)

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13 Responses to Buongiorno, Angel. Come Stai?

  1. Love the description. I’m right there with you!

  2. mafarckle says:

    Ti amo Little Angel Diane. Grati for your beautiful stories.  Love Ma F

  3. Raining Iguanas says:

    Diane, I read this earlier and couldn’t wait to get back and comment. This post was so familiar. My grandparents were Czechoslovakian. My grandfather worked on locomotives in Schenectady with hundreds of other immigrants. They all had to communicate so many of them could speak multiple languages. My grandfather would set me on his lap and say, “I sing you song. What you like, German, Slovak, Russian?” He would sing me songs in different languages as he sat at the kitchen table and sipped whiskey with my father. I can smell the whiskey and his Half and Half tobacco as I write this. Maybe not a treasured memory for some but for me it is and your story brought it to the surface. Thank you.

    • Diane Fiore says:

      John, Sounds like your Grandfather did what he had to do to survive. I can’t imagine what the immigrants had to go through. I know that I feel lucky to have been exposed to another culture than our American one. It was clearly different, that’s what I loved about it. Thanks for your visit! Hope to see you soon…

  4. Glynny says:

    Once again, you’ve touched my heart, dear Diane.
    Love you,
    Glynny

  5. bittygirl51 says:

    Diane, Loved this blog. You were so blessed to have this legacy. I recall two of my childhood friends when growing up that’s mother and grandmother being from Latvia. Their mother rode on their mother’s back as an infant while escaping communist Latvia. Their grandparents were my neighbors growing up and I recall before they (sisters) could come out and play they had to have their Latvian lesson every day. Grandma taught them their native tongue even tho they would probably never see Latvia.

    • Diane Fiore says:

      Linda, That’s quite a story. We really have no idea of the hardships people faced. I can see why the woman wanted to preserve the language. Was possibly the only safe thing they had left to remind them of “home.” Thanks for the story.

  6. Ann says:

    Being a first generation American,I could really relate to the story of your grandparents,Diane. I loved the part about your grandmother singing to you in Italian in the mornings! What a precious memory!

    • Diane Fiore says:

      Ann, Being a first generation American must have led to intense learning and preserving of your parents heritage while also trying to be an American. You must have nice memories of special stories of far-away lands.

  7. Ann says:

    It was challenging and rewarding,Diane. And yes,my Dad can recant tales of “The Old Country” ‘Til The Cows Come Home!

  8. Sheryl says:

    What beautiful memories! I feel certain that your grandmother would be proud of you when you interject words in Italian when speaking to patients who know the language.

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