DOMINICK & PEPPINO

For this week’s challenge on Song Lyric Sunday we’ve been asked to go with novelty songs. I wanted to select two songs that I think some of us more mature bloggers may know, especially those of us of Italian descent.

The first song is “Dominick the Donkey” sung by Lou Monte, a funny sing-along Christmas record first recorded in 1960. It was brought to modern audiences in 2011, especially in the UK where Chris Moyles gave it regular play on his BBC Radio 1 breakfast show. In the run-up to Christmas of that year, the song reached #3 in the Christmas 2011 UK singles chart. Though “Dominic the Donkey” reached #3 in the UK, it never charted in the US.

Three years later, Lou Monte saw success with “Peppino, the Italian Mouse” another novelty song which peaked at #5 in the US. It had entered the Billboard Hot Top 100 Chart on December 2, 1962 and spent 10 weeks on the Top 100.

Here for your enjoyment are both songs.

Hey! Chingedy ching,
(hee-haw, hee-haw)
It’s Dominick the donkey.
Chingedy ching,
(hee-haw, hee-haw)
The Italian Christmas donkey.
(la la la-la la-la la la la la)
(la la la-la la-la la-ee-oh-da)


Santa’s got a little friend,
His name is Dominick.
The cutest little donkey,
You never see him kick.
When Santa visits his paisons,
With Dominick he’ll be.
Because the reindeer cannot,
Climb the hills of Italy.


Hey! Chingedy ching,
(hee-haw, hee-haw)
It’s Dominick the donkey.
Chingedy ching,
(hee-haw, hee-haw)
The Italian Christmas donkey.
(la la la-la la-la la la la la)
(la la la-la la-la la-ee-oh-da)


Jingle bells around his feet,
And presents on the sled.
Hey! Look at the mayor’s derby,
On top of Dominick’s head.
A pair of shoes for Louie,
And a dress for Josephine.
The labels on the inside says,
They’re made in Brooklyn.


Hey! Chingedy ching,
(hee-haw, hee-haw)
It’s Dominick the donkey.
Chingedy ching,
(hee-haw, hee-haw)
The Italian Christmas donkey.
(la la la-la la-la la la la la)
(la la la-la la-la la-ee-oh-da)


Children sing, and clap their hands,
And Dominick starts to dance.
They talk Italian to him,
And he even understands.

Cumpare sing,
Cumpare su,
And dance ‘sta tarantel.
When jusamagora comes to town,
And brings do ciuccianello.


Hey! Chingedy ching,
(hee-haw, hee-haw)
It’s Dominick the donkey.
Chingedy ching,
(hee-haw, hee-haw)
The Italian Christmas donkey.
(la la la-la la-la la la la la)
(la la la-la la-la la-ee-oh-da)

Hey! Dominick

Writer/s: Ray Allen, Sam Saltzberg, Wandra Merrell 
Publisher: Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC
Lyrics licensed and provided 
by LyricFind

Pepino, oh, you little mouse, oh, won’t you go away
Find yourself another house to run around and play
You scare my girl, you eat my cheese, you even drink my wine
I try so hard to catch you but you trick me all the time

Cesta no surecillo a basoccella dinda mur
Ogna sere quella esce quanda casa scura
Endo dindo la cucina balla sulasu
A parrano malandrino pura un gabo sapaur

Pepino suracill ana parta scubari
Managa suracill a casa ma dai
Stasira da cucina nu poco di vino ci au lasciar
A quando si briaggo a Pepino giong apa

The other night, I called my girl
I asked her could we meet
I said, “Let’s go to my house
We could have a bite to eat”

And as we walked in through the door
She screamed at what she saw
There was little Pepino
Doin’ the cha, cha on the floor

Pepino suracill ana parta scubari
Managa suracill a casa ma dai
Stasira da cucina nu poco di vino ci au lasciar
A quando si briaggo a Pepino giong apa

Quella non ci piace u formaggio American
Quella va trova no poca Parmesan
La fatto ghiata ghiat gusto ena cor
Quando cella camina para probino caladur

Pepino suracill ana parta scubari
Managa suracill a casa ma dai
Stasira da cucina nu poco di vino ci au lasciar
A quando si briaggo a Pepino giong apa

Source: LyricFind

Songwriters: Ray Allen / Wandra Merrell

Pepino The Italian Mouse lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

NAR © 2022

TWO DAYS TO WAIT

She sat at her indestructible Singer factory sewing machine, hands flying like an octopus knitting a scarf.  

I peeked around the corner into her sewing room. Without lifting her head, she sensed my presence. “What is it, principessa?” she asked.

“Can we go to Post Arrow?” The little family diner with a few kiddie rides was one of my favorite places to go. We’d get pastrami sandwiches, fries and ride the bumper cars, Ferris wheel and carousel – heaven on earth for an 8-year-old kid.

Without missing a stitch, my mother replied “Cara, can’t you see how much work I have left to do? Besides, dinner is already in the oven.”

I stood on the threshold saying nothing. My mother knew I was there but kept sewing at warp speed. When she looked up, she saw my red, swollen eyes and tear-stained face. Her usual stern expression softened a bit. “If I finish my work maybe we will go on Saturday” and she returned to the task at hand.

I drew a big red circle around Saturday on my calendar. Two days to wait.

First thing on Saturday I asked my mother about going to Post Arrow. Again she said “maybe”; she had to deliver her finished projects to the shop first.

Hours went by. I kept vigil at the window until my mother returned. She looked up at me and grinning, motioned me to come down.

“Andiamo, cara! Go get your daddy. Now we have some fun!”

NAR © 2022

VAFFANCULO!

So, what brings you here today, Lou?” asked Dr. Patterson.

I can’t sleep, Doc!” replied Lou in despair. “I’m so tired! I haven’t slept a wink!”

If I had a dollar for every time I heard that!” laughed the doctor. “Look, Lou. Of all the ailments people discuss with me, the greatest number of complaints isn’t about body aches, irritable bowels, erectile dysfunction or psoriasis: the most talked-about topic is lack of sleep. Falling asleep at bedtime and getting a good night’s rest is a problem that plagues millions so you’re not alone in this. I’m going to ask you some questions; let’s see if we can come up with a solution.”

Lou yawned and nodded in agreement. His wife Marie chimed in. “Maybe you should start by telling the doctor how much coffee you drink every day.”

Ok, that’s an excellent suggestion. How much coffee do you drink, Lou?” asked Dr. Patterson, his fingers hovering over the keys of his computer.

Oh, I guess about eight cups a day and an espresso after dinner. We have one of those – whatchamacallits – Keurig machines. Fantastic things! Just pop in a little plastic cup and brew yourself fresh coffee in thirty seconds!”

Whoa! That’s a lot of caffeine!” the doctor replied in disbelief.” You need to cut back. If you drink that much coffee at least half of it should be decaf. I’d like to eventually get you down to just one cup of regular coffee in the morning. How about alcohol?”

Go ahead, Lou. Answer the doctor” Marie said, giving her husband a nudge with her elbow.

I’ll have a couple of glasses of my cousin Carlo’s homemade vino while Marie’s preparing dinner. And another glass or two with dinner. Oh yeah, I like a nice sambucca while I’m watching “The Tonight Show” with that Jimmy Fallon. He’s a funny guy!”

The doctor stared at Lou allowing his words to sink in.

What form of exercise do you engage in?” the doctor asked.

Exercise!?” squawked Marie. “The strongest parts of his body are his fingers … from pushing himself away from the dining room table, surfing the net and using the remote control.”

Lou’s eyes shot daggers at his wife. She shrugged. “What? It’s the truth and you know it.”

What about your diet, Lou?” asked Dr. Patterson while eyeing Lou’s sizeable belly.

Diet? I ain’t on no diet, doc! My Marie is a fabulous cook!” Lou exclaimed, making her blush. “She makes everything from scratch, including her pizza, pasta, braciola, arancini – you name it, she can make it. And her ricotta cheesecake? Fuggedaboutit!”

Well, it’s wonderful that Marie’s such a great cook but it sounds like you’re eating a lot of heavy and fattening foods” the doctor replied with concern.

What’s wrong with pizza?” Lou asked incredulously. “It’s the perfect food – something from all the food groups. You got your carbohydrates, your protein and your dairy, right?”

Well, technically, yes but I wouldn’t call it ‘the perfect food’. Dr. Patterson entered all Lou’s information into his computer. “Let me get this straight, Lou. Your caffeine and alcohol intake is off the charts, you eat rich foods and desserts, you spend a lot of time in front of some type of device, you stay up late and you don’t exercise. Is that about right?”

Yeah, I guess” Lou admitted begrudgingly.

Do you realize that everything you’re doing is adversely affecting your quality of sleep? And what about you, Marie! How well do you sleep?”

Who, me? Why, I sleep like a rock” Marie answered proudly.

You’re not kidding! You should hear her snore, doc!” Lou guffawed. “What a racket! It sounds like bocce balls rolling around the court! That’s probably why I can’t sleep!”

Marie huffed indignantly.

You snore, Marie? Sounds to me like you could have sleep apnea – a serious disorder. Considering everything we’ve discussed I’m referring you, Lou, to a life management specialist. And Marie, I’m scheduling a sleep disorder study for you.”

Lou and Marie stared at the doctor in shock.

Can’t you just give me some sleeping pills?” pleaded Lou.

And maybe all I need are some of those nose strips” Marie suggested hopefully.

I’m afraid not. You need to make some serious life changes” replied the doctor showing Marie and Lou out the door.

Thanks a lot, Marie, making me tell the doctor everything!” Lou griped. “This is all your fault!”

Oh, shut up, Lou! You can get your own damn dinner tonight. I’m on strike! And another thing – vaffanculo!”

NAR © 2021

PAPA-LOGIC

In 1930 at the age of 15 my dad emigrated to the U.S. from Sicily. He spoke no English, had very little money and knew a bit about barbering. He settled in Brooklyn, moving in with friends from his home town in Sicily, but dad couldn’t live off the kindness of his friends forever; he needed to find work. Fortunately his friend knew of a barber who was looking for help so dad applied for the job and started work the next day.

When dad showed up at the barber shop he had a copy of the Italian newspaper Il Progresso under his arm. The barber said to him in Italian “Hey, Vito. If you want to learn how to speak English, do yourself a favor and stop buying that newspaper. Instead buy the New York Times and read it every day.” My dad took that advice to heart; reading the Times and dealing with some English-speaking customers is how be became fluent in English. He was a self-taught man; in fact, after a few years he hardly had any accent at all.

My parents were married in 1939 and dad was drafted soon after. He served overseas during WWII, something he never liked to talk about. The one thing I did know about dad’s army days was that he drove a jeep – a little fact that’s rather ironic; dad never learned how to drive! Many years later something came over dad and he decided to give driving a try, probably thinking “how difficult could it be?” He sneaked into mom’s car, turned the key and floored it, immediately driving in reverse onto the front lawn of the house across the street! Thank goodness no one else was on the road at the time.

During the 1950s we had fresh Italian products delivered to the house including olive oil imported from Sicily. Dad was jealous of the handsome salesman and demanded my mom stop the olive oil delivery. Mom was a good-looking woman and men were naturally attracted to her but she was very proper and never gave them a second look. She wasn’t a flirt and the thought of cheating on my dad never crossed her mind; killing him, yes, but cheating on him? Never!

Our family was very musical; we all sang, my sister and I played the piano and dad played the mandolin. He surprised us by auditioning for our church’s production of The Mikado – and he landed the role! What a riot seeing this mustachioed Sicilian guy made up to look Japanese wearing an authentic kimono and singing Gilbert and Sullivan patter songs. He was the hit of the show!

We’ll never forget the day two officials from our church came to the house to talk to dad; he was the church treasurer at the time but what no one knew was he had zero math ability. Dad botched the books terribly and had to account for his multiple mistakes. After a grueling two-hour meeting dad was relieved of his position as church treasurer. Fortunately for us mom always handled the family finances; left to dad we would have landed in the poorhouse.

One of my worst memories happened the morning after I had my first period. Dad came into my room and with a stage-worthy dramatic bow said “Good morning, young lady!” He thought he was being complimentary; I thought it was gross and humiliating.

Then there was the time dad was mowing the lawn with his brand new electric mower. Well, the mower got jammed and dad turned it over to clean it out; however he forgot to turn the damn thing off and lost the tip of this thumb in the process.

Dad was very protective of me and my sister and every guy we dated had to pass inspection. Throughout my dating years I had a curfew and dad waited up for me every night – right up to the night before my wedding day! Dad thought he had things well in hand; if he only knew how many times I sneaked out of the house to be with my friends or hung my head out the bathroom window for a forbidden cigarette!

When my sister and I had kids, they started calling dad “Papa”. Dad was an affable guy, always coming up with corny jokes or comments which soon became known as “Papa-Logic”. We would roll our eyes when he would intentionally order an “Al Pacino” instead of a cappuccino. Dad loved being controversial, too, and took great pride in getting his point across. I remember one day he saw a sign in a pizzeria window which read “WE HAVE THE BEST PIZZA IN TOWN!” Nothing wrong with that as far as we were concerned but dad felt differently and made no bones about it. He started a heated discussion with the pizzeria owner demanding that the sign should read “WE THINK WE HAVE THE BEST PIZZA IN TOWN!” Dad wouldn’t back down and the sign remained unchanged. And to make matters worse, we were never allowed in that pizzeria again.

One day dad and mom went to an art auction while on vacation. Dad was dressed nicely and wore dark glasses, a big watch and a couple of rings. He won a bid on a painting and the auctioneer exclaimed “Sold to the gentleman in the sunglasses!” He then asked my dad his name. Dad said “My name is Vito“. Then jokingly the unwitting auctioneer asked “Tell us, Vito. Are you The Godfather?” Well, dad couldn’t possibly resist an opportunity like that. He cocked his head, stared at the auctioneer and replied in his best Marlon Brando voice “Now let me ask YOU a question, Mr. Auctioneer. Do you really want to know the answer to your question?” The poor auctioneer started sweating, his hands literally shaking in fear! He made sure the staff meticulously wrapped dad’s painting, walked it to mom’s car and very carefully placed it in the back seat, all under the close scrutiny of my dad. They refused the tip he offered and practically fell over themselves in their hurry to get away from “Don Vito”. Of course dad thought it was hysterical; mom had a completely different opinion of the incident.

My dad was a good guy, a clown at times but he had a heart of gold. Even though he could get on our nerves big time all his friends enjoyed being with him. He adored his family and loved being Sicilian but I think one of the proudest moments in his life was the day he could do the New York Times crossword puzzle – in ink!

 NAR © 2020

A COLD CASE

Word on the street was Louie “No Nose” Lombardo was sprung from the slammer. His early release spelled big trouble; besides seeking revenge, Louie heard his sworn enemy Tony “The Cutter” Tedesco had been sniffing around his wife. 

Louie and Tony weren’t always enemies. In fact when they were kids they were inseparable. They would ride their bikes down to the empty lot where they’d scrounge around for discarded cigarette butts with just enough left for a couple of drags. They played stickball in the street with a broom handle and a Spaldeen. During the summer they’d hitchhike to Orchard Beach and sneak in through an opening in the fence. 

One day around Christmas Louie got caught in Woolworth’s trying to shoplift an angel ornament for his mother. When the store manager realized Louie’s father was held in high regard by the members of La Cosa Nostra, he looked the other way. And he let Louie keep the ornament saying “He didn’t want any trouble”. 

Tony’s father was a mortician for the Sisto Funeral Home and you better believe he knew where the bodies were buried. He wasn’t called “The Undertaker” for nothing. Sometimes the boys would sneak in after a wake to check the big sofa cushion for loose change. 

Louie’s father was the manager of Luca’s Ristorante, a well-known mob hangout. Luca Lombardo knew what side his bread was buttered on; syndicate bosses like Rocco “TNT” Randazzo and their soldiers were all welcome at Luca’s. 

For the first 19 years of their lives nothing or no one could come between Louie and Tony – that is until Rocco brought his  daughter Rosanna to the restaurant. Rosanna was a vixen – long chestnut hair, flawless bronze skin, emerald green eyes and a body that could melt the mozzarella right off your pizza. 

Rosanna was a real tease and Tony and Louie fell hard. She hooked up with both, enjoying the game of pitting them against each other, watching their animosity grow like rival nations. After stringing them along for over a year, Rosanna chose Louie. He hungrily kissed his future bride’s mouth as Tony glared at them. 

Rocco gave the couple his blessing along with an extravagant wedding, a lavish honeymoon to Italy and a beautiful house. It wasn’t long before Rocco brought Louie into the family “business”. A year later Rosanna had a baby and Tony was invited to the christening party. Louie paraded Rosanna around the room on his arm like a trophy while Rocco proudly displayed his first grandson. Tony lost it. He and Louie starting fighting. Pushing and shoving led to punches, then the switchblades came out. Suddenly Tony’s brother Angelo lunged at Rocco and Louie intervened, fatally stabbing Angelo. Tony whirled, slicing off most of Louie’s nose. 

At his trial Louie was charged with manslaughter and sent up the river to Dannemora. Rocco told Louie to sit tight; he’d take care of everything. He called in some favors, greased a few palms and reminded the Governor about his sex scandal that Rocco made disappear. It worked and Louie was pardoned and released. Rocco was indebted to Louie for saving his life. “Whatever you want I’ll make it happen” Rocco pledged. Louie whispered in his ear and Rocco replied “Consider it done.” 

Two weeks later Louie was staring at a portrait of Tony next to his closed casket at Sisto Funeral Home. The photo of his one-time best friend had to suffice; after being blown to bits by a car bomb there was nothing left of Tony to look at.  

The police have no leads. 

NAR © 2020

THE HEART OF COOKING

It was an ordinary Sunday morning when ten year old Marianna was roused from her sleep – not by the sound of icy pellets of sleet hitting the window nor by her pesky cat nuzzling her neck with his downy face, purring loudly in her ear. Nothing that mundane could disturb her peaceful slumber; it was something much more tantalizing and enticing.

Gradually the hint of a delectable aroma wafted into her room like wispy smoke, encircled her head and tickled her nose with ethereal fingers. Sleepy eyes blinked open and Marianna grinned as the realization hit her – Mama’s making meatballs! 

Slipping on fuzzy socks Marianna ran to the kitchen – the queen’s domain where Mama reigned supreme. She was standing guard over her gleaming Autumn Gold Amana stove, all the burners dutifully at work. The rear burners held two large stainless steel pots containing simmering tomato sauce, a slowly bubbling brew of crimson ambrosia. The front burners held the culinary Holy Grail – Mama’s treasured cast iron pans which had one purpose and one purpose only – frying meatballs. The expertly formed golfball-sized orbs of pure perfection sizzled in Mama’s special mixture of olive oil and butter turning the meatballs a delicious golden brown. The butter and oil combination was one of her many secrets – “a kiss from the cook” she would say.

“Come, Marianna. Mangia! I put some aside for you. Eat them before they get cold.” 

Marianna scampered to the side of the stove where Mama had placed three glorious meatballs on a little plate. Her immediate reaction was to gobble them up as fast as possible but they would be gone too soon.

There’s a process for eating fried meatballs fresh from the pan. First you select one, gingerly picking it up with your fingers. No respectable Italian would eat a fried meatball with a knife and fork; it’s a ritual and you don’t mess with rituals. Next you inhale the fragrance which in itself is a religious experience. Bringing the meatball to your mouth, you pause for one second, lips barely touching the crunchy crispy outer shell. Now for the best part – that first small bite revealing the exquisitely cooked succulent interior of the meatball.

The sensation of flavors bursting in your mouth cannot be adequately described. Like a wine connoisseur savoring the bouquet of a fine Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, so must the sublime piquancy of the noble meatball be appreciated. The combination of the outer crust and tender succulent inside blended with Pecorino Romano cheese, oregano and seasoned breadcrumbs makes for the ideal culinary marriage.

Marianna brought her now empty and licked clean plate to the sink and watched as Mama carefully placed the meatballs into the sauce where they would lovingly simmer and soften for several hours.

Mama” Marianna began timidly, “may I have your recipes when I grow up? I want to learn to cook just like you.”

“My recipes?” Mama asked incredulously. “There are no recipes written in some fancy cookbook. The recipes are in here and in here” she said touching her head and her heart.

But how will I learn to cook without a recipe?” Marianna asked.

“My angel Marianna. Cooking is like breathing – don’t think about it. You watch. I will teach you. Your hands and heart will know when the texture is right – a little water, some cheese, a few eggs, a handful of seasonings. You’ll know. As long as you add the most important ingredient, you’ll never need a recipe.” 

“What’s the most important ingredient, Mama?”

“Love, my angel” Mama said as she kissed the top of Marianna’s head. “Love.”

NAR © 2019

TI VOGLIO TANTO BENE

There are five boroughs in the city of New York – Manhattan, The Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island – each with a unique character and charm of its own. That was true back in the 1930s and it’s still true today.

Every family has a story and mine was no different as I’ve been told numerous times. My parents were both from Manhattan. They met in 1937, got married two years later, moving into the family’s triplex apartment in Manhattan with my mother’s immediate relatives – 19 aunts, uncles and cousins plus her parents and grandparents.

World War II had begun and countless men were being drafted – but only men without children. My mother’s uncles all had several kids making them exempt from the draft. My father was also safe for my mother had a baby just ten months after getting married – a breathtakingly beautiful boy with rosy cheeks and auburn curls. He was named Gaetano after my paternal grandfather. Then the unspeakable happened. My parent’s world came crashing down just two short years later when they endured the devastating loss of their beloved baby Gaetano on New Year’s Eve. “Nephritis” the doctors said. “There’s no cure.”

Given no time to grieve, the army snatched my childless father and shipped him off to Europe to battle the enemy, leaving my mother with no husband and no baby. My father returned home in July of 1945 and somehow they managed to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives and begin again. Their daughter Francesca was born in 1947; I followed four years later, born on Francesca’s birthday. I was named Sophia. Francesca still hasn’t forgiven me for ruining her birthday party!

When I was six months old my parents decided the city was no place to raise a family and started looking for houses in The Bronx. In 1951 The Bronx was a lot different than it is now; it was like a village in the countryside with farms where people raised sheep, goats and chickens and grew fresh vegetables. They got milk from the animals and made their own cream, butter and cheese. It was a far cry from Manhattan and it was idyllic.

My parents bought a nice two family house just big enough for the four of us and my grandparents. There was also a large backyard perfect for my grandfather’s grapevines and fig trees and my mother’s vegetable garden. My grandmother was always sickly. I recall my mother telling us how much my grandmother loved being away from Manhattan. She relished sitting in the backyard watching my grandfather picking grapes and feeling the warmth of the sun on her frail body.

On a beautiful warm day I was taking a nap in my baby carriage in the backyard while my grandmother sat in a chair gently rocking the carriage. I started to stir and opened my eyes. I saw my grandmother’s smiling face looking down at me, her doe-like eyes twinkling as she sweetly sang an Italian folk song, “Ti Voglio Tanto Bene” (“I Love You So Much”):

I love you so much and I’ll be here for you. You will feel in your heart a love that is true. I love you so much and I’ll cherish you with my voice sweetly singing only to you.”

At 11 months of age my earliest memory was seeing my grandmother’s adoring face smiling at me. It was her twinkling brown eyes and sweet voice that calmed me. She passed away three years later but the special bond we shared would never die.

Ti voglio tanto bene, nonna.”

NAR © 2019

WHEN GYPSIES CRY

Normally I don’t take the subway to work but I heard there was a bad auto accident backing up traffic for miles on the highway so driving wasn’t an option. My train was already at the station when I arrived. Every seat was taken except for one in the corner. I quickly sat down as the train began filling up with passengers. 

Glancing around I caught a glimpse of a man seated several feet from me reading a newspaper. He looked over in my direction and gave me a big grin, his light blue eyes twinkling. He bore an uncanny resemblance to my late father, Gino, and I was unable to resist smiling back at him. He was well-groomed with a thin mustache and I imagined he was a barber like my dad. He went back to reading his newspaper and when he turned the page I was surprised to see it was La Stampa, the Italian newspaper my father used to read.  

Suddenly the subway stopped and the lights went out for a few minutes. When they  came back on I looked over at the man but he wasn’t there. I looked all around but didn’t see him. We were stuck in a dark tunnel – where could he have gone? 

The train started up again and at our next stop many people entered, including two women with five young children; they looked like gypsies. One woman was younger, obviously the mother of the children, and the older woman was their grandmother. The mother protectively held a toddler while the other children clung to her skirt and the grandmother clutched the handle of a baby carriage. The women whispered rapidly in a foreign language as their wide eyes frantically searched the train. They were clearly frightened as though they were running away from someone or something.   

The ride was choppy and the children were getting restless; the women tried desperately to quiet them. At the next stop people brusquely shoved their way off and on. Suddenly a swarthy-looking man pushed the old gypsy woman, snatched the baby carriage and dashed out the train just as the doors closed. The hysterical mother screamed what sounded like “My baby! My baby!”  but no one paid her any attention. I stood up to see if I could help but the train jerked to a start. I was thrown back into my seat, hitting my head.

The harsh train whistle jolted me and I was amazed to discover I was in my bed; the whistle was my alarm clock. It was only a dream! Sleepily, I shuffled to the door to collect my newspaper and turn on the tv. Opening the newspaper my eyes widened in disbelief as I saw the banner La Stampa, the same paper my father used to read. The date was November 17, 1992, the day my father died. 

A voice from the tv roused me from my trance: “A happy ending yesterday for a Romanian woman whose baby was snatched from a crowded subway by her estranged husband. Witnesses directed police to an alley where the man was found hiding in an old abandoned barbershop called “Gino’s”. The baby was reunited with its ecstatic mother.” There on the screen was the same gypsy family I saw on the train!   

Stunned, I dropped the newspaper and collapsed onto my bed. So it wasn’t a dream after all! From the corner of my eye I noticed something sticking out of the newspaper. With trembling hands I gently pulled out a white feather.

Dad!” I whispered tearfully. “It was you.”

NAR © 2019

DUTY-BOUND

NEW YORK CITY, 1920

“Manga il cibo sul tuo piatto, Sophia, o lo mangerai dal pavimento.”

(“Eat the food on your dish, Sophia, or you will eat it off the floor.”)  

Without changing her expression or taking her huge brown eyes off her father Vincenzo’s face, three year old Sophia picked up a meatball, extended her arm over the side of her high chair and very calmly let it drop to the floor. 

Silence. Everyone sat in suspended animation as Vincenzo deliberately put down his knife and fork and removed the napkin which was tucked into the neck of his shirt. Slowly he stood up, went behind Sophia’s chair and grabbed the back of her dress. He lifted her up and holding her feet with his other hand, lowered her face to the floor. Sophia’s mouth touched the meatball and she turned her face away, but Vincenzo pushed her face into the food, forcing her to take it into her mouth. Satisfied, he sat her back in her chair, returned to his seat and resumed eating. Sophia languidly chewed the meatball. 

Hesitantly everyone resumed eating except Sophia’s mother Francesca who sat watching her daughter. At the end of the meal as the women cleared the table, Francesca placed a napkin over her daughter’s mouth so she could dispose of the uneaten meatball. “Mai più, Sophia. Fai il tuo dovere!” Francesca said. (“Never again, Sophia. Do your duty!”)

Francesca was a frail woman and as Sophia grew she helped her while Vincenzo worked 12 hours a day on construction. When Sophia was 11, Francesca came down with a terrible case of scarlet fever which affected her heart and kidneys and left her housebound. Early every morning Sophia would cook breakfast for the family and pack lunch for her father before she left for school. At lunchtime she would come home to check on Francesca and make something for them to eat before going back to school. After school she would stop at the pharmacy to buy Francesca’s medicine. Sometimes she would surprise her mother with a piece of her favorite candy. First she would care for her mother, then cook dinner before her father came home from work. When dinner was finished she would do her homework and get ready for bed. Since Francesca was sick, Vincenzo slept in Sophia’s room while she slept on the small sofa. It was the right thing to do – her duty – because her father worked so hard and needed his rest. 

Eventually the family began struggling financially. Vincenzo decided that it would be best if Sophia left school and took a job in a sewing factory. Sophia would have preferred to stay in school, but she knew it was her duty to help the family. Francesca’s sisters would take turns checking on her while Sophia was at work. Occasionally they would bring food but they all had large families and were struggling themselves. Sophia still woke up very early to make breakfast and prepare lunch for herself, Vincenzo and Francesca. She worked from 8:00 until 6:00, then came home to cook dinner, clean up and care for her mother. It was a hard life but Sophia knew it was her duty. 

Sophia was an excellent seamstress and her work was always done quickly and perfectly. In the time it took the others to sew one blouse, she completed four. And because her work was beyond compare, she earned more money. She was promoted to making dresses and suits and the other girls were jealous, calling her “your majesty” and “princess”. One girl was so envious of Sophia she began working hurriedly and carelessly, accidentally cutting off most her pinky with the large shears. It was not Sophia’s fault but everyone treated her like it was. 

One Sunday after Mass Sophia’s cousin Gaetano introduced her to his friend Paolo Rossi. By now Sophia was 20 and had never been on a date. She was too busy doing her duty. The young couple were immediately attracted to each other, began dating and married in 1940, just after the start of the war. One year later their first baby was born and fortunately men with children were not being drafted so Paolo was able to remain at home. Tragically, the baby developed nephritis and died at the age of two – and a grieving father, now childless, was drafted. 

Sophia was devastated; no husband, no baby. She devoted all her time to caring for Francesca. The days were grim but thankfully Paolo returned home safely and two more babies followed – healthy girls. The young family, Francesca and Vincenzo moved to a house in the Bronx and Paolo found work in a mechanic’s shop while Sophia stayed at home with the girls and her mother.  Five years later Francesca died and Vincenzo became ill. Of course the ever-dutiful Sophia  cared for him until his death. 

In 1970 Paolo suffered his first heart attack. Three more followed over the years. He developed aortic and abdominal aneurysms and struggled with emphysema and bronchitis until his death in 1996. Sophia cared for him as a dutiful wife for all those years.  

Dear readers, in case you haven’t realized by now I was one of those little baby girls born to Sophia and Paolo. Throughout my childhood and youth, my mother was constantly busy cleaning, cooking, sewing. She was a dutiful mother and took very good care of us, but I never felt a true mother’s love. 

The first time I met my boyfriend’s mother, she was ironing. She immediately stopped her work, brewed a pot of coffee and placed a crumb cake on the table. We sat and talked for hours. That was an afternoon of fun and laughter and I felt the love in that room. I married that boy whose mother did everything out of love, not out of a sense of duty. 

Sophia died in 2010. On her headstone was intricately carved her life-long creed: “FAI IL TUO DOVERE”.

NAR © 2019

MAMMA MIA!

Christ, Marco! I’m a nervous wreck!” wailed Tina. “This is the first time I‘m meeting your mother. Do I look ok?”  

“Are you kidding me? You look great! She’s gonna love you!”  replied Marco as he put on his mother’s favorite Dean Martin record. 

Carrying a box of Italian pastries, Marco’s mother Francesca arrived promptly at 6:00 – ready and quite curious to meet her son’s first female roommate. Introductions were made, niceties exchanged and Tina went to check on dinner. “She certainly knows her way around that kitchen well enough”  Francesca thought to herself. 

While Tina put the finishing touches on dinner, Marco brought out some appetizers. “Ah, bruschetta!”  exclaimed Francesca but when she bit into the small slice of toasted Italian bread, she discovered the topping was raw meat. “It’s steak tartare, Ma” explained Marco. Francesca made a horrified face and hastily deposited her half-chewed delicacy into her napkin. “Oh God! Raw meat will kill you!” Francesca emphatically declared, “I hope the rest of the meal is cooked”, she mumbled. 

In an attempt to quell rising tempers, Marco showed Francesca around the apartment. 

“Look, Ma. Isn’t this nice?  A small but functional kitchen, a dining area, and a comfy living room. But the best part is two bedrooms, each with its own bathroom so there’s no fighting over who gets to shower first.”  Marco laughed self-consciously. 

Yes, dear. Very nice.”  

Francesca silently simmered. “What’s this world coming to? Whoever heard of boys and girls as apartment  roommates? Maybe in a large house with five or six people but an intimate little apartment with two people of the opposite sex?”

Finally dinner was ready. During the course of the meal, Francesca couldn’t help but notice how attentive Tina was to Marco. She suspected a romantic relationship between the two of them and their actions only made her more suspicious.

Throughout the evening while watching Marco and Tina together, she became convinced that there was more between them than met the eye. Reading his mother’s thoughts Marco said “I know what you’re thinking, Ma, but I assure you Tina and I are just roommates.”  His mother smiled thinly but said nothing. 

About a week later Tina said to Marco “Ever since your mother was here for dinner I’ve been unable to find the napkin rings we used. You don’t suppose she took them, do you?” 

“Well, I doubt it”,  he replied, “but I’ll email her.”  

Dear Ma – I’m not saying that you DID take Tina’s napkin rings and I’m not saying you DIDN’T take them but they have been missing ever since you were here last week. Love, Marco  

He immediately received a reply: 

Dear Marco – I’m not saying that you DO sleep with your roommate and I’m not saying that you DON’T sleep with her but if she was sleeping in her OWN bed she would have found the napkin rings by now – under her pillow. Love, Ma 

Lesson learned: Never try to fool an Italian mother! 

NAR © 2019

FLORENTINE FOOT WASHING

When my sister Rosemarie graduated high school in 1965, our parents surprised us with a trip to Italy and Sicily. 

First stop was Rome where we visited my mother’s cousin Concetta. She lived in a quaint apartment building with a balcony. The first thing Rosemarie and I noticed was Concetta had a pet chicken on the balcony. Having never seen a live chicken, we spent a good portion of the day playing with it. After a while, my parents suggested we go shopping. We didn’t want to leave the chicken but our parents made us go. 

By the time we returned it was early evening and Concetta had prepared a wonderful dinner of stew and homemade bread. All the curtains were drawn and we felt very grown up as we sat at the candlelit table sipping wine just like  adults. The next morning Rosemarie and I were anxious to play with the chicken, but she wasn’t on the balcony. When we asked where she was, Concetta laughed and said “What do you think dinner was last night?” 

We were shocked and started crying but our parents explained the chicken wasn’t a pet; Concetta bought it as a special treat for our dinner. Needless to say, it took me and my sister a very long time to eat chicken again!

Our next stop was Florence and we stayed in an exclusive hotel. My parents had one room and Rosemarie and I shared another. The rooms were exquisitely decorated with expensive furnishings and rugs. In the bathroom was a claw-foot tub, an elegant sink, a toilet and an odd-looking fixture we’d never seen before. It was about the size of the toilet with faucets and a small sprinkler in the middle of the bowl. When we turned the faucets on, water shot out straight from the  sprinkler. We immediately turned off the water trying to figure out what this thing was. 

After much thought we decided it was for foot washing. Tossing off our sandals we turned on the water and bathed our feet. We dried our feet with small paper towels and pulled the lever expecting the towels to flush away. Well, they didn’t. In fact the foot washer filled with water and overflowed as Rosemarie and I tried desperately to stop the water. Before we knew it the entire bathroom floor was covered with water which leaked out into the bedroom, soaking the rug. We watched helplessly as the flood entered the hallway drenching the carpet. A maid saw what was happening and began screaming at us in Italian. People came out of their rooms, including our parents. The carpet was ruined and our parents had to pay for the damages. It wasn’t until a week later when our parents relayed the story to relatives in Sicily that we learned what a bidet was. Everyone had a good laugh at our expense! 

Talk about embarrassed! What did we know about bidets? I bet they’re still talking about us in Florence! 

NAR © 2019

LA FAMIGLIA

“Course One: Escarole Soup. Course Two: Salad. Gina, what is this – Sunday dinner or an Italian wedding?” 

My girlfriend Gina showed me a copy of the menu her mother had planned for dinner. It was a seven course feast! “Do you eat like this every Sunday?” 

“No, silly – only when we have company. This week it’s my dad’s side of the family. There’s a lot a people and mom always says it’s better to have too much food than not enough.” 

“Wait a second. There’s going to be other people besides your parents? Like how many?”

Gina started counting on her fingers.  “About 18, maybe 20.” 

I’m going to meet 20 strangers and you didn’t think to warn me??” 

“Oh, don’t worry. They’re gonna love you.” 

“No. They’ll be employing Italian interrogations tactics. They’ll chew me up and spit me out. I’m Irish – I don’t stand a chance!” 

Gina laughed. “Oh stop exaggerating. We’re not the mob, ya know. Just mob!” 

And she was right. I couldn’t believe the number of people that descended on her house. They were loud, funny and very welcoming.

Gina’s mom set the table extravagantly, using the best plates, utensils and glasses. And the food was incredible. Besides the soup and salad there was an antipasto, homemade pasta, a huge platter of meatballs and sausages, two roasts, a bunch of vegetables I couldn’t pronounce, fennel, fruit, nuts, desserts and coffee. Gina’s uncles and male cousins ate like there was no tomorrow and no one stopped talking the entire time – except for Gina’s grandmother who didn’t utter a sound and stared at me with beady eyes the whole day. Honestly, that tiny woman dressed in black from head to toe scared me to death. 

As the coffee was being served, Gina’s dad got up, went to the cupboard and returned with a miniature dower chest made of highly polished wood with the finest Italian marble inlay. Placing the box on the table, he opened it to reveal an assortment of expensive imported cigarettes. All the men lit up and a bottle of anisette appeared out of nowhere.

Gina’s Uncle Vito produced a deck of cards from his vest pocket. “Ya know how to play Red Dog, Stan?” he asked me.

Um … it’s Dan, sir. And no, I’m not familiar with the game.” 

“Hey, no problem, Irish. We’re gonna teach ya. And don’t look so nervous. We may rob ya but we ain’t gonna kill ya. For some reason our Gina likes ya and if she likes ya, we all likes ya.” 

While we played cards, Gina’s cousins Louie and Frankie played their accordions and the women danced; it was the most surreal experience of my life. 

Suddenly grandma rose from her chair. Slowly she walked right over to me and looked me square in the eyes. She grinned and pinched my cheek till it was beet red. And la famiglia howled.

I swear 50 years later her mark of approval is still on my face. 

NAR © 2019

HONEYSUCKLE AND PROVOLONE

The minute she walked into my little grocery store, I was blown away. She knocked my socks off. Even through the crack in the storage room door I was dazzled by this profusion of red hair the color of a bright autumn day, delicate skin with a smattering of freckles and captivating emerald eyes. And I fell head over heels. 

I’m Bruno Deluca – or Mr. Monotone compared to this rainbow butterfly who just floated into my shop. I have the traditional Italian look – dark brown hair and eyes and a perpetual deep brown tan. But I have a sparkling smile and dimples “to die for”, as my Aunt Francesca always said. 

This amber goddess stood in front of the meat and cheese display, a bewildered look on her face. Here’s my big chance. I bolted from the back room and positioning myself directly in her line of vision, I said “Welcome to Deluca’s. May I help you with something, miss?” [Smooth, right?] 

She looked up and I flashed her the old ‘to die for’ smile. And she smiled back, blushing winsomely. My knees grew weak when she spoke, just a trace of a lilting Irish brogue. 

“Everything looks so delicious! I don’t know what to order, even if could pronounce the names!” And when she laughed I swear I saw musical notes wafting through the air. 

“No problem” I replied as I swiftly came around to her side, naming and describing all the meats and cheeses. 

She smelled like honeysuckle. I smelled like provolone. 

She still couldn’t make up her mind so I tried something radical. “How about I give you a few samples – on the house – if you promise to come back and buy something, even if it’s one slice of salami?” 

She hesitated for a second, then laughingly said “You have a deal, Mr…..” 

“Deluca. Bruno Deluca. And you are…..?” 

She extended a delicate hand. “Rowan McCourt. Pleased to meet you, Bruno.”

Rowan, eh? That’s a lovely name. What does it mean?” 

Tentatively touching her hair she said “Little Red-haired One. And what does Bruno mean?” 

I simply stated “Brown” and we both burst out laughing! 

I packed up a nice selection and some Italian bread. “Here ya go, Rowan, and don’t forget…..” 

“This is too much, Bruno! Thank you!” 

“Go! Enjoy! See you soon.” 

True to her word, Rowan returned two days later. “Bruno, everything was delicious! Now what shall I buy?” She browsed for a minute then said “That looks incredible! What is it?” 

“That’s lasagna – already cooked. Just heat and enjoy. How much do you want?” 

“Enough for a few portions” Rowan replied. 

“Ah, leftovers. Good thinking” I said. 

“Actually, Bruno, I was hoping you would join me for dinner tonight.”

“I’d love to” I whispered while inside I was screaming “Mama mia! I’d love to!” 

“Wonderful! Here’s my address. And Bruno, can you bring some wine and bread?” she asked. 

I nodded mutely. Smiling, she said “Bruno, I’m very happy you’ll be joining me.” Taking the bag, she danced out the door. 

NAR ©2019

THE IMMIGRANTS

Francesco Amato glanced down from his perch 60 stories above the streets of New York City. As he ate lunch, he talked casually to his friend, Giuseppe, who sat across from him about four feet away. Francesco lit a Camel cigarette, tossed the box of matches to Giuseppe and both men lounged on their beds of steel. Keeping his eyes open to maintain his balance on the 18 inch wide metal plank, Francesco took a long drag on his cigarette. Then the whistle blew; lunchtime was over. 

Giuseppe pitched the matches back to Francesco. They rose to their feet, now old pros at this daily death-defying balancing act. Just then a gust of wind came out of nowhere, scooped up the wrappings from lunch and swirled them about before they slowly drifted out of sight. Both men held on to a nearby vertical beam until the wind stilled.

Looking below at the large wind flag, the men saw that it was still white .. safe conditions. Yellow meant proceed with caution while red indicated dangerous work environments. The crew worked throughout the year, but if a red flag was up, no one climbed the beams. 

There were no harnesses to prevent a deadly fall, no safety nets should someone slip ..  nothing to protect them, save them. All they had to help them scale the beams were ropes dangling from above, good balance and guts. 

Calmness restored, the men strapped on their tool belts containing welder’s gloves, hammers and tongs. A rudimentary pulley system was used to hoist the beams and buckets filled with iron rivets in white hot coals. Using their tongs, the men removed rivets from the coals, inserted them into pre-drilled holes in the beams and hammered them into place. After every hole was filled, the men climbed up to the next level and repeated the process. 

When the end-of-work whistle blew, Giuseppe stretched for the rope to begin the long, slow descent to solid ground. Suddenly he lost his footing and slid off the beam. Francesco yelled out in horror “No, Giuseppe, no!!” as he tried in vain to grab his friend’s arm. The crew watched in stunned disbelief as Giuseppe tumbled down, his screams echoing throughout the beams. 

Francesco sat slumped over, unable to move, silently crying as a single mournful thought invaded his mind: he didn’t even know Giuseppe’s last name. 

NAR © 2018

BADDA BING, BADDA BOOM!

Justice of the Peace? You wanna elope, Angie? Our parents haven’t even discussed the wedding!”  

“Exactly, Taylor, and it’s gonna stay that way!” said Angie in her best Marisa Tomei voice. “Let me ask you a question. Have you ever been to an Italian wedding? No? That’s what I thought. There are two things I know for a fact – #1: our parents couldn’t be more different and #2: left in the hands of my family, our wedding will be a circus, complete with unicycling-jugglers and a magician. Remember my cousin Gina’s engagement party?  Well, picture that ten times worse. Forget about an elegant ceremony in your parent’s country club like your sister had, with one maid of honor and a best man. There will be no dainty hors d’oeuvres and flutes of champagne served by an attentive waitstaff followed by dinner of Beef Wellington and fingerling potatoes. The delicate wedding cake with gold leaf flowers? Ain’t gonna happen. Our romantic wedding night in the country club honeymoon suite? Fugetaboutit! My parents are old school, Taylor, and only want a real Italian wedding. My father would rather swim through the shark-infested Straits of Messina than go against tradition. Now picture this: the ceremony will be held at St. Vito’s Church with my mother’s uncle, Monsignor DelFino, officiating. There will be at least ten bridesmaids and groomsmen, a flower girl and a ring bearer. The reception will be held at The Villa Barone catering hall where my brother-in-law Carlo, the newly-elected volunteer fire chief, had a sweet sixteen birthday party for his daughter.The cocktail hour will be a cash bar with antipasto served buffet style. The reception dinner will be Italian wedding soup, penne alla vodka, salad and a choice of chicken, prime rib or fish. The cake will be five, maybe six tiers. My cousin Vinnie will play the tarantella on his accordion, followed by the pièce de résistance – the Viennese Dessert Hour and flaming cherries jubilee. Our wedding night will be spent sitting around the kitchen table with you, me and my mother counting the money we got for wedding gifts while my father records everything in an accounting book like a cigar-chomping Iamblichus. OR ….. we go to City Hall, get hitched and spend two luscious weeks in sunny Aruba. Your call.” 

“Are you kidding me, Angie?  Say no more. City Hall awaits!” 

NAR © 2018