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Stories from the past. canstockphoto1114545

Another holiday season recently came to an end. If your family is anything like mine, there were plenty of “tales of the glories of Christmases long, long ago,” as the song says. Lord, we have such colorful characters in our family circles and those stories that come up at the kitchen table or dining room table are always hysterical, aren't they? The best part is that these people never even know how funny they are. They tell the stories and are almost surprised at how amusing they are to others.

Some of the stories we’ve all heard 100 times. We know the story, but encourage the old-timers to tell it again--so much fun to hear and laugh about. Or maybe there’s a new girlfriend or boyfriend at the table this year that never heard the stories before and they need to be told all over again. A fresh set of ears can begin a long evening of re-telling. Here are some of my favorite family treasures.

FROM MY STEPFATHER-IN-LAW, MIKI (born in Hungary, 75 years old):

I was little boy in Budapest around 1944 when the soldiers come and my buddy and me was hiding in de basement. They see us and call us upstairs and give each of us a gun. “Who do I shoot at?” I asked. De man says, “Anybody who shooting at you.” I say, “Yeah? Dat be too late.”

FROM MY FATHER-IN-LAW’S NEPHEW (Born in Italy, 58 years old)

Yeah, Uncle Frank send us a letter--says we should come to Ohio--is nice place. We watch American TV in Naples and see TV shows that show how beautiful Ohio was. We write back, “Yeah Uncle Frank--send for us and we come to Ohio.” When he pick us up at the airport it is snowing. I said, “Hey Uncle Frank where’s the hula girls and palm trees?” He says, “What are you stupid? That’s Hawaii not Ohio!” I say, “Oh--the words to me they look the same. So we stay anyway.”

FROM MY GRANDFATHER (Italian American, 79 at the time, now deceased)

I was delivering a block of ice before Americans had refrigerators and had to haul this 50-pound block up a long set of stairs. It was a hot summer day and when I got to the top of the steps, I knocked and a lady inside yelled “Come in!” When I opened the door she was in the middle of the kitchen in a bathtub she had filled. She asked if I could wash her back. I dropped the whole block of ice off my shoulder and it went sailing down the steps and shattered the door at the bottom of the steps into a million splinters. When I went back to the icehouse and told the guys what happened, all the single guys volunteered to take that delivery off my hands. The guy that got the job wound up marrying her. Son of a gun…

FROM MY MOTHER-IN-LAW (Italian American, 78 years old)

(Talking to the grandchildren and great-grandchildren) Oh I remember the old dances. We wouldn’t dance those crazy dances like you kids today. We used to put on our best dresses and we used to get down to the dance hall just before dark and we never sat down or drank any of that liquor! We were there to dance and we never used to take a break. I used to dance all night. (Then--interjected from my stepfather-in-law, the Hungarian) “Yeah? I used to have two grandmothers, too.”

FROM MY FATHER-IN-LAW (Born in Italy, 84 years old)

Yeah my dad--he was always bringing home stray animals and my mother would hit him with the broom when she would find another dog or cat in the house. We didn’t need to feed another mouth, she would say. But my father, he was just a simple, quiet man who felt sorry for everything. In Naples, you know our house was built in front of a mountainside and out the back of the house we had dug into the wall of the mountain because it was cool there. We kept food and other supplies in there because it would last longer. We had no refrigerators then. Well one winter night, he brought a donkey home while my mother was asleep and he walked it through the house all the way back in to the dirt floor closet in the mountainside. About 3 in the morning I was sleeping and heard “HEEEE – HAAAWWWW!!” and when I got up, I just saw my dad pulling the donkey through the house towards the front door and my mom hitting them both with the broom. When he came back in, she said “Why did you bring that thing in our house?” My dad looked at her like the answer was so obvious and said, “He was cold.” She chased him back outside with the broom and he slept in the barn.

MY GRANDFATHER (Italian American 80 at the time, now deceased)

Yeah my grandmother could talk the leg off a table. She would just babble on and on and my poor granddad would just sit there and nod and eventually nod off to sleep. One night, she was making his dinner while he was sitting in his chair and she was going on and on. She finally served his dinner, but he was reading the paper and she kept talking while she went over to the sink and wrung the clothes through the rollers. Finally she got so mad that he was still reading and his food was getting cold she smacked him on the back of the head and he fell face first into his stew. Doc said he’d been dead about an hour and she’d never stopped talking the whole time.

These were the tales I’ve been told my whole life. My staff members and friends all have very ethnic backgrounds, too, and it seems those folks with known lineage to their respective “old countries” all have a few “seniors” in the family that love to tell those long, but colorful tales.

Thank goodness, huh? How boring it all would be without the characters in this world who always seem to be connected to great old stories.

Ron Ciancutti is the Director of Procurement for Cleveland Metroparks. He is not on Facebook, but he can be reached at

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