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Old-World Beliefs

I look back now and it all seems so comical. The rituals my parents and family followed that were either based on nothing in particular or handed down through ages. No one had any idea why they were there, but they never went away, and many are still followed.

A good example comes from my wife’s family and their belief in superstition. Since the old-world Italians were raised watching an existence that was sometimes quite crude, many tales grew out of those events. It included animals being slaughtered like deer and pig and their bodies hung in the barn to drain before butchering. The haunting and descriptive stories of newly beheaded chickens running through the yard with blood spurting while the last of their nerves died off and of course the sad tale of grandpa getting to know his pet lamb before he learned that the lamb’s name wasn’t really “Easter.” She had been called that for another reason. A holiday meal he never forgot and still recalls with a tear.

In any event, those animals were prepared for cooking on the table. As any good Italian knows there are many tables in the house; the living room, the dining room, the kitchen but one of them eventually becomes the place where all things happen. That one is known affectionately as “THE TABLE.” You would say, “Grandma, I got the mail.” She’d say, “Put it on the table.”  You’d say, “I’m starving.” She’d yell up from the basement, “Sit at the table, I’ll be right there.”  And of course grandpa would say, “Ima gonna slice up the ham anna stuffa de sausage.” And Grandma would say, “Go ahead, I cleaned off the table.”

Thus--the table was a place for many things including “meat processing.” Therefore (drum roll) here’s the superstition and tradition. NEVER PASS THE BABY OVER THE TABLE! So if everyone is eating at THE TABLE and the newest infant is being passed around you have to stay on the perimeter to pass the child from one aunt to another. When a novice appears and goes to hand the baby over the table they are chastised as if there is no tomorrow. Amid the sideways glances and corrective tone with which the aunts wrestle the baby away from the rookie, the heads shake and the “tsk tsks” bring the wrath of God upon the newbie. You simply never pass the baby over the table--the table where all those horrible things happen.   

Mama mia’.

My parents were both 100 percent Italian as well, but they were born in America. Their odd, traditional, old-world habits were a result of their parents and they grew up in a time where you didn’t question your parent’s decisions--you merely followed them. The next generation took the punch.

As a result of growing up having to share everything, my folks thought it very important that each of their children have the right to do things independently. They shouldn’t have their whole wardrobe be handed down, they shouldn’t have to “watch” or babysit their younger sibling all the time and each child should have his/her own room. Both of them had shared rooms with siblings since birth and felt this “room of your own” idea was a sign they had succeeded as a marital couple. There were three of us; I had an older sister and one younger (surprised to learn I was a middle child?) and my folks “added on” (a popular 1970s term) to our home to supply those separate bedrooms. Despite all the cost of adding on, homes built in the 1970s or modified at that time did not make provisions for air-conditioning. That was a luxury at the time that was not very common. People that did have air-conditioners were easy to spot. They had this enormous clunky noisy thing hanging out of their front window and it was usually characterized by a long stream of rusty stain that ran underneath it from all the condensation that poured out of the yet-to-be-refined cooling unit. So instead of having air-conditioning, most people used fans.

Fans.

In a 90-degree, London-humidity, Cleveland July…

Fan--from the Latin--fannis the hottis airius--meaning, an instrument with which to blow warm air from outside into a dwelling that is already several degrees hotter than an oven.

Alas though, despite their children being drained of all potassium and body fluids each July and August, my parents believed that:

  1. If you ran a fan too long, it would blow up and burn your house down.
  2. If you lay in front of a fan, you would get pneumonia and die.

Now to make matters worse, although my parents did see the importance of separate bedrooms, they neglected to purchase separate fans for each room. We had two window units. Two … for the whole house. This not only led to a constant changing of windows for the units--kitchen at dinner, living room in the evening, bedrooms at night, but led to enormous in-fighting when bedtime arrived and one unit went with mom and dad and the other unit was fought over between the siblings. On the nights I would get a turn, I would run it full blast and push my bed in front of the window. When mom came to say goodnight she’d push the bed out of the fan’s air stream. “You’ll catch pneumonia,” she’d whisper. “I’m getting Malaria,” I’d respond. Then, hours later when she thought I was asleep, my white noise bliss would be interrupted by a “click” when the fan was shut off and the cricket-chirping humidity would immediately fill the room. “This thing is going to catch on fire,” she’d say. Let the melting child marathon begin.

Therefore, in my home today, the bedroom air-conditioner is used pretty well through November. Grocery food chains have contacted me to ask if they could store meat in our bedroom. Along with the Alaskan temps my industrial-strength fan blows a frigid Everest gale wind onto my thinly blanketed body. The wife dresses like Nanook of the North all summer as we sleep but this is not an argument she will ever win. I was DAMAGED as a child and will not change soon. Cold, colder, coldest where I have control. Back at mom’s, I’m sure the fan is off so she continues to eliminate the potential for pneumonia and house fires as she sweats through the summers. Quite simply, I will never understand why dad just didn’t buy two more fans. It could have been so nice, but those summers were torture. He and mom had other habits like that.

When we got our dog they told us that my sisters and I needed to set up a “take turns” methodology.  Whenever the dog needed to go out, we had to take turns leashing and walking him. You can imagine what this brought about. My sister would leash him, walk him to a tree, watch him squirt and come back in the house. “That’s not a turn,” I would say. She’d just smile.  At some point I just gave up and took him out myself all the time. But till the day we left for college the “take turns” idea haunted our childhood. Decades later when my kids asked for a dog, I asked them to help me fence in the backyard. Once accomplished, finding the right dog was a lot of fun and taking the dog out was simply a matter of opening the back door. Our family dogs were loved and revered because they were never a problem. In or out, the choice was theirs and the option to just lay in the summer breezes outside provided pleasure my childhood dogs never knew. Although I’ve loved all my animals, my childhood dog was always as much a sense of responsibility as he was a pleasure to have around. Why my folks didn’t see the simple logic of that I’ll never understand. The way they had been taught was all they saw as correct. In their eyes it was almost disrespectful to do it differently than what their parents had taught.

So now, when I take my iron stances on things and the kids seem to have doubt I soften, listen and ask. Do you see a better way? And if they do, I listen. From opening my mind that way the kids have been a great help, especially with technology. So bury the stiffened attitudes of the past folks. Traditions are fine but rituals for the sake of allegiance should be challenged.

Ron Ciancutti has worked in the parks and recreation industry since he was 16 years old, covering everything from maintenance, operations, engineering, surveying, park management, design, planning, recreation, and finance. He holds a B.S. in Business from Bowling Green State University and an M.B.A from Baldwin Wallace University. He has held his current position as Director of Procurement since 1990. He is not on Facebook, but he can be reached at ron@northstarpubs.com.    

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