Tahlequah Daily Press

Columns

January 13, 2014

In Italian families, you have to learn to make noise

TAHLEQUAH — You’ve heard the stereotypes about Italian families. Most of them are true.

It doesn’t matter whether the family member who “came over on the boat” has been in the grave since 1900, nor is dilution through intermarriage with other ethnic types a concern. Just as the blue-eyed blonde holding a CDIB card proudly proclaiming 1/4092nds degree of Indian blood is a Cherokee citizen, an Italian is an Italian.

My father-in-law, whose parents were among the immigrants who passed through Ellis Island, is a full-blood. My mother-in-law was a Heinz 57 mix of Scots, Irish, English and God knows what else. That’s kind of like my own family, although the Poindexters are of ancient French stock. My mother-in-law used to remind me she was NOT French.

This disclaimer took on a decidedly acid tone in the wake of 9/11, when France demurred on an Iraq attack, and Congress renamed the popular greasy fast-food spuds “freedom fries.”

Still, how many people do you hear trumpeting their French ancestry? No one brags about being 1/16th German, or knits Fair Isle sweaters to honor a great-great-great-grandfather from Norway. It’s different for Italians; they’ve been fashionable for some time now. I blame it on the glamor of all those mob shows on TV, probably spawned by “The Godfather.”

All Italians like their own food. In my husband’s family, Italian sausage is viewed with the same gusto as a thick, juicy steak in Oklahoma. One of my father-in-law’s favorite dishes is the classic “sausage and bell peppers,” which my mother-in-law cooked with onions in a marinara sauce. She had a lasagna recipe passed down to her by her mother-in-law, “Grandma Francis.”

I never met Grandma Francis, although she was still alive when my husband and I first married. By the time we had enough money to travel to New Jersey, she was long dead, although I think some grandchildren might have still been living in the old three-story home in Plainfield. Now it’s been sold, and according to my father-in-law, the neighborhood has “gone bad.” That’s a polite way of saying ethnic groups considered less-than-savory by the Italians have moved into the area.

Italians tend to express their opinions, and with extreme volume. Again, one does not have to be a full-blood – or anything close to it – to display that characteristic. If you live with someone of Italian descent, you must quickly learn to yell and gesticulate wildly, because that’s the only way you’ll ever get your point across, much less be heard over the cacophony created by other Italians in the room.

When I first met my husband in 1981, he explained that Italian-Americans don’t mind being called “dagos,” and will tolerate the “wop” slur. But calling an Italian a “guinea,” he said, can get you killed. Turns out, it’s rather like using the n-word. For years, my husband and I assumed it was a reference to the flightless birds of same name, because they hang out in gangs, like to eat, wear pin-striped suits and make a lot of noise.

Now we know the reference is to the Guinea Coast of Africa, and the implication is that Italians are not “white.” My husband and son are pleased to claim their biracial status.

Italians are known for their colorful verbiage. I know this because we traveled to Italy in 1999, and because I try to learn the language for when we return. One of my favorite stories, which my mother-in-law used to tell, was about my father-in-law’s behavior behind the wheel in California traffic jams. Papa Joe spoke only Italian the first few years of his life, and though he now claims to have forgotten most of it, when he was newly married, he remembered plenty.

As the story goes, Joe would yell and curse at other drivers in Italian, and was especially fond of a certain phrase, but would never translate.

Not long after he and Barbara were married, they went to New Jersey, where Barbara met her father-in-law, James, for the first time. (She’d met Grandma Frances, who attended their wedding in California.) Barbara worked up the courage to ask her father-in-law what that favorite phrase meant. His eyes grew huge, and he began to wave his arms, as Italians are wont to do, then said: “I doan-a care WHOOOO it-tis. You doan-a take-a that offa NOOOObody – not even my Joey!”

Several years ago, I asked my father-in-law what the phrase meant. He said, “Shame on you!” and wouldn’t tell; he has become progressively more G-rated as the years go by. But I already knew the first part was a variant of the f-word, and with a little research, I got pretty close on the second. Let’s just say the result was a not-very-nice description of a woman.

Kim Poindexter is managing editor of the Tahlequah Daily Press.

1
Text Only
Columns
  • A twist on words can get you into trouble

    The misuse or mispronunciation of words can be forgiven in children, but in adults, it’s water-cooler cannon fodder.

    July 28, 2014

  • Keeping the interest of boys is just a matter of ‘gross’

    A couple of my friends complained to me recently that they didn’t know how to “connect” with their teenage sons, and that they are growing apart from the sweet little boys to whom they once read bedtime stories.

    July 14, 2014

  • ‘Different’ situations aren’t so very different, after all

    “Well, that’s different!” It’s the favorite phrase of the hypocrite, when confronted with his glaring flaw.

    July 7, 2014

  • Threats on social media or elsewhere won’t change any minds

    I try not to take political positions on my private Facebook timeline. I used to sometimes, in what I considered a polite way, but that offended friends left and right – literally. And sometimes I watched in horror as a thread degenerated into name-calling between people I respect, but who happen to be polar opposites on the political spectrum.

    June 30, 2014

  • Striking the hyphen, and other journalistic maneuvering

    A couple of years ago, my office phone rang. With no greeting or fanfare, the caller indignantly said, “Did you know they’ve taken the hyphen out of ‘fundraiser’?”

    June 23, 2014

  • taylor.armerding.jpg IRS spins email yarn as Obama slips past another scandal

    Forget everything you've heard about email. All digital trace of a former IRS official's email over the 25 months the agency harassed conservative groups has mysteriously, improbably vanished. Gone, too, is the White House's accountability as President Obama slips from another scandal.

    June 20, 2014 1 Photo

  • Front-load washers are harbingers of foul-smelling fabric

    May 27, 2014

  • Beetles in the office aren’t up on blocks

    We have more dead beetles here at the Daily Press office than you can shake a can of Raid at.

    May 12, 2014

  • NOLA always worth your time, especially for Jazz Fest

    When it comes to New Orleans, you can have a “glass half-full” or a “glass half-empty” attitude.
    Either you see anniversary celebrants enjoying a romantic dinner at the Court of Two Sisters, or the aging transvestite hawking her wares on Bourbon Street. You hear the joyous sounds of Zydeco music from the band on the corner, or the lewd cursing of the drunken frat boy at Pat O’Brien’s. You smell the enticing aroma of Cajun cuisine in the French Quarter, or the fresh puddle of vomit on the sidewalk.
    I’m a cynic, but I take the “glass half-full” approach to New Orleans. My family loves the city’s character, even with all the blemishes that repel respectable folks, and we especially love the Jazz and Heritage Festival. That’s where we were last weekend. The main action is out at the fairgrounds, with its sweltering temperatures, stick-tight-laden grass, and sea of sweaty bodies packed in around a dozen stages and 60 or so booths selling local food and crafts.

    May 5, 2014

  • Selling of lies in the dreaded car game

    Recently, my husband and I did something that is discussed in the same tone of disdain reserved for Communists, salesmen, politicians, lawyers, and sometimes, journalists. We bought ourselves a “furrin” car.
    We decided on a foreign contraption because my husband now commutes to Tulsa every day, and a quick calculation revealed the horror our three-quarter-ton diesel Chevy would visit upon our bank account. That vehicle gets a comparatively impressive 18 mpg, but doing the math on the current price of diesel and a 150-mile daily round trip is enough to send anyone to the nearest toilet to hurl up the previous meal.

    April 21, 2014

Poll

Do you believe school administrators and college presidents in Oklahoma are paid too much?

Strongly agree.
Somewhat agree.
Somewhat disagree.
Strongly disagree.
Undecided.
     View Results
Tahlequah Daily Press Twitter
Follow us on twitter
AP Video
Kerry: Humanitarian Cease-fire Efforts Continue Raw: Corruption Trial Begins for Former Va Gov. The Carbon Trap: US Exports Global Warming UN Security Council Calls for Gaza Cease-fire Traditional African Dishes Teach Healthy Eating 13 Struck by Lightning on Calif. Beach Baseball Hall of Famers Inducted Israel, Hamas Trade Fire Despite Truce in Gaza Italy's Nibali Set to Win First Tour De France Raw: Shipwrecked Concordia Completes Last Voyage Raw: Sea Turtle Hatchlings Emerge From Nest Raw: Massive Dust Storm Covers Phoenix 12-hour Cease-fire in Gaza Fighting Begins Raw: Bolivian Dancers Attempt to Break Record Raw: Israel, Palestine Supporters Rally in US Raw: Air Algerie Flight 5017 Wreckage Virginia Governor Tours Tornado Aftermath Judge Faces Heat Over Offer to Help Migrant Kids Kangaroo Goes Missing in Oklahoma More M17 Bodies Return, Sanctions on Russia Grow
Stocks