Tuesday, December 19, 2006

A CHRISTMAS STORY 'SU PER LA COSTA'

IN “LA NOSTRA COSTA”, I WRITE ABOUT TWO HOUSES THAT STOOD SIDE BY SIDE ON THE EAST SIDE OF THE COAST ROAD about three miles north of Santa Cruz. One house belonged to the Gemignani Family and the other to the Comelli Family (my family). The two houses are no longer there having been moved off the Coast by the Tony Landino Moving Company, C. 1953. Today they stand side by side (much like they did ‘su per la costa’) at 1505 Bulb Ave in Capitola, not too far from the Capitola Mall.

The house my family lived in was originally built by ‘‘Baffi” Campioni and Constantino Gemignani. The Campionis were the first family to live in the house and eventually sold it to my parents in 1937. Gino Campioni relates some early memories of living in that house and what he thinks might have been his first Christmas.


Last Tuesday, while waiting for my friend I amused myself by studying a map of Santa Cruz. (and made myself more homesick) I discovered two things:
1. Mission Street in front of Mission Hill School does not run exactly East and West as I had always thought. 2. Bulb Avenue, where your old house and mine is now located, is less that a mile from where Baffi is buried (Holy Cross Cemetery).

(H)ere are my earliest memories of the house: My mother told me I began talking at 6 months of age. My first words were, "Mamma", "Pappà" and "Che è?" ("What is it?" This became my most frequently repeated phrase.)

When I was just toddling around, Baffi gave me a taste of his Royal Anne cherries he had preserved in bourbon. He said, "you have a cherry and I'll have the juice" I remember the good taste, followed by the startling zing! Happy baby!

I remember standing at a window and watching a Caterpillar tractor pulling out stumps. The driver was Tony Checchi. (pronounced, "cake key") I would call out, "Tira, uomo del trette!" Isn't that what you call a tractor? After all it would be another 4 years before I ever heard about English. At that same window were several shiny things that got my attention. They were iridescent and looked tasty. I tried one. This horrified my mother, who got that horse fly out of my mouth. Non fare mai piu così! Is that phrase familiar, Ivano?

Tony had some harrowing experiences. Once while driving that Caterpillar by the cliffs, he got too close to the edge, and the thing gave a lurch and flung him off. He tumbled down to a ledge, and was seriously hurt. Then he watched in horror as the tractor was still moving slowly and also tumbled over, headed right for him. Somehow it took a bounce, and landed SMASH beyond him. I don't remember who rescued him, or how, but he got out of the situation. Later on, he went back to Italy to find a bride, as Baffi had done, and instead received a beating for his trouble, presumably from a relative of his intended. I don't know what became of him after that.

Perhaps it was at the first Christmas in that house that someone brought me some gifts. One was a ping pong set, which nobody knew what to do with. I thought the little white balls were nice, but what was the rest of the stuff for? Another was a beautiful shiny silver toy Caterpillar with black rubber cleated treads. I was able to get them off the wheels, but putting them back on only served to severely pinch my fingers. I was not strong enough to wind the spring motor, so my dad would do it. I was fascinated to watch that toy move so slowly and realistically and with power. Baffi put an overturned apple box on the floor and a plank on each side so the tractor could climb up to the box and down the other side. To show how much power it had, he hooked a little red wagon to the tractor, and loaded it with a 25 pound bag of sugar and a kitchen chair. The thing marched right up and over with no effort. I don't know what became of that toy. I don't remember seeing it in our next house on Laurent Street in Santa Cruz.

I probably already told you of my mother shooting doves through an open window, and my trying to see where "our dinner " was standing, or how it fell when she fired. (looking through the gap in the wall) I still had that single shot 22 in the house on Bay Street, but never dared to try it. It looked so rusty that I thought it might fly apart if fired. You had to pull back the hammer, lower the firing pin holder and insert a cartridge. After firing, you did the same procedure and had to use pliers to remove the spent shell. After Baffi died, I sold his fine Browning automatic shotgun. I really should have kept it, but as I knew I would never use it, I felt somebody would take better care of it. I sold it for $75. Had I any brains, I should have gotten ten times that much. I live and learn, but learn too late.

Best wishes to you and yours, especially at this holiday season.

Saluti, Gino

Thanks Gino. Here is wishing one and all a Merry Christmas and Happy New year. Ivan0

Reminder: The "Old Rancere" will be at the 'La Nostra Costa' Book Signing at the Capitola Cafe Bookstore, 1475 41st Ave, Capitola, on Wednsday, Jan 17, 2007, starting at 7:30PM. [-831-462-4415- www.capitolabookcafe.com ]

1 comment:

gino "d'baffi" Campioni said...

The first Christmas tree I can remember was a small artificial one. It was only about 18 inches tall, and made of wire bristling with green cellophane simulations of pine needles. It had red beads at the ends of the branches, and a wooden cube base about four inches per side and painted white with red bells and wreaths on it. My mother decorated it with shiny silver half-globes which had multi color iridescent stars on the inside. I loved that little tree, and we kept it for many years.

On one of the times in which I had a Summer ailment, (measles, mumps, chicken pox, etc. I caught them all.) she did her best to make me comfortable in bed. She asked me, "What else can I do for you now?" I asked, "could you please put up the little Christmas tree?" This she did for me, although it was in June. I was amazed even then, that she would take the time, as busy as she was, to do that for me.

My most memorable Christmas tree, however was one that I never expected. It was around 1943, I think. I had asked for a real tree, hopefully a big one, but Baffi said it was impossible, as they were too expensive.

One day he went up Bay Street to the area now known as "Westlake" looking for funghi. (mushrooms) I spied him as he returned, carrying a gunny sack with several fine big mushrooms, and in his other had carrying a branch. Redwood? I asked what that was for. He said, "it is your Christmas tree."

It was a scrawny looking thing. I complained that it could never look like a Christmas tree. My mother told me to watch and learn. She took some thread and tied some of the branches closer together, arranging them in such a clever way, that it did indeed look like a fine big tree. Then she had me put the globes and tinsel on it.

Granted, it was not the most traditional looking tree, but it turned out to be the most memorable one, mainly because I never would have expected Baffi to go to that much trouble to get it. I have been thankful for his gift for all these years.

Incidentally, as funghi were mentioned, I recall my mother telling me not to eat mushrooms one night. "Wait till morning, and if Baffi is still alive, you can have some too." Well, one time he and I both had a touch of something after having mushrooms. I don't remember it myself, but my mother told me we were both pretty sick. Fortunately, it was not as bad as what happened to my doctor. Doctor Garibotti, his wife, and two daughters died within hours of eating poisonous mushrooms. Baffi said that he knew the difference between the safe ones and the poisonous ones, but even the good ones can be deadly if there is something toxic in the soil. (even rusty metal cans)


Buon Natale, Ivano, e tutti gli amici su per la Costa. Buona fine e buon principio.

Gino

LNC:I remember Dr. Garibotti. He was my Doctor in between Dr. Sullivan and Dr. Allegrini. I remember him as a very nice man who spoke Italian quite well. My mother liked him a lot. After his death I refused to eat wild mushrooms although my father, mother and brother did. I remember going to bed at night afraid that I would wake up in the morning only to find my entire family dead. I never knew why they had to eat those mushrooms. ivn0