Friday, December 20, 2013



Christmas 1945 was going to be a really good one. My mother was going to be able to go to downtown Santa Cruz. All WW II restrictions against Enemy Aliens had been lifted. Actually, the restrictions on Italian Aliens had been lifted by 1943, however; my parents were very cautious and didn't want  to take any chances.

During the war years, my Mom had not become an American citizen and had been consider an 'alien'. She could not go on the west side of Mission Street (towards the ocean) so she was prevented from going into downtown Santa Cruz. But this year (1945) the war was over and it was going to be a joyous holiday.

On this particular day, I (along with my Aunt and Mom) was going to see Santa Claus or as the Italians called him: 'Sani Closi' in downtown Santa Cruz. Even though I couldn't speak English, I could understand some of it and I knew exactly what I wanted Santa to bring me.  I was so excited. Everything was so festive and people were very happy.

We went straight to the Woolworth's Store and headed for the back where Santa was suppose to be.  I remember that all the Christmas decorations were magnificent and then all of sudden, there Santa was. I don't remember waiting in line, I just cautiously walked up to him. I was so excited that I was barely breathing. Santa picked me up and place me on his lap. I hardly notice the surroundings any more. It was just 'Sani Closi' and me. He asked me my name and I barely whispered back, " Norma". I think he asked me if I had been a good little girl and again  I answered him in a whisper, "Yes".

Santa then asked me, "What do you want for Christmas, Norma?"  Well now, this is what I came here for. I got very strong and courageous and blurted out, "Voglio un carrettino rosso". After a very long pause, and a quizzical look on his face, Santa said, "You want a what?"

Horrors! My Mom said that my face got as red as Santas's suit.  I suddenly realized that 'Sani Closi' didn't speak or understand Italian and I didn't know how to say, "I want a little red wagon" in English.  Embarrassed, I reluctantly blurted out the only  English words I could remember, "A dolly". It was all a blur after that.

Later that day we bought a Christmas tree and went home "su per la costa" (up the coast). After I went to bed that night my parents decorated the tree. Next morning they woke me and in Italian they said . "Come look, Norma! Santa came last night and decorated the tree!"  I was so enthralled with 
 the beautiful colored lights and ornaments and it even had a Nativity scene under the tree.  It was awesome - a sight I will never forget. I then asked my parents if they could understand "Sani Closi" when he was doing all this. "Why yes", they responded, "Sani Closi spoke perfect Italian". All I could think of after that was, "I wish you would have awaken me so I could have told 'Sani Closi' what I really wanted"

When Christmas came, I was okay and happy with the doll I received (which I still have), because I knew that next year I was going to start going to school. Then I would know how to ask 'Sani Closi' for the little red wagon in English. But I still don't understand how Santa was able to speak 'perfect Italian' to my parents and not to me.

Merry Christmas Everybody and may your thoughts for the coming year be filled with "little red wagons in the sky."




Ivano Franco Comelli said...

FaceBook Comment from Bonnie Janson (Barozzi): I grew up in a great big Italian family, with a great grandmother and a few great aunts and uncles who spoke little or no English. Needless to say, my vocabulary was a rich mixture of English with a few Italian words sprinkled in for good measure. As a result, I would often elicit chuckles from my classmates when I would use an Italian word instead of an English word when naming something. One day at school, our 2nd grade teacher was asking us to identify objects she would show us in photos. When she held up a picture of a blimp, I raised my hand and answered, "A dirigible!" [pronounced dee-rah-gee-bee-lay in my best Italian accent!]] because I had learned that was what the giant aircraft were called when my nona pointed them out to me as we drove past Moffet Field. Well, the kids and the teacher all had a huge chuckle over that one! I was so embarrassed that I endeavored NEVER to use an Italian word again when speaking American English. So, with great 7 year old logic, I deduced that any word ending in an a, an o, or an i must be Italian so I could avoid making a fool of myself by avoiding the use of those words at all cost. It worked great until one day when, again in class, I was asked to identify an object -- a spatula. Oh, no! I just knew that spatula must be an Italian word -- it ended in 'a'! But what in the heck was the English word for that utensil?? I was stumped! ! So I just shrugged my shoulders and told a great big fib. I said that I had never seen one before and didn't know what it was! The teacher gave me a strange look, probably because my grandmother owned a well known bakery in town, and I had often spoken of how I had helped her bake things at the store! It is funny now, but looking back I realize how important it was in the post war years, especially for first and second generation immigrants to assimilate, to fit in, to vanilla-tize our ethnic differences, and to embrace, and be, all things American. [Glad I got over that! LOL! ] Yes, I am proud to be an American, but I am proud and thankful for my Italian roots as well. Let's hope that we all remember that we are a country of immigrants of one kind or another, and that it is the ideals that this country holds that bind us together and make us Americans.

Canadian Furlan said...

Hey Ivano ... Hope everything is going well. It's me the Canadian Furlan. It's been a while. Just catching up. Also by early April I'm going to be entering new territory!! Yea my wife and I are going to be 1st time grandparents. WOW!! Can't wait to carry the new badge of Grandparent "Nonno & Nonna" My that sounds so formal.
Take care keep in touch and "Sempre Avanti"