Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Misadventures over Money

My grandfather came to this country from Italy when he was a teen. 

He came alone and one could say he never looked back.

He left the Old Country behind in a resounding way as many immigrants of the early 20th century did. 

His ties to his homeland were never put aside however. Connections to his past were kept alive through the stories he told.

“Misadventures Over Money" could easily be the title of this story he told around our dinner table. I wrote this down many years ago with as many details of his story as could be recalled.

One wishes you asked more questions when personal stories are told. There can be so many missing parts. 

When this is the case our imagination or intuition fills in. It becomes more a story, in a sense, as we ponder it and put together what hasn't been said.

Grandpa was a bright inquisitive boy born into hard times. There was enough to eat but one can assume actual money was scarce and prospects for advancement even more so.

The family almost surely economized severely, bartered to get by, grew much of their vegetables, had fruit trees and a diet dependent on fish which the father caught.

My great grandfather fished the sea for a living or to supplement his income which derived in part from his skills in stone masonry. 

He was part of a fishing crew. Occasionally he took my grandfather, then a small boy, along.

The story as told to us begins with a dream. It’s a dream of three numbers. This dream came to my great grandfather while the fishing crew was out for the night.

When he awoke he remembered the numbers. He regarded them as lucky. They were surely numbers to play on the lottery!

The fishing crew was onshore when my great grandpa had the dream. They were pulled up onto land and at a shepherd’s hut or some other rustic shelter. 

This apparently was done when rest was needed (they fished at night) or in bad weather.

My great grandfather decided to entrust his son with the mission to return to the village and place the numbers on the lottery.

My assumption is the crew were located close enough to home that my grandfather could cover the distance on foot.

He was dispatched with the admonition to avoid their house at all costs before placing the bets. 

My great grandfather had a strong hunch that precious coins used on gambling wouldn’t go over well with his better half.

Hunger or thirst or simply the momentum of homecoming landed Grandpa at home before carrying out the errand.

His mother was quick to sniff out something suspicious about his early return. He had no plausible alibi to give to squelch her questions or maybe he didn't wish to be, or dare to be, dishonest with her.

He admitted to being his father's courier with numbers to wager on in the marketplace.

“Gambling, nothing!" his mother exclaimed."Take that money and buy some macaroni with it. We'll have a fine meal for your father tonight!"

The father shows up much later. He makes a grand entrance. He’s smiling. A cigar is clamped in his teeth. "We're in money," he announces.

"What do you mean?" great grandmother asks. She has a foreboding that he is referring to the lottery. 

Perhaps she has the tiniest twinge of misgiving. Could it be, she wonders, that her sense of right has worked against her this day?

He happily explains. The posted winning numbers are the very numbers he dreamed last night. His numbers turned up and won the lottery for him.

“No," his wife corrected. "You won no money. I had the boy take the money and buy macaroni with it. It's your supper tonight."

"Ah." The shrug is expressive. "I guess I wasn't meant to be rich."

My grandfather counted his lucky stars that his father accepted the situation so well. 

He tucked into his pasta with no scolding at all and the bliss of knowing that the meal was inadvertently helped to the table by him. 

Hearing the story as a young girl it was easy to picture the cast of characters.

There was the dreamer – my great grandfather. There was my biddable grandfather. 

He was easy-go-lucky like his father but with a streak of common sense to recognize and negotiate with trouble (in this case his mother if he didn’t come clean).

Then there’s my great grandmother. I thought of her as practical, watchful, prudent. She isn’t what you’d call the fun one in the trio.

I’ve come to see her in a different light. She had the concerns for feeding her family in tough times. 

She likely thought of herself as more realistic than her husband about finances. 

Someone had to protect and watch out for the family's interests. It was up to her to balance his more carefree ways with a stricter adherence to frugality.

As my great grandparents and grandpa walk through this short story they can be any one of us. They play out their roles as we would in our own way.

It's a story of dreams, hopes, work, relationships, community, responsibility and love. That's a full plate of concepts in any story and this one comes with pasta besides. 

Ro Giencke – October 31, 2012






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