Monday, November 20, 2006

Italian Gadabout. . .

I hadn’t realized how many people my daughter knew while we lived in Italy until we got ready to leave. Suddenly, people I didn’t even know were coming up to me and telling me how much they would miss her.

For me, those 3 years spent in Italy were a life-changing experience, but also for my daughter as well. The world was different there—we never had to worry about her safety or if someone would hurt her.

When we first got there though things were rough. We came from a society that was already starting to preach “Stranger Danger’ repetitively and frequently. Going to a place where you don’t understand the language and where people adore children was rough on her.

Italians love children and will come up to them in the street, or anywhere actually and touch their face or head and exclaim, “Bella bambina” or something similar. They speak rapidly and perhaps a trifle loudly too, in that age old way people have of speaking louder when someone can’t understand you. For a 6 year old, it was frightening and she would try to hide away from it.

For awhile, things got very problematic. She refused to eat Italian food, even her beloved pizza. Our normally out-going friendly child now wanted to eat only familiar, American food, which was hard because we were still living in a hotel at the time and there wasn’t really anywhere except for the NCO club to get American food.

But eventually, she began to feel comfortable with our surroundings and after we moved into our apartment, exploring our new found Italian world became very important to her. We lived in an Italian neighborhood and she had to go several blocks to find the nearest American kids to play with, so she would take out on her bike, stopping at practically gate along the way trying to chat in her faltering Italian.

As I said, the Italians love children and it was never a worry for me that someone would hurt her or abduct her. She had more freedom that American kids usually did. She rode her bike all over the neighborhood, including over to the little local “bar” which wasn’t really like an American bar. She could go in a buy Gummi candies, back before American kids even knew what they were. Gummi’s were available in every flavor and shape imaginable and her favorites were the little pop bottles.

Our Italian neighbors all knew her, and would smile and wave as we passed. I have to share a couple of things about those lovely people. They like big dogs, German Shepards, St. Bernards, etc. If it was big and barked, they probably had it. And they loved the name ‘Dick’ for those dogs. You could walk around the neighborhood and find a half dozen ‘Dick’s’. They pronounced it ‘Deek’ and it was charming to hear. We used to sometimes catch a bus to ride in to post and there was a Dick that lived in a house across the street. His owner said he didn’t like people much, but he loved my daughter and would bring her his ball to play with him every time he saw her.

Also, even though most of them lived in apartments as there were very few single family dwellings, they lived like it was a house. One morning as my daughter and I were standing out at the bus stop, one of your neighbors in a large apartment building was outside and he had several chickens out there with him.

He smiled and waved as we walked by and my daughter watched him closely as he grabbed a chicken, and then a small axe.

Oh oh, I thought.

We watched as he chopped the chickens head off and then hung it up so the blood could drain out.

She was standing there, holding my hand solemnly and I thought, how on earth am I going to explain this to her? At 7 years old, this is a tough time for her to see something like this.

“Momma,” she said, looking at what was going on over there very intently. He had repeated the procedure with another chicken.

“What sweetie?” I asked, dreading whatever her question was going to be.

“I bet those chickens are going to taste really good!”

That’s her, my dedicated little carnivore!

But perhaps, because she was so willing to adapt, to look at life from the Italian perspective, perhaps that is exactly the reason why she made so many friends there. She didn’t think anything was wrong with how they lived their lives and they could tell that immediately. She loved them, and everything about them, from the man who delivered our bread to the lady who worked on post. All of them told me how much she would be missed and several gave her small trinkets when we left.

I know those people touched her life and I hope that she touched theirs as well. I hope they remember my little Italian Gadabout with a smile.

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