Every Canada Day during my adult life, I would call my parents and thank them for moving to this country. Both would chuckle and my father would say: “You’re welcome.” My mother, on the other hand, would remind me that she never wanted to leave Italy in the first place.But leave they did, and in 1957, with my three older sisters in tow, they boarded a ship destined for Halifax, Canada. My father, Camillo, a cook and my mother, Maria, a homemaker came to Canada to make a better life for their family in Guelph, Ontario. In the years to come, they would have three more children, including me.
While living in Canada meant my family would learn to speak a new language and adopt many new customs, there were also numerous Italian traditions that were strictly adhered to. Now, as a young child, I never saw my family as being any different than my friend, Massimo’s family next door. (They were Italian too.) It wasn’t until I reached the “age of reason” in elementary school, that I started to understand that we were different from some of my friends’ families. For instance:
• We ate pasta every day! In fact, I remember eating rigatoni on the sandy shores of Sauble Beach one summer. (After a 2 hour drive, the stuff was still warm!) When my friends went off on picnics their coolers were packed full of sandwiches and lemonade.
• While my friends had lush, green lawns and flower beds in their backyards, our ENTIRE backyard was a fruit and vegetable garden.
• My friends had a “rec” room in their basement for leisure activities. We on the other hand had a second kitchen, where, among other gastronomical wonders, my Dad made fresh pasta by hand!
• In our house we “opened and closed the lights” and my friends turned the lights at their houses “on and off”.
• Every year, late in the summer, while my friends still enjoyed the last few days of sleeping in, my family woke up with the sun to go to a farm between Guelph and Hamilton to pick tomatoes. The bushels of Roma tomatoes would then be hauled home, washed, pureed, bottled in old pop bottles that had been saved over the course of the year, capped, and then stored in our basement for use over the coming months.
• In the Fall, as my friends went off to minor hockey practice or to music lessons, I was busy helping my dad make wine. The grapes were shipped from California by rail to a train depot not far from our house, where we went to pick them up. Once home, the grapes were crushed, put through a press, and then bottled. It was always a thrill for me as a kid to be able to taste our finished product; wow was it strong! Then sometime in the middle of winter, as the wine lay fermenting in our basement “cantina”, (other kids’ families had fruit cellars), we rounded out the year by making sausage.
Now, despite what you may have heard or read about Italians, we did not have a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary or pink flamingoes garnishing our front lawn. However, I do have plenty of photos where you can clearly see plastic slipcovers on all the furniture!
Through it all I not only survived but thrived and now even practice many of these Italian traditions in my own home. All this; to honour my parents who wanted to be Canadian!
Thanks Ma! Thanks Papa!
Happy Canada Day.
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