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The Joys of Growing Up Italian American

EDITOR'S NOTE: Elvira S Oliver, from Carmel, New York, claims that at age 99 she is the Author of "The Joys of Growing up Italian" which is on the internet as anonymous. We don’t know who is Elvira – we never met her – she might not even exist – but her story is intriguing at least as told by whoever posted Elvira's blog at As told by Eric Shackle, another blogger – who may not be an investigative reporter – “Elvira's new blog will wow the millions of Americans proud of having an Italian ancestor. She claims that 40 years ago she wrote a heartwarming story, "The Joys of Growing Up Italian" that has since been "stolen," and posted on hundreds of websites without permission or even a byline.” We lreproduce “The Joys of Growing up Italian America” essay below. If someone has some scientific evidence or proof of authorship of this essay, in addition to Elvira’s blog, please come forward.


09/16/2009 - Re your story The Joys of Growing Up Italian American: Elvira S. Oliver sent me a package of documents, including a copy of her driving license, which convinced me that her claims are true. It's also true that I exist, and that I am an internet investigative reporter. My blog, LifeBeginsAt80, is posted at

[Eric Shackle is a retired Australian journalist whose hobby is searching the Internet and writing about it. He is copy editor of Anu Garg's Seattle-based A Word A Day newsletter, which is e-mailed five days a week to more than 800,000 wordlovers in 200 countries.]


The Joys of Growing Up Italian American

I was well into adulthood before I realized that I was an American. Of course, I had been born in America and had lived there all of my life, but somehow it never occurred to me that just being a citizen of the United States meant I was an American. Americans were people who ate peanut butter and jelly on mushy white bread that came out of plastic packages. ME?? I was Italian.

For me ... as I am sure for most second-generation Italian-American children who grew up in the 40s or 50s, there was a definite distinction drawn between US and THEM. We were Italians. Everybody else – the Irish, German, Polish, Jewish – they were the "MED-E-GONES." There were no hard feelings, just – well – we were sure ours was the better way. For instance, we had a bread man, a coal man, an ice man, a fruit and vegetable man, a watermelon man, and a fish man; we even had a man who sharpened knives and scissors who came right to our homes, or at least right outside our homes. They were the many peddlers who plied the Italian neighborhoods. We would wait for their call, their yell, their individual distinctive sound. We knew them all, they knew us. Americans went to the stores for most of their foods – what a waste.

Truly, I pitied their loss. They never knew the pleasure of waking up every morning to find a hot, crisp loaf of Italian bread waiting behind the screen door. And instead of being able to climb on back of the peddler's truck a couple of times a week just to hitch a ride, most of my "MED-E- GONE" friends had to be satisfied going to the A&P. When it came to food, it always amazed me that my American friends or classmates only ate turkey on Thanksgiving or Christmas. Or rather, that they only ate turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce. Now we Italians – we also had turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce, but – only after we had finished the antipasto, soup, lasagna, meatballs, salad and whatever else Grandma thought might be appropriate for that particular holiday. This turkey was usually accompanied by a roast of some kind (just in case somebody walked in who didn't like turkey) and was followed by an assortment of fruits, nuts, pastries, cakes and, of course, homemade cookies. No holiday was complete without some home baking, none of that store-bought stuff for us. This is where you learned to eat a seven-course meal between Noon and 4:00 p.m, how to handle hot chestnuts and put peach wedges in red wine. I truly believe Italians live a romance with food.

Speaking of food – Sunday was truly the big day of the week. That was the day you'd wake up to the smell of garlic and onions frying in olive oil. As you laid in bed, you could hear the hiss as tomatoes were dropped into the pan. Sunday we always had gravy (the "MED-E-GONES" called it "sauce") and macaroni (they called it "pasta"). Sunday would not be Sunday without going to Mass. Of course, you couldn't eat before Mass because you had to fast before receiving Communion. But, the good part was we knew that when we got home, we'd find hot meatballs frying and nothing tastes better than newly-fried meatballs and crisp bread dipped in a pot of gravy.

There was another difference between US and THEM. We had gardens, not just flower gardens, but huge gardens where we grew tomatoes, tomatoes, and more tomatoes. We ate them, cooked them, jarred them. Of course, we also grew peppers, basil, lettuce and squash. Everybody had a grapevine and a fig tree, and in the fall everyone made homemade wine, lots of it. Of course, those gardens thrived so because we also had something else it seemed our American friends didn't seem to have. We had a Grandfather. It's not they didn't have grandfathers, it's just that they didn't live in the same house, or nearby. They visited their grandfathers. We ate with ours, and God forbid we didn't see him at least once a week. I can still remember my Grandfather telling me how he came to America as a young man "on the boat." How the family lived in a rented tenement on Thompson St. in New York's "Little Italy" and struggled to make ends meet; how he decided he didn't want his children, four sons and five daughters, to grow up in that environment. All of this, of course, in his own version of Napolitano/English which I soon learned to understand quite well.

So, when he saved enough, and I could never figure out how, he bought two houses in New Jersey. The house in Hoboken and the house at Long Branch at the Jersey shore served as the family headquarters for the next 40 years. I remember how he hated to leave, would rather sit by the window and watch his garden grow and when he did leave for some special occasion, had to return as quickly as possible. After all, "Nobody's watching the house." I also remember the holiday when all the relatives would gather at my Grandfather's house and there'd be tables full of food and homemade wine and music. Women in the kitchen, men in the living room, and kids, kids everywhere. I have a lot of cousins, first and second. And my Grandfather, his fine moustache trimmed, would sit in the middle of it all surveying his domain, proud of his family and how well his children had done.

He had achieved his goal in coming to America and to New Jersey and knew his children and their children were achieving the same goals that were available to them in this country because they were Italian Americans with that strong Italian work ethic. When my Grandfather died years ago at the age of 89, things began to change... Slowly at first. Family gatherings were fewer and something seemed to be missing, although when we did get together, I always had the feeling he was there somehow. It was understandable, of course, everyone now had families of their own and grandchildren of their own.


Monday, August 24, 2009

Before I begin blogging, I want to pose a question to the Bloggers of the World: Am I now the oldest blogger on Earth? Even though a famous department store (which shall remain unnamed for the time being) declared my birth-datei invalid when I applied for a credit card recently, I was able to convince them, that it is still valid even thopugh I am 99 years old. And when my son Floyd who lives in San Diego, California visited me recently to celebrate my birthday, he convinced me to become a blogger...and that I now would be the oldest blogger on Earth. He came to this conclusion after scrolling through the Internet and read that the two oldest bloggers, at the age od 109, had recently passed away....Olive Riley on July 12 in Australia; and Ruth Hamilton on January 18 in Florida.

I was born in Brooklyn, New York, USA in 1910 to Italian immigrants, and I grew up so deeply ingrained in the Italian culture that I didn't realize until I was in my very early teens, that I was an American.

Many years slowly passed by, and after my beloved parents left this Earth for greener pastures, it became the custom for my family to gather at my house for special occasions. They came from Long Island: Centereach, Baldwin, and West Hempstead; from Brooklyn, N.Y.; from Sherburne, N.Y.; from Alexandria, Va. and even Burlington, Vt. All participated in the festivities, enjoyed the comraderie, and filled their bellies with real Italian food with all the trimmings. Then after three or four days, and sometimes a week, all departed.

One day in 1968, after a wonderful Thanksgiving celebration...and coming home from a rather hectic and busy day at the office, I entered an empty house. Alone and feeling somewhat nostalgic for the good old-times, I sat down at my kitchen table, and on an old manual typewriter typed "The Joys of Growing-up

Italian", jottting down random thoughts, regardlessof gender or tense (past, present or future). Then after only a few friends and family members received a copy, I just placed it in a drawer and forgot about it. I did not come across it again until the Year 1976, when I moved to a beautiful house on the top of a small mountain in South Otselic, New York. Surrounded by forests, cornfields, dairy farms and down-to-earth country folk, I thought I was in Heaven. That particular area generated only a few paesans (Italians). As soon as I became acquainted with them, I eagerly presented them with a copy of my newly found essay.

The Winter of 1977-1978 found St. Otselic's roads rather impassable for a city-bred girl. Over 10-feet of snow was piled up in my driveway., and I would have been confined in my home all winter, if it wasn't for the generosity of the farmers, who came to pick-me-up with their tractors for special appointments I had to keep. My daughter Angela's concern for my well-being guided me into a new direction. Once more I packed my belongings and dropped the baggage in a small lovely house in a senior development known as Silver Ridge Park in Toms River, New Jersey. There, I suddenly found myself , once again, engulfed in the Italian culture. Without saying too much more, many copies were made of "The Joys of Growing-up Italian, and I gladly distributed it throughout the Village.

I refined the essay in 1980, and again several more times...correcting grammer, genders, tenses and punctuation, etc. As I became older, all one had to mention is that he/she was of Italian descent, and off went a copy of my essay. This happened quite frequently, no matter where I wandered: on trains, buses, and even on airplanes. Addresses were exchanged and new friends were borne.

Several year's ago, at a meeting of the Golden Age Seniors in Patterson, New York, next to me sat Claire. (Oh, let me shy away from my story and let me tell you something funny about Claire. She and her sister Connie live in a lovely estate in Connecticut, whose grounds are beautifully manicured and embellished with exotic plants and bushes. One day, she discovered that an unknown stranger had taken up residency on her and lodging free. The stranger roams freely and frequently visits others in the neighborhood Each time he returns, he makes his presence known by tapping on Claire's back-porch. As soon as Claire or Connie glance through the plate-glass door, he strolls into a slow-dance, he spreads his tail into the shape of a fan, and shimmers magnificently with rainbow colors. What a show-off! But really, how can a Peacock say "I'm home!".) Now let's get back to my story. As Claire and I were engaged in a pleasant conversation, I learned she is a "paesan". Immediately I made known to her that I was the author of the essay "The Joys of Growing-up Italian" on which I had received many compliments over the years. A startled look crossed her face, and in a subdued to0ne said: "Elvira, its on the Internet". All Hell broke loose! I'm being plagarized!

I wll continue with this diatribe the next time I blog, if you find it interesting.
Posted by Elvira S Oliver




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