BY: Debbie Arace – “Ray of Sunshine, Hope & Laughter”
I’ve learned that humor and faith are two essentials in my life. They are the adhesive that keeps me from shattering into a million pieces. I’d like to share some of the humorous situations that have occurred in my life since I met and fell in love with my husband of almost 44 years.
I married into a genuine Italian family and got more then I bargained for. I got Archie and Edith Bunker Italian-Style, and Mamas Family from the “Carol Burnett Show” all rolled up as In-laws. Here is how it all began:
Meeting The Tall Boy
I should have known from my first meeting and dinner with my boyfriend’s family that I was about to embark on a journey of pure hysteria. At 16, I really had no idea what I was in for.
I’ll start at the beginning. On October 8, 1970, I had planned to attend a Battle of the Bands at my high school. My ex-boyfriends’ band was going to be performing there. The plan was that we were going to get back together that night. At least that was our plan. Little did I know that God had other plans for me. I watched as my ex-set up his drums, and I reminisced about all the times he would sing to me. Our song was “Something” by the Beatles. He would always gaze into my eyes, and get lost there whenever he sang it to me. It made me feel special, and it pissed the band leader off. I was a distraction he didn’t want in his band. That band leader wound up leaving the band and starting a different one, which was also going to be performing at the Battle of the Bands that night. In the course of my daydreaming, I casually looked up and saw this tall boy walking through the doorway. I turned to two girls that were standing near me, and I said: “See that boy over there, I’m gonna marry him”. They looked at me like I was crazy and I too thought I was crazy. I didn’t even know this tall boy. Why would I say I was going to marry someone I didn’t know? I walked over to my girlfriend and pointed out my future husband. I told her I was going to marry him. She responded by saying: “Who Augie”? I said: “You know him? Introduce me to him”! She told me he was the keyboard player in her boyfriends’ band. Her boyfriend just happened to be the band leader that left my exes band. When my girlfriend told him that I wanted to meet Augie he got really mad. He did not want me captivating another band member and jeopardizing another band. Little did he know that I was going to be a strong structure in his life for the next few years. Let’s just say I was not one of his favorite people. Sadly that band leader wound up committing suicide 6 years later. I doubt I had anything to do with that.
Augie and I met that night. We hit it off immediately. He was corny in a charming way. We spoke for a while, we even had a conversation about God, which made me like him even more. He asked for my number and said he’d call. I drove home with my ex after the Battle of the Bands was over. He sensed that there was a spark brewing between Augie and I. I told him that I didn’t think he and I would be getting back together because I had just met the boy I was going to marry. I know I hurt him, which made me feel terrible but it was out of my control. I just knew I was going to spend my life with this talł guy. That’s when I began my roller coaster ride of a lifetime, where humor and faith would take up permanent residency.
Augie called the next day and told me he wanted to spend the rest of his life with me. A month later he asked me to go steady by giving me a napkin filled with nuts. I looked quizzically at both him and the napkin. He said: “I’m nuts about you. Will you go steady with me”? Corny, yet endearing. Of course, I said yes. A couple of days later he gave me another napkin. This time the napkin held a beautiful gold cross and chain. He told me he wanted me to always remember that God had brought us together. He put the necklace with the cross around my neck. I cherished and wore it daily. This guy was a definite keeper. As our relationship moved on, Augie thought it might be time to introduce me to his family. I was nervous, but he reassured me that it would be fine. Based on the fact that our phone conversations were always being interrupted by his mom yelling at him to get off the phone with me, I felt certain that she didn’t like the idea that her son was dating me. My instinct was right.
Meeting the Fam
When an American girl of Italian descent (third generation American), dates an American born Italian boy whose parents are straight off the boat from Italy, worlds collide. Lives will be changed. The evil eye will be given. I think it’s safe to say that like the band leader, my boyfriends’ mother was not particularly fond of me. She hadn’t even met me yet but apparently, I didn’t meet her criteria. A. I wasn’t a real Italian. B. My parents were divorced. C. Her son was too distracted by me. D. I wasn’t a real Italian. I could add more but you get the gist of it. I was doomed. The day came around when I was going to meet his family. I was petrified. I called my grandmother and told her I was going to meet my boyfriends’ parents. She gave me some advice and told me to call her when I got home. She wanted to know how it went.
I arrived at his home and was greeted by the most delicious aroma of food coming from his apartment. The perfect icebreaker. I’d compliment his mother’s food. A great way to win her over. As I entered the apartment, there she stood. Four foot nothing with the strength of a lioness protecting her cub. She gave me the once-over of disapproval but was very hospitable. My necklace caught her eye. She looked at it and gave me a dirty look (I found out years later that her dear son had borrowed it from her jewelry box without permission. It was sent to her from a relative in Italy.). Before she could say anything, his dad entered the room. He was very friendly and cautiously welcoming. Their names were Catherine and Vito. Out of respect, I called them by their surname. Mr. & Mrs. Arace. Respect, that’s a good way of showing I’m not a bad person. Complimenting her cooking skills and being respectful was not enough to win his mom over. This was not going to be an easy sell for me.
Whatever she was baking in the oven I’m sure was going to taste amazing, so I made it a point in showing interest in learning how to cook like she did (That cooking like her, never happened). We started dinner with antipasto followed by pasta, then gravy meat, salad, potatoes, peas, roast beef, and chicken. A casual, typical Sunday Italian feast… everything was beyond delicious. There was one thing left to be served. It was the food that had greeted me at the door with its delicious aroma. Augie told me it was one of his moms’ specialties. I couldn’t wait to taste it and compliment her on it. Out of the oven and onto the table it came. I stared down at it in horror. There were heads with eyes staring up at me from the table. What the heck was going on?! I tried to keep my composure, as both my boyfriend and his father began eating the eyeballs and the brains of this creature. What was it? Who was it? Who were these people I was dining with? His mother began to put one of the heads onto my plate. I said I was full. She gave me the evil eye. I told her I had no room for another bite of her delicious food. I didn’t know what was worse, her giving me the evil eye or the dead eyes staring up at me from the plate. I wanted out of this house. As I watched my boyfriend chewing on the brains I knew I would never kiss him again. I told him I forgot I had to go help my grandmother. I helped clean up then I excused myself and left. Aug walked me halfway home, and I told him I needed to call my grandmother so he could go back home now. He left without a kiss and I stopped into the local luncheonette to call my grandmother. I walked into the phone booth, shut the door, called my grandmother and immediately began to cry. My sobbing made her think that his parents didn’t like me. I told her they seemed nice. I said I felt as though his mom thought I wasn’t good enough for him. But that wasn’t why I was upset. I then proceeded to tell her that this boy I was going to marry and his parents were cannibals. They ate the heads of people. She became hysterical laughing and assured me they were not. Those were not the heads of people. They were calf heads. (Gah boots sell) an Italian delicacy. She eased my mind a little, but I was sure thát I could never kiss my boyfriend again. That didn’t last long. One look at him and I forgot all about the heads.
Meeting Mama Non (Nash)
The love of my life couldn’t wait for me to meet his grandmother. He adored her, and she him. She alternated living with her children. It was his families turn to have her stay with them, so he brought me to meet her. He was really taking me to his house to make out with me in private, but he said it was to meet Mama Non. He said she spoke no English. All I had to do was nod and answer yes to anything she said. That’s easy enough. No problem. We walked into his apartment and there in the little hallway sat Mama Non. She had a rosary in one hand, and a large butcher knife in the other. I guess she figured that either way she was protected. He introduced me to her, and I proceeded to answer her questions with smiles and very happy yes’. She looked at me with a big grin, raised her eyeballs in approval, grabbed his crotch, gave me a wink, and motioned us away from her. I thought that was odd. What I didn’t know, was that she had a very playful demeanor when it came to my boyfriend. I asked him what she said to me. He said, she asked me if I had sex with him, I said yes. She asked if it was good, I said yes and she asked if I was pleased with his package and I had kept shaking my head and saying yes, yes, yes. He set me up. I wanted to kill him. No, I had not had sex with him. He was lucky I wanted to kiss him after the cannibal situation. I had no idea what kind of package he had, but I was quite sure that if I got my hands on Mama Nons’ knife, he wouldn’t have one for long. From that moment on, anytime we would cut class to go to his house, and Mama Non was there she’d give me a wink and a smile then smack him in the crotch. She knew her grandson, and she knew that I loved him.
One of the funniest stories I ever heard about Mama Non was when she first came from Italy. My husbands family was full of colorful characters. One Sunday evening after dinner, some of the cast of characters were sitting in the living room getting ready to watch the western show, “Bonanza”, or as they referred to it “Bownanz”. Mama Non was new to the concept of television. When she saw the horses, she was fascinated by how they were able to fit in this small box. At some point during the show, one of the men sitting on the couch passed some deadly gas near Mama Non. She thought it was the horses. She believed those horses were alive and well, and living in the TV. Smellavision ahead of its time. Ha, ha. I grew to love Mama Non. She was quite a character herself.
Marrying into the Family
Augie and I dated for 4 years before getting married. He broke up with me twice during that time. He was young and had a wandering eye. Let’s face it, he was a guy doing what guys do. Did it hurt? More than you know. Did it affect me? How could it not? Could I forgive him”? Yes. Could I forget? Never. In my hurt, I got even which is something that haunts me to this day. I hated myself for betraying myself just to get even. Faith in God became my refuge. I knew God brought us together, so I relied on Him to keep us together. We got through the trauma of the breakups, and he proposed to me. We set the wedding date for April 5, 1975. We booked the Riviera Country Club in New Rochelle, planned our bridal party (22 in total) and I picked out my dress. We were on our way. His mom wasn’t as happy as we were. She still had her doubts about me. She thought I’d either destroy or divorce her son. I was a product of divorce, so divorce was not part of my marriage vocabulary. As our wedding date grew closer, I began to have doubts. What if we weren’t meant to be together? Maybe we weren’t good for each other. I got scared. I didn’t want to end up in a bad relationship. I certainly did not want to bring children into this world, and have them possibly experience the trauma of divorce. Maybe I should back out. I prayed to God and expressed my deepest fears to Him. I asked for a sign to let me know that we would be okáy. Shortly after that, I suspected I might be pregnant. Could this be the sign that we’d be okay (Religious people will say no, God doesn’t condone premarital relations. I knew in my heart, that the moment I became intimate with Augie, there would never be another man in my life. I would never feel for another, what I felt for him. That commitment, as far as I was concerned, was my bond before God).? We went to the hospital to confirm that I was pregnant. Back then they called it the rabbit test. I took the test. The rabbit died. I was indeed pregnant. Now what? I did not want to start off this marriage by being pregnant. What about his mother? Oh dear God, this was not a good sign. I looked to the young man I loved for guidance, and he said let’s go for pizza. We’re about to have a baby, and he wants pizza! He probably thought it was gonna be his last meal. When his mother found out, she was going to kill us both. How in the world were we going to tell her? We decided to make it a family affair. We called his cousin Gerry, who called in the big guns: Tisabelle. Aunt Isabelle was the head matriarch of la Familia. If anyone could save us from death, it was her. Aug, cousin Gerry, and I met at Tisabelles house to plan the strategic move. Tisabelle was going to invite Catherine and Vito over for dinner, and shock the crap out of them in a very unsuspicious way. The day came for Aunt Isabelle to make her move. I don’t remember exactly, but I think it went something like this:
Isabelle: “Caterina, I tinka maybe Augie and Dehbie shoulda gotta married now. I no tinka they shoulda wait tilla April”.
Caterina: “No, I no evens wanna dem to getta married then. Why you wanna dem a getta married now. Whatsa wrongs witha you”.
Isabelle: I no know, maybe shesa preganin”.
Caterina: Whya me. Why she makea the prega”?
First of all, I no makea the prega by myself. Her son had a lot to do with it. Somehow it was all my fault.
You get the gist of it. Things we’re not gonna go well at all. And they didn’t!
Two things I must tell you: First, I write the broken Italian as I hear it. Second, if you want to know more about how we got past my pregnancy, my sidekick Augie and his fun parents Caterina and Veeduch, as I lovingly call them, you are going to have to continue checking in to The Daily Feels.
Stay tuned for more of my soap opera life and find out why I need humor and faith to survive.
Married 44 years to my hubby, whose purpose in life is to prevent me from getting through the “Pearly Gates”. Mother of two, Nanna of four loving granddaughters and retired secretary aka administrative assistant. I went to the University of Hard Knocks where I received my Doctorate. My thesis is titled: ‘How To Survive Life’s Trials Without Killing Yourself or Someone Else’. I live by the belief that when life throws you a curve, learn from it rather than use it against yourself. Faith and humor are my survival kit. Appreciate the simple things for they are the true treasures of life.