Thursday, December 11, 2008


My grandfather left Italy for America as a child. When he arrived and started school here, he spoke no English. Papa would tell us all about the day the teacher asked him to read aloud in class, and when he came across the abbreviation for the word "pounds," "lbs.," he pronounced it "elbs," and his classmates all started laughing and making fun of him. The other kids nicknamed him "Elbs" and teased him about that the rest of his time in school. Papa had to drop out of school in the eighth grade to go work in the coal mines, but the short time he'd had to put up with the kids' teasing led him to remind me and my brothers, a lifetime later, "You're no better than anybody else. And you're no worse either. You just remember who you are."

I never thought to ask Papa if there had been any kids in school who were truly nice to him and his younger brother when they'd first arrived here, but if I could talk with him about this story today, that's one of the things I'd want to know. And were any of the old-timers we would run into--and whom Papa would stop and talk with--when we "went into town" to buy groceries those summer days I stayed at Papa and Grandma's house people who had once been kids in Papa's class? Were any of his former classmates still alive and residing in the same town at that time? Did he run into them all the time? Was he ever called "Elbs" as an adult? Did some of those kids change as the the times and the neighborhood changed, eventually becoming nicer to my immigrant grandfather and his Italian-speaking family? And had the teacher laughed too? How did his teacher treat Papa and the other immigrant students? Papa would likely shake his head at these questions and say something along the lines of "No matter" or "That's not the point" in response to them. But I am not missing the point--I just can't help but be curious. He wasn't one to hold grudges, but he was one to remember a kindness. I wish I'd delved into his story more, is all.

I am reminded of the "Elbs" story every time I read or write the abbreviation for "pounds," which is pretty often the past couple years as I work toward getting into my goal weight range. To have Papa's "You're no better than anybody else. And you're no worse either. You just remember who you are" come to mind so often is one of his greatest gifts to me. 


Paula said...

Dear Val,
Thank you for sharing this beautiful story! You write so lovely and I was so touched by it.

I love reading and watching Jane Austen!

Thank you for visiting me and for your sweet comments! I hope you will have a garden of your own one day soon!!!
Enjoy your day and stay warm!
Love, Paula

Val said...

Thank you, Paula! :)