Tuesday, December 23, 2008


Francis Albert Sinatra and Bing Crosby enjoy a leisurely Christmas special in an imaginary cabin in the woods. Sinatra and der Bingle are forever associated with the so-called "Greatest Generation," and rightly so, but they remind me of my folks--especially Sinatra--even though my parents are younger than that generation. Sinatra was a tough Italian American from Jersey--my dad is the same, but from Brooklyn--and my mother grew up Italian American in Aberdeen, Washington. Sinatra was the first big Italian American pop star who refused to "Americanize" his name. "You want the Voice?" he famously told a producer, "You keep the name!" This was unheard of at the time.

Mom (second from left) and her sisters Gloria, Anita, Pearl, and Angelina

These old clips also remind me of Mom's family--especially her brothers, my uncles Vic, Joe, and Father Tony--who were older than Mom, and would gather for Christmas at Grandma's house. They were old guys with big pants and firm handshakes. The lights were twinkling, the tree was up, and sometimes they'd tease us, and tell us they heard Santa Claus on the roof, and we'd run outside. Mom was from a big family, and she also had four sisters, shown above.

Mom also had another brother, Albert, a fighter pilot who flew a P-38 and was shot down by the Germans in late November of 1943. Grandma didn't want to celebrate Christmas that year, but Mom and a friend went out looking for a tree to raise the family spirits. They searched for a Christmas tree but didn't have enough money to buy one. They were ready to turn back, but a soldier recognized them. "That's Albert's sister," he said. He knew Albert had been killed, so he bought a Christmas tree and helped the girls bring it home. Mom still gets choked up when she tells the story.

Of course, this post barely scratches the surface--the story deserves a much bigger telling. Still, this is one of my favorite Christmas stories.

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