Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Coming to America (via Broadway)

I'm very useful at parties. Not only do I know how to make a wide variety of cocktails, can polish off the sausage rolls before they go stale and have been known to take a boyish stab and clearing up - I also enjoy talking to people.
Especially old people (and no, Maman et Papa, I'm not talking about people of your vintage. I mean old!)
I think it's because I'm a history major, but I have something of a rare appreciation for old people. Most folks my age think their elderly relatives are boring, time consuming and simply past it. I find them fascinating - since they're as close to living history as it's possible to get.
Which is why I'm useful at parties. As long as I'm supplied with a gin and tonic and the aforementioned sausage rolls, I can quite happily listen to old folks go on for hours.
Like at a Christmas party I recently attended - in which I was 'saddled' with talking to a lovely 86-year-old woman from Italy.
She was real 'Godfather' material - arriving fresh off the boat from Sicily in 1945. Back then, as a bare-footed teenager escaping the devastation of World War II, she hardly spoke a word of English and had no friends or family to speak of.
Talking to her was fascinating. Can you believe this woman grew up during Mussolini's reign in Italy? Witnessed the Allied forces roll north towards Berlin? There was more to it than that; she also remembered the bandits living in the hills of Sicily - the infamous 'mafia'.
The fascists tried to eradicate the criminal mob (driving many to the United States) and as a result, the mafia were some of the fiercest enemies of the fascists - taking brutal revenge on them whenever they could.
Her life was like a Broadway play - a 20th century 'Les Miserables.'
And speaking of Broadway, one of the sweetest memories she shared was moving to New York City to the first time, and seeing the Radio City Christmas Spectacular.
That must have been fifty years ago, but they still run the same show today. Radio City Christmas Spectacular tickets go on sale each and every winter and the image of the Radio City Santa and his dancing Rockettes has become something of a New York institution.

I guess it's because America is a nation of immigrants that so many 'American' institutions wind up becoming part of the immigrant experience. I wonder if in fifty years I'll be sitting at a similar party, remembering the day I bought Jersey Boys Tickets or Trans-Siberian Orchestra Tickets and made my own Broadway memory.
Of course, my 'immigrant story' is a lot less exciting than my 86-year-old friends. It's also rather inconsequential, considering just how many millions of people have crossed the American border (both legally and illegally) during my time here. I guess I'm just one face amongst a sea of immigrants (but hasn't there always been a 'sea' of immigrants?)
I think the most amazing thing, though, as we share this time of year is that for all those millions of faces, we all share the same story - even with that 86-year-old Italian lady at the party.


Susanne said...

How cool! I'm glad you like talking to old people. I agree that they do have some stories to share. :)

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