Although on this blog I usually write about my paternal side of the family, sometimes I ponder my maternal side. And on that side, we were Italians.
Well, not full-blooded Italians, of course. I'm not Dean Martin. And in fact most people who look at me would just see a "white guy". One of my brothers describes himself like that, in a deprecating way. You know, we're average white guys from Minnesota.
But most of the people I grew up with in Minnesota were Scandinavian. They were the Satterbergs and the Andersons, etc. My last name is Hall, which is English, and it makes me, on the paternal side of my family, exactly what people think of when they say "white guy" - A White Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP). And the culture that my dad grew up with was Germanic, so he liked Sauerkraut, that sort of thing. But my mom made spaghetti. Her father (my grandfather) was born in Italy.
I now know that if you've never lived anywhere except where you grew up, culture is invisible to you. I've talked to a lot of people who are puzzled by what I say and just tell me stuff like "that's just the way it's done" - as if the whole world acted that way. It's impossible to see your culture if that's all you know, and you've never looked at it from the outside.
And I probably wouldn't have realized how Italian I was, and how much I had been influenced by Scandinavian culture I that am, until I moved to California, and Arizona.
I can still sing the songs "Valkin' in my Vinter Undervear", "Yust a little Lefsa", and "I Yust Go Nuts at Christmas". I've never seen Lefsa, but I've seen Ludafisk (no, I've never eaten it). My family ate meat and potatoes. My friends all ate "Hot Dish", but my mom never made it. She made the most wonderful spaghetti, with handmade noodles and homemade sauce. I've since learned that it was "Chicken Cacciatore", but we just called it spaghetti, and it seemed perfectly natural. I have the recipe, and I've made it here every once in a while, because sometimes I get a craving for it.
My mom loved the voice of the Italian crooners from the 1950s, like Dean Martin, Tony Bennett, and Frank Sinatra. She loved the soulful voice of Nat King Cole, and those are the voices that I recall singing Christmas songs when I was a kid.
Looking back, it seems very strange that the Italians came to Minnesota as early as the 1800s. They're not as numerous as the Scandinavian people are, and most people would never associate Minnesota with Italians. But it was my family, and my culture, and it became part of me.
Photo at the top of this post: With my mom and brothers in Minneapolis (I'm the one on the left). Average white guys, but if you said "spaghetti!" we were thrilled, and we would actually help make it.