Claudia Schalm shares a Christmas memory from her childhood. Monica Lamb-Yorski photo

Italian Christmas at new Nona and Papa’s place

Bone cracking hugs, ear-splitting yelling and laughter, mouth watering food everywhere. This was our new life, and there was no escape.

Our mother had married an Italian man. Gone were the subdued Christmas gatherings of yesteryear with my mom, Uncle, aged grandparents, my brother Mark and myself.

We had suddenly acquired a multitude of new and noisy aunts and uncles. Well eight actually, who had conceived and produced an even larger amount of children, our new cousins, six girls and eight boys, ranging in age from zero to six.

The Christmas gathering place was our new Nona and Papa’s home, a very old and drafty 18th century house, complete with steep, creaky stairs leading to two attic bedrooms.

We were greeted at the door with much hugging and slobbery kissing. This led to shaking and patting, “look how she has grown. What size are your feet? Are you hungry?”

We were pushed to a table and shoved into a chair.

A huge platter of, turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy veggies, stuffing, and all the trimmings was placed before us.

“Eat.” Nona demanded.

Mark and I were just entering puberty and eating was something that we did very well. The aunts and uncles watched in awe as we devoured our dinner and asked politely for more.

“Those kids can really eat,” they would exclaim admiringly.

It was our claim to fame, we had no other. We were strange children, very quiet, well behaved, not prone to kissing and hugging. Just eating.

The house was filled with the sounds of drinking, yelling, arguing, laughing.

The children were tearing up and down the stairs shrieking, bouncing on beds and jumping on the attic floor.

Dust filtered down through the floor boards. Mark and I glanced skyward in anticipation of the ceiling crumbling. It didn’t happen.

Time for presents. The noisy din descended into the living room.

Mark and I slowly opened our gifts, and were very careful to thank the giver of the gift appropriately.

The fourteen children, on the other hand, ripped wildly at the paper, tossing that gift in their hurry to get at the next one.

At the end of this madness of flying paper and boxes, the gifts were abandoned in favour of more shrieking and running up and down the stairs.

Mark and I seemed to be the only ones who noticed or even cared that poor old “Papa” was hiding in his bedroom, grasping his pump.

It was his lifeline, helping him to breath.

We felt a strange kinship with this poor, cranky old man.

All too soon for many, but not for us, the party was over. The “goodbyes” were equally as boisterous as the “hellos” had been.

We exited a house in a sad state of disrepair.

Some of the aunts stayed behind to shovel the paper, boxes and broken toys from the living room.

Some tackled the mountains of dishes and devastation in the kitchen.

No one ventured into the attic. No one checked on papa. Did he make it? Mark and I wondered.

Yes, the party was over for another year, unless someone decides to celebrate a birthday, anniversary, death, anything.

We will cross that bridge when it happens.

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