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Destinations, Dreams and Dogs - International adventure with a fast-track family (& dogs) of Old World values, adopting the Russian-Italian-American good life on the go…!

Family Holiday Get-Togethers

There are those who shun adoption in favor of reproducing their own superior genetic pool. Usually they live in trailer parks and could be confused with one of Chevy Chase’s Griswold family hillbilly relatives, but details, details. The folly of relying on one’s own overchlorinated gene pool may be demonstrated up close and personal in the shock-and-awe-inspiring Family Holiday Get-Together. Talk about diving into the shallow end of the pool. Look at our families, for instance.

I take great pride in acknowledging that most of the eccentric and erratic family members come from Benedetto’s side. They were loud and boisterous, which in their case was synonymous with being Italian. Most are long gone, but their weird and wonderful memories live on.

My side of the family, on the other hand, was more refined and reserved (or so I would like to imagine), with a good dose of melodrama thrown in, very much befitting our Russian roots. My husband once saw the name of a famous Russian film, “Borsh and Tears” and said nothing could better describe the stoic suffering of the Slavic psyche.

Grandma was the grande dame of the household, living with my parents in her later years. It was not difficult to “read” her moods. If she was happy, she talked. If she was upset, she didn’t. If she was very irritated, she took refuge in her bedroom, and wouldn’t be seen for days. Hardly the antics found in the Osborne or Kardashian households, but strange enough, nonetheless.

When she felt up enough to mixing with her public, Benedetto loved sitting with Grandma and hearing her skaz’kee. He wondered why everyone else would disappear

“Maybe because they’re only new stories for you,” I explained. “We’ve all heard them a thousand times.”

Her tales were exacerbated by the fact that she spoke very little English after having lived in the U.S. for untold decades. She had fled for her life during the Bolshevik Revolution. Somehow, after years of freedom in America and propagandistic letters from her sister in Russia, she had come to embrace a Soviet mindset. Odd, but true.

“Manures,” she held forth one day. “The Russians are doing manures,” she insisted, outlining why the Soviets might be massing on the border with Poland and trying to squelch the Pole’s Solidarity Movement in the process. She meant, of course, “maneuvers”, but this slip-up made the story even more fascinating for Benedetto.

“That’s right, Grandma,” he agreed, unable to wipe the smile off of his face, “it’s nothing but manures.”

At least in my family, we would chit-chat before a meal, then dine, relax a brief while, and go. Benedetto’s family gatherings lasted all day and all night. Hence, things tended to deteriorate rapidly. The term dysfunctional had not yet been coined to describe abnormal family interactions, but if ever there were a picture-perfect example.

His family started with the soup first, then a pasta course, then the main dish. Somewhere after the soup, Uncle Chahlie would launch into a political diatribe against the Russians, who were the great Root of All Evil. Fine holiday conversation. Not to mention that his nephew would soon go on to marry one.

Uncle Chahlie (never Charlie) was actually Carmelo, stricken with polio at a young age and bitter in life. He had a kind heart in there somewhere, which peeked out upon the rare occasion. Uncle Chahlie spent most of his time in the family villa, sitting in undershirt and fedora, shouting with gusto at the bogus wrestling matches on TV. At night, he would put a big bowl of spaghetti outside his kitchen door for the stray cats. He was a crusty old guy, but capable of some care and concern. Just not at holiday get-togethers.

The family dinners went downhill every time, the proverbial train wreck waiting to happen. Benedetto’s father and his uncle inevitably shouted at Chahlie from across the table, his younger cousin moaning and making whale noises for some reason, his sisters and mother shuttling to the kitchen at every opportunity. After stuffing themselves for an hour or two, it all came to a cacophonous crescendo, before the men passed out in a satiated stupor in the nearest easy chair.

Chahlie’s sister, Aunt Lena, was an integral part of the holiday verbal olympics. Standing much less than five feet tall and on the husky side, she perpetually popped diet pills, later learned to be “speed” and outlawed.

But in the day, you knew when Aunt Lena arrived in her Studebaker, that she would be revved-up and ready with a non-stop, fast-forward chatter approximating Alvin and the Chipmunks. It was directed at no one in particular and everyone in general. The fact that she wore 3-inch heels on a 4-foot-something frame, just added to the majorly manic atmosphere.

Yet, somehow, at the end of the day, there were hugs and kisses to go around for all, and the sense that all were “famiglia”, no matter how many undiagnosed problems might have been lurking beneath the surface-!

There you had it, holiday hysteria with the relatives. Uncle Fester and Cousin It. And they wonder why we adopted.

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