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March 19, 2009

La Mia Epifania Italiana

On the way to my epifania, that day in Spoleto.

One day on my first visit to Italy (the now 
famous one-time-only trip led by Tomie 
dePaola that included a stop at the Bologna 
Book Fair), our gruppo had gathered in a 
small piazza in Spoleto to rest and enjoy 
some gelato.

I began watching two old Italian men talking
to each other. The first ended his comments 
to the other with a poke in the chest asking, 
The other replied then poked  his comrade
in turn, repeating,"Capisce?"

In a flash it dawned on me...... capisce must be 
an ITALIAN word, not Yiddish as I had always

Now wait.... I came by this life long delusion 
honestly. My Grandparents' generation
spoke Yiddish to each other (especially when 
children present were not supposed to 
understand). I had the sounds of all the 
kinahoras, shana maidelas, zhi gazindts, 
zhi gezundts and mishagases planted 
firmly in my head.

It turns out that when my Mother was a girl 
and her parents ran a corner grocery in their 
immigrant neighborhood, my Grandmother 
freely added words she fancied from other 
people's languages to her vocabulary 
without attribution. 

Thus, in my late 30's, 3500 miles from home 
and anyone familiar with this back story, my 
dear grandparents long gone, I had one of the 
biggest heartfelt epiphanies and knee 
weakening laughs of my life.

Later, I asked Mom why she never told me 
about capisce being Italian. She replied, 
"You never asked!"  

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