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  • New Technology for Old Traditions

    by Flora Mitidiero Raehl

    As I rush around preparing for this upcoming holiday season, my mind fondly recalls passed Christmases. For me, the Christmas celebration was like no other. The Italian holiday dishes, all the Italian holiday traditions, and my entire family together made it the most magical of holiday moments for me. But I always come back to realizing just how many holidays my father spent here in the States while his mother, brother and sister remained in his hometown in Italy. Because of this, one of the most exciting Christmas traditions we had was making the coveted midnight phone call to my father's family back home in Alessandria del Carretto on Christmas Eve.

    After our traditional Christmas Eve dinner of fish and opening of the presents, mom, dad, papa and I would gather around the green rotary dial wall phone, with the very short cord and we would call "home", Italy. The anticipation of hearing the faint dial tone, knowing that we were connecting with family across the globe who were seven hours ahead of us more than outweighed the cost of this phone call. My dad's dad, my Papa, lived with us here in the States, while my dad's mom, Nonna, his brother and sister lived back in the old country, so as far as my father was concerned, hearing their voices was the highlight of his holiday. And even though at this point in my life I hadn't met Nonna, Zio and Zia, my dad's excitement and anticipation was contagious and I couldn't wait for my minute or so of conversation.

    As you can well imagine, in the early '70's an overseas phone call was a small fortune and the quality of the connection was, let's just say, less than ideal, not to mention the fact that Nonna was very hard of hearing. I remember dad yelling in the phone so he could be heard, and the delay didn't make communicating easy at all, but just hearing their voices was a gift like no other. Until one ill-fated Christmas Eve in 1981. Again, we're all excitedly gathered around the phone, fighting for who was going to talk first but this phone call was not to be the joyous annual event it had always been. See, Nonna had been sick for a while and while my dad was talking to his brother, she quietly passed away with my poor father thousands of miles away – his Christmas was never to be the same. Again, if you know anything about the Italian traditions, the entire next year was spent mourning the death of his beloved mother. And believe me, although we were sad for my father, not a one of us could wait for the one year anniversary so we could get back to watching television, listening to the radio or just normal life in general.

    In the years since this fateful Christmas Eve, we still gather around the phone, more often now than just on special holidays, to connect with family and friends so far away. And I often wonder with the advent of all the new types of communication available to us if the course of that one holiday would have changed. Now that international calls are so much more affordable, would we have called more often and would dad have hopped a plane to see his mother when he first found out she was sick? I see now how much easier it is to communicate with people far and wide – I mean really, who can resist texting, Facebook and Skype? I still get that same childish thrill when I am signed onto my computer and I see my facebook friends many time zones away also signed on – what an opportunity these communication tools have afforded us to be able to stay close more regularly.

    During one of our last trips to dad's hometown, my son and I decided to bring our computer so we could keep in touch with what was going on back here in the States. Keep in mind, my father is a senior citizen – a foreigner – who has no idea about how computers work. The first day we are able to get an internet connection, we sign on and the familiar "…you've got mail" sounds thru the kitchen. I guess my dad didn't realize what we were doing because as soon as he hears that computer voice, his head swivels left, then right, looks me straight in the eye and says, "Who said that?" I explain to him that it's the computer and his eyes grow big and round and says "I didn't know that damn thing could talk." And then I try to explain to him that we're going to call America and we'll be able to see the people we're talking to on the computer screen. We make the phone call and on the screen, plain as day is my daughter and we're talking – thousands of miles and many time zones between us, but here we are communicating. Again, my dad's eyes get big and round, but this time, a huge smile follows and low and behold, he's hooked. Every day after that first skype connection, he'd sit at the kitchen table, stare longingly at the computer and say "who can we call today?" I was impressed – who would have ever thought my old country, senior citizen father, who would wait an entire year to make that one special phone call home could embrace this new technology!

    Article Published 12/15/11


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