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  • The Greatest Italian Generation
    A turkey of a visitor helps this writer realize what we're losing
    Our Paesani

    by Francesca Di Meglio

    Today I witnessed the greatness of old-school Italians once again. These are the people who went all over the world in the years after World War II, when Italy as a country was struggling to get back on its feet. They came from an economy based on agriculture or fishing. They could work the land, raise and kill livestock, and work harder than anyone you've ever known.

    There were hundreds, if not thousands of Italians, who fit this profile and went on to build great countries far away from their home. They set off for Australia, Canada, Argentina, France, and the United States. My relatives, including my father and grandparents, were among these great Italians.

    They never fully took on the lifestyle of their new homes. Italy was all they knew, so they made their own little Italy in America. Although this great generation of Italians is beginning to die out, many of them still live with me. This morning, I was planning to write about the demise of Alitalia or mad mozzarella disease, two burning issues in Italy right now. But fate stepped in.

    I was cleaning out my laundry room, when I headed up the stairs to put out the garbage. I realized I had left something out on my kitchen counter, so I left the trash and headed to the kitchen. When I passed by the kitchen window, I noticed a gigantic turkey pecking at my neighbor's door as if he was knocking. I could hardly believe it. What was a turkey doing in Fort Lee, New Jersey amid the high rises and George Washington Bridge? He noticed me and started staring. Then, he turned around and fanned his feathers at me.

    He held me hostage with his eyes for 10 minutes before I gave in and called my Zia Concettina. My parents weren't home, and she's the first one I turn to when livestock is in question. Her advice: Stay on the phone with her, grab a broom, walk outside and hit the turkey over the head. Then, she laughed and said I should not be scared. If she had been with me, she would have bagged the turkey, and we would have had it for dinner. That old-school Italian mentality was shining through.

    My sister, who is a professional bird expert (seriously, she works with birds for a living), told me the worst thing the turkey would do is spur me, which she explained meant using his talons to scratch up my legs. Then, she asked, “But you're wearing pants, right?” And she laughed and laughed. In the end, she just begged me not to hurt the turkey and to realize that he was more threatened by me than I was by him. I didn't care. I was terrified to go outside and this turkey wasn't going anywhere.

    An hour later, my parents returned from the movies, and my father went right outside and chased the turkey away. The turkey seemed to like him and thought that it was a game. My mother and I were cowering behind our doors, but my father was unafraid. He ran and ran and kept saying, “Go home, turkey. Go home.” It was a scene. They ran around the cars in my neighbors driveway, our front yard, and our neighbor's backyard. Finally, the turkey started walking toward a particular house, where we think he might live. I'm not sure what a wild turkey is doing in northern N.J., but I'm hoping he doesn't come knockin' at our door again anytime soon.

    But the turkey taught me a lesson. First, my aunt and my father could beat all of us at Survivor. Second, my Italian relatives might not know what the Internet is or how to do anything with their cell phone besides answering it. But they do know how to take care of business no matter what God throws at them. And I don't have their courage or their resourcefulness. I was stuck in the house. My father – and my aunt had she been at my house – knew exactly how to take care of themselves. The turkey was unharmed, but they could have killed it had the turkey turned on them. They could have killed it for food if they were starving. I don't think I could ever do either of those things.

    Granted, the life my father gave to me does not require living off the land in the way he did as a child. But there is something to be said for being able to truly care for yourself, for being able to survive. Old-school Italians, they know how to do that. People are still drawn to them. They want that same resourcefulness to rub off on them. They want to hear their stories of how life used to be, they want their advice on how to make their dreams come true. That's what they did. They made their dreams come true. And I need that connection to Italy, the Italy of yesteryear, where people fended for themselves and their families, loved each other, and lived a simple life. I need it whether I'm trying to take my career to the next level, marry my Italian man, or face off with a giant turkey.

    Today, I realized that Italy is slipping away from us. That generation of Italians is slipping away from us. Soon, none of us will know how to do the things they do, not just hunting for dinner, but jarring tomatoes, making wine, growing a garden full of vegetables and fruits year after year, cooking authentic Italian food, and making our dreams come true. Unless, we spend time with our old-school Italians, we'll lose it all. Absorb all you can!

    Di Meglio is the guide to Newlyweds for, where you'll get advice on everything from changing your name after marriage to getting along with your in-laws. You can also find more information on all things Italian at


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