October 8, 2011

WAKE-UP CALL by Salvatore Buttaci

Once there lived a little boy named Giovanni Romano whose parents came from Italy, a country way across the ocean. They had to book passage on a ship that took more than ten days to arrive in America. Giovanni's parents knelt and kissed the ground at Ellis Island. They raised their arms towards the blue sky and thanked God in Heaven for their good fortune. 

In Italy, a country they loved, it was impossible finding work. The land would not produce healthy crops. Opportunities were nowhere to be found, only frustration, hunger, and even widespread sicknesses. With heavy hearts the newly married Carmela and Francesco Romano emigrated from the land of their ancestors to find new lives in America. 

A son was born shortly after Francesco found a job building city roads with pick and shovel from dawn until nightfall. Yet despite back-breaking labor, he was grateful to be employed, to be earning money for his wife and their new child.

On the job the other workers who were not Italians, and the bosses demanding that he work harder and harder, and the city folk passing by, all of them hurled at Francesco derogatory names like "Dago," "Guinea," and "Greaseball." Still, Francesco raised his pick high over aching shoulders and sank it into the cracking rock, then took the shovel and dug into the deepening dirt. He ignored them, unwilling and unable to jeopardize the few dollars a week he earned by standing up to them. He would take the verbal abuse as long as he could continue working an honest day's work for what even he realized was not nearly enough pay as the others earned for the same labor.

Giovanni grew with the passing years, detesting all things that were not American. He hated the Italian language the three of them spoke. He was ashamed to introduce his friends to his parents because their accents were so heavy Giovanni could not bear it. One day he said to his parents, "Don't call me 'Giovanni' anymore. My name is Johnny." Needless to say, they were hurt by their son's insistence that he was an American and he wanted to fit into American society, not be ridiculed because he was different, and at the same time they understood how difficult it was for their Giov--Johnny. People could be cruel.

Not content with being Johnny Romano, he legally changed his name to Johnny Logan! By then his mother had died of cancer and his father, living alone now in his Brooklyn apartment, hardly saw his son at all. He was too busy. He had no time. Life was short. There was money to be made. When Francesco passed away, Johnny was in the Bahamas. The funeral took place without him.

Then, as it happens, Johnny too grew old and alone. His wife left him. Took his children. Johnny Logan had become a very lonely man. He'd spend his time watching TV late into the night. Shows like "The Sopranos" and later on "The Jersey Shore," though he watched them, made him sad. His parents were nothing like those people. They were honest. They went to church on Sunday. They never used foul language. Never wanted anything that did not belong to them.

Perhaps one can say it bordered on stupidity that Johnny Logan who had fought against his Italian roots all his life would in his final years decide to become Giovanni Romano again. He thought back on the stories his father would tell about what he went through, the name-calling Americani who looked down on him and all his paisani as if they were all gangsters, fools, the very dirt they walked on.

It was a late wake-up call for Giovanni, but better late than never. He joined Italian American groups in their efforts to fight media prejudice against their ethnicity. He finally realized that what his father had suffered, along with the millions of immigrants who came here from Italy, was a gross injustice. A slap in the face to the people who gave the world Columbus, Michelangelo, Fermi, Garibaldi and thousands of others who helped shape the world and our country.

Now when Giovanni lays his head down to sleep, the old nightmares are gone. Sometimes he dreams his mama carries to the kitchen table a hot steaming dish of farfalle topped with her rich red meat sauce. "What does 'farfalle' mean?" he asks her. She smiles as she spoons the macaroni into his plate. "Butterflies," Mama says. "Like a miracle they leave the flowers and come to rest in my delicious sauce!" 

And the two of them--Papa as well--laugh before grace.


Salvatore Buttaci is the author of two short-short story collections available at Amazon.com: Flashing My Shorts and 200 Shorts, both published by All Things That Matter Press. He is also in the process of editing his novel Carmelu the Sicilian, about a man who fights back against the biased media and wins. 


  1. Thank you, Jen. It is something I feel quite strongly about: defending my ethnic roots.

  2. That is nice.
    It is too bad you never had children or adopted them.

  3. That is nice.
    It is too bad you never had children or adopted them.

  4. That is nice.
    It is too bad you never had children or adopted them.