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December 24, 2013

SAL'S PLACE: IF WE TRULY UNDERSTOOD CHRISTMAS

SAL'S PLACE: IF WE TRULY UNDERSTOOD CHRISTMAS: THE BIRTH OF JESUS St. John Marie Vianney, the French priest known as the patron saint of parish priests, once wrote, “If we trul...

December 23, 2013

IF WE TRULY UNDERSTOOD CHRISTMAS


THE BIRTH OF JESUS


St. John Marie Vianney, the French priest known as the patron saint of parish priests, once wrote, “If we truly understood the Incarnation of Christ we would die of joy!”

God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The Blessed Trinity! Who can comprehend such a mystery?

As a schoolboy one day after school I asked Sister Rose de Lima, my four-grade teacher, “How can there be three persons in one God?” She was an Irish nun who loved God with all her heart and soul. “Have you ever seen a three-leafed clover?” she asked me. I shook my head. She then proceeded to draw one on the board. “Three leaves, part of one clover. If you pull one of the leaves from the clover, it is no longer the same flower. Each petal is as important as the other two and together they are one clover.”

That afternoon I asked my mother the same question, “What does the Blessed Trinity mean?” She smiled. “It’s a mystery,” she said. “One day when you go to Heaven, God will explain all of life’s mysteries to you and you’ll see it all very clearly.”

Here we are in the advent weeks before Christmas. The lure of this world with all its enticing gifts seems to win us over as if this holiest of days meant neatly wrapped presents under a brightly decorated tree. We lose ourselves in the melodies of Christmas carols, the dream of a snowy day, the dashing off of greeting cards, the holiday meal.

“If we truly understood the Incarnation of Christ we would die of joy!” 

Still, we ought at least to contemplate that wondrous gift. Our God in Heaven promised to send a savior to atone for the sins of humanity. He could have sent an archangel, a long-since departed patriarch like Abraham or a warrior-king like David, but instead, He sent His only begotten Son to be born of a virgin, become human like us, carry on a brief three-year mission, and then suffer a criminal’s painful death. 

Only God could expiate sins against God. Neither man nor angel could wipe clean the slate, arise from the dead, open Heaven’s doors to those who died in God’s friendship. Jesus alone could save us! And he saved all humanity, believers and nonbelievers alike; for this reason, Christmas is a holy day for all the world!

He had to become human like us in order that we could become Christified by Him.

When we pray, do we reflect on this magnanimous God Who loved His creatures so much that He would subject a Person of Himself to experience derision and disrespect at the hands of the spiritually blind? Do we consider ourselves so blessed to be alive in a world where once God Himself in the Person of the Christ walked and preached and healed the sick in body and soul? Do we think about the words of Jesus as we read them in the Holy Bible? The parables, the commandment to forgive and to love one another as He loves us?

This is not a call to play down the yuletide festive spirit. There is nothing wrong with children anticipating toys from Santa’s sack. Or parents feeling good about giving from their hearts what gifts they can afford. Or forgetting for a brief season that wars are raging and sins still take center stage in a world seemingly so unfair to so many. It’s Christmas. We should happily celebrate it. We should open ourselves to a wonderful holiday, one we’ll always remember, one more to add to those gone by.

But in the midst of our holiday cheer, let us not forget the reason for Christmas. Take a few quiet moments each day in prayer. Thank the Father for sending His Son to us. Thank the Son for willingly dying so brutal a death for us. Thank the Holy Spirit for instilling in us that faith in God that will lead us to Heaven one day. Yes, celebrate and be merry, but keep Jesus close on that special day on which He was born to us. Keep Him close everyday of your life. The soul within each of us, yearning for that eternal celebration, depends on it.
                                                                                   #



Sal Buttaci is a retired teacher and professor who spends several hours a day writing poems, stories, articles, and blogs. Much of his work has been published in such publications as The New York Times, U.S.A. Today, Christian Science Monitor, Cats Magazine, Wordcasters, and Cavalcade of Stars

He lives in West Virginia with his loved and loving wife Sharon.





December 22, 2013

TWO BIO-FLASHES ABOUT MAMA

   MAMA IN HER KITCHEN 1998


MAMA TOLD STORIES 


When I was a kid, I wondered where my mother acquired all the stories she told us. There was one for every incident that transpired, especially those that involved one of us kids screwing up. Mothers of our friends were all on one end or the other of the proverbial yardstick: they were either excessively doting or unreasonably punitive. Our mother, however, tried her best to balance herself and us somewhere in the middle. She told life-lesson stories. (Because she spoke with an accent, I’ve taken the liberty to edit her language.)

“And what would you think of me years from now if today I allowed you to get away with stealing that fountain pen?” my mother asked me one day after school.

I had brought home a note from my third-grade teacher Sister Mary Tiberius (not her real name, but you get the picture!) in which she had made known the grand pen theft I had committed after cafeteria lunch. Her final paragraph read, “I highly recommend you give your son a well-deserved beating.“

Mama sat at the kitchen table, taking an immoderately long time reading and re-reading Sister’s note. I sat squirming in my chair across from her.

“Ma, it wasn’t like that,” I said, but without lifting an eye, she raised her hand to silence me.

“That girl in my class ––”  Mama shook her head.

“Elizabeth from Buffalo, New York.”

Again, Mama raised her hand and shook her head.

“She gave me that pen!” I said quickly.

Dramatically she let the note flutter from her hands onto the kitchen floor. When I reached to pick it up, she smiled and pointed to my chair. Here it comes, I thought.  A story about pen theft would be too easy. It would have to be something wildly off the wall, but poignantly on target.

“A mother did all she could to protect her bad son from the law,” Mama began.  “Whatever wrong he did she’d make excuses. Time after time she would lie for him, beg the police, the judge, the teachers, to give him one more chance. He was a good boy, she explained. But do you know how this story ends?” my mother asked.

Now it was I who was shaking my head.

“That boy grew up to be a man sentenced to die in the electric chair! And when his mother came to say goodbye that afternoon, her son pretended he was going to kiss her for the last time. But you know what he did? He bit off her ear!  ‘See where I ended up?’ he screamed at her. ‘If you had made me pay for the little crimes, I wouldn’t be dying for this big crime now!’

The next morning I returned Elizabeth’s pen.

#


               MAMA and PAPA IN 1935



MAMA SPOKE SICINGLISH


For those of you who have never heard someone speak Sicinglish, let me explain. It’s a mixture of Sicilian and English, a sprinkling of words from both languages that reflects a sincere effort on the speaker’s part to get a point across. The alternative amounts to being silent or settling on the language one is fluent in and the heck with who understands.

Before I learned to converse in Sicilian during my 1965-66 living in Acquviva Platani, Sicily, I too spoke in Sicinglish, adding new words I learned each day until they eventually outweighed the English ones. This pleased me immensely because no one enjoys being a kind of laughingstock, though I must say my learning the new language disappointed those who found my meager attempts to communicate so darn funny they would beg me to go on speaking to the accompaniment of their raucous laughter.

Growing up in a Sicilian home, we heard our mother speak Sicinglish, so it is no big surprise that the only Sicilian words we kids learned in childhood were those Mama added to her new English words. Only our older brother Alfonso whose first language was Sicilian could understand her when sometimes she and Papa spoke that “secret language.”  They did so to shield us from matters they felt we were too young to know, like Papa getting laid off from his job, a relative in Sicily passing away –– anything they believed were heartaches with which we should not be burdened in our childhood years.

Mama was born in New York City on December 26, 1913. Because her mother’s poor health here, Nonna Anna returned three months later to Sicily with her son Francesco and her new baby Giuseppina. Mama’s father my nonno Salvatore Amico remained working in America until 1920 when he too returned to Acquaviva Platani.

In 1932 Mama had just married Papa, a townsman who had immigrated to America when he was fifteen and had returned for a visit when he met Mama .The two, at first sight, fell in love.

Unlike my father who worked alongside workers from whom he could learn English, my mother remained home to raise her children. When she'd get together with others, they were family who spoke Sicinglish too, so together they spoke their beddu Sicilianu, their beautiful Sicilian.

Years later Mama told us we kids were her teachers. The words we learned in school she learned from us, but it was a slower process than Mama would’ve liked it to be. In the meantime she’d say things like “Va butta u garbage!” ("Throw out the garbage!”) or “Mittiti lu gloves” (“Put on your gloves”) or “Hai fattu lu home-a-work?” (“Did you do your homework?”).

Back then her Sicinglish embarrassed me. Here I was trying so darn hard to fit in and be accepted as an American boy, a buddy of my school and neighborhood friends whose parents spoke without accents. I tried to hide Mama from them. I told them my parents had come to America right after the American Civil War. I lied through my teeth every time some kid asked about Papa and Mama. When they finally came to our Brooklyn tenement apartment and met Mama, they loved her! They ate all the oatmeal cookies she baked for them. They never mentioned her accent and only raved about how kind she was.

What I would not give to hear Mama’s accent again! To tell her one more humorous story, then watch her face light up with joy. Or say something in jest that lacked proper respect and hear Mama admonish me with “Atsa no funny!”

My consolation is that I believe she is in Heaven now. Unable to live past nearly 97 years and celebrate now her centennial, Mama enjoys eternity. If only I can be so blessed!

Here is one last story about Mama‘s Sicinglish..

One evening Sharon and I were visiting with her. Someone knocked on her door and she answered it. It was her upstairs neighbor, a Polish lady who spoke little English. My mother, always hospitable, asked her, "Coff'?" ready to pour the woman a hot cup of coffee, but the neighbor answered, "No, it’s just a little cold."

Sharon and I laughed behind our newspapers for I don't know how long!

#

Sal Buttaci has been writing and seeing his work published since 1957. Now retired from nearly thirty years teaching, he spends several hours each day composing poems, stories, memoirs, articles, and blogs. 

He is the author of two short-flash story collections Flashing My Shorts and 200 Shorts,
both published by All Things That Matter Press and available at Amazon.com.

Buttaci lives in West Virginia with his loving and loved wife Sharon.





September 20, 2013



                      Just Who Is Salvatore Buttaci Anyway?


A retired teacher since 2007, I spend much of my leisure time writing and submitting my poems and stories for publication. It’s not something new to me. I’ve been writing and promoting my work since my first publication in 1957 at age 16. It was an essay entitled “Presidential Timber” which was published in the Sunday New York News. Over the years I have seen my writings in The New York Times, U.S.A. Today, The Writer, Writer’s Digest, Cats Magazine, The National Enquirer, Christian Science Monitor, Front Porch Monthly, Holler, and Bluestone Review and hundreds of other publications.

Writing has always been my favorite pastime. I enjoy the excitement of writing down the first draft. I even like the work required, delivering that first draft to a final one after revising and editing. With every completed poem or story, article or novel, I feel a grand satisfaction. Ironically, though I love words, I cannot adequately express the joy that writing brings me. That unexpressed joy seems to be the driving force that keeps me writing. A strong believer in a God Who gives us all certain talents to use and develop, I thank Him for His gift by writing everyday.

I had spent a good number of happy years teaching writing skills to middle-school and college students. To become writers, I explained to them, they needed to learn the skills of language, make use of the imagination, practice writing daily, build their own self-confidence, and submit their work for publication. Many of those students are still writing today. I meet them on Facebook all the time.

Of course, I follow my own good advice. I know that the writing craft, like any craft, requires knowledge, practice, and action. I keep myself involved in writing projects so that I am always learning, practicing, and promoting my work to those I feel confident would enjoy reading my poems or stories in journals and on the Internet, as well as those book buyers who are looking for their brand of reading pleasure.

In addition to writing, I am an avid reader of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. I believe reading and writing go hand in hand. After all, I never met an author who seriously claimed he or she never spends any time reading a book. As for readers, I have heard many speak of the book inside them they hope one day to write.

Some of my other interests include studying languages and history, doing volunteer work at church, and spending as much time as I can with my wife Sharon, my life’s greatest inspiration. Since my retirement, the two of us live in “Almost-heaven” West Virginia and are loving it.

What do I most love to write? Inspired by the comic books of my 1950s youth, I have been writing flash fiction for more than half a century. Short-short stories under 1,000 words appeal to me, just as they appeal to so many readers out there who search the Net or Amazon.com for flash collections and anthologies. Flash fiction reflects our modern times in the sense that society moves at a faster pace and readers looking for a complete story can find it in as little as three pages of a book. It is the quick read, the fast tale, one of many desserts in a literary buffet. And because the stories are short-short, a reader can return to them and re-read them again and again.

In 2010, All Things That Matter Press published my first collection of short-short stories Flashing My Shorts. The book, as well as Kindle edition, contains 164 flash-fiction stories that run the gamut from A to Z,  adventure stories to zany stories and all other genres in between. Flashing My Shorts is also available as an audio book.

The positive reaction to that first flash book encouraged me to write 200 Shorts. Once again I thank All Things That Matter Press for believing in me. Here a reader will find a healthy variety of more short-short stories under 1,000 words.

England’s Chester University added  200 Shorts to their Flash Fiction Special Collection at Seaborne Library in 2011. What a sincere honor to be listed with Isaac Asimov and so many other great authors in the world’s largest flash-fiction library! http://www.chester.ac.uk/flash.magazine/bibliography%20%20

I know there are many flash collections out there. I also know how difficult it is for book buyers to decide which of those collections to purchase. As the author, I suppose it would be politically incorrect for me to climb up on a soapbox and try to persuade you to buy my two books. However, judging from customer comments and reviews at Amazon.com and elsewhere, I would say you would not be disappointed. The stories will stay with you long after you have read them. I wrote them all with that intention in mind.


Flashing My Shorts     http://www.amazon.com/Flashing-My-Shorts-ebook/dp/B004FN1V8S/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1379711453&sr=8-1&keywords=Flashing+My+Shorts

                                                           

200 Shorts  http://www.amazon.com/200-Shorts-ebook/dp/B004YWKI8O/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1379711560&sr=1-3&keywords=200+Shorts


September 14, 2013

MAMA COULD MOVE MOUNTAINS

   in my mother's arms: 1941


Josephine Buttaci was my mother. On September 18, 2010, at 96 years old, she passed away, much to the sorrow of all who knew and loved her. As a Christian who believes in the promises of Christ, I have faith that one day I will see her again in an eternal Heaven where tears of pain and separation do not exist. 

             
Father Norman Werling asked us to bring to class two handwriting samples from two people we knew well enough to agree or disagree with his graphological analyses. A world-renowned expert in both penmanship and questioned document examination, Father Werling taught Psychology of Handwriting courses at Felician College in Lodi, New Jersey. He believed that one’s handwriting revealed quite a bit about a person’s temperament.

One of the handwriting samples I brought to class the following evening was my mother’s. Born in New York City in 1913, she was only three months old when her mother developed serious health issues in America that led her doctor to suggest she return with her children to Sicily. My grandfather, who worked as a butler in one of the Madison Avenue mansions back then, remained in America before reuniting with his family seven years later.

An American citizen, Mama attended schools in her Sicilian mountain village of Acquaviva Platani. She had learned to write according to the penmanship rules there, so when Father Werling asked where the person of this writing sample (my mother) first attended school, I told him Sicily. At eighteen she had married my father, a naturalized American citizen from the same Sicilian town, and together they left Sicily to live once again in New York.

“This person has a very strong temperament,” began Father Werling. My eyebrows lifted. My mother? A strong temperament? He may have been famous for analyzing handwritings, but I was convinced he completely missed with this one. The only thing I considered by way of strength that my mother possessed was a strong introversion! She did not feel comfortable with people she did not know and never tried to place herself at the center of anyone’s rapt attention. Mama was quiet-spoken, not very healthy, and certainly overshadowed by my father who seemed to be all the things she was not.

“Looking at these lower loops, particularly the way the writer has them return forcefully to the middle zone,” Father Werling was saying. “this person knows what is important and will do all things possible to keep on track.”

As he pointed to each letter’s formation, the size of the four borders, the slant of Mama’s writing, the pressure of her pen strokes, Father Werling would provide some new revelation about her that seemed to me so far-fetched as to have me ask in the middle of his analysis, “Are you sure, Father, you’re seeing all this in my mother’s handwriting?”

He smiled. “Sometimes we know little about the people who love us, the people we love. We paint our own pictures of them in our minds and tell ourselves, ‘This is my mother! Or this is my father!’ and often enough we are so wrong it’s almost incredible. One’s handwriting never lies,” he said. “It’s a valuable tool to help unveil the real person, not a figment of the imagination.”

I was still unconvinced. I was not a child with crayons and a coloring book who draws stick figures, convinced they look just like his mother or his father or his dog and cat. I knew my mother for so many years –– nearly forty –– so how could I possibly be so far off-center to render an expert’s analysis dead wrong?

“It just doesn’t seem to be my mother.”

“In what way?”

“She’s not really strong. She’s quiet. And her health, for one thing. She’s been in so many hospitals during her lifetime. Ten years ago she had brain tumors! How can she be this strong character you see in her handwriting?”

Father Werling had the class to teach. I was only one of twelve students in that classroom with two samples for him to analyze. He had so far another five to complete in his lesson meant to teach us the reliability of handwriting analysis. I for one seriously considered dropping these courses. How could I dream of eventually becoming a handwriting expert when I no longer believed in its worth?

“See me after class,” Father said, then returned to the writing samples of the next student. When the hour ended, he motioned me to take the seat beside the one in which he sat. He asked for my mother’s handwriting sample and for another few minutes ran his hand over her words like a blind man reading Braille, all the while smiling.

“Second thoughts?” I asked, figuring he would have some, or at least laugh, but the good Father Werling simply shook his head.

“Your mother is a very strong individual. Maybe you need to re-examine what you think strong means. It doesn’t have to be physical.  Some of the best-known physical weaklings have demonstrated superior strength of character or faith or determination. They couldn’t lift a heavy paperweight but they could move mountains!”

“But my mother––”

“Is one of those perhaps physical weaklings who has enough emotional strength to pass a bit of it on to her son.”

I felt a grimace take over my mouth. “Father, you saw all this in her writing?”

He nodded. “This is a woman who will never give up what she believes is important. Does she have strong faith in God?”

Now it was I who was nodding. “Bad things happen, like my young brother’s death, and she accepts God’s Will without questioning why. Nothing seems to shake her faith.”

“A weakling?” Father asked. “This woman is a giant when it comes to where strength needs to show itself in this life, if we hope to reach the next one, looking good in God’s eyes, spend eternity in His presence. Take a lesson from your mother. Let her teach you what strength is really about.”

I felt ashamed. Did I so easily forget nearly losing my mother years ago? I recounted the story to Father Werling. How she had prayed, God willing, she would be healed of her brain tumors. The morning of the scheduled surgery she lay in her hospital bed, my worried father beside her. He held her hand. Then two doctors approached and one said, “The last three x-rays showed the tumors are shrinking. Getting smaller and smaller.We won’t operate just yet and maybe not at all.”

Then the other doctor said, “We don’t understand how this is happening, but those tumors are definitely shrinking.”

“I know why,” my mother said. “God wants to make a miracle so the two of you will go back to church!” The two doctors, who were Jewish, smiled. One of them promised her he would. The other stood there speechless: how did this woman know he was a fallen-away believer?

“Within the next two days,” I told Father, “the tumors completely disappeared and Mama went home.”

He stood up and touched my shoulder the way my father used to do when it was parable time and he had lessons for me to learn.

“Father, I am sorry I––”

“Some people wear their strength on the outside like fancy clothes and we know all about them because they glitter when they walk. They blind us with their power and we step aside so we are not in their way and we know beyond any doubt we’ve been on the same street with that person. We are sure we’ve seen strength and know all about what strength means.

“And then there are those like my mother.”

Father Werling smiled and said, “Yes, like your mother who wears her strength inside of her where no one but God sees the extent of it. And He blesses her for it.”

I held up the sample of Mama’s handwriting. “You saw it too, Father.”

“From now on you’ll see it as well,” he said, and I was certain he was not referring to my future success as a graphologist, my expertise in revealing the personalities of clients who want to learn who they truly are. “Open your eyes, Sal. Take another hard look at that mother of yours. Learn from her strength.”

I walked out of that classroom like a man who had accidentally tripped over a treasure and could not wait to take it home and share it with the world.

#



Salvatore Buttaci is a retired teacher and professor whose work has appeared in The Writer, The New York Times, The Christian Science Monitor, and elsewhere here and abroad. He was the 2007 recipient of the $500 Cyber-wit Poetry Award. 

His collection of 164 short-fiction stories, Flashing My Shorts, published by All Things That Matter Press, is available now as an audio book at 
http://www.amazon.com/Flashing-My-Shorts/dp/B00CWN22K4/ref=tmm_aud_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1369920229&sr=1-1

His follow-up flash collection, 200 Shorts, is available at 
http://www.amazon.com/200-Shorts-ebook/dp/B004YWKI8O/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1369920397&sr=1-2&keywords=200+Shorts

He lives with his wife Sharon in West Virginia.