” …one Christmas I got quite the gift, a Red Ryder BB gun.”
BY CRAIG TERLINO
Christmas time has always meant spending time with family, relaxing, watching Christmas specials, listening to Christmas music (Andy Williams, Sinatra, Dean Martin, Phil Spector, etc.), eating great food, tying one on, and the best part: Busting balls and telling stories. Christmas has never been too much about baby Jesus in our family; it simply is a festive day and a time when the whole family can get together and have some laughs.
As our country loses many traditional values, this time of year has always held meaning for me in regards to focusing on what I have to be grateful for. Recently, I was told that Christmas is a sham. It infuriated the hell out of me, because to me, Christmas is about family and nostalgia. I can’t help if many feel left out of it, or don’t get it. All I can say is tough; go spin a dradle or something and get over it. Shit, even atheists want a holiday now.
I’m not pulling my Dr. Denton’s down and shitting in anybody’s stockings, so why bother with mine?
Controversies abound this time of year, and they’re all senseless, from banning nativity scenes to Christmas Tree cynics.
Anyhow, I love the Christmas season; it’s one of the few things I still recognize from my youthful innocence.
And if you think Father Christmas isn’t real, think again.
He’s been bringing me gifts since I was born. He now resides in warmer climates; still building things, cooking, and recently (to my surprise), writing the story of his life—a generation that most no longer understand. He’s my father: Mr. Frank James Terlino.
So, despite the dysfunctions of family and gunfire, celebrating Christmas has always been important for him as well. Storytelling is a staple of my family, and thus, it brings me great excitement to offer one of his stories to a younger generation—and moreover, to see his name in print and reveal all of these great photos I discovered when I got home this year.
Brought up from an Italian-American family during the 1940s in East Boston, the same things that enticed me about the holidays, were also his fondest memories.
Although he struggled with being surrounded by a bunch of dysfunctional East Boston “guineas,” with all due respect, the one thing they seemed to get right was celebrating the holidays.
If you will, let’s go back to the 1940s for a moment and celebrate the meaning of Christmas…
Growing up, Christmas Eve was always celebrated at my Grandmother Nonni’s house in East Boston. Everybody from my parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends would show up for the gathering. She would prepare a shitload of holiday favorites from pasta to fish dishes while we all sat around the table enjoying the great food. There must have been seven courses on the table.
If you didn’t eat enough, Nonni would get pissed off. Since I was on the thin side, I could only put down so much.
“Mangia, mangia, you skinny; eata eata!” she’d yell.
My Aunt Marguerite would be the one who would bring the pastries—cakes and cookies saturated with enough cholesterol to validate the term “to die for”—all home-made of course. And boy, were they good. One time she made a cake in which her recipe called for a dozen eggs and the frosting for one pound of butter. Now I know why all the males in my family suffered from coronary heart disease. The daily requirement for cholesterol is 300mg for a normal person, but no one in my family was even close to “normal.”
At Sunday dinners growing up, my father did most of the cooking while my mother did most of the drinking. He couldn’t trust her with the Christmas dinner because she would burn the shit out of everything. She screwed up every holiday we had at home.
When it came time for everyone to exchange gifts on Christmas Eve, my brother Jimmy (the guineafowl) and I couldn’t open ours because my mother believed that gifts shouldn’t be opened until Christmas morning.
After we all had eaten and everyone (except us) had opened their gifts, it was time to go to Christmas Eve mass. But not for my family; we couldn’t go because we had to leave for home. In those days, back in the ‘40s, it took us an hour and a half to get back to Braintree, MA from East Boston because the expressway hadn’t even been built yet. Now it would take about 20 minutes.
Once Christmas morning arrived, we would all open our presents. I’d always get a pair of pajamas from my Aunt Marguerite. They were always too big, so I would wear the tops and throw the bottoms away. I would always get clothes, mostly from relatives; some I liked and some I didn’t, but I wouldn’t dare tell them when I didn’t like the gifts. As we all know, “It’s the thought that counts.”
When we opened our stockings we always found an assortment of candy and cookies, an apple and an orange as well as some nuts, but one Christmas I got quite the gift, a Red Ryder BB gun (named after the 1940s comic strip character of the same name. The one that later became the infamous gun in Bob Clark’s holiday classic A Christmas Story). I couldn’t wait to try the frigging thing out.
I ran to the kitchen excited, opened the door, and fired it out into the yard. That’s when I heard an awful noise—a pop. When I looked up, I had shot out the rear window of my father’s old Buick. I didn’t know what the hell to do. I was afraid and pretty damn sure my father would kick my ass, but luck was with me. I turned around and there stood my six-year-old little brother, Jimmy.
“Hey, stugots, you want to shoot my BB gun?” I asked.
“Sure, Franky,” he said.
I handed the gun over to him and challenged him to take a shot out the kitchen door as I ran into the other room, leaving him with the BB gun in his hands. My father walked into the kitchen and asked Jimmy what the hell he was doing with my BB gun. He didn’t discover the broken window until later that morning, but couldn’t do much about it. If he laid a hand on my brother, he would be in deep shit with my mother.
Then with the same gun, I once accidentally shot my Uncle Vinny in his fat Italian ass. I swear it was an accident, but he begged to differ, so he chased me around the neighborhood and gave me an ass kicking that I’d never forget. I guess it was payback for framing my brother Jimmy with the BB gun.
The holiday festivities didn’t end there. Less than one week later we would find ourselves back in East Boston at my Aunt Mary’s for New Years Eve.
On the table you would find an assortment of antipasto, pasta dishes, chicken cacciatore, eggplant parmesan, and baked leg of lamb, followed with salad. We saved the salad for last like most Italian families would. It was the goose that was the main attraction.
When the goose was being carved, my aunt would say, “Gimme the part that went over the fence last”—the ass, of course, was a delicacy. She would then lift her glass and sing, “I love the turd of that wonderful bird.” It certainly wasn’t a holiday song, but it was traditional.
Then after dinner, ten o‘clock would roll around, and all the freeloaders would show up like vultures and purge all of our leftovers.
Although not the case anymore, aside from delicious food and spirits, it seemed back then that guns were a staple of Italian American families, as common as the family dog and/or the goose’s ass. In contrast to my generation, it seems guns have taken on a more reckless tradition. I remember every New Year’s Eve after dinner, to bring in the New Year, we would all join each other on the piazza (the same piazza that years later I jumped off with a towel around my neck thinking I was Superman), banging pots and pans with a wooden spoon—an Italian noisemaker if you will—while everyone yelled “Happy New Year!” in broken English.
Yet, another sound that could be heard over the pots and pans and hollering was the sound of gunfire.
In East Boston at that time, it wasn’t rare to see the Italian gangsters in the family and neighborhood celebrating the holidays by way of a Smith and Wessen. If the guns weren’t loaded, you could bet half the family was. To many, it was simply honoring a holiday tradition, and though many got drunk, no one ever got shot—at least that I know of.
Christmas is hands down my favorite time of year until this day, and if not for you, Hey, Vaffanculo! It’s Christmas!
On behalf of Father “Frankmas,” he wishes you all the happiest of holidays and urges everyone to get their head out of their asses. Buon Natale!