Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Do You Want to Know a Secret (part 3 - by Margaret Ullrich)

Nadia stopped ironing. I raised my head and stiffly gave it a shake. Nadia was proud of her work. “Oh, lookit ya!”
I was disappointed. This was our second ironing session and I was still stuck with a mass of black curls. “Look at what? It’s still curly. It won’t swing. It won’t even lay flat. All I want is straight hair like Diana Ross.”
Diana Ross, like all other Motown negro girl singers, had a certain look. They were perfectly groomed and had hair that was as smooth and solid as a helmet. No kidding. Their hair could repel bullets. Nadia reminded me she was working with a handicap. “Negroes use stuff.”

I knew that. My friend, Ivy Ann MacIntosh, had offered to pick up a box of the stuff she had used. It was amazing. On Friday she had gone home with kinky hair. Then on Monday her hair was stick straight. That stuff she used was wonderful. And expensive. When I asked Ma for money to buy stuff to straighten my hair, she shot me The Look and said I was crazy.

Trying to postpone another ironing session, I went to my tote bag, rummaged around, found a shamrock pin and handed it to Nadia. “We had a St. Patrick’s party at school. I got an extra pin. It’s a shamrock.”

Nadia had received stranger things. She had been brought up to be grateful for anything, at least while the giver was still with her. She turned the plastic green leaf over a few times to show she was thrilled to receive it. Then Nadia pinned the shamrock to her blouse, glanced at the mirror and shrugged. “Yeah. I seen them in the paper. Thanks.” After a few minutes, she went to her tote bag. “Uh... We had festa di San Giuseppe at my school. Hey! I got somethin’ for you.” She tossed out some books and candy wrappers, found a fava bean, rubbed it on her skirt and handed it to me. “Here.”
I had also been raised to be grateful, but I was more curious than Nadia. “What does St. Joseph have to do with fava beans?”

Nadia rolled her eyes. “Don’tcha remember? San Giuseppe saved Sicily. So, we make an altar an’ give food ta the poor. Mom made minestrone.” Seeing the confused look on my face, Nadia remembered that I lived in College Point, a town further east on the IRT track, beyond Flushing. College Point had been settled by Germans. It was a town where people just weren’t as interested in Sicily’s history. “Wha-aat? Don’tcha do that at yer school?”
“No... But, thanks.”

As far as our schools were concerned we lived in two different worlds. We were both being taught by the good Sisters of St. Dominic. But the Sisters in College Point were Irish and used to being among fair-haired German and Irish students. That’s the way it had been in College Point for generations. Some Sisters had dreamed of going to far away missions and converting exotic heathens. After the wave of immigration following the second World War they got their wish. St. Fidelis was packed with quite an assortment of children. The Sisters threw all their energy into Americanizing us immigrants.

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