Circuni

It’s been a while since my last blog entry!  In an odd way, I feel thankful for the Snow Storm last week.  It shut down the city for three days and gave many of us a chance to chill out.  Rick and I took long walks and admired our neighborhood covered in snow.  It felt good to have a day off, but by the end of the second snow day, I started going a little stir crazy, so I set out to do some organizing. The result is that my closet, desk, files, drawers, and bookshelves are now perfectly organized. Our condo unit is looking pretty good and streamlined.

It was back to work this past week!  On Monday, Karen Hogan, one of Seattle’s best massage therapists (in addition to Julie Bacon, MaryAnn Kuchera, Jessie Jo Egersett, Hanna Thompson and Misty Esqueda), contacted me and said she had a last minute opening for that very evening at 7 pm.  7 pm on Mondays is the magical hour.  That’s when I finish teaching five Monday classes.  It is the end of a long day and reaching heaven is a matter of going upstairs to Karen’s massage table.  When I teach, I put my whole body and soul into the classes.  Many might think that teaching yoga is a kind of vocation that keeps stress at bay.  And, yes, it is a beautiful vocation that allows me to embody a healthy holistic lifestyle.  However, teaching yoga is wear and tear on my body and, as with all work,  can be energy depleting.  I have to be attentive to getting plenty of sleep, eating nutritionally rich foods, getting a proper amount of down time, and getting regular massages. I quickly snatched up Karen’s availability for a massage.

You can  imagine how relaxed I was as I left her studio that evening.  It wasn’t until I got home that I realized my circuni were missing!  Circuni are traditional gold circular earrings that used to be worn by all Sicilian women.  My circuni were given to me by my maternal grandmother, Nonna Antonia Licata, also known as Mamma N’to.

Circuni

I remembered taking off the circuni and placing them next to my clothing before the massage with Karen.  They must have fallen to the floor as I got dressed after my massage.  Once I realized they were missing, I told Karen and she went back to look for them.  She later emailed me saying she searched and only found ONE of my gold earrings.  I was really upset by this news.  Rick immediately grabbed a flashlight and we drove over to the studio and looked around.  One of Rick’s nicknames is Dolphin Boy because he is a fish when it comes to water, but it could very well be Eagle Eye.  He is very good at finding things.  My hopes were raised.  The studio itself was locked, but we looked on the grass and retraced my footsteps to the car, thinking that perhaps the earring got hooked onto my clothing and fell while I was walking.

No luck.  I reported back to Karen and asked her to look again in the morning. It had to be somewhere.  Tear the room apart! My earring had to be there!

I tried not to panic, not to be sad.

I thought that, worse case scenario, I would make a ring out of the one earring, the way Aunt Lily does when she loses a valuable earring and is left with one unmatched pair.

Or, I could have the missing one made when I go to Sicily again.

Yogis are supposed to be unattached.  I fail miserably at this.  I am pathetic.  The fact is,  I love my circuni. How would I proceed with the second half of my life without them?  Even thinking about his brings tears to my eyes.

I found myself haunted by a 40 year old memory.  It was Easter 1972.  I was 10 years old and my family went to Sicily and I met my Nonna for the first time ever.  My beautiful teenage sisters were the talk of the village.  I was a gawky little girl.  While my sisters went out with our teenage cousins , I had to hang around my parents, Nonna, and the stream of visitors coming by to say hello to gli Americani. On the second day of our visit, Nonna stared hard at me.  She told my parents, “Ma, nun e peccato ca sta carusa ‘un avi gricchini?  Nun e buonu.  Ca, nun si usa cosi.  Li carusi fimini si fanno li gricchini quannu si nascanu.  Dumani ci yamu.” (“But what’s this? It’s wrong (sinful) that this child doesn’t wear earrings!  It’s not right.  It’s not our custom. Little girls must have their ears pierced right after they are born.  Tomorrow, we’ll take care of this!”)

My parents didn’t know how to respond.  You never disagree with an elder.  My mom just set her mouth tight and studied the floor.  My dad looked very concerned.  He bravely argued with Mamma N’to.  “Ma, see, in America, parents wait until their girls are in their teens. Then, if the girls want their ears pierced, the parents take them in to have it done.  We would like to follow that custom.”

“No! Dumani ci yamo!  Gia fatto e!”  (No! We’ll go tomorrow. Consider it done!”) Here is how my Aunt Tanina described her mother, my Nonna Licata: “La mamma nosha ficiva lu papa, e lu papa, ficiva la mamma!”  (“Our mother played the role of father, and our father was our mother.”)  In other words, my grandmother ruled the roost.

The next morning, Nonna wrapped herself up in her long black shawl, and led my dad and me to the village jewelers.  There I was shown a number of circuni.   The jeweler treated each pair as  crown jewels.  He unwrapped and, later, re-wrapped each pair with delicate hands.  Nonna told me to choose a pair.  They seemed so big for my little-girl ears, but I was secretly thrilled because the idea of owning gold earrings was so grown up!  My dad was clearly upset by all of this.  He stood by, a silent sentinel.

I chose a pair with stars made of white gold.  Nonna liked my choice and said, “Mi, chissi buo?” (“My, are these the ones you want?”) She then looked at me quite seriously and said, “Sti stiddri ti portanu la buona fortuna! Pi sempri!”  “These stars will bring you good luck!  Forever!”  I was a very impressionable child and pretty excited at Nonna’s words. I looked over at my dad.  The color was drained from his face.   I wanted to know why he was so upset, but I intuitively knew it was best not to ask.

Nonna then led us down some cobblestone streets and very narrow alleys.  I held daddy’s hand. I wanted to comfort him and reassure him that everything was ok!  I kept catching his eye and to show him I was happy.  That only seemed to add to his angst.  It seemed we walked forever, twists and turns, a secret route that led us to the medieval center of Grotte.  We passed women sitting on caned chairs placed outside their doors, embroidering, darning, or knitting, and keeping a watchful eye on their children, who were playing on the streets.  We passed deeply sun-browned thin men wearing taschi (a Sicilian beret), leading their donkeys and mules to the fields.  Everyone greeted Nonna reverentially, “Sara sa vita, Sant’Anto.”  (May God protect you, Saint Antonia.)  She was a saint in their eyes, having given birth to 10 children who lived to adulthood, having been the village midwife, and one of the few people with the courage to consari li morti, which is to say, to give the final washing ritual  for the dead, and to dress them up in their Sunday’s finest clothing, before setting them on their bed (and sometimes, long long ago, according to my mother, on the dining room table) for viewing and paying last respects, and for the 24 hour home vigil proceeding death.

Finally, Nonna stopped in front of a long sweep of stairs. Single file, we went up the narrow steps leading to a door.  A woman even older than my Nonna came to the door, and led us to a dark interior.   This woman, Nonna explained, would pierce my ears.  According to Nonna, she was the best of the best of ear piercers.  Daddy’s hand had gone limp.   The old woman grabbed my ear lobes and discussed my ears with Nonna.  I wish I could remember what she was saying, but all I could focus on was the horror of what I saw:  the old woman’s eyes were covered with a bluish white film. She was blind. Nonna explained that the best piercings were done by blind women.   Like Nonna, the old woman was covered in a black shawl.   At one point, it slipped off her head and I could see her long white hair, which, like Nonna’s, had been braided and pulled back to a tightly coiled bun.  Her fingers were cold and she kept kneading my ear lobes, applying more and more pressure.  She started chanting a prayer, using words that I could not make out.  Was it ancient Sicilian, Arabic, Greek, or Phoenician?   One thing was certain.  There was no escape. I would emerge from this dark hovel with pierced ears.

The old woman took out a needle from a sewing kit and set it to a flame.  My dad started crying and my grandmother cruelly said to him something to the effect that it was ridiculous to have him standing there crying when his little girl was being so brave!  She reminded him that if he and my mother had been wiser, this would have been done when I was an infant and the whole ordeal would have been dealt with long ago! She basically shamed him for being the feeling, sensitive, loving person my dad was!  At that moment, I hated her for being so mean-hearted towards my loving daddy. I looked at him and said, “Daddy, I’ll be ok!”  This made him shake with sobs.  I promised myself I would not cry, no matter what.  I would be strong.  The  blind woman didn’t ice my ears or use alcohol to disinfect.  She pulled over a chair and had me kneel before her.  She locked me in place with her bony thighs.  I could smell her old lady smell and her breath.  I made myself stare at her white eyes as she crudely poked through my ear lobe with her blackened needle. First the needle went through and then the big fat circuni had to be threaded through the fresh piercing.  I held daddy’s hand the whole time.  I did not cry.  He cried for me.

When the whole nasty business was done, Nonna paid the old woman and off we went.  My ears were HOT.  My whole head was on fire.  My nose kept dripping.   Nonna was the only one grinning.  Now she eagerly called out to all the people sitting alongside the narrow alley ways, bragging, “Chissa e ma niputa, l’Americana.  Ora ora si fici li gricchini!”  (“This is my American granddaughter.  She just got her ears pierced!”)  And these strangers were then compelled to come over to congratulate me, by grabbing my face with their big rough bread-kneading hands, smooshing and covering my freshly pierced, HOT ears, to kiss me on both cheeks.  This action was repeated by many strangers again and again and again, until I thought I would surely faint.

This was my Sicilian rite of passage.  The ordeal made me count as a real little girl in my Nonna’s eyes.

On Wednesday, Karen slipped into my yoga class as I was teaching and handed me my circuniBoth of them!  She had found the missing earring.  I could have covered her face and ears with my hands, pulled her roughly to me, and kissed her on both cheeks.  That’s how happy I was!

Circuni

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11 Responses to “Circuni”

  1. Clea Edeblute Says:

    Thank you for sharing this wonderful story! I was there with you. And I am so very glad you got back both circuni.

    Like

    • frangallo Says:

      Thanks, Clea! It is amazing how so much love and sentiment, history and life can be packed into such a small physical item. I didn’t cry when I was that little girl getting my ears pierced, but I cried today as an adult writing this, thinking of how amazing my dad was!

      Like

  2. Helen Anne Says:

    Thank you for that wonderful journey into your childhood. How similar our ear piercing stories are only that you were in Italy and I was in Ireland! I too, had the rite of passage only with my Irish Aunts. My mother left to go to shop for some milk and bread and left me in the care of her sisters. When she came back, her fiery red headed child was sitting atop of the kitchen table with ears pierced and all her sisters gathered around. I will never forget it. Later on my granny bought me gold teardrop earrings which I still have to this day. In all my childhood photos you can see them and I am reminded of my youth in Ireland. It is so very special you have this attachment because it is a link to a memory. I think it is Ok.

    Like

    • frangallo Says:

      Helen, I am always amazed at how similar our Italian and Irish backgrounds are! Yes, I think it is quite human to hold something, such as earrings, dear to us. And I can just see you sitting on the kitchen table with the deed done! Thank you for sharing!

      Like

  3. kay Says:

    wow, Fran! I think it’s time you write that novel. this was a compelling story that sucked me right in. i sat in suspense this morning wondering how this would turn out for you.
    so glad it had a happy ending!

    Like

    • frangallo Says:

      Thank you, Kay! One day, I will write my story! I think blogging is amazing in how present events compel me to think about events that I carry in my heart, and that have helped to shape me throughout the years. Yes, a happy ending!

      Like

  4. Angie Buck Says:

    Fran,
    This was a wonderful story — thanks for sharing it with us and I am so glad that you got back both the Circuni!

    I am enjoying your writing so much. It makes me feel close to you. It has been a while seen we have gotten together.

    Like

    • frangallo Says:

      Hi Angie, Thank you so much for your feedback on my blog! I love writing it. I just wish I had more time to write more. I just do what I can! I miss you and will email you soon. love, Fran

      Like

  5. Nora Says:

    Fran, I never heard this story about your circuni, it’s a beautiful memory and I’m happy to hear that you have both of them. I know how precious mine are from Nona onofria. I felt so bad for Angie, she had her circuni stolen from her house during a robbery a few weeks ago, the ones our mom got for her when she was a baby and had her ears pierced by Mrs Sulli. And you’re right Dad was an amazing man, miss him everyday! Love you, Sis, Nora

    Like

    • frangallo Says:

      Unbelievable about Angie’s circuni being stolen! I didn’t know that. I know how sad she must be. Those earrings are a part of who I am. Yes, I was doing yoga the other day and saw how much my hands are like dad’s and I suddenly got to feeling very sad. I guess this feeling of yearning for them is something we will learn to live with. love you, Fran

      Like

  6. zina brechbill Says:

    You had me laughing and crying, please write your book and include all of these wonderful childhood stories.love you Zina

    Like

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