A recurring theme in Half Italian is “experience was limited” for my Italian immigrant relatives. “Experience was limited,” in my presentation, refers to a wariness that lived in my relatives’ minds and hearts, induced by limited exposure to the world around them, from geography (traveling beyond their village walls) to eating (anything unknown). Anything unknown brought forth wariness and suspicion, until their exposure increased or someone they knew (and trusted) provided assurances. Don’t take chances.
My mother’s experience wasn’t limited – she was born in southern California (not exactly a medieval village) and she had firsthand exposure to immigrant wariness and its origins; yet, this didn’t broaden her thinking, wariness became learned behavior.
Last Sunday, my mother, nearly age 87, tasted her first lemon balm. In front of K-Mart, I pulled a tiny leaf from one of the lemon balm plants for sale outside and urged her to try it. Her face went through all the same doubtful contortions that my immigrant relatives often did, when presented with something they didn’t already know. What is this you’re giving me; I’ve never heard of it; where does it come from, and is it clean? With the corners of her mouth turned down, she tasted the lemon balm. Frowning, she decided it was okay. Sure wish someone else was here to provide me with assurances about this stuff.
(It’s only lemon balm, Mom.)