Friday, December 13, 2013
“Where,” Bernie Madoff once said, “does the time go?”
Columbus Day came and went without much fanfare. It was over before my Italian nephew could get the green, white and red crepe paper up in his restaurant in Brooklyn. Of course it was the day that the sewer in my basement backed up and the old washing machine broke down, so I had no time to march in any parades anyway.
I wanted to get my true feelings about Chris out there on paper, but I bit my lip, so that I wouldn’t ruin the day for furniture sales, car sales and everything else, including picnics and parades all over the country. Beside, we were all preoccupied with our elected officials in Washington trying to save or destroy, depending on which network you watch, the country that Columbus never really discovered.
But the true story is so ugly that almost nobody wants to talk about it. As the old Western cowboy writers always said, “Forget the truth, print the legend.”
In my brittle Catholic childhood, Columbus almost reached sainthood. One of the sisters, in third grade, I think, had a picture of him on her wall, right next to Jesus, President Roosevelt and her brother, who was a Jesuit. The Knights of Columbus promoted him in the early '30s and Franklin Roosevelt signed his day into law in 1934. Nobody in my neighborhood wanted to argue with the Knights or FDR, who was busy saving the world with Social Security. Who was smart enough or brave enough to blow the whistle on Chris and tell everyone that Pisciotto’s Pizzeria’s patron saint was a really bad guy? Beside, it turns out that Chris’s father Domenico owned a tavern. That went a long way in my neighborhood.
We all heard the rumors as we grew up, but I had bigger problems growing up than spending time researching Columbus. Keep in mind that Rosemary DeBranco’s father was an Italian butcher, who kept really big knives in his kitchen and wasn’t that crazy about me.
By the time we all got into high school, we were completely brainwashed by teachers who had been brainwashed. Christopher was everyone’s favorite Italian. But this week on Huffington Post’s blog article by writer Eric Kasum, I learned more than I needed to know about Chris. Landing in the Bahamas, he befriended the sweet Arawaks, then enslaved them to work in his gold mines, cut off their hands for stealing and actually supervised the selling of native girls into sexual slavery for his men who, according to Chris’s log books, preferred 9- and 10-year-olds. I’m glad that all of my nuns passed away before Huffington Post came into existence. I guess it really doesn’t matter. A recent NBC poll shows that 85 percent of Americans want to keep the day. Only 15 percent of us want to abolish it. I think those are the exact same numbers for “Dancing with the Stars.”
Columbus Day does have a few sweet memories for me. In the fourth grade, I played Christopher in a skit in the same church basement where, by the way, I began my theatrical career playing the baby Jesus, being carried to safety across a paper river by St. Christopher (no relation to C. Columbus). That was the skit I ruined by waving to my brother Jim, who was taking pictures.
It seems that it was a hundred years ago that I played the great discoverer and memories fade now. I know that some little girl stood to the side and recited “In fourteen-hundred ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue. He had three ships and left from Spain. He sailed through sunshine, wind and rain.”
You probably did the same. Paddy Carr, who was my best friend, and a big kid with red hair, whose name I don’t remember, played the other two captains.
I remember that we had a big argument about who got to yell “Land ahoy.” Paddy won and ruined it by ad libbing “Look, it’s America.” True story.
My sister saw him at a funeral years later and he still remembered ruining it. I should have gotten the line. I would have done it right and waved at my brother Jim.
J.P. Devine is a Waterville writer.