snails and witches

When I was a little girl in Italy, I basically lived at the hem of my mother’s skirts. I was desperate to be near her all the freakin’ time and absolutely terrified of other people, namely people who were not my mom. This meant I had little interaction with other human beings besides my father and brother.  So I spent most of my time running around the outside of my house with my dog, saving my dog from the crazy gypsy lady who roamed our yard, or kicking the rocks around in our front driveway.  I really enjoyed playing in the rocks until one day a rather large snake appeared out of nowhere.  It was terribly disturbed and out for blood and I stabbed it with a butterknife to save myself.

I can’t really explain how I came to be in the possession of a butterknife at such a young age, especially since I was not really under the direct supervision of any adult at that moment.  I doubt my mother gave me the knife but, then again, having a little whiny brat like me hanging around your backend for eight years straight could have made all of her common sense and her ability to think rationally take a flying leap right out the window.

Speaking of windows, my brother and I used to employ our kitchen window as a race track for snails.  Snails?  You bet!  We loved to run through the field next to our house and pick the largest, slimiest snails we could find.  He and I would place them in a shoebox and run home, eager to get the races started.  Our snails would line up at the bottom of the window and we’d watch them crawl up…up…UP!  The trail of slime left behind was incredibly cool to us, even after Mom screamed for the umpteenth time about having to clean the slime up before it dried.  Then our Italian neighbor, Gisella, would ask us to bring the snails to her house because she just loved snails. 

See, I thought Gisella loved them as pets when really she just loved snails for dinner. (To this day, I see Gary on Spongebob Squarepants and he goes, ”Meeow!” and I get all weirded out because he could very well have been Gisella’s Thursday night meal.)

(It’s Gary the snail in The Great Snail Race.  My brother and I so invented that game back in like…1981!!) 

Gisella was a nice lady.  She gave me my first ever Coca-Cola and taught me how to drink it out of a glass bottle (yes, I had to be taught – shut up).  She sometimes yelled at me for picking her flowers, but she yelled at me in Italian and I thought she was telling me to pick the white ones or the yellow ones because I yelled back, “They’re for my mommy.” Then she invited me inside for a Coca-Cola and showed me some tricks her cat could do and sent me home.  My fists full of flowers, I walked back home through our yards.

When the gypsy lady was in my yard, I was terrified.  This woman actually looked like a real-life Snow White Old Lady Wicked Witch with the black drape-y cloak and the silver long hair in her face.  She hunched over with her back in the shape of a question mark and we referred to her as The Old Lady With New Shoes.  I know now how cruel it was to call her that, but she did look like she was admiring her shoes all the time.  When she came into my yard, I was instructed to grab the dog and run inside the house.  I think my parents were afraid she would steal my dog, this dog who howled and growled and bared her teeth at The Old Lady With New Shoes.  No, this dog wasn’t going anywhere with her.

(In Italy, witches are real. The story of La Befana is a very cool story, one that I will share after I can match my memories to some real accounts and research.  That field next to our house, the one in which we captured all those Formula 500 snails, was home to an annual traditional bonfire that either burned all witches’ souls or released, though the smoke, the spirit of Befana.  I will learn more. But how I could be terrified of The Old Lady With New Shoes and not be terrified of La Befana, who, if the tales were true, would actually enter my house, is beyond me.  But don’t leave your shoes out for La Befana because the gypsies will steal them.  So, yeah, The Old Lady With New Shoes probably did have new shoes.)



About Dena

I'm a New Hampshirite by way of suburban Cleveland, by way of Oklahoma City, by way of North Florida, by way of Southern Maryland, by way of Upper Michigan, by way of Northern Italy, by way of Lower Michigan, by way of Texas. Because of living in so many places, I have something in common with almost everyone I meet. I love reading, writing, and American history (especially reading or writing about American history). I'm interested in culture of home and place, historical trauma, and writing about the kinds of histories most people don't know about.
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2 Responses to snails and witches

  1. Chris says:

    They were racing to get away from Gisella’s kitchen;)

    • one of the girls says:

      Can you imagine my little-kid horror when I finally figured out why she was constantly asking me to find her some snails? OMG! hahaha!

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